Passato Remoto: Written Past Tense in Italian

By Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch

Now that we have gone over that passato prossimo and the imperfetto, let's go over that last type of Italian past tense. Learn the third past tense in Italian: passato remoto.

As we have learned, we have passato prossimo for events that happened once in the past and imperfetto is used for events that happened more than once in the past. Another past tense, passato remoto, is used for events that happened in the distant past.

Passato remoto is used in written Italian, except for some areas of Southern Italy where it is used in spoken language. When spoken, the emphasis is put on the first vowel of the ending. When we translate a sentence written in the passato remoto, it is the same translation as a sentence in passato prossimo. For example:

(pr) l'anno scorso Matteo scrisse un saggio. (Last year, Matthew wrote an essay)

(pp) Ieri, Matteo ha scritto un saggio. (Yesterday, Matthew wrote an essay)

The difference between passato prossimo and passato remoto is that passato prossimo is used more often, especially in speaking.

Regular Verb Conjugation

Just like other verb conjugations in Italian, the regular verbs have specific endings. With the two types of -ire verbs, the endings are the same. Let's go over the regular verb endings:

-are verbs: cantare (to sing)

(io) cantai

(tu) cantasti

(lui, lei) cantò

(noi) cantammo

(voi) cantaste

(loro) cantarono

-ere verbs: vendere (to sell)

(io) vendei (-etti)

(tu) vendesti

(lui, lei) vendé (-ette)

(noi) vendemmo

(voi) vendeste

(loro) venderono (-ettero)

Notice for -ere verbs, there are two options for first person singular, third person singular and third person plural. We may see either of these forms in writing.

-ire verbs: sentire (to hear)

(io) sentii

(tu) sentisti

(lui, lei) sentì

(noi) sentimmo

(voi) sentiste

(loro) sentirono

Essere and Avere

Just as in other verb tenses, essere and avere have irregular conjugations. In the passato remoto, the conjugations vaguely resemble the verb. Let's go over each:

Essere

(io) fui

(tu) fosti

(lui, lei) fu

(noi) fummo

(voi) foste

(loro) furono

Avere

(io) ebbi

(tu) avesti

(lui, lei) ebbe

(noi) avemmo

(voi) aveste

(loro) ebbero

Irregular Verb Conjugation

Many verbs in Italian have an irregular conjugation with the passato remoto. We will go over the first person singular form of each of these verbs, as the ending will indicate how we continue to conjugate. For example, if we have bevetti, the first person singular of bere (to drink), it would be conjugated as:

(io) bevvi/bevetti

(tu) bevesti

(lui, lei) bevve

(noi) bevemmo

(voi) beveste

(loro) bevvero

Let's go over some of the other irregular verbs:

cadere → caddi (to fall)

chiedere → chiesi (to ask)

conoscere → conobbi (to know)

correre → corsi (to run)

dare → diedi/detti (to give)

decidere → decisi (to decide)

fare → feci (to make, to do)

mettere → misi (to put)

nascere → nacque (to be born)

perdere → persi (to lose)

prendere → presi (to take)

rendere → resi (to return)

rispondere → risposi (to answer)

rompere → ruppi (to break)

sapere → seppi (to know)

scrivere → scrissi (to write)

spegnere → spensi (to turn off)

stare → stetti (to be, to stay)

tenere → tenni (to hold)

vedere → vidi (to see)

venire → venni (to come)

vivere → vissi (to live)

volere → volli (to want)