In Italian there are three classes of verbs (verbi): those ending in –are, –ere, and –ire. Each class of verbs has a set of endings that correspond to each possible subject (io – I, tu – you, lui – he, noi – we, etc.) The endings differ in small ways depending upon the verb class. Once you learn the endings particular to each class of verbs, you will have the knowledge to use all new verbs that you learn. However, each verb class includes some verbs with irregular forms. Although their endings are consistent with the regular verbs of their class, spelling changes occur in their stem (i.e. the middle part of the verb). Many of these irregular verbs are also the most common verbs. Learning them by heart is essential.
Grammar texts will use certain terms when discussing verbs:
- A verb’s conjugation is the way its form changes to agree with the subject (=the agent performing the action).
- A verb tense refers to the time that the action takes place. The most common tenses are present, past, and future.
- The stem of a verb is another name for its root, the middle part of the verb, right before its ending. As mentioned above, most of the irregularities in verbs occur in the stem.
- The infinitive of a verb is the form of the un-conjugated verb, that is, the verb in its –are, –ere, or –ire form. Verbs listed in textbooks and dictionaries are generally found in the infinitive.
- Although subject pronouns io, tu, lui, etc. are used in textbook exercises, it is generally not necessary to use these when writing or speaking, except in cases of emphasis. This is because the subject is already made evident by the ending of the verb.