learn italian

  9.1 preface

In chapter 6, the Italian survival guide, we have already discussed the tenses in Italian. The tense system of the romance languages belongs to one of the most difficult topics in learning a romance language. If you speak Spanish or French you are going to see that the Italian tense system is the same as in these languages, with little differences. Comparing the tense systems of the different romance languages the main difference and the only difference really important, is the use of the passato remoto (we already know that we can't say that the passato remoto correspond to the simple past or the past perfect and that the imperfetto can't be translated always with the same tense to English, the system is completely different). While in French the passato remoto / passé simple has disappeared in spoken French and its function has been assumed by the passato prossimo (passé composé) in Spanish it exists and can never be substituted by the pasado perfecto. Concerning the use of the passato prossimo Italian is between Spanish and French. In the north of Italy it is not used any more, in the south it is already used and sometime it substitutes even the passato prossimo (what doesn't correspond either to the "classical system" you find in the classic Italian literature or in modern writers like Cesare Pavese.)

We are going to describe here both systems. The system with passato remoto and the system without passato remoto. The first one is more complicated. Below a statement from an Italian linguist about the use of the passato remoto.

"Giovanni Nencioni pone anche l'accento sull'aspetto diatopico del problema, ovvero sulla diversa distribuzione geografica della scelta fra i due tempi verbali, sottolineando come «l'alternanza del passato prossimo col passato remoto, nella lingua sia parlata che scritta, non è uniforme in Italia, perché vi influisce anche il sostrato dialettale dei parlanti o scriventi. Le migliori grammatiche dicono che nell'Italia settentrionale prevale l'uso del passato prossimo, nell'Italia meridionale l'uso del passato remoto, benché il passato prossimo vi acquisti terreno; in Toscana l'alternanza è tuttora viva e significativa."


"Giovanni Nenciono mentions as well the geographical aspect of the problem, in other words, the fact that the use of these two tenses (passato prossimo / passato remoto, the imperfect is used the same way in all romance languages) is not the same all over Italy, because it depends on the dialect of the speaker or writer. The best grammars say that in the north of Italy dominates the passato prossimo, whereas in the south dominates the passato remoto, although the passato prossimo becomes more and more important. In Tuscane the alternance is still more observable."

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