The Present Tense in Italian

present tense in italian

Il Tempo Presente Indicativo

As we’ve mentioned, a typical characteristic of Italian grammar are the conjugations. All the Italian verbs are divided into three main groups called conjugations depending on how a verb ends in its infinitive form.

The first conjugation includes all the verbs whose infinite ends in –are

Ex. Amare (to love), cantare (to sing), volare (to fly)

The second conjugation includes all the verbs whose infinite ends in –ere

Ex. Credere (to believe), vedere (to see), scrivere (to write)

The third conjugation includes all the verbs whose infinite ends in –ire

Ex. Sentire (to hear or to feel), dormire (to sleep), capire (to understand)

Why is it important to know to which conjugation a verb belongs?

Because in Italian, verbs change their endings according to the subject that performs the action, and the endings are different depending on the conjugation. Let’s see this more in detail.

In Italian, like in English, there are six possible subjects to perform an action:

Singular subjects: Io – I Tu – You Lui/Lei – He/She

Plural subjects: Noi – We Voi – You They – Loro

In English we take a verb in the infinitive, for example “to love”, we drop the “to” and we use “love” for each possible subject (I love, you love, etc.) with the only exception of third singular person – he, she or it – which requires an additional –s (he loves, she loves, it loves). Maybe you forgot, but this is a process that, just like in Italian, it’s called conjugation. Transforming a verb from its infinite form into the appropriate form for a given subject is the process of conjugating.

This process in Italian is a little more diverse.

In Italian we take a verb in the infinitive, for example “am-are”, we drop the
“-are” and we add to “am-“, called stem, a different ending depending on the subject; as follows:

1. Am-are2. Scriv-ere3. Dorm-ire
IoAm – oScriv – oDorm – o
TuAm – iScriv – iDorm – i
Lui/LeiAm – aScriv – eDorm – e
NoiAm – iamoScriv – iamoDorm – iamo
VoiAm – ateScriv – eteDorm – ite
LoroAm – anoScriv – onoDorm – ono

We can see above that the endings are slightly different in the three conjugations.

Having such specific endings for each given subject is fundamental in Italian, because in the majority of cases, the subject in Italian is implied. In English we are obliged to mention the subject every time before a verb:

I sing; he loves; we sleep.

But in Italian we don’t need to do so.  By simply saying, canto, ama, dormiamo, it is enough to tell us who the subject is.

We’re able to understand that the subject must be “io” in the first case, because no other ending is –o except the one for the first singular person; in the second case must be a third singular person, because in no other case we have an ending in –a; in the last case must be first plural person, –iamo.

The Present Indicative Tense in Italian

In Italian, the Present Tense is used in three cases:

1. For repeated actions:

Ex: Vado a lavoro tutti i giorni

I go to work every day

2. For actions about to happen (English –ing):

Ex: Vado a fare la spesa!

I’m going grocery shopping!

3. To ask questions in the present, without changing he structure of the sentence, but simply by adding a question mark at the end:

Ex: Oggi vai al lavorare?

Are you going to work today? (Without the queston mark, the same sentence would merely be a statement.)

Particularity of the third conjugation:

Verbs of the third conjugation might require the cluster –isc- between the stem and the endings in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd singular person and 3rd plural person, as shown:


Io cap-isc-o

Tu cap-isc-i

Lui/Lei cap-isc-e

Noi capiamo

Voi capite

Loro cap-isc-ono

Here is a list of the most common verbs with this particularity:

Cap-ire (To understand), Costru-ire (To build), Finire (To finish), Imped-ire (To prevent), Infastid-ire (To annoy), Prefer-ire (To prefer), Spar-ire (To disappear), Sped-ire (To send), Trad-ire (To betray), Un-ire (To put together).

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