The passato prossimo-grammatically referred to as the present perfect- expresses a fact or action that happened in the recent past or that occurred long ago but still has ties to the present.
It's a compound tense (tempo composto), which means that you need to use an auxiliary verb - either “essere” or “avere” - plus a past participle. An example of a past participle would be “mangiato” for the verb “mangiare”.
If you want to talk about events that happened repeatedly in the past, like going to your Italian lesson every Sunday, or telling a story, you'll need to use the imperfect tense.
Here Are a Few Examples of How the Passato Prossimo Appears in Italian:
- Ti ho appena chiamato. - I just called you.
- Mi sono iscritto/a all'università quattro anni fa. - I entered university four years ago.
- Questa mattina sono uscito/a presto. - This morning I left early.
- Il Petrarca ha scritto sonetti immortali. - Petrarca wrote enduring sonnets.
How to Form the Past Tense
In order to form the past tense, there are two main things you need to know.
- Does the verb you want to use need the auxiliary verb “essere” or “avere”?
- What is the past participle of the verb you want to use?
For example, if you wanted to say, “I went to Rome last summer”, you would need to use the verb “andare”. The verb “andare” takes the verb “essere” as a helper, or auxiliary, verb because it's a verb that has to do with motion. Then, the past participle of the verb “andare” is “andato”. However, when you use the verb “essere” as an auxiliary verb, the past participle MUST agree in number and gender.
- L'estate scorsa sono andato a Roma. - I went to Rome last summer. (masculine, singular)
- L'estate scorsa sono andata a Roma. - I went to Rome last summer. (feminine, singular)
- L'estate scorsa mia sorella e mia madre sono andate a Roma. - My sister and mother went to Rome last summer. (feminine, plural)
- L'estate scorsa siamo andati a Roma. - We went to Rome last summer. (masculine, plural)
If you're using “avere” as an auxiliary verb, it's much simpler as the past participle does not have to agree in number and gender (that is, unless you're using direct object pronouns.)
For example, let's use the sentence, “I watched that movie”.
First, you need to use the verb “guardare - to watch”. The past participle of “guardare” is “guardato”. Then you conjugate your auxiliary verb “avere” into the first person singular, which is “ho”.
The sentence then becomes, “Ho guardato quel film”.
TIP: If the verb you're using is reflexive, like “innamorarsi - to fall in love”, you need to use “essere” as your auxiliary verb. For example, “Ci siamo innamorati due anni fa. - We fell in love two years ago.”
When to Use Il Passato Prossimo (Present Perfect) Instead of L'Imperfetto (Imperfect)
It is notoriously difficult to correctly decide between il passato prossimo and l'imperfetto when you try talking about the past in Italian. While there are some rules for when to choose one or the other, it's also helpful to know which phrases are typically used with il passato prossimo.
The following table lists some adverbial expressions that are often used with the passato prossimo:
Common Expressions Used With Il Passato Prossimo
il mese scorso
the other day
tre giorni fa
three days ago