About ready to give up

Without someone explaining what is going on in each sentence, I have struggled to even finish a half of a lesson before running out of hearts. The previous section on Clitics was tough, but it didn't prepare me for this unit. I constantly get the sentence "almost" correct, but invariably type "he" for "she", or "him" for "them". There are too many sentences to memorize, and I don't want to memorize correct answers-- I want to learn why the answers are correct.

EDIT: Obviously (look at my streak/ levels), I did not give up...

Starting over again, and really learning all of the units up to and including "Clitics" was the key to success.
Be true to yourselves-- you can write down the correct answers to sentences in a book or scraps of paper and then copy them in when asked, or you can commit to learning.

The entire course has more notes and discussions now, than when I first posted this three years ago. Ask questions and ask for support-- it does make a difference.


June 4, 2013


General tips for Verbs: Present Perfect

First off, let's quickly clear up something that might confuse people with this topic. This unit is called the "Present Perfect" - but despite the name, the present perfect is not about the present tense. It is about the PAST tense. If the units were named using Italian this section would be called 'il passato prossimo' (the recent past).

I prefer to use the term "il passato prossimo" rather than "present perfect" to discuss this topic because I think the term "present perfect" can easily confuse native English speakers by making them think it's about the present. (It's not about the present).


Okay onwards:

English has various ways to refer to things in the past. The most common are:

  1. I have eaten a sandwich. You have written a book.

  2. I ate a sandwich. You wrote a book.

  3. I was eating a sandwich. You were writing a book.

Il passato prossimo is probably the most commonly used past tense in spoken Italian. It is used for sentences like those in BOTH 1 and 2. It is not used for the sentences in 3. (Sentences like that are covered later on in the unit called Verbs: Past Imperfect).

Here are a couple of external sites that talk about il passato prossimo. It's hard for me to judge how easy they will be for beginners to follow though - so I'll go into a bit more detail in a new comment. Il passato prossimo seems complicated at first but once you learn the basics it's pretty straight-forward.

Feel free to ask questions if you have any... :-)

June 20, 2013

The basic premise of il passato prossimo is as follows. Firstly it's a compound tense. That means every time you use il passato prossimo it's always made up of 2 parts.

"I have eaten a sandwich" is a compound tense in English. The verb is made up of two parts "have" and "eaten". "I ate a sandwich" is a simple tense - the verb is only one word "ate". However you use il passato prossimo for BOTH of these.


Part 1 of il passato prossimo: The present tense of the verb avere or essere.

Avere is the verb "to have" which you'll probably recognize more easily when it is conjugated. (io ho, tu hai, lui/lei ha, noi abbiamo, voi avete, loro hanno).

Essere is the verb "to be" which is conjugated io sono, tu sai, lui/lei è, noi siamo, voi siete, loro sono.

This part is called the auxiliary verb. Most verbs use the present tense of avere as the auxiliary verb( in il passato prossimo) but some of them use the present tense of essere instead.


Part 2: This thing called the past participle

The past participle is made from the verb that happened in the past. For example: in the sentence "I have eaten a sandwich" the past participle is "eaten" which is formed from the verb "to eat".

The past participle of an Italian verb is super easy to work out if it is a regular verb, so long as you know either either a) the infinitive, or b) the third person singular (lui/lei), form for that verb. Most grammar books/sites will teach you how to form the past participle from the infinitive form of the verb, but as Duolingo covers the infinitive after this unit, that's a bit tricky.

So instead, I'm going to explain working out the past participle based on the third person singular form (ie. the form you use with lui/lei, such as lui mangia, lei cucina,...).

  1. If the last letter (of the 3rd person singular form) is -a, remove the last letter and replace it with -ato - ie: lui mangia -> past participle of mangiare = mangiato,

  2. If the last letter is -e, remove the last letter and replace it with -uto

  3. If the last letter is -i, remove the last letter and replace it with -ito

HOWEVER: A lot of verbs have irregular past participles. And unfortunately, most of the verbs that have irregular past participles are commonly used verbs (read, write, drink, have, be, say, do, make, etc are all irregular). You just have to memorise these.

The first link above (the tutorino link) has a list of some verbs which have irregular past participles. Here's another list of irregular past participles:

Up next - some examples

June 20, 2013

Some examples. I have broken down the verb part of each sentence to show you how you work them out.


English sentence: I have eaten the sandwich.

Part 1 (present tense of avere) = ho

Part 2 (past participle of eat) = mangiato

So the sentence becomes: Ho mangiato il panino

(Note: this is also the correct Italian translation for the English sentence "I ate the sandwich")


English sentence: We cooked the dinner

Part 1 (present tense of avere) = abbiamo.

Part 2 (past participle of cook) = cucinato

So the sentence becomes: Abbiamo cucinato il cena

(Note: this is also the correct Italian translation for the English sentence "We have cooked the dinner")


English sentence: The woman has written a book

Part 1 (present tense of avere) = ha

Part 2 (past participle of write) = scritto (This is an irregular past participle)

So the sentence becomes: La donna ha scritto un libro

(Note: this is also the correct Italian translation for the English sentence "The woman wrote a book")


For this last example and for the sake of keeping things simple, please pretend the speaker/writer of the sentence is male. (ie. not me)

English sentence: I went to the zoo

Part 1 (present tense of essere) = sono

Part 2 (past participle of go) = andato

So the sentence becomes: Sono andato allo zoo

(Note: this is also the correct Italian translation for the English sentence "I have gone to the zoo")


Questions? Feel free to ask...

June 25, 2013

To complete your understanding of il passato prossimo, you should go read the tutorino link I gave above which covers the 3 remaining things you need to know...

1) when to use avere as the auxilary verb and when to use essere instead. (It might help you to know that most essere verbs are to do with movement, but for the most part it's just one of those things you have memorize)

2) past participle agreement when essere is the auxilary verb

3) how to make a negative sentence when using il passato prossimo

If you have any questions about these things, just ask. :)

(Also if there's a specific sentence that confuses you - feel free to put it in a comment here with your question/s about it and I will endeavour to explain it for you.)

June 25, 2013

Thank you so much for this helpful explanation. It is much easier when help is right here in the comments.

June 25, 2013

You're welcome. :)

June 25, 2013

Wow Jessic, thank you so much! I may have just given up if I hadn't stumbled upon this! It should be in the main section so everyone can see if before doing the lesson! How do they expect us to know this? Gah! Still haven't even passed Lesson 1 yet, but feeling better about trying again now. Thank you!

July 27, 2013

That first link is most useful. But can you help me with this?

If I use the essere form with ANDARE, I can say "Io sono andato" for "I went". Then, since the number & gender must match the subject, I can figure out that he/ she went is "lui è andato/ lei è andata".

But what do you do with "tu sei"? Match the gender (singular form) to the person whom you speak with, for either "sei andato" or "sei andata"? Because I believe that "siamo andati" is correct for "we went" but my instinct is to always put an "i"-ending on a verb with "tu".

June 25, 2013

This is correct: Match the gender (singular form) to the person whom you speak with, for either "sei andato" or "sei andata"

You have been used to putting -i on the end of a verb with tu for the present tense... That's probably why it feels instinctual. However now you've moved into learning a new tense and things are now different.

Also you have to remember that for the most part the part of il passato prossimo that changes (conjugates) with the subject is part 1 - the auxiliary verb (avere or essere). The past participle only changes if the auxilary verb is essere (which is only used for a small percentage of verbs).

I don't know if it will help, but I think of it as "The past participle decides to behave like an adjective when the auxiliary verb is essere" (ie. adjectives have to agree with the noun, so "deciding to behave like an adjective" means it has to agree with the subject noun). Probably didn't explain that bit very well though...


ps. "Siamo andati" is correct for "we went" unless the group of people referred to (that is the subject of the sentence) are all female - in which case you would use "Siamo andate" instead. Masculine ending is used for all male groups, mixed groups, and a group where gender is unknown but not for all female groups. (admittedly it is unlikely that the gender is unknown in "we went" but it's quite likely in the sentence "they went". "Sono andati" for males/mixed/unknown or "Sono andate" if all females)

June 25, 2013
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I know how you feel, the later sections are less tested, more dense with idioms, and with few grammar tips if any; but if you think of it as a game it's normal for it to get tougher the higher level you get. I think that at the current stage it would be best to integrate duolingo with other study sources, and report any wrong sentences you find; with due help from its users it'll slowly get better.

June 4, 2013

Don't give up Mabby, you've accomplished so much already! Clitics were a bear to get through but you did it. The Present Perfect section is also a challenge, but it's improving with user feedback. I'm reviewing it after completing it awhile back and I remember thinking I'd never make it out of the section alive. But it is easier this time around and many of the translations I challenged are now accepted. F.Formica is right, the higher levels are tougher and you will need to look outside of Duolingo to understand the nuances of Italian grammar. My understanding of Italian has improved a lot by using Duolingo and I know it's because of all those little rules and exceptions that translating forces me to pay attention to.

June 4, 2013

Thanks for the support-- both of you! Shortly after reaching level 12, I realized that I could push on and struggle with the later lessons but I decided to go back to Basics 1 and do every section again so that I would be ready for the more advanced sections. It helped, a bit, but even the Basic sections now included words already in my vocabulary from much later lessons, and I was not acing the early sections like I thought that I would.

I think that I'll go back to the start again, and see if things in the later sections improve in the meantime...

You're both correct about outside study. For learning words, Duolingo is not too bad, but for learning grammar and rules, outside sources are the better way to go.

June 5, 2013

I am impressed with your 94 day streak! I am now on a 61 day streak, and I am pretty obsessed with keeping it going. I have been studying for 2 months, and we will go to Italy in two more months. I will be very interested to see how much I can communicate and understand, since all of my learning has been on duolingo

July 10, 2013

Awesome! Visit Torino if you can, it's really beautiful!!

August 1, 2013

I find doing the Duolingo exercises with any learn Italian textbook open at the appropriate section is a good way to tackle these topics. Using a textbook gives the background and explanations but the Duolingo practices are, for me at least, better at keeping up the motivation as it is hard to get very far in a textbook without external prodding. I have at least 10 different language books through which I never got past chapter 2. I've been able to complete a French one for the first time by using Duolingo along with the book and seem to be getting through the Italian one OK now as well.

October 17, 2013

Which section are you in? I'm looking at this in the general discussion so I can't see that.

If I know where you are, I can link you to some websites with good clear explanations about how that part of Italian grammar works. You can, of course, look up grammar sites yourself but how do you know if they're any good, if you're not sure what you're looking for...

Also if you want to write some of the sentences in here with your questions about them - I'd be happy to try to explain them to you. (If I can - I have 3 years previous study behind me and my old Italian grammar book and dictionary nearby.) Even just having someone point out what's idiomatic and what's a regular construction could be helpful.

ps. Reviewing regularly and often is also a good idea. I reckon at least 50% of your time on review every time you study is best.

June 6, 2013

I'm in "Verbs: Present Perfect". It is incredibly difficult.

I struggled with "Clitics" and "Determiners" (not to mention "Numbers", of all things!) but this section is so tough that I'm doing all I can to avoid it. I keep returning to Clitics so that the L' / la/ le/ gli/ loro/ ci/ si/ vi stuff will eventually click with me, but that never seems to stay in my brain, either. I've memorized some things but I haven't truly learned them.

I wonder how many users are at this level helping to find the mistakes, and such, on the hover hints especially. And, once more alternate translations are allowed, I may do better on this section.

Thanks for the offer, in the meantime!

June 15, 2013

Not a problem. :-) I like helping and I find trying to explain things to other people helps me to consolidate my understanding of Italian. Mostly I need Duolingo because I've forgotten the vast majority of my vocab by not using Italian for so many years; grammar wise (grammar basics at least) I'm pretty solid.

I'm not sure how much you already know so please forgive me if I tell you stuff that is already obvious to you... Feel free to give me some examples of things you don't understand so that I can better judge what to explain. But hopefully these comments may end up becoming a resource for other people who struggle with this section so I'll start anyway (in a separate comment) with a few general tips and some links to a couple of good explanations on outside sites. Feel free to ask questions / tell me I'm starting too simple / give feedback / etc...

(ps. Clitics are quite a hard thing to get your head around, I found that too. The only thing I can suggest there is practice I'm afraid, lots and lots of practice...)

June 20, 2013

...or link me to a couple of your questions and I'll do my best.

(If it was in the present perfect section I can definitely help with that)

June 6, 2013

Hi there! I have created this page to share the grammar rules that Duolingo doesn't explain. Follow, share, collaborate, and keep practising at Duolingo! Impariamo insieme l'italiano! =)

February 10, 2014

I have explored the passato prossimo subject on a different website, thought I knew what I was doing (finally), and tried out my new skill here. The second sentence that I got was one of the irregular verbs that uses "essere" instead of "avere", so I had the past verb form correct but not the auxilary verb. Maddening! Why would you put the unusual/ irregular versions of sentences up front instead of building up confidence with some easy examples that all use "avere" as the auxilary?

September 16, 2013

I totally agree. This section should begin with verbs that use avere, with regular verbs, and no (object) pronouns. The next section could have avere + irregular participles. Then you could have lots of examples with pronouns. When that is established you could teach the verbs that take essere. It would not take any more lessons, but be far more effective.

Why on earth don't Duolingo do this? Are they deliberately putting flaws into the system so that people will be glad to pay for an improved version?

October 3, 2013

I have similar problems about this topic...

June 6, 2013

If your issue is he/she/them the simple answer is that you need to see why you are mis-identifying those genders/numbers and review what those gender abbreviations look like. This unit is about the past perfect, not about gender pronouns. These are pain in the ass mistakes, but I have not had any trouble with the gender/number like you have but have had plenty of problems with the unit itself because I'm in the process of learning it.

You are right, you should not have to memorize sentences. So don't do that. Obviously you have an underlying misunderstanding of the gender/numbers. You are not identifying these things correctly. You need to review this for yourself.

July 4, 2013

I'm with you. I'm on lesson two right now. I've tried it a few times now. I'm ready to flip over my computer.

August 11, 2013

Through five lessons now, and it's getting better. I've taken to writing down the sentences and their translations in my word processor. It helps with the memorization, and also gives me a chance to double check myself if I know I've seen something, but I feel unsure about myself. Wish I thought of it for clitic pronouns, but there you go!

August 12, 2013

Just remember each individual word so you understand the sentence in pieces and then glue it together

August 11, 2013

I actually make quizzes for myself in MS Word, from the Duolingo lessons. I make a table with 3 columns, the first column for the English, the second column for the Italian translations. I change the font in the 2nd column to white so I can't see the answers and then I attempt to answer in the 3rd column. When I want to verify an answer, I change that answer to black and compare my attempt to that answer. You can also reverse the quiz by whiting the English column instead. It is amazingly helpful because I find if I can also learn spellings and actually write out things, I am employing more of my brain to the learning process.

January 31, 2017
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