Italian grammar

Italian grammar

Italian grammar is the study of grammar of the Italian language.


Italian words can be divided into nine grammatical categories, the parts of speech: five variable (article, noun, adjective, pronoun and verb) and four invariable (adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection).




*Special forms (Modi indefiniti, Indefinite tenses)

Some third conjugation verbs such as "capire" insert "-isc-" between the stem and the endings in the present, e. g. "capisco, capisci, capisce," etc. It is impossible to tell from the infinitive form which verbs exhibit this phenomenon, which often originated in Latin verbs denoting the "inchoative" aspect of an action, that is, verbs describing the beginning of an action. There are some 500 verbs like this, the first ones in alphabetic order being "abbellire", "abolire", "agire", "alleggerire", "ammattire" and so forth. [cite book
last = Moretti
first = G. Battista | coauthors = Orvieto, Giorgio R.
title = Grammatica Italiana, vol. III
publisher = Benucci
year = 1983 | pages = 70-71
] In some grammatical systems, "isco" verbs are considered a fourth conjugation, often labelled 3b. There are also certain verbs that end in -rre, namely "trarre, porre, (con)durre" and derived verbs with different prefixes (such as "attrarre, comporre, dedurre," and so forth). They are derived from earlier "trahere, ponere, ducere" and are conjugated as such.

ubjunctive mood

Verbs like "capire" insert "-isc-" in all except the "noi" and "voi" forms.

Non-finite forms

*Infinitive: present: -are, -ere, -ire; past: avere/essere + past participle
*Gerund: present: -ando, -endo, -endo; past: avendo/essendo + past participle
*Participle: present: -ante -ente -ente; past: -ato, -uto (though verbs of second conjugation almost always have a contracted desinence, e.g. "cuocere" (to cook) "cotto" (cooked)), -ito

Irregular verbs

While the majority of Italian verbs are regular, many of the most commonly used ones are irregular. In particular, the auxiliary verbs "essere" and "avere", and the common modal verbs "potere" (ability, to be able to), "dovere" (duty, to have to), "sapere" (knowledge, to know how to) and "volere" (will, to want to) are all irregular. Many of the irregularities are accounted for by the substance of Latin grammar; in Latin the verb had four principal parts, of which the third and fourth (perfect stem and perfect passive participle) were formed regularly from the present stem only in the first and second conjugations, whereas in the third and fourth (in "-ere" with short "e" and in "-ire") the presence of the "i" on the stem caused a mutation of the following consonants and made irregularities at a very early stage of the language.

The first conjugation has the big majority of regular verbs (except "andare" (to go), "fare" (to do, to make... it's from third Latin conjugation) and "dare" (to give), which are strongly irregular). Almost every new verb (as neologism) enters in first conjugation (e.g. "formattare" (to format) is of first conjugation and perfectly regular).

The second conjugation is almost always irregular. They are from Latin, where they were irregular too. The few regulars are from Latin second conjugation: like "temere" (to fear), "godere" (to enjoy)... The majority are from Latin third conjugation, which is practically all irregular.

The third conjugation (deriving from Latin fourth conjugation) has two different ways: Greek one with insertion of -sc-, "capire" (to understand), "io capisco" (I understand), and Latin one with no insertion, "sentire" (to feel), "io sento" (I feel). There are some irregulars, but not too many: example, "morire" (to die), "io muoio" (I die). The verb "dire" (to say, to tell) derives from Latin third conjugation, and is strongly irregular.

Most verbs are only irregular in the "passato remoto" (preterite) tense, which resembles the Latin Perfect tense: they are almost all of second conjugation.

"essere" (to be, an auxiliary)

"dovere" (to have to, must, should (conditional); a modal)

In general, adjectives come after the noun they modify, adverbs after the verb. But: as with French, adjectives coming before the noun indicate essential quality of the noun. Demonstratives (e.g. "questo" this, "quello" that) come before the noun, and a few particular adjectives (e.g. "bello") may be inflected like demonstratives and also placed before the noun.

Object pronouns

Though objects come after the verb as a rule, the rule changes when the object is a pronoun.

Dative and accusative pronouns come before the verb. If an auxiliary verb is used, the pronouns come before the auxiliary. If both dative and accusative pronouns are used, the dative comes first. Pronominal particles "ce"/"ci" (to it) and "ne" (of it) are treated like accusative pronouns for word-order purposes. (Note that "ci", the first person plural accusative, is easy to confuse with "ci", the accusative particle, but they're not the same. See examples.)


(Compare with the similar use of objective pronouns, and "y" and "en" in French.)

And finally, in the imperative and infinitive cases, the objective pronouns come once again "after" the verb, but this time as a suffix:

Tense relationship in subordinate sentences

Italian inherits "consecutio temporum", a grammar rule from Latin that disciplines the relationship between the tenses in subordinate sentences. "Consecutio temporum" has very rigid rules, though they are fading from spoken Italian. These rules order the subjunctive tense in order to express contemporaneity, posteriority and anteriority in relation with the principal sentence. In spoken Italian, though, the subjunctive is often replaced by correspondent indicative form (this is called "crisi del congiuntivo", "subjunctive crisis", and should be avoided in a good Italian speaking and in formal language; however, in common spoken language, particularrly in phrases with "se", "if", it is sometimes used).

* to express contemporaneity when the principal clause is in a simple tense (future, present, or simple past,) the subordinate clause uses the present subjunctive, to express "contemporaneity in the present".
** "Penso che Davide sia intelligente." I think (that) David is smart.
* when the principal clause has a past imperfect or perfect tense, the subordinate clause uses the imperfect subjunctive, expressing "contemporaneity in the past".
** "Pensavo che Davide fosse intelligente". I thought David was smart.
* to express anteriority when the principal clause is in a simple tense (Future, or present or passato prossimo) the subordinate clause uses the past subjunctive.
** "Penso che Davide sia stato intelligente." I think David has been smart.
* to express anteriority when the principal clause has a past imperfect or perfect tense, the subjunctive has to be pluperfect.
** "Pensavo che Davide fosse stato intelligente." I thought David had been smart.
* to express posteriority the subordinate clause uses not subjunctive but indicative mood , because the subjunctive has no future tense.
** "Penso che Davide sarà intelligente." I think David will be smart.
* to express posteriority with respect to a past event, the subordinate clause uses the past conditional, whereas in other European languages (such as French, English, and Spanish) the present conditional is used.
** "Pensavo che Davide sarebbe stato intelligente." I thought that David would be smart.

ome common grammar mistakes in Italian language

Among the deprecated Italian grammar uses are:
* in spoken unformal or dialectal language, the usage of an indicative form where a subjunctive one is required (see also above). For Instance: "credo che Giorgio ieri fosse a casa" ("I believe that yesterday George was at home") is right, "credo che Giorgio ieri era a casa" is deprecated; "se Maria fosse stata a casa, le avrei telefonato" ("if Mary had been at home, I would have phoned her") is right, "se Maria era a casa le telefonavo" is deprecated, even if it is an old usage, found in classic Italian writers;
* the use of "a me mi" (or similar words like "a te ti", "a loro gli" etc.) is a common non-standard use, where both "mi" and "a me" mean "(to) me"; sometimes it is also used when putting some emphasis in the sentence;
* "qual è" ("what is") is sometimes written "qual'è", but the correct form is the first one;
* the feminine pronoun "le" ("(to) her") sometimes in spoken language is replaced with "gli" ("(to) him"), in example: "ho incontrato Giulia e le ho detto che Franco è ammalato" ("I met Julia and I told her that Frank is sick") is right, "ho incontrato Giulia e gli ho detto che Franco è ammalato" is wrong.


External links

* [ Italian Grammar reference and course]
* [ La grammatica italiana]
* [ Italian Language: Grammar] , a small directory of Italian grammar resources
* [ Italian Learning Tips]
* [ Italian Language Primer]

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