Basic Italian Verb Conjugation: A Beginner's Guide
- Mille Larsen •6 mins read
I'm quite sure that learning Italian verb conjugation is the thing that worries (scares) students the most.
But it absolutely shouldn't.
I’ll explain why in a moment.
Every foreign language learner, no matter which language, has to contend with verb conjugations and irregularities to some extent (some languages are worse than others).
Conjugating a verb simply means applying the correct form of a verb to the subject of a sentence. It's not difficult, but it's one more way that English speakers can often be confused when learning a new language.
Verb conjugation in English simply means adding an "s" to the end of verbs in the third-person: I go, you go, we go, he goes; I eat, you eat, we eat, they eat, she eats. This makes speaking English easier, but one could argue that it makes understanding English harder.
You can’t really communicate effectively in Italian without knowing how to put verb together properly.
First, two really important points to consider:
- Don't try to cram conjugation rules. You should never learn approach Italian by memorizing grammar rules (learn in whole collocations, phrases and sentences instead).
- Don't get upset over irregularities. You'll pick them up over time.
Keep reading and I'll explain in detail what I mean by these points.
For now, let's consider the fundamentals of Italian verbs and their conjugation.
Italian verb conjugation
We're coving the 10 most important things to know to get by in Italian. First, we looked at Italian greetings, at the common courtesies, and asking questions. Last week, we looked at things you will need, numbers, and directions.
Basic action verbs
There is an incredible amount of communication that can be done before you ever learn any verbs. But there is also an incredible amount of additional things that can be done after learning a few basic verbs. Here are a few really useful verbs for Italian:
- essere: to be
- guidare: to drive
- volare: to fly
- venire: to come
- andare: to go
- portare: to bring
- potere: to be able to
- sapere: to know
- dovere: to should
- volere: to want
- avere: to have
- avere bisogno di: to need
- mangiare: to eat
- bere: to drink
- dormire: to sleep
- leggere: to read
- guardare: to watch
- vedere: to see
- sentire: to hear
- ascoltare: to listen
- dire: to say
- raccontare: to tell
- piacere: to please
I've already covered verb conjugation in Italian on this site, so I won't go into great detail. The simple summary is as follows.
There are three verb endings: -are, -ere, and -ire. When you conjugate an Italian verb in the present tense, you drop the ending and replace it with one of the following...
This is a generalization that's good enough for the 10 things list. It will be more than enough to get by in Italian. Even if you occasionally conjugate an exception incorrectly, people will understand.
The one final note about conjugation is that Italian (like many foreign languages) does not have the word "like", as in to like something. Instead, you say it pleases me. So the verb piacere is typically conjugated in the third-person as mi piace, which means I like (literally: it pleases me).
Putting it to use
This is the most info-packed point, so far, on the 10 things you need to know list. But it's also the most powerful, because now you can say a lot of really useful things!
For example, even without learning to say I'm hungry, we can say io voglio mangare, or I want to eat. Volere is one of those exceptions that doesn't follow the normal conjugation... but you already know the first-person conjugation from when you learned how to ask for the things you need.
There are many more ways to combine these words with other words we've already covered, such as Scusi, io devo sapere dov'è l'albergo, or, excuse me, I need to know where the hotel is. Or you can say devo andare in ospedale, to let someone know that I have to go to the hospital.
Best resources for learning Italian verb conjugation
As I said above, eventually you're going to need to learn Italian verb conjugation either way.
So I thought Id just offer some suggestions for (in my opinion) best resources for learning Italian verbs.
Let's start with books
You can't go wrong with Barron's 501 Italian Verbs.
This is one of those absolute essentials that you'll always refer to for reference.
Also from Barron's, you should grab a copy of Mastering Italian Vocabulary (includes nouns and verbs).
There's another great book by David Stillman called The Ultimate Italian Review And Practice that's high on my list.
Italian verb courses
For arguably the best online course for learning Italian verbs, try out Rocket Italian.
Rocket Italian offers the most comprehensive online Italian verb course by far.
This one's ideal for beginners of Italian but it goes right up to advanced content.
There's also ItalianPod101 which is hugely popular.
It's more loosely organized but it covers a lot of ground - more suited to self-guided learners who don't need the kind of structure that Rocket Italian provides.
For something totally different, use Glossika Italian.
Glossika's avoids boring rule memorization and gets you listening to high-frequency sound bites of Italian. You'll learn Italian verbs without memorizing anything at all.
Online tutors and teachers to learn Italian verbs
One of the best sites ever made available in my opinion is italki.
For anyone wanting to learn Italian but can't travel to Italy just yet, this is your next best thing.
You can find extremely affordable teachers of Italian on there for less than $10 an hour.
I've used it a lot and it's helped me immensely.