How Italian verbs work

Grammar books throw around terms like infinitive, person, conjugation, tense, regular and irregular all the time... but what do they really mean?  

All those terms are related to verbs and can be useful to understanding how Italian verbs work, so let's break them down:


Infinitive refers to the most basic form of the verb, the general verb that tells us nothing of tense (when it occurs)  or person (who did it.)

In English, infinitives have the word "to" in front of them.

to speak
to eat
to read
to write
to sleep
to finish

As you can see in the above examples, these have a very general meaning.  They refer to the action itself, and have no subject or time.

In Italian, infinitive verbs always end with one of three endings:  -ARE  -ERE  or -IRE.


These are the same verbs from the English infinitives, and have the same meaning- they refer to the action itself and have no person or time.


Person refers to the subject or the one doing the action. In Italian and English, they are:

Subject/Person pronouns in Italian: io-I, tu-you, lui/lei-he/she, noi-we, voi-you all, loro-they by ab for

If you hear somebody say "1st person singular" just know that's a fancy way of saying "I" or "io." If you hear third person plural, that's just "they" or "loro."  Easy right?


Verb endings are very important in Italian because they contain a lot of information about the tense (when the action occurred) and the subject (who did it.)  As we saw before, infinitives always have one of three endings: -ARE, -ERE or -IRE and the rest of the verb is what we call the stem or root:

stem (parl-) and ending (-are) of infinitive verb (parlare) by ab for

To express another time or tense, you change the infinitive ending (again -ARE, -ERE, or -IRE) with the ending for that tense and subject.  

In the following example, I want to conjugate parlare in the 1st person (io) present tense, so the ending I use is 'o':
Parlare ->  Parlo PARLARE conjugated in 1st person singular present tense by ab for

Here, I've CONJUGATED the verb parlare 'to speak' into the first person present tense: parlo 'I speak'.  As you can see, all the information is in the verb ending.


Learning a new tense in Italian means learning new sets of verb endings.  In general, there are different endings for each verb group (-ARE, -ERE or -IRE) and for each person (io, tu, lui/lei, noi, voi, loro)
(This may seem like a lot, but the variations from one group to the next become quite intuitive once you've learned one of them!)

Let's look at the simple present tense endings for -ARE verbs:

-ARE present tense endings by person: io-o, tu-i, lui/lei-a, noi-iamo, voi-ate, loro-ano by ab for

TIP: When learning a new tense, write out all the conjugations in a two column, three line chart like the one above.  That way, the subjects will be clear without having to write them out every time.

Given the above endings and the fact that the root of 'parlare' is 'parl-' we can write out the present tense conjugations of 'parlare':

Present tense of PARLARE: parlo, parli, parla, parliamo, parlate, parlano by ab for


If a verb is Regular, that means it follows the predictable conjugation pattern.  'Parlare' in the example above, is regular: drop -ARE and add the present tense endings, and those are the present tense forms.

There are many regular verbs, so once you've learned how to conjugate one, you can figure out the conjugations of many others.

For example, 'fermare' 'to stop'  is also a regular verb.  Use the -ARE ending chart above if needed, write out the present tense conjugations of 'fermare': 

(Highlight the space below to reveal the answers)
io fermo               noi fermiamo
tu fermi               voi fermate 
lui/lei ferma         loro fermano

IRREGULAR verbs are ones that don't follow the predictable patterns above.  A very common irregular verb is 'essere' 'to be'  You cannot drop the -ERE and add endings, instead you must memorize each conjugation: (This verb is used so frequently, you'll have it memorized in no time, don't worry!)

Essere "to be" present tense conjugations: io sono, tu sei, lui/lei è, noi siamo, voi siete, loro sono  by ab for

I go more in depth on {-ARE verbs} in the next post in this series and cover the other present tense conjugations in {-ERE Verbs} and {-IRE Verbs} but how are we feeling so far?  Are all these grammar terms starting to make sense? Anything you're still not sure about?  Feel free to comment to this post or email me using the email form on the righthand side of the page... I'm happy to help!

Happy Studying!
Alex on

Ready to move on to the next lesson in this series?
Worksheets & links to lessons in the Beginners series are included in the Beginner's Italian Workbook* which features an easy print option!
**not available on mobile devices, please try on a regular computer!

ITALIAN: Workbooks Beginner's Workbook, Part One, from Via Optimae,

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All lessons in the Beginner's Italian series:
  (1) How Italian verbs work(Intro to verbs & grammar terms)
  (4) Italian present tense: -IRE verbs — CURRENT PAGE
  (5) La negazione - Negation
  (6) Ogni quanto? Quante volte? (Adverbs of frequency)
  (7) C'è & Ci sono (There is & There are)

Potrebbe pure interessarti….
ITALIAN: The Basics Series, starting with:
(01) Indefinite Articles (How to say "A/AN" in Italian

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Frasi celebri su Via Optimae

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae
Acque del sud (To Have and Have Not) original: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow."