How to Conjugate Verbs in the Italian Language

To understand Italian conjugation, we need to comprehend what a verb is. A verb is a word that indicates mental or physical activity or a condition.

Both in Italian and English, verbs can appear in two different forms: infinitive form and conjugated form.

  • Infinitive verbs are the base form of verbs, such as mangiare” (to eat), “studiare” (to study), and viaggiare” (to travel). This is how verbs are presented in a dictionary, for example. 
  • Conjugated verbs are those that change forms depending on the subject they refer to for example “viaggio” (I travel), “parli” (you speak). 
how to conjugate verbs in italian

What is verb conjugation in Italian?

Conjugation is when the verb changes its form, typically its ending, to reflect the subject (I, you, she, etc.), the tense (present or past, for example), and the mood (conditional or imperfect, for example).


Why is conjugation key in Italian?

For starters, let make a comparison with English: 

English vs. Italian

English also has conjugations, for example:

  • I learn.
  • She learns.
  • We learned.

These are conjugations of the verb “to learn.” In the above examples, the verb changes to indicate a different subject or a different tense. However, English verbs change less than Italian verbs. The reason is that English always requires the use of subject pronouns when conjugating verbs (I, you, she/he, we, you all, they). This makes it easy to understand who is performing the action.

However, Italian verbs don’t require the use of subject pronouns. Hence, choosing the right ending for the verb is key to understanding who is performing the action and, generally, the direction of a sentence or question.

For example:

Parlo italiano.

I speak Italian.

In the above sentence, the ending “-o” tells us that:

  • The verb is conjugated in the simple present.
  • The subject of the verb is “I.”

Therefore, “Parlo italiano” means “I speak Italian“.

Hai viaggiato molto in Italia?

Have you travelled much in Italy?

In this sentence, the ending “-ato” indicates the use of the passato prossimo tense, while the use of the helping verb hai suggests that the subject of the verb is “you” or “tu”.

This is why we can’t help but master conjugation when speaking Italian; it’s the core of the language!


What are the Subject Object Pronouns

You can’t understand conjugation unless you understand the subject pronouns. There are six basic persons (persone) in both Italian and English: first, second, and third person singular; first, second, and third person plural. The subject object pronouns indicate who is performing the action. While in English they are always present, in Italian, they are almost always omitted.

ItalianEnglish 
IOIfirst person singular
TUyou second person singular
LUI/LEIhe/she/itthird person singular
NOIwefirst person plural
VOIyou allsecond person plural
LOROtheythird person plural

Double Subjects

When two or more subjects are mentioned, the verb always takes the plural form, and we use the subject object pronouns noi, voi, loro.

Don’t mix them up:

NOI, VOI, LORO

Noi = I and someone else

Io e mio marito parliamo italiano (My husband and I speak Italian)

Voi = You and someone else, used when addressing one or more people in front of you

Tu and Serena, parlate italiano?  (Are you and Serena speaking Italian?)

Loro = she + he /she+she / he+he  (they)

Heather and Serena parlano italiano (Heather and Serena speak Italian)

Verb Groups and Conjugation of the Present Tense

Regular verbs are divided into three groups, which are known as conjugations.

1st conjugation 2nd conjugation3rd conjugation 
ARE (e.g. parlare)ERE (e.g. ripetere)IRE (e.g. dormire)

There are three groups in Italian and each group has its own separate endings. It is crucial to memorise the endings of each group for the correct conjugation of verbs, depending on the subject and tense/mood.

For example, let’s examine the conjugations of the simple present tense.

PARL – ARERIPET- EREDORM-IRE
Ioparl-oripet-odorm-o
tuparl-iripet-idorm-i
lui/leiparl-aripet-edorm-e
noiparl-iamoripet-iamodorm-iamo
voiparl-ateripet-etedorm-ite
loroparl-anoripet-onodorm-ono

Despite the presence of some irregular verbs (verbs whose stems change in the conjugation, e.g. andare ā†’ vado), the vast majority of Italian verbs are regular. What does this mean for you? It means that once you master the conjugation, you can apply it endlessly with only a few exceptions. That’s why mastering conjugation is key to becoming fluent in Italian.


How to Conjugate a Verb in Questions  

To conjugate a verb in a question, there are two things to take into account:

  • The subject of the question (to whom the question is directed, e.g., you, you all, polite/formal you, he/she).
  • The tense (whether the question reflects a present, past, or future action).

How to choose the subject of the question

To choose the right subject and, consequently, the correct conjugation, you need to consider to whom the question is directed.

Tu, Lei, Voi


Parli inglese?

Do you speak English?
used when addressing one person in front of you (informal setting)

Parla inglese?

Do you speak English?
used when addressing one person in front of you (formal setting)

Parlate inglese?

Do you speak English?
used when addressing two or more people in front of you (informal and formal setting)

Notice that in Italian, there are three ways to translate the question expressed in the same way in English: “Do you speak Italian?”

Lui, lei, loro 


Parla inglese?

Does he/she speak English?
used when referring to a person (she or he)

Parlano inglese?

Do they speak English?
used when referring to two or more people (they)

Note that the auxiliaries (do, does, did) used in English to form questions do not have a counterpart in Italian and cannot be translated.

How to Choose the Tense of a Question: Present, Past, or Future

To choose the right tense for your question, you need to consider whether the question is referring to a present or habitual action (present tense), a past action (generally, passato prossimo), or a future action (present tense of the future).

Parli italiano?Do you speak Italian?present or near future
Hai parlato italiano?did you speak Italian?past
Parlerai italiano?will you speak Italian?future or far future

Conjugations You Should Know as a Beginner Italian Learner

Most day-to-day communication in Italian happens by using these high-frequency conjugations:

  • Present tense: for present and near-future actions.
  • Passato prossimo: for past actions.
  • Imperfetto: for habitual actions in the past.

As a beginner, I recommend mastering these tenses before moving on to the more advanced ones.

How to Practice Your Italian Conjugations 

To master Italian conjugation, my recommendation is that it requires a lot of practice. I recommend using verb conjugation books, such as 501 Italian Verbs (affiliate link). Another effective approach is learning through simple stories for beginners (affiliate link). The key is to learn how to switch from one subject to the next with ease. Discussing the characters and the plot of a story with your tutors, as opposed to relying on talking about yourself, will help you improve your conjugation and transition between ā€œIā€ to she, they, her, it, etc.

How to Conjugate Verbs in the Italian Language

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