Italian Language Blog

The Italian Subjunctive – 4. Imperfect Tense Posted by on Jun 5, 2017 in Grammar

Let’s continue our series of articles on the subjunctive form with an in depth look at il congiuntivo imperfetto (the imperfect subjunctive).

Se io fossi in te non lo farei!!! If I were you I wouldn’t do it!!!

Constructing the congiuntivo imperfetto

To construct the congiuntivo imperfetto of regular verbs we modify the ending of the infinitive in the following way:

verbs ending in –are, e.g. parlare (to speak):
io parlassi, tu parlassi, lui parlasse, lei parlasse, noi parlassimo, voi parlaste, loro parlassero

verbs ending in –ere, e.g. credere (to believe):
io credessi, tu credessi, lui credesse, lei credesse, noi credessimo, voi credeste, loro credessero

verbs ending in –ire, e.g. dormire (to sleep):
io dormissi, tu dormissi, lui dormisse, lei dormisse, noi dormissimo, voi dormiste, loro dormissero

Important irregular verbs

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

When to use the congiuntivo imperfetto

1. with verbs which express: wishes, thoughts, beliefs, worries, and doubts in the past tense, when they are followed by the conjunction che (that).
E.g.: speravo che (I hoped that), pensavo che (I thought that), credevo che (I believed that), temevo che (I was afraid that), dubitavo che (I doubted that).
Giovanni voleva che Laura lo aiutasse a ridipingere la camera (Giovanni wanted Laura to help him repaint the bedroom)
Lucia pensava  che Maria partisse oggi per le vacanze (Lucia thought that Maria was leaving for her holidays today)
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 such as bastava che (it was enough/sufficient that), bisognava che (it was necessary that), si diceva che (it was said).
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 such as era meglio (it was better), era un peccato (it was a pity), non era giusto (it was unfair).
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 followed by che (that) or se (if)
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)
sarebbe meglio se veniste oggi pomeriggio (it would be better if you came this afternoon).

5. in sentences in the past tense following conjunctions built with che, such as prima che (before), affinché (so that, in order that), a meno che non (unless), nel caso che (if)
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)
ha detto che avrebbe telefonato nel caso che il treno fosse in ritardo (he said that he’d phone if the train was late)

6. following the conjunction se (if) when talking about a hypothetical situation
se non piovesse farei una passeggiata (if it wasn’t raining I’d go for a walk)
se Bruno arrivasse presto potrebbe aiutarci (if Bruno arrived soon he could help us)
se partissimo oggi avremmo tempo di visitare Siena (if we left today we’d have time to visit Siena)
se io fossi in te non lo farei (if I were you I wouldn’t do it).

Coming soon: Il Congiuntivo Trapassato (pluperfect subjunctive)!

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