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How do past participles agree in 'passato prossimo' in Italian?

ITAL-3-Blog-Header-Gated-Part2

In Part 1 we saw how you can choose between avere and essere when you want to express something in the passato prossimo. In this second part, we will focus on the agreement of the past participle with the verbs essere and avere in the passato prossimo. Keep in mind that the same rules apply to the other three compound tenses in Italian:  trapassato prossimo [past perfect], futuro anteriore [future perfect], and trapassato remoto [past anterior]. Let’s get into it!

In this second part we will focus on the agreement of the past participle with the verbs essere and avere in the passato prossimo [present perfect]. Keep in mind that the same rules apply to the other three compound tenses in Italian:  trapassato prossimo [past perfect], futuro anteriore [future perfect], and trapassato remoto [past anterior]. Let’s get into it!

Agreement with ‘essere’

With essere, the main verb agrees in number and gender with the subject.

Screen Shot 2021-12-10 at 2.11.39 PM

Check out our summary table.

Agreement with ‘avere’

With avere, the past participle is usually invariable (it always ends in -o):

Screen Shot 2021-12-10 at 2.14.31 PM

But is it always true? Verbs introduced by avere do not agree in number and gender with the verb's subject and verbs introduced by essere do? In general, yes.
However,  when accompanied by an unstressed direct object pronoun (see “Unpacking the grammar” for a review of direct object pronouns), the past participle agrees with the pronoun. Let's take a quick look here:

Screen Shot 2021-08-17 at 10.40.12 AMm. = masculine; f. = feminine; sing = singular; pl = plural

When you are using the pronouns lo, la or l’ (for lo or la), li and le, the past participles behave like adjectives (scroll down to “Unpacking the grammar” for an explanation) and agree with the noun they refer to. In the first example above,  il cd is masculine singular. When we replace it with the masculine singular pronoun l’ [it], the past participle is ascoltato as it agrees with it; in the second example, Lucia is feminine singular, so the past participle vista agrees with the feminine singular pronoun la. The same can be said for i pomodori and le poltrone: masculine and feminine plural nouns replaced by the masculine pronoun li and the feminine le which affect the endings of presi and acquistate.

Unpacking the grammar

  • Direct object pronouns in Italian are words like mi, ti, lo, la, ci, etc. [me, you, it, him, her]. They are used to substitute an object that has already been mentioned explicitly in the sentence. When the object pronoun appears without a preposition, it is a direct object pronoun. 

Mangio una mela.           I am eating an apple.
La mangio.                       I am eating it.

  • Adjectives are words that are used to describe something, including people, animals, things, places, or ideas. Adjectives are used to make many types of descriptions, such as stating the color, amount, category, appearance, or possession of something or someone.

una ragazza simpatica             a nice girl

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