ESSERE OR AVERE: which auxilary verb to choose

See subject, hope this helps people who were struggling with this sometimes (as I was). Comments and improvements are welcome!

Default: avere

For example, all transitive verbs use avere and a lot of intransitive verbs too.

Exception 1: reflexive verbs always use essere

  • "Laura si è sentita male" = "Laura was ill"

This introduces something surprising for Transitive verbs that can be made reflexive: avere changes to essere while the structure of the sentence remains the same:

  • "Io l'ho lavato" = "I have washed him"
  • "Io mi sono lavato" = "I have washed myself"
  • "Io gli ho dato un regalo" = "I have given him a gift"
  • "Io mi sono dato un regalo" = "I have given myself a gift"
  • "Io le ho chiamata la principessa di Hong Kong" = "I have called her the princess of Hong Kong"
  • "Io mi sono chiamata la principessa di Hong Kong" = "I have called myself the princess of Hong Kong"

Exception 2: These verbs use essere

essere, stare, piacere, andare, arrivare, partire, cadere, costare, crescere, diventare, durare, entrare, morire, restare, rimanere, (ri)tornare, sembrare, succedere, uscire, venire, ...

Exception 3: verbs that are both Transitive and Intransitive, used in Intransitive form usually use essere.

In this case it looks like the verb is used as an adjective ("La festa è finita.").

bruciare, finire, cominciare, iniziare, passare, terminare, diminuire (diminish), vivere (same meaning as with avere)

  • "Abbiamo diminuito i prezzi della carne."
  • "I prezzi della carne sono diminuiti."
  • "Laura ha finito i suoi compiti."
  • "I compiti sono finiti"

Exception 4: passive forms of Transitive verbs use essere

  • "La nota è scritta"
  • "Il libro è letto"
  • "Il regalo è comprato"
  • "Il regalo è stato comprato"

Exception 5: impersonal pronoun 'si' always uses essere

  • "Si è venduta la casa" = "Tu hai venduta la casa"

NB: when an modal verb (volere, potere, dovere) is used, the same rules have to be followed:

  • Le ragazze sono volute andare. (because andare takes essere)
  • L'ho voluta credere. (because credere takes avere)

January 12, 2015


I think the sentence "I have called her the princess of Hong Kong" should be "L'ho chiamata la principessa di Hong Kong".
"You sold the house." - "Hai venduto la casa." (not "venduta")

January 18, 2019

Awesome! Thank you. :-)

January 12, 2015

That's a great help, thanks! Maybe I'm wrong with that assumption, but I have always thought for myself that if I use a verb that denotes any form of movement (andare, tornare, arrivare... anything but nuotare!), I always have to use essere... Probably complete crap, but it helped me :P

January 12, 2015

You're not wrong: if the movement has a goal (andare, tornare, scappare) you should use essere, but if it is a way of movement or movement inside certain place (nuotare, camminare, passeggiare, viaggiare) avere is correct. Verbs correre and volare use both of them: Ho corso nel parco. Sono corso ad aprire la porta. Non ho mai volato in Concorde. L'aereo è volato a Roma. Do yo feel the difference?

January 12, 2015

Since I'm not Italian, I'm not 100% sure, but my guess is that volare is a verb that takes a direct object (I fly the plane), and you are using the passive form in the second sentence (L'aereo è volato a Roma). If this is the case, it is not an exception to the rule.

About correre, I'm not an expert, but are you sure that 'Ho corso ad aprire la porta' is incorrect? Or isn't 'Sono corso ad aprire la porta' maybe a passive form of another interpretation of correre?

January 12, 2015

You misunderstood, I didn't say it's incorrect :) I wrote "Verbs correre and volare use both of them", so everything is correct...and by "the difference" I thought difference in the meaning, in the first one we have movement inside certain place, in the second is movement with a goal (to open the door). There's no passive, it's just regular passato prossimo. I hope I helped - it's from my professor's textbook, I'm not a native speaker. :)

January 13, 2015

Then I still have this question for the Italian experts :-)

"Sono corso ad aprire la porta" - "I (literally) ran to open the door" Why is it correct?

According to my information, correre is a transtive (T) verb and an Intransitive (IT) verb. Example of T correre: Corro un rischio = I am running a risk. If the sentence "Sono corso ad aprire la porta" literally means running, then correre is used IT. I read on the website below that IT correre can use avere or essere, depending on the context. It seems to me that if the context is that someone is literally running, then avere should be used.

So my question is this: Why would you use essere in this case? Is there a subtle difference of meaning between this sentence and "Ho corso ad aprire la porta" ?

January 13, 2015

I think I have found out which auxilary verb to use with Transitive correre.

Please correct me if this self-made up rule is wrong or incomplete :-)

If correre is used as running with a target, then use essere.

If correre is used as running without a specific target, then use avere.

It's the best I've got right now and at least this rule "explains" a little these sentences:

  • Ho corso una maratona ieri
  • Sono corso ad aprire la porta
  • Ho già corso in quel parco
  • Sono corso alla casa di Gianni
January 13, 2015

Ah, thank you, that clears up a lot... Now I know why my rule did not work out with nuotare and camminare :P Thank you a lot!

January 13, 2015

This is really helpful, I'll try to remember that when I know it's reflective to use essere.

January 13, 2015

So why was this correct? Non so se ci avrà piaciuto I don't know if we'll have liked it

December 23, 2017
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