Italian Language Blog

Il Congiuntivo Part 5 – Trapassato Posted by on Oct 22, 2009 in Grammar

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.

A presto

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  1. Nathan:

    Grazie mille for the posts on the subjunctive. It’s hard to get used to when to use the congiuntivo imperfetto and when to use the congiuntivo passato. Your explanations really helped! Its great to have things explained by a native speaker. I’m sure this has been a bit advanced for some readers, but I know I’m not alone in appreciating the time you took to explain it. Thanks again.

  2. zoe:

    I have found your blogs on the congiuntivo just what I was looking for!! It is very clear and what has often been a mind blocking part of italian grammar, now just makes all the sense in the world. I have not yet find a good website or blog for intermediate to advance learners of italian; they all seem to focus on beginners. Grazie mille.

  3. William Auge:

    Quando leggo letteratura italiana e’ difficile capire i molti differente tempi usato. Cosi, grazie per le lezione riguardo tempi. Io stampo molti dei suoi blogs sulla grammatica per futura usa. Mi piace come lei usa esempi nelle tue resposte alle mie letture correggere i miei errore.

    Anche, noi receviamo un TV statione internationale quale transmette le programe italiane “La Piovra” e “Commissario Montalbano”. Spero che sto guardando queste progame aiuteranno abituare il mio orecchio alla suoni della lingua italiana.

    a presto, William

  4. Serena:

    Salve Zoe! Thank you for the compliment. I try to keep a balance between beginners and advanced grammar articles. I do understand the problem very well because when I used to teach Italian classes there were always lots of beginners’ textbooks available, but very little for intermediate and advanced learners.

    A presto!


  5. Serena:

    Salve William! Io sono una appassionata dei telefilm ‘La Piovra’ e del ‘Comissario Montalbano’. Gli attori sono tutti molto bravi, ma c’è un piccolo problema: tutti e due i programmi sono ambientati in Sicilia e i personaggi parlano con accento siciliano e molte espressioni sono tipicamente siciliane. Il siciliano ha molte influenze spagnole, parole arabe, e un accento molto forte.

    Cordiali saluti da Serena

  6. Jeannet:

    Salve Serena, strolling through the grammar blogs
    concerning the ‘il conjunctivo Part 5 – Trapassato’ I wonder about the difference for the plural in:
    noi fossimo andati (i) and noi avessimo finito (o) –
    my question is: “Why is that?”. Gazie.

  7. anthony:

    I happen upon your site by accident,and I am very happy i did. It makes Learning grammer a bit easier. thank you.

  8. Jon:

    Dear Serena,
    Gosh, I am so pleased to have found your blog! I have been struggling to grasp the congiuntivo trapassato with a couple of different grammar books, and had just searched the net in desperation. This make it much clearer.
    How do you, though, express a wish in this form if you don’t use te trapassato after Volere?
    Grazi mille,

    • Serena:

      @Jon Salve Jon, grazie per i complimenti.
      Dopo il verbo volere si usa il congiuntivo imperfetto e non il congiuntivo trapassato. Per esempio:
      volevo che tu rimanessi ancora; Maria voleva che partissimo sabato.
      Saluti da serena

  9. Sue:

    Grazie mille per questo blog! Capisco il congiuntivo trapassato ora!

    • Serena:

      @Sue Salve Sue e benvenuta!
      Sono contenta che il nostro blog ti sia utile.
      Saluti da Serena

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