Imperfetto, imperfect by name and definition, is an Italian past tense, indicativo mood. It is imperfect because it describes incomplete or usual actions in the past, not defined in a time frame.
Although the imperfetto, as a simple tense, does not exist in Germanic languages, English included, it roughly corresponds to the English past progressive, with some relevant differences. Remember, English translations of Italian sentences in our posts are literal and may sound incorrect. Here’s the conjugation.
Imperfetto is used …
- to describe incomplete actions in the past
- to describe usual actions in the past
- to describe a situation existing in the past
- in conditional sentences
So, for example I can say
- ieri non mi sentivo bene (yesterday I wasn’t feeling good)
- da bambino giocavo con gli amici (as a child, I used to play with my friends)
- da giovane ero un fumatore (when I was young, I was a smoker)
- se me lo dicevi, venivo a vedere la partita (if you told me I would have come to the see the match)
The latter sounds quite incorrect in Italian, as a conditional sentence, because we should say “Se me lo avessi detto, sarei venuto a vedere la partita” using the more correct combination Congiuntivo Trapassato + Condizionale passato. However, it is becoming very common to simplify the conditional using the imperfetto.
It is very common to compare the imperfetto with another past tense, the passato prossimo. Some rules of thumb…
- It is a simple tense
Da piccolo giocavo a calcio
- Action is incomplete
Ti telefonavo sempre
- Rule of thumb: the conjugation very often contains a V in the conjugation (mangiavo, dormivamo, compravi, cercavate etc…)
- It is a compound tense
Ieri ho giocato a calcio
- action is complete
Ieri to ho telefonato.
- Rule of thumb: the conjugation very often contains a T, typical of the Italian past participle ( ho mangiato, abbiamo dormito, hai comprato etc…)
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