Italian Language Blog

To Be or to Have? Part 2 Posted by on Feb 17, 2014 in Grammar

As promised in Part 1 of this blog, today we’re going to look at some more verbs which use both essere and avere in the passato prossimo. Let’s dive straight in:

1. suonare = to play, to ring. This is a transitive verb, so it’s normally built with the verb avere:

Giovanni ha suonato la chitarra elettrica per molti anni prima di passare a quella acustica = Giovanni played the electric guitar for many years before moving onto the acoustic guitar

le campane hanno suonato mezzogiorno = the bells have struck midday

However, when we don’t express who or what did the action of playing, we use essere:

è suonato mezzogiorno = literally: it has sounded midday, equivalent to ‘the bells/clock have struck midday’

è suonata la sveglia = the alarm rang

2. correre = to run. This is normally used with the auxiliary verb avere:

Mario ha corso la maratona di New York = Mario ran the New York Marathon

ho corso per mezz’ora = I’ve run for half an hour

However, we use essere when correre takes on the meaning of ‘to rush’:

siamo corsi subito all’ospedale = we immediately rushed to the hospital

sono corsa a telefonare = I ran/rushed to make a phone call

Essere is also used when correre is part of an in idiomatic expression:

è corsa voce che tu avessi fatto un incidente di maccchina = there was a rumour that you had had a car crash

3. volare = to fly. This is normally used with avere:

abbiamo volato con Alitalia = we flew with Alitalia

le anatre hanno volato a lungo prima di posarsi = the ducks flew for a long time before setting down

However, if we express where we are flying to or from, we use essere:

gli uccellini sono volati via dal nido = the fledglings flew away from the nest.

Essere is also used when the action of flying is caused by an external force such as the wind or a kick, and in most idiomatic and figurative expressions:

il pallone è volato aldilà della rete = the ball flew past the net

il nonno è volato in cielo = granddad flew to heaven (passed away)

Finally there is a group of verbs in  which both essere and avere are completely interchangeable, and despite the fact that my teacher at the primary school used to insist that essere was more correct, all my grammar books and dictionaries say that there is absolutely no difference between the two. Here are the verbs:

nevicare = to snow, piovere = to rain, diluviare = to pour/to shower, grandinare = to hail, inciampare = to stumble/to trip, sbandare = to skid, scivolare = to slip/to slide:

questa notte ha/è piovuto a dirotto= last night it poured down

l’inverno scorso ha/è nevicato varie molto = last winter it snowed several times

ho inciampato/sono inciampata su un sasso = I tripped on a stone

la macchina ha sbandato/è sbandata perché la strada era ghiacciata = the car skidded because the road was frozen

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