6.10.2 The use of the the imperfetto and passato prossimo


Imperfetto
- Describes actions, where the beginning and the end is irrelevant, which are frayed at the edges.
=> Era ricco, ma troppo grasso.
(He was rich, but too fat.)
  - Actions which happened regularly in the past
=> La domenica da solito andavano a chiesa e doppo ritornavano a casa, dove mangiavano il loro pranzo di gala domenicale, accompagnati dal tic tac del orologio a pendolo.
(On sundays they used to go to the church and after that they went home, where they used to eat silently their sunday roast, accompanied by the ticking of the grandfather clock. )
  - Basic actions which are interrupted by another action
=> Il suo cuore stava tranquillo e pacifico nella sua casetta unifamiliare finchè trovó Maria.
(His heart rested peacefully in a calm in his one-family dwelling until he met Maria. )
  - Actions which happen at the same time

Two or more actions can only happen at the same time under two conditions. First the actions cannot be punctual, they have to last a certain time. And the action must fray at the edges. In sentences like "The car crashed against the wall", the action of crashing is punctual.

Leggeva un librio mentre lei dormiva.
He reads a book, while she was sleeping.

Passato prossimo
  - The passato prossimo is used when the consequences of an action are still perceptible in the time of speaking

We must speak again about the passato prossimo in chapter 9 because there is a difference in its use between the traditional Italian, in other words the Italian you find in the classical Italian literature and the Italian spoken in nowadays Italy. In nowadays Italian the passato remoto is disappearing, or, more precise, only used in the south of Italy and its functions have been assumed by the passato prossimo. In order to understand what the passato prossimo is used for, we have to recapitulate what we already said before. The simple past is used in two very, very different situations (very different at least from a Italian point of view).

1) singular action: He bought a new car.

2) general description of a state in the past: It was a cold winter morning, when he decided to go to Italy.

Only in the case 1) a simple past can be translated with a passato prossimo (in the classical literature it is translated with the passato remoto).

1) singular action: He bought a new car. => simple past is translated
with a
passato prossimo or passato remoto.

Ha comprato una nuova macchina. or: Comprò una nuova macchina.

2) general description of a state in the past: => simple past is translated with an imperfetto
It was a cold winter morning, when he decided to go to Italy.
Era una mattina fredda d' inverno, quando si è deciso / decise di andare in Italia.

Beside that the passato prossimo is used when we use the present perfect in English.

I have smoked a lot today.
Ho fumato molto oggi.

The fact that the present perfect can always be translated with a passato prossimo doesn' t mean that they have the same functions. You can' t use for instance the present perfect in english to describe a chain of actions (wrong: I have entered the room, I have seen her....). But you can describe a chain of action in Italian (at least in the Italian spoken nowadays, otherwise you the passato remoto is used in these circumstances) with the passato prossimo. We are going to talk about that in detail later.








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