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Dear Maria, You were very helpful yesterday when you explained the difference between Passato prossimo and trapassato.  I have one more problem I would like your input on:

Can you explain the differences between Imperfetto and trapassato and give several examples of each.
If you could use the same sentences for each tense and give many examples.  We are having great difficulty sorting out the finer points. Thank you so much!

Dear Christine,

here are the differences between the “Imperfetto” and the  “Trapassato  Prossimo”:

-the “Trapassato  Prossimo” indicates an action that has been  completed  at some point in the past before something else happened.  We therefore use the “Trapassato Prossimo” to denote an action which has no connection with the present time, for this action is definitely completed, as I’ve already said in my last answer,  where I‘ve told you  that this tense is composed of the “imperfetto” of the auxiliary verb “avere” or “essere”  plus the past participle of the verb as in e.g. Avevo avuto”, “Avevo mangiato”, Ero andato”, “Eri andato”, “Erano partiti”, etc.

-the “Imperfetto” expresses a continued action and  is used for past events that happened more than once, especially to say that:

1)the past has been  interrupted by another event as in “Mentre finivo il libro, è arrivata la mia amica” (While I was finishing the book, my friend arrived); “Mentre guardavo la tv, è squillato il telefono (“while I was watching the TV, the phone rang”).

2)there is  a repeated action in the past  as in “Quando ero piccolo, andavo spesso al mare”(When I was young, I went to the sea often) ; “Lei correva alla porta ogni volta che suonava il campanello (“She would run to the door every time that the bell rang”).

3)two or more events  happened simultaneously in the past as in “Mentre io lavoravo, lui  dormiva"(While I was working, he was sleeping); "Mentre leggevo, è arrivata la mia amica" (While I was reading, my friend arrived).

4)we are describing the ongoing state of objects, places or people in the past as in  “Da piccola avevo i capelli ricci (when I was a child I used to have curly hair); “Era un uomo coraggioso” (he was a brave man), “La macchina era arrugginita (“the car was rusty”).

5)we are describing how a person was feeling or thinking in the past as in “Aveva sonno (she was sleepy), “Gli faceva male la testa (he had a headache), “Eravamo tristi (we were sad).

I think that  these five points can help you to  better understand the sense of the  “Imperfetto” which is used  in the Indicative mood  to express a continued  action which happened in the past, without determining  however its end, differently from other past tenses such as  for example the “Trapassato Prossimo”  which has a definite end as it denotes a  completed action just like the other Italian past tenses, i.e. the “Passato Remoto” (Io andai), “the “Passato Prossimo” (Io sono andato), the “Trapassato Prossimo” (Io ero andato) and the obsolete  “Trapassato Remoto” (Io fui andato).

As for the  use of the same sentences for each tense, i.e. for the “Imperfetto” and the “Trapassato Prossimo”, I’m sorry, but it’s impossible because to say “Era un uomo coraggioso” or “Aveva sonno “ (continued action) is not the same as to say “Era stato un uomo coraggioso” or “Aveva avuto sonno “(completed action).

Similarly,  in “Mentre finivo il libro, è arrivata la mia amica” (two things happening at the same time) or in “Da piccola avevo i capelli ricci “ (ongoing state) we cannot use the Trapassato Prossimo “avevo finito” or “avevo avuto” respectively, because  the Trapassato Prossimo  would be absolutely wrong as it does  not express the same concept as the Imperfetto, since the Trapassato denotes an action that has been  completed.  

To conclude, the Imperfetto and the Trapassato Prossimo are different because they express a continued action and a completed action respectively.

Hope I made myself understood, since this matter can be difficult for non-native Italian speakers to understand.

Best regards,


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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.


Over 25 years teaching experience.

I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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