This article, which deals with il congiuntivo trapassato (the pluperfect subjunctive), concludes my series about the use of the subjunctive form. In order to construct the pluperfect subjunctive you simply use the imperfect subjunctive of the auxiliary verbs essere and avere (see Part – 4 of this series: Congiuntivo Imperfetto), followed by the past participle of the main verb. Here are a couple of examples that illustrate how the pluperfect subjunctive is constructed:
Andare (to go), this uses the auxiliary verb essere
Io fossi andato/a, tu fossi andato/a, lui fosse andato, lei fosse andata, noi fossimo andati/e, voi foste andati/e, loro fossero andati/e
Finire (to finish), this uses the auxiliary verb avere
Io avessi finito, tu avessi finito, lui/lei avesse finito, noi avessimo finito, voi aveste finito, loro avessero finito
In order to know whether to use ‘essere’ or ‘avere’ you will need to understand the rules that apply for the ‘passato prossimo’ (present perfect). You can refresh your memory by reading my article about transitive and intransitive verbs.
The congiuntivo trapassato is used when talking about the past to refer to things that had already happened, e.g. ‘I had gone’, ‘you had finished’ etc. You should use the congiuntivo trapassato to:
1. say what you thought, wished or hoped about something in the past. Here are some examples: speravamo che non avesse piovuto (we hoped it hadn’t rained); Lucia pensava che Maria fosse partita sabato scorso per le vacanze (Lucia thought that Maria had left last Saturday for her holidays); ero stupita che tu fossi rimasto ancora (I was surprised that you had remained longer); avevo paura che Carlo non ce l’avesse fatta a superare l’esame (I was worried that Carlo hadn’t been able to pass the exam).
N.B. the congiuntivo trapassato is not used after the verb volere (to want)!
2. talk about the past after impersonal verbs followed by the conjunction che, such as sembrava che (it seemed that), si diceva che (it was said that), e.g. sembrava che Giorgio avesse cambiato lavoro (it seemed that Giorgio had changed job); si diceva che lui fosse stato in America da bambino (they said that he had been to America when he was a child).
3. talk about the past after impersonal constructions such as era facile / difficile che (it was likely / unlikely that), era meglio che (it was better that), era un peccato che (it was a pity that), non era giusto che (it wasn’t fair that), e.g. Era un peccato che lei non avvese potuto completare il corso (it was a pity that she hadn’t been able to complete the course); sarebbe stato meglio che foste venuti ieri pomeriggio (it would have been better if you [plural] had come yesterday afternoon).
4. express a possibility or a condition that should have happened in the past following conjunctions built with che, such as a meno che (unless), nel caso che (in case), a condizione che (on condition that), purché (provided that), benché (even though/although). Here are some examples: gli zucchini sono morti benché li avessi innaffiati tutti i giorni (the zucchini plants died even though I had watered them every day); avevo promesso di portarti al cinema a condizione che tu avessi finito i compiti (I had promised to take you to the cinema on condition that you had finished your homework)
5. talk about an imagined situation in the past following the conjuction se (if): se avessi vinto la lotteria avrei comprato una casa al mare (if I had won the lottery I would have bought a house by the sea); se Carlo avesse studiato di più avrebbe superato l’esame senza problemi (if Carlo had studied more he would have passed the exam without any problem).
Phew, that’s that for the congiuntivo! I appreciate that for a lot of readers this has been a very challenging level of grammar, in fact it’s been pretty challenging for me to write! Therefore, in my next grammar articles I’m going back to basics, mainly in order to help readers who are beginning to learn, or have a basic knowledge of Italian.