Read this page, then try this practice.

This section features two forms that Italian verbs take. The use of gerunds and infinitives vary at times from their English equivalents.

Infinitives

The infinitive (infinito) is the un-conjugated form of the verb, the form you find if you look up a verb in the dictionary. Each infinitive identifies which class the verb belongs to (for example, andare is an -are verb; mettere is an -ere verb, and dormire is an -ire verb.)

There are several common uses of infinitives in Italian. The most common use of the infinitive is directly following an initial verb that has already been conjugated, for example:

Devo fare i miei compiti. I have to do my homework assignments.
Devo farli. I have to do them. Vuoi venire al ristorante con noi? Do you want to go to the restaurant with us? Vuoi venirci con noi? Do you want to go there with us? Ho deciso di andare. I decided to go. Abbiamo cominciato a mangiare. We started to eat. Stavano per uscire. They were about to go out. Volete qualcosa da bere? Do you all want something to drink?

Some verbs are followed by a preposition (a, di, da or per) before adding the second verb. Any time a verb follows a preposition, it will appear in its infinitive form.

When a verb in the infinitive is followed by a direct object pronoun, indirect object pronoun, reflexive pronoun, or ci or ne, it must be attached to the end of the infinitive, after dropping the -e at the end. See the second and fourth examples above.

✽  Other common prepositions used before verbs include prima di (before) senza (without), and dopo (after).  Note that when dopo refers to actions that have already occurred, it is commonly followed by a past infinitive.

Ti chiamo prima di uscire. I’ll call you before going out.
Marcella non può superare l’esame senza prepararsi bene. Marcella can’t pass her exam without preparing well.
Dopo aver dedicato così tanto tempo a preparare la cena, trovo che non ho più fame. After having dedicated so much time to fixing dinner, I find I’m no longer hungry.

The past infinitive is formed by putting avere or essere in the infinitive, followed by the past participle (the -ato, -uto or -ito form of the verb). The final -e of those infinitives is often dropped. For a reminder of which verbs go with avere and essere and for a list of irregular past participles, look here.

Sometimes students try to put all subsequent verbs in the infinitive, after conjugating an initial one.  Be careful not to exaggerate the case. If that subsequent verb begins a whole new verbal clause (separated from a former one by a conjunction – like e, o, ma, appena – or by a comma), it is conjugated as well.

Oggi vado a lezione, studio in biblioteca, e pranzo con i miei amici. Today I’m going to class, studying in the library and having lunch with my friends.

Infinitives that act like nouns

Another common use of the infinitive is when the verb “acts like a noun.” What does this mean, exactly? In English, this use is characterized by the -ing form of the verb, when it’s used as the subject of the sentence.

Running is good for your health.
Reading is hard when you’re tired.
Making jokes isn’t an easy thing in a foreign language.

These cases all call for the use of the infinitive in Italian. They also require the addition of the definite article il, which is in keeping with the idea that these verbs are behaving like nouns.

Il correre va bene alla salute.
Il leggere è difficile quando si è stanchi.
Il fare scherzi non è cosa semplice in una lingua straniera.

Because they behave like nouns, they can also be used with adjectives (which must use the masculine singular endings).

Il ballare fu bellissismo. The dancing was great.
Il cantare appassionato mi ispirò. The passionate singing inspired me.

Infinitives after verbs of perception

The infinitive is also used after verbs of perception, like vedere and sentire.

L’ho visto uscire. I saw him go out.
Vorrei sentirti cantare. I would like to hear you sing.
Non ti ho sentito tornare a casa. I did not hear you come home.

Infinitives with causative verbs

Another important use of the infinitive occurs with so-called causative verbs.

Fare and lasciare, when followed by other verbs, are called causative verbs. Here are some causative expressions in English.

● I had the car washed.
● I made my husband do the dishes.
● The film made you cry.
● I need to get my hair cut.

There is an additional agent in these cases (specified or not), which causes or allows a person to act in a certain way or to perform another action. In English, we use the verbs to have, to make and to let to convey this external agency. In Italian, you use the verbs fare and lasciare.

I had the car washed. Ho fatto lavare la macchina.
I made my husband do the dishes. Ho fatto lavare i piatti a mio marito.
The film made you cry. Il film ti ha fatto piangere.
I need to get my hair cut. Devo farmi tagliare i capelli.

Note the following things about the use of the verb fare:

  • If there is only one object of the verb (Ho fatto lavare la macchina), this object is a direct object. Note the word order: the two verbs go together, with the second verb in the infinitive, followed by the direct object of the verb.
  • If, rather, as in the second example, there are two objects, the object towards which the new action is directed (i piatti) is the direct object, and the agent of the new action (mio marito) is an indirect object. You can identify mio marito as an indirect object by the inclusion of the preposition a directly before it.
  • If you are using pronouns in place of nouns, it is customary to put them before the conjugated form of fare, as in the third example: Il film ti ha fatto piangere.
  • Substituting pronouns for nouns in the first two sentences results in the following:
    Ho fatto lavare la macchina.   La ho (L’ho) fatta lavare.
    Ho fatto lavare i piatti a mio marito. Glieli ho fatti lavare.

Recall that when using the passato prossimo and a direct object pronoun in the same sentence, you must make the ending of the past participle agree with the direct object pronoun; hence, fatta in the first example (agreeing with la) and fatti in the second (agreeing with li).

Lasciare
The verb lasciare is used in the same way to mean to let someone do something. The difference is that with lasciare, the person to whom the agency is attributed is not an indirect object, even when the ensuing action has a direct object of its own.

Mia sorella mi ha lasciato guidare la sua macchina. My sister let me drive her car.
Me l’ha lasciata portare in spiaggia. She let me take it to the beach.
Ho lasciato il mio amico scegliere il ristorante. I let my friend pick the restaurant.

Fare w/ Reflexive Verbs
Sometimes you may want to refer to having something done to or for yourself, as in the statements below.

● I got my hair cut.
● They got their parents to pay for their car.
● I have my mom wash my laundry for me.

In Italian this works in similar fashion as before, with the reflexive pronoun appearing before the verb; in compound tenses (like the passato prossimo), the auxilliary verb is now essere (not avere); if there is no direct object pronoun, the ending of the past participle agrees with the subject; if there is a direct object pronoun, the end of the past participle agrees with the direct object.

I got my hair cut. Mi sono fatta tagliare i capelli. I got it cut. Me li sono fatti tagliare.
They got their parents to pay for their car. Si sono fatti pagare la macchina ai loro genitori. They got their parents to pay for it. Se la sono fatta pagare ai loro genitori.
I have my mom wash my laundry for me. Mi faccio fare il bucato da mia madre. I have my mom wash it for me. Me la faccio fare da mia madre.

Infinitives as Imperatives

Infinitives are used in the negative imperative when speaking to one person informally. This is called the negative tu imperative.

Don’t forget! Non dimenticare!
Don’t wait for me! Non aspettarmi!
Don’t worry! Non preoccuparti!

Infinitives are additionally used in affirmative imperatives in which the instructions are intended for a general public, rather than for a specified person or people. They are commonly found in instructions and public notices.

Premere il tasto. Press the button.
Leggere le istruzioni prima dell’uso. Read the instructions before use.
Digitare il numero. Dial the number.

Gerunds

Forming gerunds:

The gerund (il gerundio) is one more important verb form. It is formed in Italian by taking the infinitive of the verb, dropping the -are, -ere, or -ire and adding -ando or -endo to the remaining verb stem.

For -are verbs, add -ando.
For -ere verbs and -ire verbs, add -endo.

giocare giocando
mettere mettendo
finire finendo
essere essendo
fare facendo
bere bevendo
dire dicendo
porre ponendo
tradurre traducendo

You will see that verbs that are irregular in the imperfect (like fare, bere, porre, dire, tradurre, etc.) will have the same type of stem changes in the gerund.

Gerunds used with stare

Stare + gerund is used in Italian to refer to an action that is unfolding (or was unfolding) at a certain moment in time. The emphasis is on the fact that this action is unfolding (as opposed to an action that occurs regularly or that is completed).

Sto studiando. I am studying.
Non posso venire ora perchè sto parlando con mia sorella. I can’t come over now, because I’m talking to my sister.
Mi dispiace di non averti scritto prima. Stavo pensando di quello che hai detto. I’m sorry I didn’t write back. I was thinking about what you said.

To express these sentences in Italian, you simply conjugate stare (= use the ending which corresponds to the subject – io, tu, Mario, etc.) and then add the gerund. If there is a direct or indirect object pronoun (lo, la, le, gli), a reflexive pronoun (mi, ti, si, etc.), or ci or ne, you have two options as to where to put them:

  • right before the form of stare
  • attached to the end of the gerund
I’m studying it. Lo sto studiando.
Sto studiandolo.
I’m talking to her. Le sto parlando.
Sto parlandole.
I was thinking about it. Ci stavo pensando.
Stavo pensandoci.

Recall that you can also use the present tense in Italian to express actions unfolding in the present and the imperfetto to express actions unfolding at a moment in the past.

Studio. I am studying.
Che fai adesso? What are you doing now?
Dormivo quando mi hai telefonato. I was sleeping when you called.

Gerunds used to express auxiliary actions

Another important use of the gerund is to state an action that is secondary to a main action. Secondary means that it happens prior to or right after the main action. It often provides background or additional information like the reason for the action, the means by which the action is carried out, or the manner in which it is carried out.

Camminando per il parco, mi imbatto spesso in amici. Walking through the park, I often bump into friends.
Sentendomi stanco, ho deciso di tornare subito a casa. Feeling tired, I decided to return home.
Ho lavorato tutta la notte sulla mia tesina, consegnandola finalmente stamattina. I worked all night on my paper, handing it in finally this morning.
Parlandone, comincio a sentirmi meglio. Talking about it, I’m starting to feel better.
Avendo dimenticato il mio portafoglio, ho dovuto chiedere soldi al mio compagno di casa. Having forgotten my wallet, I had to ask my housemate for money.
Essendomi alzato tardi, non avevo tempo per fare colazione. Having gotten up late, I didn’t have time to have breakfast.

Use the past gerund when the secondary or auxiliary action occurred in the past before the main (past) action, as in the last two examples above.

If a pronoun (direct, indirect, reflexive, or ci or ne) is involved, attach it to the gerund. If you use a past gerund, attach it to avendo or essendo.

Gerunds and Infinitives: Practice