Passato prossimo V Past imperfect
I just want to check that I have got my head around both these challenging topics. Passato prossimo will have some sort of time stamp and be used with avere, While past imperfect is just a reference to the past in general, time indeterminate / not neccessary ?
All the difficulty lies in telling when to use the passato prossimo vs. the passato remoto (see this old discussion, with an easy algorithm for choosing the right tense).
Instead the trapassato prossimo should not represent a problem.
The trapassato prossimo corresponds to the English past perfect, both as a tense and in the way it is used.
This tense describes an action set in the past (and completely finished), and infers that something else happened afterwards, i.e. another action set in the past, described with the simple past tense (in Italian, the latter can correspond either to the passato remoto or to the passato prossimo).
- I had finished eating [earlier action] when the telephone rang [following action].
In Italian this turns into:
- (Io) avevo finito di mangiare [trapassato prossimo] quando squillò [passato remoto] il telefono.
or (according to the context)
- (Io) avevo finito di mangiare [trapassato prossimo] quando ha squillato [passato prossimo] il telefono.
The auxiliary is chosen according to the verb, so intransitive verbs that take essere for one compound tense take the same auxiliary for all the others:
The apples had ripened, so we picked them.
Le mele erano maturate, così (noi) le raccogliemmo / le abbiamo raccolte.
The following action can be mentioned before the earlier one:
- I met Paul after I had left you.
There is not even need for the sentence to actually include the following action, as this can be expressed by a further sentence, or can be simply understood from the context:
- I had finished working.
This sentence sends the listener (or the reader) a 'subliminal message' that something happened after the action had been completed, otherwise I should say 'I (have) finished working':
- I had finished working. Since it was still early, I went out for a walk.
In other cases the following action is simply understood.
Agree this is pretty confusing. I think of passato prossimo as a “one and done” thing, and past imperfect as ongoing, but now concluded. You can also use past imperfect for feelings or weather (I loved him; it was hot).
These are pretty decent articles explaining differences, but there are lots online as well.