How do I say “I went home” in Italian? If you said 'Sono andato a casa'' you are doing well in your lessons, but I know that many of you thought about '*Andato* a casa', '*Ho* andato a casa', why cannot we say that? You cannot use just 'andato' because the tense is defined by the auxiliary verb and you must choose the right one.
The use of the auxiliary verb in compound tenses is one of the most frequent doubts among Italian students. Do you also have problems choosing between 'essere' or 'avere'? I'll explain it all to you in four points.
1. COMPOUND TENSES
So, in Italian, we have some compound tenses, that is, a verb that needs two words to be conjugated: the auxiliary verb 'essere' or 'avere' conjugated in a given tense and the main verb at past participle. Here are the same verb conjugated in the first person singular for all compound tenses:
- the “passato prossimo” (past simple/present perfect) of 'cantare' is “ho cantato”, 'ho' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the present tense and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
- the 'trapassato' (past perfect) of 'cantare' is “avevo cantato”, 'avevo' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the 'imperfetto' (imperfect) and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
- the 'futuro anteriore' (future perfect) of 'cantare' is “avrò cantato”, 'avrò' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the 'futuro' (future) and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
- the 'condizionale passato' (past conditional) of 'cantare' is “avrei cantato”, 'avrei' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the 'condizionale' (conditional) and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
- the 'cogiuntivo passato' (past subjunctive) of 'cantare' is “abbia cantato”, 'abbia' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the 'congiuntivo presente' (present subjunctive) and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
- the 'cogiuntivo trapassato' (pluperfect subjunctive) of 'cantare' is “avessi cantato”, 'avessi' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the 'congiuntivo imperfetto' (imperfect subjunctive) and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
- the 'trapassato remoto' (absolute perfect) of 'cantare' is “ebbi cantato”, 'ebbi' is the auxiliary verb 'avere' in the 'passato remoto' (absolute past) and 'cantato' is the 'participio passato' (past participle) of 'cantare'.
As you can see, the auxiliary choice is the same in all tenses, that is, if a verb uses 'essere' at “passato prossimo”, it will be the same at “trapassato”, “futuro anteriore” and at any other compound tense.
2. THE AUXILIARY VERB 'AVERE'
Most of verbs use the auxiliary verb 'avere', grammars say all transitives and inergatives intransitives verbs. In more intuitive words: we use 'avere' when the action expressed by the verb starts from the subject and reaches/includes another element and there are no changes in the subject.
For example: Paolo (subject) ha costruito una casa (object). (Paul built a house); La TV (subject) ha trasmesso il film (object). (The TV has broadcast the film.) The verbs in these examples are transitive.
With inergatives intransitive verbs, even if there is no object, we can imagine it in some way and, in any case, there is no subject transformation.
For example: Ho dormito [un sonno] (I slept [a sleep]); Ho pianto [un pianto] (I cried [a cry]); Ho corso [una corsa] (I ran [a run]). Beyond dormire, piangere e correre also parlare (to talk), camminare (to walk), ballare (to dance), nuotare (to swim), viaggiare (to travel), etc. belong to this group.
3. THE AUXILIARY VERB 'ESSERE'
The actions expressed by the other intransitive verbs, on the other hand, does not have at all this second element that participates in the action.
For example, in Paolo è andato a casa (Paolo went home), only Paolo participates in the action and, moreover, we have a displacement, that is, a change in the subject position. This is the main one characteristic of verbs that use the auxiliary verb 'essere': the subject changes, that is, it gets a transformation or changes his position. The same happens when the verb indicates the subject position or state, for example, Paolo è rimasto a casa (Paolo stayed home), Paolo è stato male (Paolo got sick).
Therefore, verbs that express the subject state, transformation or displacement use 'essere' as auxiliary verb.
For example: Siamo rimasti tutto il giorno a casa. (We stayed at home all day); Maria è sparita. (Maria has disappeared); La città è cresciuta. (The city has grown); Siamo tornati in Italia. (We came back to Italy.).
Among the intransitives with 'essere' as auxiliary verb we also find impersonal verbs, such as sembrare (to seem), bisognare (to need), piacere (to like), succedere (to happen), bastare (to be enough).
Examples: Cosa è successo? (What happened?); Ti è piaciuta la pizza? (Did you like the pizza?).
Finally, we use the auxiliary verb 'essere' with all reflexive and pronominal verbs.
Examples: Paolo si è svegliato alle 7. (Paul woke up at 7am.); Non si sono accorti di niente. (They didn't notice anything).
4. SOMETIMES 'ESSERE' AND SOMETIMES 'AVERE'
Lastly, we have verbs that are sometimes transitive and sometimes intransitive, like cominciare (to begin), finire (to end) and passare (to pass), therefore, they use 'avere' when transitive and 'essere' when intransitive.
For example: Ho finito i compiti. <> Il film è finito. (I finished my homework. <> The film is finished); Ho passato una bella giornata. <> Sono passato per la strada principale. (I had a great day. <> I went through the main road.).
If you have other doubts or want more examples, leave a comment below.