Read this page, then try this practice.

The passato prossimo is one of several past tenses in Italian. It is the one you will use most. It is used to describe actions that were completed in the past, such as:

  • I took the exam last Friday.
  • We went to Italy two months ago.

It can also be used to describe an action that began in the past but has not yet been completed, such as:

  • I have been to Italy three times in my life.
  • We have not finished the exam yet.

The passato prossimo is a compound tense, meaning it is made up of two verbs. The first verb is a conjugated form of essere or avere. (Conjugated means that you provide the form that corresponds to the subject or the person carrying out the action).  This verb is called an auxiliary verb or helping verb, because it helps make clear the temporal quality of the main verb. The second verb form is created by altering the main verb describing the activity. It is known as the past participle of the main verb. Here is an example:

Mario ha mangiato la pizza. Mario ate the pizza.

In this example, ha is the conjugated form of avere.  In this case, you select the lui/lei form of the verb (lui=he), because Mario is the subject of the sentence, or the person who carried out the action (i.e. ate the pizza).  Following, mangiato is called the past participle of the main verb mangiare (to eat).

Past participles are formed from the infinitive of the main verb by dropping the are, –ere, or –ire and adding –ato, –uto, and –ito, respectively. For example:

infinitive past participle
parlare parlato
credere creduto
finire finito


The chart below lists forms of verbs in the passato prossimo, conjugated with avere and essere. Consider the forms and the questions that follow.

parlare andare credere mettere capire
io ho parlato sono andato/a ho creduto ho messo ho capito
tu hai parlato sei andato/a hai creduto hai messo hai capito
lui,lei,Lei ha parlato è andato/a ha creduto ha messo ha capito
noi abbiamo parlato siamo andati/e abbiamo creduto abbiamo messo abbiamo capito
voi avete parlato siete andati/e avete creduto avete messo avete capito
loro hanno parlato sono andati/e hanno creduto hanno messo hanno capito

Looking at these conjugations in light of the discussion above suggests two questions:

  • Why use essere with andare and not with the other verbs?
  • Why is messo the past participle of mettere?

The answers to these questions can guide your study further.

Essere vs. Avere

When verbs are used in the passato prossimo, some go with essere and some with avere. The choice often appears more difficult than it really is. Keep the following points in mind when deciding between the two verbs:

  • All transitive verbs (verbs that have direct objects, like mangiare – to eat, scrivere – to write, suonare – to play, chiamare – to call) go with avere. Direct objects in sentences designate the objects that receive the action of the verb. You can identify them by asking the question what? or whom?…. What did you eat?  – a pizzaWhom did you see?  – my best friend..
  • Many verbs that indicate movement (e.g. andare – to go, venire – to come, uscire – to go out, partire – to depart), go with essere.
  • Many verbs that indicate stasis or immobility (e.g. stare – to stay, essere – to be, restare – to stay, rimanere – to remain), go with essere.
  • Many verbs that indicate a change of state (e.g. cambiare – to change, diventare – to become, nascere – to be born, morire – to die, ingrandire – to get bigger) go with essere.
  • All reflexive verbs (e.g. arrabbiarsi – to get angry, lavarsi – to wash oneself, chiamarsi – to be called) go with essere.

While it is a good idea to keep these rules in mind, it may also be helpful to memorize common verbs that go with essere. When you learn new verbs in your textbook or from your dictionary, those verbs that go with essere in the passato prossimo will be flagged for you. Put these on note cards,

Past Participles

Many verbs have irregular past participles. Examples include the following:

infinitive past participle
bere bevuto
decidere deciso
dire detto
essere stato
fare fatto
leggere letto
mettere messo
morire morto
nascere nato
perdere perso
prendere preso
rimanere rimasto
scrivere scritto
vedere visto
venire venuto

Keep a chart of all the irregular past participles as you learn them, in your notebook or on note cards, to review before quizzes and exams.

These past participles are important to know not only for the passato prossimo, but for several other compound verb tenses (e.g. past perfect, future perfect, past conditional, and past subjunctive). Many of them can also be used as adjectives or in passive constructions.

Passato Prossimo: Practice