Italian Language Blog

Il Congiuntivo Part 4 – Imperfetto Posted by on Oct 16, 2009 in Grammar

Continuing my series of articles on the subjunctive form, today I’m going to write about il congiuntivo imperfetto (imperfect subjunctive).

To make the congiuntivo imperfetto of regular verbs, remove the ending from the infinitive form of the verb, i.e. -are, -ere, or -ire, and add the following:

for verbs ending in –are add –assi –assi –asse –assimo –aste –assero, for example:

Parlare (to speak):

Io parlassi, tu parlassi, lui parlasse, lei parlasse, noi parlassimo, voi parlaste, loro parlassero

for verbs ending in –ere, add –essi –essi –esse –essimo –este –essero, for example:

Credere (to believe):

Io credessi, tu credessi, lui credesse, lei credesse, noi credessimo, voi credeste, loro credessero


for verbs ending in –ire, add –issi –issi –isse –issimo –iste –issero for example:

Dormire (to sleep):

Io dormissi, tu dormissi, lui dormisse, lei dormisse, noi dormissimo, voi dormiste, loro dormissero

The main irregular verbs are:

essere (to be): io fossi, tu fossi, lui/lei fosse, noi fossimo, voi foste, loro fossero

dare (to give): io dessi, tu dessi, lui/lei desse, noi dessimo, voi deste, loro dessero

dire (to say): io dicessi, tu dicessi, lui/lei dicesse, noi dicessimo, voi diceste, loro dicessero

fare (to do, to make): io facessi, tu facessi, lui/lei facesse, noi facessimo, voi faceste, loro facessero

stare (to stay, to be): io stessi, tu stessi, lui/lei stesse, noi stessimo, voi steste, loro stessero

Il congiuntivo imperfetto is normally used…

1. with verbs which express wishes, thoughts, beliefs, worries, and doubts, e.g.: volere (to want), sperare (to hope), pensare (to think), credere (to believe), temere (to be afraid), dubitare (to doubt), when these verbs are followed by the conjunction che (that). Here are some examples: Giovanni voleva che lo aiutaste a ridipingere la camera (Giovanni wanted you [plural] to help him repaint the bedroom); Lucia pensava  che Maria partisse oggi per le vacanze (Lucia thought that Maria was leaving today for her holidays); mi sono stupita che tu fossi ancora lì (I was surprised that you were still there); avevo paura che Carlo non ce la facesse a superare l’esame (I was worried that Carlo wouldn’t be able to pass the exam).

2. following impersonal verbs conjugated in the past (mainly imperfetto indicativo, the normal imperfect tense), such as bastava che (it was enough/sufficient that), bisognava che (it was necessary that), si diceva che (it was said). Here are some examples: bisognava che Carlo studiasse di più (it was necessary for Carlo to study more); bastava che tu mi dicessi con che treno saresti arrivato (you only needed to tell me which train you would have arrived on); si diceva che questa fosse una leggenda (this was said to be a legend).

3. following impersonal constructions used in the past (mainly the ‘imperfetto indicativo’), such as era meglio (it was better), era un peccato (it was a pity), non era giusto (it was unfair). Here are some examples: era meglio che veniste oggi pomeriggio (it was better that you [plural] came this afternoon); era un peccato che tu non potessi venire (it was a pity that you weren’t able to come).

4. following the conditional form of all the verbs and constructions listed above in 1, 2, and 3, e.g. vorrei che tu smettessi di fumare (I would like you to stop smoking); bisognerebbe che Carlo studiasse di più per poter passare l’esame (it would be necessary for Carlo to study more in order to pass the exam); non sarebbe giusto se fossi sempre io a lavare i piatti (it wouldn’t be fair if it was always me that had to wash the dishes).

5. following conjunctions built with che, such as prima che (before), affinché (so that, in order that), a meno che (unless), nel caso che (in case), e.g. siamo dovuti partire prima che facesse buio (we had to leave before it got dark); ti ho aiutato affinché tu potessi superare l’esame (I helped you so that you could pass the exam).

6. following the conjunction se (if) when talking about an imagined situation. See my blog If I could have …  

Coming soon: Il Congiuntivo Trapassato (pluperfect subjunctive)!

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  1. Judith Jenkinson:

    Hi, I’m still loving your blog and got a lot from “ecco”. Please could you tell us about Magari if it isn’t on schedule already. Ciao, Judy.

  2. Serena:

    Salve Judy! I’m pleased you are finding the articles on colloquial Italian useful. I’ll write one on “magari” as soon as possible.

    A presto!


  3. Céline:


    I’m having trouble distinguishing between congiuntivo presente and imperfetto (being french spaeking, we only use subjunctive present, or indicative imperfect, in those sentences). I submised that the verb preceding the congiuntivo was setting the tone : if it is a past, then use congiuntivo imperfetto (pensavo che ci fossi), if it is a present, use congiuntivo presente (penso che ci sia). But I read somewhere that “Vorrei che lo faccia” is incorrect, instead you should say “vorrei che lo facessi”… is it so ?
    TLTR : how do I decide if I should use congiuntivo presente or imperfetto ?
    Thank you so much

  4. Céline:

    I got it ! Vorrei is condizionale, which is some kind of a “past” tense. So, congiuntivo imperfetto with past tenses (incl. condizionale) (pensavo che, vorrei che), congiuntivo presente with present tenses (penso che, voglio che)?

    • Geoff:

      @Céline Salve Céline, Serena is away with her family right now, but when she returns I’ll refer your question to her, as she is the real grammar expert!

      A presto, Geoff

  5. Kandace:

    I had a quick question. In this example: “mi sono stupita che tu fossi ancora lì” why isn’t the congiuntivo passato used?…”mi sono stupita che tu sia stato ancora li”

    Thanks for these blog posts. They are seriously SO helpful!

    • Serena:

      @Kandace Salve Kandace!
      You asked: “mi sono stupita che tu fossi ancora lì” why isn’t the congiuntivo passato used?…”mi sono stupita che tu sia stato ancora li”.
      Allora, the rule of the ‘imperfetto’ (unfinished action) versus ‘passato prossimo’ (completed action) is also valid for the subjunctive. Therefore ‘tu sia stato li’ (passato) means “you had been there”, i.e. when I was there you weren’t there any more. N.B. ancora (still) wouldn’t make any sense in that construction.
      On the other hand, ‘tu fossi ancora lì’ (imperfetto) means that you were still there when I was there.
      Very confusing!
      Spero di essere riuscita a spiegarmi!
      Saluti da Serena

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