Have you ever heard of the legendary passato remoto (remote past)? Let’s find it out together with this lesson!
Italian Remote Past: here’s how to use it!
The remote past is that verbal time used to indicate an action that happened and ended in the past.
For example: “Marta si sposò nel 1971″ (Marta got married in 1971).
It is not difficult to use, the real problem is its formation! However, before going into the explanation of how to form the remote past, we need to make two small premises.
Various researches suggest that this tense is gradually disappearing, especially in northern Italy. However, it must be said that in southern Italy and Tuscany it is still quite used. Moreover, in the exams to obtain the Italian linguistic certification there are often exercises where the knowledge of the remote past is required… so, if you were thinking you could do without that, well, better change your mind!
Second premise: the remote past presents many irregularities, for this reason it is difficult to use and recognize for foreign students, therefore… Take a pen and paper, because you will need to take lots of notes!
Verbs with -ARE
We begin immediately with the conjugation of verbs in -ARE, for example: parlare (to speak).
In order to form the remote past of parlare – as well as the remote past for the other two groups of verbs. – we will have to remove the final part of the verb, (-re) and add to the root (parla-) the endings of the remote past. Here they are:
Lui/ lei parlò
Verbs with -ERE
Let’s take now the example of one verb in -ERE like temere (to fear):
Io temei (o temetti)
Lui / lei temé (o temette)
Loro temerono (o temettero)
As you can see, very often, verbs in -ERE have a double possibility in some persons.
Verbs with -IRE
Finally, we have the verbs in -IRE like, for example, dormire (to sleep):
Lui / lei dormì
But now let’s move on to difficult things! Keep in mind that the auxiliaries essere (to be) and avere (to have) in the remote past are irregular! Here they are:
Lui / lei fu
Lui / lei ebbe
But that’s not all! As we have already mentioned, the remote past is the Italian tense with more irregularities. In fact, many verbs:
- have a different root for the 1st and 3rd person singular (I, he / she) and the 3rd person plural (them), while for other persons they form the remote past regularly.
- they also have different endings from the previous ones we have seen for regular verbs!
Here they are:
These endings work for all 3 conjugations (-ARE, -ERE, -IRE) and they’re added to the root of the verb without the whole ending of the infinitive!!
Crazy, isn’t it? This is the beauty and the ugliness of Italian!
For example, verbs in which the ending in the infinite is preceded by:
V, M, R, T, GG, RR
will have at the 1st and 2nd person singular and the 3rd plural two: SS
Here’s an example with leggere (to read):
Lui / Lei lesse
Be careful also, because some verbs with double RR before the ending at the infinite have, in the above 3 persons of the remote past, only one S or RS.
Lui / lei corse
The verbs with N, V or ND before the ending at the infinite will have an S.
Lui / lei rispose
Most verbs with a D before the ending at the infinite also require S.
Lui / lei chiese
Verbs with a C or SC before the ending at the infinite will have CQU in the remote past.
Lui / lei piacque
An exception is the verb conoscere (to know) that, although it has SC before the ending in the infinite, it forms the remote past with OBB:
Lui / lei conobbe
The verbs with NG before the ending at the infinite will have NS in the usual 3 persons.
For example: fingere.
Lui / lei finse
The verbs with GL before the ending in the infinite will have LS:
For example: scegliere.
Lui / Lei scelse
The verbs with RG will have RS instead.
For example: immergere
Lui / lei immerse
Finally, some verbs double the consonant before the ending:
For example: cadere
Lui / lei cadde
While some other verbs change their root completely:
For example: sapere
Lui / lei seppe
What an effort this lesson was, with all these irregularities! The only way to get some confidence with the remote past is to use it, so I suggest you to practice a lot with our exercises!
You can also have a look at all our lessons on Italian tenses and moods!
And finally, if you like my t-shirt, you can purchase it on our online store, LearnAmo collection!