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  9.3 the tenses

9.3.1 formation of the past tenses in italialn the formation of the passato prossimo

About the formation of the passato prossimo (literally the near past) we have already spoken in the Italian survival guide and we have already used several hundred of times. He is built the same way as the present perfect in English, with an auxiliary verb (avere / essere) and the past participle. The problem is the auxiliary verb to be used. See discussion below.

transitive verbs (simplifying see below) : avere + past participle
intransitive verbs (simplifying see below) : essere + past participle

passato prossimo with intransitive verbs (mit avere)

(scrivere = to write) scritto
(leggere = to read) letto
(mangiare = to eat) mangiato
(chiamare = to call) chiamato
(mettere = to put) messo
(prendere = to take) preso
(chiudere = to close) chiuso
(conoscere = to know) conosciuto
(decidere = to decide) deciso
(perdere = to loose) perso
(distruggere = to destroy) distrutto
(nascondere = to hide) nascosto
(spendere = to spent) speso
(guadagnare = to earn) guadagnato
(vincere= to win) vinto
(cadere = to fall) caduto
(condurre = to steer) condotto
(dire = to say) detto
(ascoltare = to hear) ascolto
(sentire = to feel) sentito
(cuocere = to cook) cotto
(fare = to make) fatto
(capire = to understand) capito

  io ho
tu hai
lui ha
lei ha
noi abbiamo
voi avete
loro hanno

intransitive verbs (with essere)
past participle radical possible endings
  (andare = gehen)
(avvenire = ereignen)
(arrivare = ankommen)
(venire = kommen)
(uscire = hinausgehen)
(apparire = erscheinen)
(partire = weggehen)
o (singular, masculine)
a (singular, feminine)
i (Ppural, masculine)
e (plural, feminine)

present of essere    
io sono
tu sei
lui / lei è
noi siamo
noi siamo
voi siete
loro sono
partito, partita, partiti, partite
avvenuto, avvenuta, avvenuti, avvenute

Note: Until know we have said that intransitive verbs (in other words verbs where you can't add an object because the resulting sentence would be nonsense, ~ I go a bread, I swim a cake ~) are conjugated with essere and transitive verbs (in other words verbs where you can add an object, I buy a bread, I eat a cake) are conjugated with avere. We already said as well that this is not completely true because some intransitive verbs like caminare or nuotare (ho caminato = I have walked, ho nuotato = I had swum) are conjugated with avere. There is an excellent page on the internet about Italian grammar http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it, and there we read:

"Valido è tuttavia, a mio modesto avviso, il principio seguente: a) se il participio del verbo intransitivo può essere usato come attributo (andato: i tempi andati; uscito: il signore uscito or ora; insecchito: i ramoscelli insecchiti; accaduto: i fatti accaduti a Napoli; apparso: la notizia apparsa sui giornali), l'ausiliare è essere (sono andato, sono uscito, è insecchito, è accaduto, sono apparso). A meno che, naturalmente, il participio non si sia irrigidito in aggettivo a sé stante, indipendentemente cioè dal verbo (la tua lode è esagerata, cioè 'fuor di misura'), nel qual caso l'uso di avere diventa indispensabile per conferirgli forza verbale (tu hai esagerato)."


"In my modest opinion the following rules apply. a) If the past participle of the intransitive verb can be used as well as an attribute (andata / gone: i tempi andati; uscito / left: il signore uscito or ora / the man who has left the room; insecchito / shrieveled: i ramoscelli insecchiti / the shriveled branches; accaduto / occurred, i fatti accaduti a Napoli / the events occurred in Naples; apparso / appeared: la notizia apparsa sui giornali / the notes appeared in the newspapers) essere is to be used as auxiliary verb (sono andato / I have gone, sono uscito / I have left, è insecchito / it has shriveled, è accaduto / it has occurred, sono apparso / I have appeared). But obviously this rule doesn' t apply if the past participle is considered nowadays as an adjective that has nothing to do with the verb (la tua lode è esagerata / your praise is exaggerated in the sense of 'fuor di misura / excessive'). In this case the use of avere is compulsory otherwise it wouldn't be considered as a verb (tu hai esagerato / you have exaggerated). "

This is a very concise statement. Concerning the intransitive verbs (with transitive verbs there is no problem, they are always conjugated with avere) he distinguish between verbs whose past participle can be used as an attribute (adjective => the red house, predicative pronoun => the house is red) and those who can't be used as an attribute. The verbs whose past participle can be used as an attribute as well, are conjugated with essere.

attributive use possible: andare ( to go / to pass)
as an attribut: i tempi passati (the gone times)
as passato prossimo: Sono andato (I have gone)

attributive use impossible: nuotare (to swimm)
as an attribute: ??? (not possible)
as passato prossimo: Ho nuotato (I have swum).

For this rule there is a restriction.
(to exaggerate) can be used as an attribute but nevertheless avere is to be used, because esagerare is ambiguous.
Tu sei esagerato
. => You are exaggerated.
Tu hai esagerato. => You have exaggerated.

This explication is very logical, because from a merely grammatical point of view, the past participle can be interpreted as a simple predicative pronoun.

La notizia è apparsa nei giornali. (The note has appeared in the newspapers.)
La notizia apparsa nei giornali. (The note appeared in the newspapers.)

The past participle of the intransitive verbs can be considered as a simple construction of the type copular verb + adjective. There is no difference between these two sentences from a grammatical point of view.

La notizia è apparsa. (The note has appeared)
La notizia è buona. (The note is good)

It is so quite logical that a past participle that is nothing else that a simple adjective is treated as an adjective. Only in the case that the past participle has become an independent adjective avere must be use to avoid ambiguity.

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