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Cheat Sheet

Italian Grammar For Dummies

From Italian Grammar For Dummies by Beth Bartolini-Salimbeni

Of all the vocabulary needed to speak a language, nothing is nearly as valuable as verbs. Without them, your language is stagnant and incapable of showing action. To make the most of Italian verbs, you can add prefixes and suffixes or the occasional adverb or pronoun and expand your Italian vocabulary exponentially.

Building on Verb Conjugations in the Present Tense in Italian

The verbs venire (to come) and dire (to say, to tell) conjugate irregularly in the present tense. Prendere (to take) has a regular conjugation. All three take prefixes and allow you to build vocabulary easily. After you master the conjugation of an irregular base verb, such as venire and dire, you can apply the same conjugation pattern to all the verb’s variations, as the following table shows.

When studying Italian grammar, knowing how to conjugate verbs means the difference between saying ‘I to speak’ and ‘I speak.’ The beauty is that you can build on similar verbs by applying the same conjugation rules. Once you learn an irregular present-tense conjugation, you can take advantage of having learned it by adding suffixes to expand your vocabulary.

Verbs that Take Suffixes
Base Verb Variations of the Verb Present Tense Conjugation
venire (to come) io vengo, tu vieni, lui/lei, Lei viene, noi veniamo, voi venite, loro, Loro vengono
avvvenire (to happen) avvengo, avvieni, avviene, avveniamo, avvenite, avvengono (usually used in the third-person singular, avviene, form)
contravvenire (to contravene [a law]) contravvengo, contravvieni, contravviene, contravveniamo, contravvenite, contravvengono
convenire (to convene) convengo, convieni, conviene, conveniamo, convenite, convengono (usually used in the third-person singular, conviene, form)
divenire (to become) divengo, divieni, diviene, diveniamo, divenite, divengono
intervenire (to intervene) intervengo, intervieni, interviene, interveniamo, intervenite, intervengono
prevenire (to precede, to warn) prevengo, previeni, previene, preveniamo, prevenite, prevengono
provenire (da) (to come from) provengo, provieni, proviene, proveniamo, provenite, provengono (usually used in the third-person singular, proviene, form)
sopravvenire (to happen) sopravvengo, sopravvieni, sopravviene, sopravveniamo, sopravvenite, sopravvengono
sovvenire (to help) sovvengo, sovvieni, sovviene, sovveniamo, sovvenite, sovvengono
svenire (to faint [to come undone]) svengo, svieni, sviene, sveniamo, svenite, svengono
dire (to say, to tell) io dico, tu dici, lui/lei, Lei dice, noi diciamo, voi dite, loro, Loro dicono
disdire (to retract, to take back) disdico, disdici, disdice, disdiciamo didite, disdicono
interdire (a) (to forbid) interdico, interdici, interdice, interdiciamo, interdite, interdicono
maledire (to curse) maledico, maledici, maledice, malediciamo, maledite, maledicono
predire (to foretell) predico, predici, predice, prediciamo, predite, predicono
prendere (to take ) io prendo, tu prendi, lui/lei prende, noi prendiamo, voi prendete, loro prendono
apprendere (to learn, to understand) apprendo, apprendi, apprende, apprendiamo, apprendete, apprendono
comprendere (to understand, to include) comprendo, comprendi, comprende, comprendiamo, comprendete, comprendono
intraprendere (to undertake) intraprendo, intraprendi, intraprende, intraprendiamo, intraprendete, intraprendono
riprendere (to take back, to recover) reprendo, riprendi, riprende, riprendiamo, riprendete, riprendono
sorprendere (to surprise) sorprendo, sorprendi, sorprende, sorprendiamo, sorprendete, sorprendono

Conjugating Italian Verbs with “Ci”

Some verbs add on two letters — ci (literally, here, there) — to the end of the infinitive and before their conjugated forms and thereby change their meanings. These verbs follow regular conjugation patterns but put the adverb of place ci (here, there) before each conjugated verb form. For example: vedo means I see; but ci vedo means I can see, I am able to see. The following table shows the conjugation with ci.

vedere (to see)
io ci vedo (I can see) noi ci vediamo (we can see)
tu ci vedi (you [informal] can see) voi ci vedete (you all [informal] can see)
lui, lei, Lei ci vede (he, she, it, you [formal] can see) loro, Loro ci vedono (they, you all [formal] can see)
Verbs that change meaning when adding “ci”
Infinitive Infinitive with -ci Example conjugation with “ci”
vedere (to see) vederci (to be able to see) Ci vedete? (Can you see?)
sentire (to hear) sentirci (to be able to hear) Più forte! Non ci sento. (Louder! I can’t hear.)
pensare (to think) pensarci (to think about it) Ci penso. (I’m thinking about it.)
volere (to want) volerci (to take or to need) Ci vuol pazienza. (It takes patience.)
mettere (to put) metterci (to take an amount of time) Ci mettiamo mezz’ora. (It takes us half an hour.)
stare (to be) starci (to be up for, to be game) Ci sto! (I’m game!)
entrare (to enter) entrarci (to have to do with something) Cosa c’entra? (What does that have to do with anything?) Io non c’entro! (I don’t have anything to do with it!)
credere (to believe) crederci (to believe it) Ci credi? (Do you believe it?)

Other uses of ci include adding them to essere and avere, as shown below. With essere, ci is used in the common expressions there is, there are. With avere, ci simply makes the verb more emphatic. A common expression involves adding ci and la, which combine to become ce la, to the verb fare (to make, to do), resulting in farcela (to be able to do, to stand something). The following examples show these very common uses.

  • Essere (to be) attaches ci to the third person singular and plural forms to mean there is (c’è) and there are (ci sono).

  • Avere (to have) uses ci to emphasize the immediacy of having something: C’hai (ci + hai) le chiavi? (Do you have the keys — right here, right now?)

  • Averci is used informally, and ci doesn’t otherwise change the essential meaning of avere.

  • Fare (to make, to do) adds ci and the direct object pronoun la and becomes farcela (to be able to, to manage, to stand something). The conjugated verb puts ce la in front of each form: ce la faccio, ce la fai, ce la fa, ce la facciamo, ce la fate, and ce la fanno. You say, for example, Ce la fai? (Can you manage?) or Non ce la faccio (I can’t manage) (I can’t stand it). In Florence, you may hear ce la fo’ instead of ce la faccio.

Pronouncing Italian Verbs with an Accento Sdrucciolo — Slippery Accent

Certain Italian verbs, usually those with Latin roots, are accented differently from the norm. Instead of the stress falling on the usual next-to-lastsyllable, the stress falls on the third-to-last syllable, exceptin the noi and voi forms in the present tense..

This accento sdrucciolo matters in Italian because poetic meter depends on syllabic count, a count in part determined by which syllable of the last word in a line of poetry is stressed. More important for your purposes, when movies are dubbed into Italian, silly characters (from The Three Stooges, for example) never get this accentuation right. In order to sound Italian, you need to be aware of words that have accentuation or vocal stress patterns that differ from the norm.

That is, the singular present-tense conjugations, and the third-person plural conjugation of each verb “back up” their stress by one syllable. The noi and voi forms maintain the normal next-to-last syllable stress. Consider the stress shown in the following conjugation of abitare.

abitare: to live

io ábito noi abitiámo
tu ábiti voi abitáte
lui/lei/Lei ábitaloro ábitano

The following common verbs all use the accento sdrucciolo in the present tense conjugation.

capitare: to happen

celebrare: to celebrate

dedicare: to dedicate

desiderare: to want

dominare: to dominate

esercitare: to exercise

immaginare: to imagine

indicare: to indicate

mormorare: to murmur

necessitare: to need (used impersonally)

occupare: to occupy

ordinare: to order

partecipare (a): to participate (in)

predominare: to predominate

pubblicare: to publish

significare: to mean

soffiare: to blow

superare: to supercede

telefonare: to telephone (someone)

terminare: to finish, to end

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