Auxiliary Verbs

Italian auxiliary verbs
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Verbi ausiliari

Auxiliary verbs are also known as helping verbs, because they help form compound conjugations, meaning compound tenses like the passato prossimo as well as compound moods like the past subjunctive.

 The key thing to remember about compound conjugations is that there are two verbs:

  1. Auxiliary verb, whose conjugation determines the tense or mood
  2. Main verb, which is always in the form of the past participle

Per esempio…

Ho mangiato.   I have eaten, I ate.   passato prossimo
Avevo mangiato.   I had eaten.   pluperfect
Avrò mangiato.   I will have eaten.   future perfect

 Italian has two auxiliary verbs. Avere is the auxiliary for the majority of Italian verbs, but there are quite a few verbs which require essere as the auxiliary. Whichever verb it is, the auxiliary is consistent for all compound conjugations: avere verbs always take avere as their auxiliary verb for all compound tenses and moods, while essere verbs always take essere.

Avere verbs

All transitive verbs (verbs that can take a direct object) require avere as their auxiliary verb (whether or not there is actually a direct object in the sentence). Some common transitive verbs:

avere   to have
capire   to understand
dare   to give
dire   to say, tell
fare   to do, make
mangiare   to eat
sapere   to know
trovare   to find
vedere   to see
volere   to want

Avere is also needed with some intransitive verbs. Many of these have to do with communication and making noise:

bussare   to knock on
chiacchierare   to chat
litigare    to argue
mentire   to lie
piangere   to cry
reagire   to react
ridere   to laugh
russare   to snore
scherzare   to joke
telefonare   to call
tossire   to cough

Others with sports and activities:

camminare   to walk
nuotare   to swim
pattinare   to skate
pedalare   to pedal
sciare   to ski
viaggiare   to travel

And some are just miscellaneous:

badare   to take care of
cenare   to dine
funzionare   to function, work

Essere verbs

Verbs that require essere as the auxiliary can be divided into themes:

1. All pronominal verbs

addormentarsi   to fall asleep
divertirsi   to have fun
sedersi   to sit down
sentirsi   to feel
vestirsi   to get dressed
etc.

2. Verbs of movement and stillness

andare   to go
arrivare   to arrive
cadere   to fall
entrare   to enter
essere   to be
partire   to leave
passare   to pass
rimanere   to stay
ritornare   to return
scendere   to descend / go downstairs 
stare   to stay
uscire   to leave
venire   to come

3. Verbs of change

cambiare   to change
crescere   to grow
diventare   to become
nascere   to be born
morire   to die

Impersonal verbs

Traditionally, impersonal verbs required the auxiliary essere, but nowadays avere is commonly and correctly used as well.

albeggiare   to dawn
annottare   to get dark
grandinare   to hail
lampeggiare   to lightning
nevicare   to snow
piovere   to rain
tuonare   to thunder

 Essere verbs require agreement in all compound tenses – lesson coming soon.

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Verbi ausiliari

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