Essere vs avere for the present perfect

Does anyone know how to differentiate the uses of essere vs avere when using the present perfect? From my understanding through the answers Duo tells me are right and wrong, I feel like there are certain uses for each verb in this scenario that aren't explained

February 8, 2018


No doubt CivisRomanus will weigh in with more detail, but in general:

avere is used for all transitive verbs, and for intransitive verbs in which the subject takes an active or controlling part (correre for example).

essere is used for all reflexive verbs, verbs with the impersonal pronoun, and for a large number of intransitive verbs including the key verbs entrare/uscire and venire/andare.

I have more notes somewhere I will add later when I get home, if no one else adds the info here first.

February 8, 2018

Thank you for the fast reply and notes! I will definitely be studying the different uses and the transitive verbs. Grazie per il tuo commento!

February 8, 2018

As Dcarl correctly wrote, there is only one basic rule you can rely on, that is when a verb is transitive it always takes avere.

Unfortunately, there are no rules nor guidelines that can effectively enable a learner to foresee whether an intransitive verb takes essere or avere. The only way is to learn which auxiliary the verb takes and memorize it.
Any attempt to divide intransitive verbs into an 'essere group' and an 'avere group' on the basis of their meaning is rather deceptive. I have come across the most diverse types of classifications and none of them was satisfying.

Here are some very loose guidelines:


Verbs that take essere express a change of condition which is independent from the subject's own will, e.g. cadere (to stumble, fall), guarire (to recover), esplodere (to explode), sparire (to vanish), nascere (to be born), morire (to die).

Otherwise they express a change of position, e.g. arrivare (to arrive), entrare (to enter, go inside, come inside), uscire (to exit, come out, go out), fuggire (to escape, run away), scendere (to come down, get off), salire (to climb, go up, board a vehicle).

They can also express a stative (i.e. still) action, e.g. stare (to stay), restare (to remain),  rimanere (to remain, be left over), sedere (to sit, stay seated).

All verbs that express occurrence take essere, such as accadere (to happen, occur), avvenire (to happen, take place), occorrere (to happen, occur), succedere (to happen, occur), capitare (to happen, occur), all very similar in meaning.

Also verbs that describe weather events, such as piovere (to rain), nevicare (to snow), grandinare (to hail), tuonare (to thunder), should take essere, but now also avere is accepted.

All verbs that have a reflexive conjugation (i.e. whose infinitive ends with the suffix pronoun -si) such as perdersi (to get lost), chiamarsi (to be named), ammalarsi (to fall ill), provarsi (to try on), etc., take essere, regardless of whether they are transitive or intransitive (this is an important rule, because it overrides the basic one previously mentioned).


Intransitive verbs that take avere express activities in which the subject engages intentionally, e.g. agire (to act), pensare (to think), bussare (to knock), sostare (to stop, pause), esitare (to hesitate), insistere (to insist), protestare (to complain), passeggiare (to stroll), riposare (to rest, take a rest), vagare (to wander).

Others are verbs that express bodily functions or involuntary reactions, such as dormire (to sleep), russare (to snore), respirare (to breathe), piangere (to cry), ridere (to laugh), tremare (to tremble), sospirare (to sigh), sudare (to sweat).

Each of the two auxiliaries takes itself, i.e. essere forms compound tenses with essere, and avere forms its own with avere.

Beware that a few verbs can take both auxiliaries, according to their meaning, for instance: finire (to finish, to end).

  • I finished the work. (transitive → avere) = Ho finito il lavoro.

  • The film has ended. (intransitive → essere) = Il film è finito.

February 8, 2018

Thank you for this very clear explanation. Can I ask about a verb such as the verb to fly (volare) - I am a non-native German speaker and the verb "fliegen" can be either intransitive (I flew to New York) and takes "sein" as auxiliary or transitive (The pilot flew the plane to New York) and takes "haben" as auxiliary. Is there an equivalent with "volare". Word reference calls it an intransitive verb which can take both auxiliaries. Are they used much as how I quote for German? I might quibble slightly with your last example (The film has ended) in that it is describing a state and the past participle is being used as an adjective - perhaps. The translation is the same of course it is just how one views it that differs. Thanks again.

February 8, 2018

You are welcome.

Volare is a peculiar verb, because it can take both auxiliaries depending on the meaning.
But in neither case it is transitive, so in Italian you can't 'fly something'.
You can either 'make something fly' (causative construction, with the verbs fare + volare):

  • I flew a kite. = (Io) ho fatto volare un aquilone.

or you can 'pilot a aircraft':

  • I flew a jet. = (Io) ho pilotato un jet.

but if the subject is pilota it is advisable not to use this verb, otherwise it would sound awful. Condurre is a feasible replacement :

  • The pilot flew the plane. = Il pilota ha condotto l'aereo.

A flag is never 'flown', so it is either 'carried' (→ portare), or 'displayed' (→ esporre). Otherwise, simply avere is used.

When volare means 'to fly' without any reference to moving from one place to another, the auxiliary is avere.

  • Did the kite fly well? = L'aquilone ha volato bene?

  • This chick has never flown. = Questo pulcino non ha mai volato.

The same auxiliary is used when the meaning is 'to use a plane as a means of transport':

  • Did you ever fly on / with the Concorde? = (Tu) hai mai volato sul / con il Concorde?

Instead, when the meaning 'to fly' infers moving to some place, or moving away from the speaker, essere is used:

  • The bird flew from one tree to the other. = L'uccello è volato da un albero all'altro.

  • The butterfly had flown away. = La farfalla era volata via.

  • We flew to Paris. = (Noi) siamo volati a Parigi.

I might quibble slightly with your last example (The film has ended) in that it is describing a state and the past participle is being used as an adjective - perhaps.

Yes, this is correct. In Italian, when a past participle comes after the auxiliary essere it always sounds like an adjective (i.e. like an adjectival predicate after the copular verb essere), and with some verbs it can even be perceived as both:

è cresciuto = 'he has grown up' (past participle) or 'he is grown up' (adjective)

è rimasto = 'he has remained' / 'it has been left over' (past participle) or 'it is left over' (adjective)

è nato = 'he was born' (past participle) or 'he is born' (adjective)

è finito = 'it has finished' (past participle) or 'it is finished' (adjective)

This is the reason why a past participle that stands after essere is always inflected, as any adjective, whereas a past participle after avere remains invariable (unless a direct object clitic pronoun stands before the verb).

February 8, 2018

That makes a lot of sense! And that answer was straight up amazing Civis haha and extremely clear. Thank you very much!

February 9, 2018

Thank you yet again, CivisRomanus. Is there anyone out there with the time to collate all the DL posts by CivisRomanus as a guide to the Italian language for we poor learners stumbling around in the delightful but confusing rules of Italian grammar and usage? Just a thought.

February 9, 2018

Hello, on 18th September 2017 CivisRomanus gave us a list of his previous discussions. That was a huge help to me as I had only just discovered these discussion pages. I had only used the App up until then, no discussion access from that. I like to hold 'stuff' in my hand, so I printed them, and have continued printing since then. Yes, I know, I am an aged groupie, and I definitely owe him. I think the list was on comment number 24494902 or 24323173, but I do not find the search button very reliable.

February 9, 2018

CivisRomanus, thank you. More great help from you. But, you have given it in your usual modest way, by hiding it in a post about something completely different. Please may I suggest that you post it again under a new discussion? Put your name in the title too. Something like 'Advice for Italian from CivisRomanus', and then Italian learners will be able to search for this more easily in the future. Put your name 'up in lights'---so many of us think you deserve it.

I'm replying here, because the other post had no 'reply' option .

Thank you for your suggestion, creating a new discussion with all the links would certainly make my posts easier to reach.
I'd only like to make sure that 'advertising' my own notes would not seem disrespectful to the official contributors of Duolingo's course who worked on the Italian tree, it is not my intention to dim their work. I don't even have the slightest idea of what the 'Tips and Notes' (i.e. grammar) are like in the units, because I never subscribed to the Italian course.

Last year I was kindly invited to become an official contributor myself. But my approach to grammar is a bit old-fashioned, as you can tell from my posts, and probably too prolix for Duolingo's units. So I declined the offer, preferring to answer individual queries in the forum.

February 10, 2018

Thank you HelenDaisy! :-)

The link to the page of the Civislingo list is: (in one of the last posts)

I'll arrange a list of the further topics I commented since September and I'll post it here, in the hope it may be useful to someone.

February 9, 2018

This is the list of links to major topics I discussed since September 2017:

the use of graphic accents


the verb TRATTARSI

NEANCHE, NEMMENO, NEPPURE 'not even' or 'not ... either'


relative clause vs. indirect interrogative clause

the many meanings of GUARDARE

How to say 'it'

verbs that are transitive and intransitive + ergative verbs

Italian duration forms

use of the trapassato prossimo (past perfect) versus the passato prossimo (present perfect)


difference in use between MA and BENSÌ


the construction used with verbs PIACERE and MANCARE

several meanings of TRATTARE / TRATTARSI


agreement with collective nouns

use of the future tense (three purposes)

CHI versus CHE

the pronunciation of CASA and of the intervocalic S

QUI and LI versus QUA and LA

DI or DA added after surrogate prepositions when the following word is a personal pronoun

double negative constructions


about the use of subjunctive

the use of subjunctive after -UNQUE words

the many meanings of the clitic pronoun CI


February 9, 2018

CivisRomanus, thank you. More great help from you. But, you have given it in your usual modest way, by hiding it in a post about something completely different.

Please may I suggest that you post it again under a new discussion? Put your name in the title too. Something like 'Advice for Italian from CivisRomanus', and then Italian learners will be able to search for this more easily in the future.

Put your name 'up in lights'---so many of us think you deserve it.

February 9, 2018

You can't see my smile online but I am smiling. Thank you again.

February 10, 2018

I also have found a comment for differentiating transitive verbs vs intransitive verbs if more resources and explanations are needed (Unlikely with Civis' crystal clear explanaions)

February 9, 2018

A few months ago I too wrote something about this subject, in two parts. The first part is about how to tell transitive verbs from intransitive ones, and the second part is about how Italian deals with verbs that can be used both as transitive and intransitive (such as 'to open', 'to finish', 'to break', etc.).

February 9, 2018

CivisRomanus, thank you for your considered reply to my suggestion. All night I have been trying to weigh up your valid argument against my passion to give everyone the best opportunity for learning. This morning a new post has appeared 'Languages Grammar'. The responses to that demonstrate how much we need you!

The ideal help for learners would be links to your lists with a 'sticky' to make them obvious. I cannot take this any further, because I cannot intrude into your decisions. Might you be able to put this forward to the person who asked you to be a contributor? Your advice is a bonus to their course, and does not compete in any way.

I am retired and have time to check every day for useful and interesting new posts in the discussion forums. Other learners have less time. You have put so much work into this, and I believe it should be more obviously shared.

Thank you for your time 'listening' to me. I hope I come across as 'requesting' and not 'telling'.

(There was no reply button to link this to your reply)

February 11, 2018

I second this heartily! The best part of my day often is finding a clear explanation from CivisRomanus on a topic in the Italian Forum.

I wish you were (or would decide to be) a contributor. Your prose is so elegant and clear. As someone who is a bit of a grammar pedant, I can say that the rigor you mention seems a huge bonus to me. The Italian language in all its complexity and subtlety deserves someone like you to be its advocate and guide. You are our Virgil guiding us through the thorny confusion of its pathways.

It is also clear that the current Italian contributors are swamped and have little time for corrections, adding features, etc. More committed and knowledgeable contributors would be a huge help. On the other hand, as someone who works 60+ hours myself and has more hobbies than I can shake a stick at, I can understand not wanting to take on a huge obligation like that.

February 11, 2018

I've found that Italian, German and Dutch often follow the same rules in this regard.

ik ben gevallen - sono caduto

ik ben geboren - sono nato

ik ben gevlucht - sono fuggito

ik ben aangekomen - sono arrivato

So there must be some kind of internal logic between these European languages. It seems that French and Spanish too follow much of the same patterns, so I suppose that comparing a bit between what you have learnt in Italian, French and Spanish can help to increase your understanding of all three of them.

February 8, 2018

The simple way I was always taught has been: If there is an object involved use avere. If it is a state of being (ie. nascere, mortire) use essere. And if ever in doubt, use avere, because more often than not that will be the case. Obviously there are many exceptions, but without learning every verb by heart, this is a simple and quick way to distinguish.

February 11, 2018
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