The Italian Imperfect Tense

Weilà weilà raga!! After someone commented on my Imperfect Tense video, I realized I never wrote a blog post with notes! It's only been about a year and a half since I uploaded it.....well better late than never, right? ;) Or as you can say in Italian meglio tardi che mai! (I've linked the video at the end of this post.)

So when do we use the Imperfect Tense or the Imperfetto? Whenever you want to talk about things that you used to do. That, my friends, is the trick to understanding when to use this tense. HOWEVER - you can also use this tense, AT TIMES, as another equivalent of the SIMPLE PAST in English (I ate, I called, You said, etc - you catch my drift). I'll get into that later on.

What I'd like to do first is show you a few random phrases with verbs conjugated in the Imperfetto and then I'll go through all of the standard conjugations that you can find in my video.

L'estate scorsa, andavo sempre al cinema con i miei amici

- Last summer, I used to always go to the movies with my friends


Mia figlia amava quando le portavo a vedere i film di Harry Potter.

- My daughter used to love it when I'd take her to see the Harry Potter films.


Now that you've gotten a little taste of what's to come, let's jump right into some conjugations!

I'm going to show you two ways of remembering the verb endings. Here's the most straight-forward way:


ARE verb endings:

io - avo

tu - avi

lui/lei - ava

noi - avamo

voi - avate

loro - avano


ERE verb endings:

io - evo

tu - evi

lui/lei - eva

noi - evamo

voi - evate

loro - evano


IRE verb endings:

io - ivo

tu - ivi

lui/lei - iva

noi - ivamo

voi - ivate

loro - ivano


What's the other way, you ask? Just eliminate the A, E, & I from the verb endings and you're left with this:

io - vo

tu - vi

lui/lei - va

noi - vamo

voi - vate

loro - vano


So if you're not one for doing a lot of memorizing, just remember those 6 verb endings and remember that for ARE verbs you put an A in front of the ending; for ERE verbs you put an E in front of the ending, and for IRE verbs you put an I in front of the ending. See how it works? Just trying to show you more than one way of remembering the verb endings ;)

Alrighty then, let's now conjugate some ARE, ERE, and IRE verbs using these verb endings we listed out above!


Mangiare - to eat (one of my favorite verbs in Italian - have you noticed I use it all the time in my videos?)

io mangiavo - I used to eat

tu mangiavi - you used to eat

lui/lei mangiava - he/she used to eat

noi mangiavamo - we used to eat

voi mangiavate - you guys/all used to eat

loro mangiavano - they used to eat


Let's now take a look at a phrase (still don't know why I didn't include one in the video!! But at least I'm making up for it now):


Mia figlia, Anna, mangiava un cornetto ogni mattina prima di andare a scuola

My daughter, Anna, used to eat a croissant every morning before going to school


Leggere - to read

io leggevo - I used to read

tu leggevi - you used to read

lui/lei leggeva - he/she used to read

noi leggevamo - we used to read

voi leggevate - you guys/all used to read

loro leggevano - they used to read


Now - before going any further, I'd like to teach you guys how to conjugate AVERE & ESSERE in the Imperfetto because you'll find yourself using them a lot in this tense. Fortunately, Avere is regular in the Imperfetto. But as always, Essere is irregular. Don't be frightened by the thought of irregular verbs, though. Being irregular just means a verb doesn't follow the typical, cookie-cutter pattern that all regular verbs follow. But they still follow some "inspired" pattern, as I like to put it.

Avere - to have

io avevo - I used to have

tu avevi - you used to have

lui/lei aveva - he/she used to have

noi avevamo - we used to have

voi avevate - you guys/all used to have

loro avevano - they used to have


Essere - to be

io ero - I used to be

tu eri - you used to be

lui/lei era - he/she used to be

noi eravamo - we used to be

voi eravate - you guys/all used to be

loro erano - they used to be


Okay, back to a phrase with Leggere used in the Imperfetto.
Mia mamma mi leggeva i libri di Disney ogni notte

My mom used to read Disney books to me every night

You could also say,

Quando ero piccolo, mia mamma mi leggeva i libri di Disney ogni notte

- When I was little, my mom used to read Disney books to me every night

Quando avevo cinque anni, mio padre mi leggeva i libri di Harry Potter.

- When I was five years old, my dad used to read Harry Potter books to me.


Now, why does "ero" mean "was" and not "used to be"? That's because it wouldn't make sense in English to use "used to" twice in a sentence. When making translations, we oftentimes find ourselves seeking equivalents that make the most sense in a language. Because it is not the literal translation that always matters, but the message that we're trying to get across.

Dormire - to sleep

io dormivo - I used to sleep

tu dormivi - you used to sleep

lui/lei dormivi - he/she used to sleep

noi dormivamo - we used to sleep

voi dormivate - you guys/all used to sleep

loro dormivano - they used to sleep


I miei cani dormivano per tutta la notte quando erano piccoli

- My dogs used to sleep through the whole night when they were small/little


In the video I gave this example:

Il bambino piangeva sempre quando era piccolo / Piangeva sempre il bambino quando era piccolo

- The baby used to always cry when he was little


So this is my lesson on the Italian Imperfect Tense! I hope you guys learned a lot and enjoyed this post! Have fun learning Italian and always remember to SPREAD THE LOVE!! :)

- Tom

p.s. I used Indirect and Direct Object Pronouns in my examples. If you need help on those, check out these two videos - I'll also link the blog posts below!

Direct Object Pronouns


Blog post:

Indirect Object Pronouns:


Blog post: