3 easy steps to form the past participle in Italian (+BONUS)

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Let’s be honest: when you start study Italian, it all seems to be a peaceful ride on a merry go round. But as soon as you start to dig deeper in the world of verb tenses, it all starts to seems more like a free fall on a rollercoaster. However, if you get familiar with the past participle in Italian, it will just be easy as a pie.

What is the “past participle”?

Before going ahead and learn how to form this useful, yet difficult tense, we need to figure out how it is called and what is it. First of all, we call the past participle “participio passato” in Italian. English language has it too, and we use it every day without even noticing.

Eaten, built, discussed, and taken are only a tiny group of examples that can help you figure out what’s the past participle of an English verb.

What can I use the past participle for?

One of the most difficult tenses to form even for Italians is the past participle. This tense can be useful in many different ways.

Create new adjectives

As in English, every past participle can be used as an adjective to describe a certain state or characteristic of an object or person. Maybe you already use them while speaking in Italian. Have you ever heard of verifica scritta and verifica orale? Well, the adjective scritto is the past participle of the era scrivere, which means that something has been written or needs to be written down.

White paper with "NOTHING WRITTEN" as the past participle of the verb "to write"
Sul foglio non c’è scritto niente- Foto di kira schwarz da Pexels

Create compound tenses

Another fundamental use of the past particile (or participio passato if you want to be fancier) is the possibility to form compound tenses, which are those tenses made by more than two words. For example, in the modo indicativo the compound tenses are:

  • Passato prossimo (based on the presente)
  • Trapassato prossimo (based on the imperfetto)
  • Trapassato remoto (based on the passato remoto)
  • Futuro anteriore (based on the futuro semplice)

In fact, to form all these compound tenses, not only those of the modo indicativo, you need to use this simple, yet very useful formula:

Auxiliary verb (essere or avere) + past participle

To understand the importance of these tenses, just think about the fact that they are employed in at least half of the Italian verbs.

Create passive tenses

The past participle in Italian, and almost in every language, can be used to form passive tenses, such as:

  • Sono stato portato
  • Sono stato mandato
  • È stata mangiata

Fully conjugated auxiliary verb (essere or avere) + past participle

PRO TIP: How to use the verb “venire” as an auxiliary verb

Sometimes people use the verb “venire” as an auxiliary verb instead of the verb “essere” to highlight the process of the action being completed.

So, instead of saying “Sul foglio non c’è scritto niente” when you want to highlight the process you can say “Sul foglio non viene scritto niente”.

  • Il pesce piccolo viene mangiato dal pesce grande
  • Il libro viene letto in una sola giornata
  • Un cane che abbaia non viene mai accarezzato dagli sconosciuti

How to form the past participle in Italian

1. What’s the verb conjugation?

When you are working with past participle in Italian, you should always be aware of the type of verb you are dealing with. What I mean is that you should always know the infinitive tense, because it tells us a lot!

In Italian there are three conjugations:

  1. First conjugation ends with are
  2. Second conjugation ends with ere
  3. Third conjugation ends with –ire

2. Consider the root of the verb

Having that clear, you should just erase that last part, and work on the root of that word. For example, let’s consider the verb pulire (to clean). We can recognise two parts:

  • pul- which is the root
  • -ire which is the ending that tells us the type of conjugation. Which, by the way, is the third type

3. Choose the correct suffix

Ginger woman saying the endings of past participle in Italian

Finally, we can came up with the last, but very important step: choose the correct suffix for the past participle.

We can usually pick on the three most used suffixes, and stick them at the end of the root.

  • -ato for the verbs of the 1º conjugation (-are)
  • -uto for the verbs of the 2º conjugation (-ere)
  • -ito for the verbs of the 3º conjugation (-ire)

If you did it right, you should come up with these kind of forms: parlare-parlato; cadere-caduto; dormire-dormito.

BONUS: Irregular forms of the past participle

Be careful when you need to use the past participle in Italian, because loads of verbs have an irregular form!

Here’s a list of the most used:

Flashcard for the past participle of the verb "cuocere"
Flashcard for the past participle of the verb "dare"
Flashcard for the past participle of the verb "comporre"
Flashcard for the past participle of the verb "coprire"
Flashcard for the past participle of the verb "dire"

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