Italian Language Blog

The Italian Subjunctive – 5. Pluperfect Tense Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Grammar

This is the final article in our series about the subjunctive. Today we’ll be studying il congiuntivo trapassato (the pluperfect subjunctive).

Constructing the congiuntivo trapassato

The congiuntivo trapassato is used when talking about the past to refer to things that had happened, e.g. ‘I had gone’, ‘you had finished’ etc.
In order to construct the pluperfect subjunctive you will need to use the imperfect subjunctive of the auxiliary verbs essere and avere (see this article: The Italian Subjunctive – 4. Imperfect Tense), 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), 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 verb: Italian Transitive and Intransitive Verbs – a practical guide

“si diceva che lui fosse stato in America da bambino” Italian immigrants arrive at Ellis Island.

When to use the congiuntivo trapassato:

1. to say what you thought, wished or hoped about something in the past.
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 fosse riuscito a superare l’esame (I was worried that Carlo hadn’t been able to pass the exam).

2. to 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)
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. to 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)
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. to express a possibility or a condition that should have happened in the past following conjunctions built with che, such as a meno che non (unless), nel caso che (in case), a condizione che (on condition that), purché (provided that), benché (even though/although).
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. to talk about an imagined situation in the past following the conjunction 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).

Coming soon: Italian Subjunctive Quiz!

A Presto

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  1. Jacqui:

    These blogs on the subjunctive are SO useful Grazie mille.

  2. Bob:

    Mi gira la testa!

    • Geoff:

      @Bob Infatti, non è per niente semplice.

      Su, forza!!!

      Saluti da Geoff 🙂

  3. Bahia:

    Salve Serena,
    Hai pensato di scrivere un articolo sul periodo ipotetico ? Grazie.

    • Serena:

      @Bahia Salve Bahia!
      Sì, ci stavo pensando. Presto scriveremo un articolo sul periodo ipotetico.
      Grazie per il suggerimento.

  4. Girish Ananth:

    Hi ! I wish I had found you earlier. Anyway, better late than never. I want to login to your site. By the way : just as passato remoto is the lit form of passato prossimo, what is the lit form of pluperfect in literary style (= passe anterieur in french) ?

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