The imperfect tense is probably one of the easiest tenses to form in Italian since it has very few irregular verbs. We use the imperfect tense to describe past tense events that are ongoing or have no definite end. This tense many times corresponds to the English expressions “was” “were” and “used to”. When we use these expressions we are talking about an event in the past that never really stopped. Here are some examples:
When I was young I used to go to the movies all the time.
They were listening to the radio when…
My mother always used to make frittata for me as a child.
In the above situations, the action doesn’t have a definite end. If I were to say, “Yesterday, I made a frittata” that sentence would NOT be in the imperfect because the action clearly stopped at some point in time.
The imperfect is used to describe many different things in the past such as:
your age (when I was 12)
the weather (it was raining)
describing a scene (It was a cold and dark night)
what you were doing ( I was eating when)
what you used to do ( I used to go there all the time)
what time it was (It was 5:00 when…….)
what somebody looked like (he was short and mean looking)
The formation of the imperfect is rather simple:
If you have a verb that ends in “are” suche as parlare (to speak):
1. take away the “are” at the end of the verb: parlare —> parl
2. add the appropriate ending according to the subject
io = I – avo
tu = you (informal) – avi
lui/lei = he/she – ava
noi = we – avamo
voi = you (plural) – avate
loro = they – avano
so for example if I want to say: “We used to speak Italian”:
1. find your infinitive “to speak” = parlare
2. cut off thr “are” parlare — parl
3. look at the above chart and find the ending for “we” = avamo
4. add avamo to parl
5 now you have parlavamo = we used to speak or we were speaking.
6. Parlavamo italiano = We used to speak Italian///We were speaking Italian.
Please note that “Parlavamo italiano” means We used to speak Italian or We were speaking Italian. Pretty much any verb in the imperfect tense has two translations in English. Other examples: Guidavo la macchina = I used to drive the car or I was driving the car.
here is the entire conjugation for parlare:
Parlavo = I used to talk,
Parlavi = You (informal) used to talk
Parlava = He/she used to talk
Parlavamo = We used to talk
Parlavate = You (plural) used to talk
Parlavano = They used to talk
If your verb ends in “ere” such as vedere (to see) follow the same rules: cut off the “ere” and add the correct ending. The endings however will be a little different:
io = I – evo
tu = you (informal) – evi
lui/lei = he/she – eva
noi = we – evamo
voi = you (plural) – evate
loro = they – evano
If the verb ends in “ire” such as dormire (to sleep) here are the endings:
io = I – ivo
tu = you (informal) – ivi
lui/lei = he/she – iva
noi = we – ivamo
voi = you (plural) – ivate
loro = they – ivano
There are some verbs that are irregular in the imperfect
ESSERE = to be
ero (I was)
fare = to do
Bere = to drink
dire = to say
1) Ho lasciato mio marito perché (litigare) ogni giorno
2) Non ti ho aspettato per pranzo perché (avere) molta fame
3) Una volta tuo padre ha sgridato Sergio perché (lavorare) poco
4) Claudia è andata via di corsa perché (essere) in ritardo
5) Sei rimasto a casa perché (avere) il mal di testa.
6) Ieri, mentre io (studiare) mio fratello (guardare) la televisione
7) Abbiamo preso un taxi perché gli autobus (fare) sciopero
8) Siamo andati a dormire tardi perché il giorno dopo non (dovere) svegliarci presto.
Litigavamo, avevo, lavorava, era, avevo, studiavo-guardava, facevano, dovevamo.
Article by Giacomo DePasquale