We've covered two perfective past tense forms, il passato prossimo and il passato remoto, which means we can now describe a completed action with some finesse. But we still haven't thought about how to describe an imperfective action — something that was ongoing in the past. Today, we'll fix that by looking at the imperfetto.

Il imperfetto

When describing an action that was ongoing at some time in the past, you need
to use an imperfect verb tense, and that is what the imperfetto is. Note here that unlike English (but exactly like Spanish), the imperfective is used to describe repeated, or habitual, actions in the past. For example, the statement "In my youth, I played basketball often," would use an imperfective form for played in Italian.

Once again, the endings are different for -are, -ere, and -ire verbs. Here are the endings:

  -are -ere -ire
io -avo -evo -ivo
tu -avi -evi -ivi
lui/lei -ava -eva -iva
noi -avamo -evamo -ivamo
voi -avete -evete -ivete
loro -avano -evano -ivano

Sometimes I find it to be quite a relief when there are no additional exceptions to remember. These conjugations are all straightforward and they stay the same through all three verb forms and all six subjects.

Another way to look at it

This is already one of the easiest verb conjugations we've encountered in Italian. There are no exceptions or special cases, and all the endings match, so long as you start with the correct vowel to match the verb form. You might be happy enough about that, but I think we can make it even easier.

If you look at all of these endings, they all end in the same way as the present indicative form. After the v, everything is the same. In other words, the only thing you need to do in order to form the imperfetto is slip in a v before the ending. Now that's easy!

Granted, there are a few irregular verbs, including avere, essere, dire, bere, and a few others... but the exceptions aren't many.



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