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  9.3.2 summary of the past tenses in Italian

the imperfetto is used ...
io vendevo...

repeated, but not regularly: He asked me the same thing ten times.
repeated and regularly: Every time he came, he brought some flowers.

Beside that it is used to describe actions which fray out at the endings, something that happens very often when a state is described. (The weather was bad. => We don' t know the beginning or the end.)

- repeated regularly => imperfetto:
La domenica andavamo sempre in spiaggia.
On sunday we always went to the beach.
- parallel actions => imperfetto
Lei scriveva una lettera e io leggevo un libro.
She wrote a letter and I read a book.
repetition but not regularly : passato remoto (Norm) / passato prossimo (Nort of Italy)
Pagai tre volte per la stessa cosa.
Ho pagato tre volte per la stessa cosa.
I paid three times for the same thing.

- is used to describe a basic action or a state which is interrupted or where another action is inserted. The basic action or the state is described in imperfetto, the interrumpting action or the inserted action is described in passato remoto or passato prossimo.
Carmen pensava a lui, quando di colpo apparve alla porta.
Carmen pensava a lui, quando di colpo è apparso alla porta.
Carmen was thinking of him, when he suddenly appeared at the door.
- actions whose beginning and end is unknown or irrelevant (what is the case when describing states)
Non avevano mai molti soldi, ma erano felici.
They didn' t had a lot of money, but they were happy.

The passato prossimo is used
io ho venduto...
-for actions which has started in the past but whose consequences are perceptible in the present
La fattura l' ha pagata, ma lo stesso l'hanno buttato fuori.
He paid the bill, but they threw him out anyway.
- for actions which has happened at the same period of time in which resides the speaker.
Oggi ho dormito fino alle undici.
Today I have sleept until 11 o' clock.
- If the passato remoto is not used are rarely used, what happens in the north of Italy, the passato prossimo subsitutes the passato remoto. In this case the passato prossimo is used as well to describe a finished action in finished period of time in the past. (If you translate this kind of use with the English present perfect you have a big grammatical error in your English text.)
possible: L' anno scorso ho finito i miei studi.
better: L' anno scorso finii i miei studi.
I finished my studies las year.

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