Advanced Italian - Congiuntivo Passato

Weilà raga! This post correlates with my video "Advanced Italian 2 - Congiuntivo Passato | Past Subjunctive."

This is the Congiuntivo's take on the past tense. You're also going to find a lot of similarities with this verb tense and the Passato Prossimo (remember Grammar Basics 2?) in terms of how in this tense we'll be using auxiliary verb (helping verbs) and we'll have to be mindful of masculine/feminine, singular/plural at times.

But before we go any further, make sure you have already seen Advanced Italian 1 because this tense builds off of the material discussed in that video. I'll leave a link for it here in case you'd like to see it again (or for the first time) now:

So let's get right into it! The Congiuntivo Passato is similar to the Congiuntivo Presente as you use it when talking about possibilities, opinions, desires, doubts, and anything that's subjective or uncertain in nature.

Here are some key phrases to help you in knowing when to use the Congiuntivo:

  • Penso che – I think that
  • Credo che – I believe that
  • Spero che – I hope that
  • È possibile che – It's possible that
  • Sembra che – It seems that/It seems like

Just as well, the words CHE (what/that) and SE (if) are really important in this verb tense. (I occasionally write in all CAPS just for emphasis. I actually picked up this habit from the Italians. They tend to do it a lot when writing and I find it to be useful. But just know I'm NOT yelling haha).

Just as we saw with the Passato Prossimo a long time ago, there are 2 helping verbs in Italian -

Avere (to have) & Essere (to be).

Avere is used for all TRANSITIVE verbs. Verbs in which actions are carried out DIRECTLY to the object.

Essere is used for all INTRANSITIVE verbs. Verbs in which actions are NOT carried out directly to the object.

How do we tell the difference? Just know that you use Avere most of the time and Essere for verbs like "essere (to be), stare (to be/to stay), rimanere (to stay/to remain), scappare (to escape), svanire (to vanish), partire (to depart/leave), andare (to go), venire (to come), etc."

Basically all verbs that deal with movement and/or conditions use Essere as their helping verb.

Because if I say "remain," it's an action, but also think of it as a condition. You can't tell me, "Hey, go and remain!" It's not an action I can literally carry out. Whereas "to eat" or "to read" is something I can literally do. I can literally eat something or literally read something. If this doesn't make any sense, just know that with time and practice you'll know which helping verb to use just based on how it sounds!

So here's how we conjugate verbs:

Avere/Essere in the Congiuntivo Presente + Main verb that ends in ATO, UTO, or ITO.

ARE changes to ATO (Mangiare - Mangiato)

ERE changes to UTO (Vendere - Venduto)

IRE changes to ITO (Partire - Partito)

Let's now see how we conjugate Avere in the Congiuntivo Presente, because that is how we'll be using it in this tense.

Avere (to have):

  • che io abbia - that I have
  • che tu abbia - that you have
  • che lui/lei abbia - that he/she has
  • che noi abbiamo - that we have
  • che voi abbiate - that you guys/all have
  • che loro abbiano - that they have

Let's now conjugate a regular ARE verb, Mangiare (to eat), in the Congiuntivo Passato. It uses Avere as its helping verb. Remember ARE verbs change to end with ATO.

Mangiare (to eat):

  • che io abbia mangiato - that I ate/that I have eaten*
  • che tu abbia mangiato - that you ate
  • che lui/lei abbia mangiato - that he/she ate
  • che noi abbiamo mangiato - that we ate
  • che voi abbiate mangiato - that you guys/all ate
  • che loro abbiano mangiato - that they ate

*For ALL verbs in the Congiuntivo Passato, you can translate them as either saying you DID something, or that you HAVE DONE something. Just depends on what you are trying to say exactly.

So for "Che io abbia mangiato," for example, that could mean, "That I ate" OR "That I have eaten." The phrase in Italian works for both translations in English.

Let's now take a look at Mangiare conjugated in the Congiuntivo Passato in a phrase:

Non penso che abbiano mangiato il pesce

- I don't think (that) they ate the fish

The word "that" is in ( ) because you don't have to use it in the translation. It's up to you! ;) Often times in English we either think to say "I don't think they ate the fish" or we include the word "that" and say, "I don't think that they ate the fish." Just know there's 1 translation for either of these phrases in Italian - "Non penso che abbiano mangiato il pesce."

Now let's take a look at the regular ERE verb, Vendere (to sell), in the Congiuntivo Passato. Remember that ERE verbs change to end in UTO in this verb tense.

Vendere (to sell):

  • che io abbia venduto - that I sold/that I have sold
  • che tu abbia venduto - that you sold
  • che lui/lei abbia venduto - that he/she sold
  • che noi abbiamo venduto - that we sold
  • che voi abbiate venduto - that you guys/all sold
  • che loro abbiano venduto - that they sold

Now let's take a look at a phrase with Vendere conjugated in the Congiuntivo Passato:

Spero che tu non abbia venduto la tua macchina

- I hope that you haven't sold your car

- I hope that you didn't sell your car

Both translations in English work perfectly fine. In English we often use the verbs TO HAVE and TO DO interchangeably.

And once again, the word "that" isn't a must-have in the translations. It's up to you and how you speak if you'd like to include it or not!

Now, there are IRE verbs that use Avere are their helping verb. But I'd like to show you guys an IRE verb that uses Essere.

Before we dive into that, let's check out how you conjugate Essere in the Congiuntivo Presente:

Essere (to be):

  • che io sia - that I am
  • che tu sia - that you are
  • che lui/lei sia - that he/she is
  • che noi siamo - that we are
  • che voi siate - that you guys/all are
  • che loro siano - that they are

Now, remember that whenever you are using Essere as a helping verb you need to be mindful of the gender and amount of things you're talking about. (In other words - gender and plurality).

Here's how you conjugate Partire (to depart/to leave) in the Congiuntivo Passato:

Partire (to depart/to leave):

  • che io sia partito/a - that I left
  • che tu sia partito/a - that you left
  • che lui/lei sia partito/a - that he/she left
  • che noi siamo partiti/e - that we left
  • che voi siate partiti/e - that you guys/all left
  • che loro siano partiti/e - that they left

Notice how with IO, TU, & LUI/LEI the end of the verb ended with either an O or an A?

  • That's because if you're talking about a boy or a masculine thing, the verb must end in an O.
  • If you are talking about a girl or a feminine thing, the verb must end in an A. (Naturally, with LUI the verb can ONLY end in an O and with LEI the verb can ONLY end in an A).

With NOI, VOI, & LORO the verb ends in either an I or an E.

  • When talking about a group of boys (masculine things) OR boys + girls (masculine + feminine things), the verb will end in an I.
  • When talking about a group of ONLY girls (or feminine things), the verb will end in an E.

Now, why do I say "masculine/feminine things?" Because you can use the LORO form of a verb, for example, to say things like "Penso che le macchine siano andate via" = "I think that the cars went away." In this example, we're talking about "the cars" which are feminine things.

Let's now take a look at the verb Partire conjugated in the Congiuntivo Passato in a phrase:

Credo che lui sia partito ieri

- I believe that he left yesterday

The verb Partire ends in an O because we're referring to a boy.

Let's have a look at more phrases:

Credo che lei sia partita ieri

- I believe that she left yesterday

See the difference? Because we're talking about a girl, the verb Partire now ends in an A.

Credo che siano partiti ieri

- I believe that they left yesterday

With this phrase, I could be referring to either a group of only boys or a group of boys & girls. (I could also be talking about a group of things, just depends on the context).

Credo che siano partite ieri

- I believe that they left yesterday

With this phrase, I am referring to a group of only girls or feminine things.

Whenever you have a group of BOTH boys and girls, or masculine and feminine things, you use the masculine form of the verb.

So this my friends is how you use the Congiuntivo Passato! I know, it seems like a lot to take in all at once. But trust me, as with anything in a language, it just takes time to get used to.

It took me a while to get this down too, this is Advanced Italian after all. Make sure to give yourself a pat on the back for even giving this a shot! But then again, you're brilliant and can do anything. You always raise the bar in life, so doing advanced stuff is just average for you.

As always guys, remember to spread the love! And keep up the great work!