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Passato prossimo vs. l'imperfetto

A good explanation of when to use passato prossimo vs. l'imperfetto: The "passato prossimo" refers to facts that are seen as completed, but have some relation to the present. Generally, the events happened near to present time. Events which happened long ago may be expressed using this tense when the event is seen as still having an active relationship to the present.

Some examples are: Il treno ha arrivato. The train arrived (has arrived). Io ho mangiato. I ate (have eaten). Avete capito quello che ho detto? Did you understand what I said? Quindici anni fa che siamo venuti in America. We came to America 15 years ago.[and we are still here]

The imperfect past expresses an action which began at some unstated time, continued for an unspecified period, and is now over. The verb forms are made by adding a suffix to the modified infinitive. In most cases, the letters -re are dropped from the infinitive, and the endings -vo, -vi, -va, -vamo, -vate, and -vano are added. There are a few irregular forms.

The imperfect tense expresses continuous or repeated past actions or events. The English equivalent will be the simple past tense, the expression "used to ~ ", past tense of the verb "to be" plus a gerund, or the expression "would ~ " when it refers to a repeated past action. Some examples are: Noi abitavamo a Firenze. We used to live in Florence. Claudio arrivava spesso tardi. Claude would often arrive late. Io leggevo mentre lui scriveva. I was reading while he was writing. Di solito, andavo in Italia. Usually, I went to Italy.

In Italian, the imperfect is used to express a physical or emotional state that occurred in the past, and is now over. It is also used to describe past weather conditions, time, or a person's age.

August 7, 2013


  • 2546

Nice post; I don't agree on all points as I feel that passato prossimo doesn't have as much relation to the present state as present perfect does, but I can't derive a better rule.

A few fixes:

  • Il treno è arrivato
  • Siamo venuti in America quindici anni fa


Thanks for the corrections. Aren't passato prossimo and present perfect same thing or did you mean something else or am i reading it wrong?

  • 2546

Yes, they are similar and have a similar usage, but don't follow the same rules: after all present perfect is a present (thus the strong tie with the present state) and passato prossimo is "near past". For instance it wouldn't be correct in English to say "yesterday I've gone to Rome", but it is in Italian "ieri sono andato a Roma". Many modern occurrences of passato prossimo are due to the slow disappearance of passato remoto in most of Italy; for instance "siamo venuti in America quindici anni fa" could have been just as well "arrivammo in America quindici anni fa".


I just learned this yesterday with my Italian tutor and the way he outlined the imperfect past was easy for me to understand. Basically, he said that you use it for:

  1. Description - She was a beautiful girl

  2. Unfinished/Undated activities in the past - 'I lived in England'. If it was, 'I lived in England in 2000', then the passato prossimo would be used.

  3. Habitual Activities - I went to the shops everyday.

  4. Parallel Activities - 'While I studied I was watching TV'. However, if the activity is interrupted, for example, 'While I watched the TV, the telephone rang', the word 'watched' would use the imperfetto while the interrupting activity, the word 'rang', would use the passato prossimo.

Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong as I only learned this yesterday so I want to make sure I learn it properly too.


So, how about the following sentences:

1) 'I was born in 1960'. Would this translate as 'Sono nato nel 1960' as it's in the past, but has a definitive timestamp? 2) 'I was born in England' - a definitive statement, but not dated and may or may have any relevance to the current time; so would it translate as: 'Nascevo in Inghilterra'? 3) 'I was born in England in 1960' combines 1 and 2 and provides a timestamp; so: 'Sono nato in Inghilterra nel 1960'?

I'm only looking at this for revision, but always manages to confuse me :-)


They way I understand it is that when you say "I was born in England", it is a completed action in the past. You were born, it wasn't a continual process, therefore you shouldn't use imperfect. So, I think the correct way to say it is "Sono nato in Inghilterra".. I don't think it would be imperfect at all


Thanks for the tips. This is one of those grammar points that used to kill me in class. I like one example that was given to me: In a book, imperfect would be the behind the scenes: setting, character descriptions, weather, time period, anything that will set the tone. Passato prossimo is the actual plot of the book. They did this, they went there, they met so and so.

Prolly not 100% accurate, but a good general rule.


This is an old post but a good post. Nice description of how to use the two tenses. Thanks.


Just to be more accurate: “Il treno è arrivato”, not “ha arrivato” “Quindici anni fa siamo venuti in America”, not “Quindici anni fa siamo venuti in America” ;) ItalianWithGrace.com

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