The Italian Subjunctive Mode – Il Modo Congiuntivo

The Subjunctive is a mode frequently used to connect (check the Italian verb "congiungere") subordinate clauses to main clauses featuring verbs that express opinions, wishes, hope and expectations, assumptions, emotions, feelings, doubts, hypotheses and so on. In other words, the Subjuncitve marks any subjective and personal approach, and consists of four tenses.

The Present Subjunctive – Il Congiuntivo Presente

ABITARE (to live) VENDERE (to sell) SENTIRE (to hear)
io abiti venda senta
tu abiti venda senta
lui/lei/Lei abiti venda senta
noi abitiamo vendiamo sentiamo
voi abitiate vendiate sentiate
loro abitino vendano sentano

The Present Subjunctive has the same ending for all the singular persons (io, tu, lui/lei) and so, in order to help us distinguish them, we often use the pronoun as well as the conjugated form of the verb: 

(IO) A Scuola si dice che io parli bene francese At school they say that I speak French well

(TU) Credo che tu parli bene francese I think that you speak French well

(LUI/LEI) Penso che Paola parli bene francese I think that Paola speaks French well

The first plural person “noi” is the same in both the Present Indicative and the Present Subjunctive!

Noi torniamo a Firenze domani (INDICATIVE) We’re coming back to Florence tomorrow

È meglio che noi torniamo a casa presto stasera (SUBJUNCTIVE) It’s better that we come home early tonight

Verbs ending in -CARE and -GARE add an “H” before all the Present Subjunctive endings:

CERCARE (to find) PAGARE (to pay)
io cerchi paghi
tu cerchi paghi
lui/lei/Lei cerchi paghi
noi cerchiamo paghiamo
voi cerchiate paghiate
loro cerchino paghino

È meglio che Pietro cerchi un altro lavoro più appropriato alle sue capacità It’s better that Pietro looks for another job more appropriate for his skills

Non voglio che tu paghi la cena per tutti I don’t want you to pay for everyone’s dinner

When a verb is irregular in the Present Indicative, it is often irregular in the same way in the Present Subjunctive:

Present Indicative capisco faccio vado
Present Subjunctive capisca faccia vada

Here are some of the most important irregular verbs conjugated in their Present Subjunctive form:

(to go)
(to drink)
(to give)
(to say)
(to have to)
(to do)
io vada beva dia dica debba faccia
tu vada beva dia dica debba faccia
lui/lei/Lei vada beva dia dica debba faccia
noi andiamo beviamo diamo diciamo dobbiamo facciamo
voi andiate beviate diate diciate dobbiate facciate
loro vadano bevano diano dicano debbano facciano
(to be able to)
(to remain)
(to go up)
(to know)
(to choose)
io possa rimanga salga sappia scelga
tu possa rimanga salga sappia scelga
lui/lei/Lei possa rimanga salga sappia scelga
noi possiamo rimaniamo saliamo sappiamo scegliamo
voi possiate rimaniate saliate sappiate scegliate
loro possano rimangano salgano sappiano scelgano
(to be)
(to hold)
(to take off)
(to go out)
(to come)
(to want)
io stia tenga tolga esca venga voglia
tu stia tenga tolga esca venga voglia
lui/lei/Lei stia tenga tolga esca venga voglia
noi stiamo teniamo togliamo usciamo veniamo vogliamo
voi stiate teniate togliate usciate veniate vogliate
loro stiano tengano tolgano escano vengano vogliano


Penso che Marta non esca il prossimo fine settimana I think that Marta won’t go out this weekend

Sebbene non faccia molto freddo, accendo il riscaldamento Even though it’s not very cold, I’ll turn on the heating

Il direttore vuole che (io) vada al lavoro anche sabato mattina The director wants me to go to work on Saturday morning too

“ESSERE” and “AVERE” also have irregular forms, but as with the other irregulars they have the same form for all the singular persons:

ESSERE (to be) AVERE (to have)
io sia abbia
tu sia abbia
lui/lei/Lei sia abbia
noi siamo abbiamo
voi siate abbiate
loro siano abbiano

Penso che tu sia un bravo ragazzo I think that you are a good boy

Spero che voi stiate bene in vacanza! I hope that you are well on holiday

Pare che Luca abbia la febbre It seems that Luca has a fever

Ho l'impressione che Maria abbia problemi al lavoro I have the impression that Maria has problems at work

Pay attention: The subjunctive is used in a secondary phrase which is connected to another. The use of the Subjunctive depends on the verb in the main phrase (¹), therefore we can form it in different ways according to the main verb. 

Subjunctive is the grammar mode of uncertainty, in that it expresses opinions, doubts, will, expectation, desires, emotions, impersonal expressions, whereas Indicative is the mode expressing certainty.

So¹ che tu sei ² un bravo studente I know that you are a good student
(SAPERE¹ in the main phrase expresses certainty, it does not trigger the Subjunctive and so we use the Present Indicative of ESSERE = tu sei)

Penso¹ che tu sia² un bravo studente I think that you are a good student
(PENSARE¹ in the main phrase triggers the Subjunctive in the subordinate clause as it expresses uncertainty and so we use the Present Subjunctive of ESSERE = tu sia)

Per me Claudio è molto intelligente (INDICATIVE) For me Claudio is very intelligent

Credo che Claudio sia molto intelligente (SUBJUNCTIVE) I think that Claudio is very intelligent

Secondo te Joe capisce quando parlo italiano? (INDICATIVE) Do you think that Joe understands when I speak Italian?

Ti sembra che Joe capisca quando parlo italiano? (SUBJUNCTIVE) Does it seem to you that Joe understands when I speak Italian?

The construction CHE + SUBJUNCTIVE verb is only used when the subjects of the two phrases are different:

Io penso che tu abbia ragione I think that you are right

Noi crediamo che Paolo arrivi presto We think that Paolo will arrive early

If subjects are the same, we use the construction DI + INFINITIVE:

Cristina crede di essere molto bella
NO! Cristina crede che (lei/Cristina) sia molto bella
Cristina thinks that she is very beautiful

Marco e Luca sono contenti di andare in vacanza
NO! Marco e Luca sono contenti che (Loro/Marco e Luca) vadano in vacanza
Marco and Luca are happy that they are going on holiday

The Past Subjunctive- Il Congiuntivo Passato

The Past Subjunctive is made up of the Present Subjunctive of “ESSERE” or “AVERE” + the Past Participle of the verb:

PARLARE (to speak) PRENDERE (to take) USCIRE (to go out)
io abbia parlato abbia preso sia uscito/a
tu abbia parlato abbia preso sia uscito/a
lui/lei/Lei abbia parlato abbia preso sia uscito/a
noi abbiamo parlato abbiamo preso siamo usciti/e
voi abbiate parlato abbiate preso siate usciti/e
loro abbiano parlato abbiano preso siano usciti/e

Remember the compound tense consistency when “ESSERE” is used as auxiliary.

Just as with the Present Subjunctive, the Past Subjunctive depends on the main phrase, but it expresses something that happened previously:

Penso che Luca abbia già mangiato I think that Luca already ate

Dopo tutte quelle ferie immagino che Luca abbia riposato abbastanza After all that holiday I imagine that Luca relaxed enough

Non credo che Pietro abbia già risposto a tutte le domande dell’esame I don’t think that Pietro has already answered all the questions in the exam

Lucia è strana, non so cosa le sia successo Lucia is strange, I don’t know what happened to her

Dubito che Marco sia riuscito a prendere il treno delle 14:00 I doubt that Marco managed to catch the train at 14.00

Spero che Mattia abbia finito i suoi compiti di matematica I hope that Mattia finished her math homework

The Imperfect Subjunctive – Il Congiuntivo Imperfetto

The Imperfect Subjunctive is made up taking -ARE, -ERE, -IRE off and adding the appropriate ending:

SUONARE (to play) AVERE (to have) FINIRE (to finish)
io suonassi avessi finissi
tu suonassi avessi finissi
lui/lei/Lei suonasse avesse finisse
noi suonassimo avessimo finissimo
voi suonaste aveste finiste
loro suonassero avessero finissero

The first and the second person singular are the same!

The verb ESSERE is irregular:

ESSERE (to be)
io fossi
tu fossi
lui/lei/Lei fosse
noi fossimo
voi foste
loro fossero

These are some more common irregulars:

(to drink)
(to give)
(to say)
(to do)
(to stay)
(to translate)
io bevessi dessi dicessi facessi stessi traducessi
tu bevessi dessi dicessi facessi stessi traducessi
lui/lei/Lei bevesse desse dicesse facesse stesse traducesse
noi bevessimo dessimo dicessimo facessimo stessimo traducessimo
voi beveste deste diceste faceste steste traduceste
loro bevessero dessero dicessero facessero stessero traducessero

The Imperfect Subjunctive usually agrees with the Indicative Imperfect:

Pensavo che Luca non mangiasse carne I thought that Luca didn’t eat meat

Il capo non voleva che noi uscissimo a fumare durante la pausa The boss didn’t want us to go out to smoke during our break

Marta credeva che Lucia parlasse bene francese Marta thought that Lucia spoke French well

The Imperfect Subjunctive is used in hypothetical phrases, talking about possible or impossible hypothesis in the present, together with the Present Conditional:

Possible hypothesis: IF + Imperfect Subjunctive [hypothesis] + Present Conditional [consequence

Se io possedessi dei vestiti di Valentino sarei molto felice If I had some Valentino’s dresses, I would be very happy

Se il tempo domani fosse bello andrei al mare If the weather were good tomorrow, I would go to the seaside

Impossible hypothesis: IF + Imperfect Subjunctive [hypothesis] + Present Conditional [consequence

Se fossi ricco, mi comprerei una Ferrari If I were rich, I would buy a Ferrari

Se non fossimo Italiani, ci piacerebbe essere Americani If we were not Italians, we would like to be American

The Past Perfect Subjunctive – Il Congiuntivo Trapassato

The Past Perfect Subjunctive is made up of the Imperfect Subjunctive of “ESSERE” or “AVERE” + the Past Participle of the verb:

(to buy)
(to sell)
(to go out)
io avessi comprato avessi venduto fossi uscito/a
tu avessi comprato avessi venduto fossi uscito/a
lui/lei/Lei avesse comprato avesse venduto fosse uscito/a
noi avessimo comprato avessimo venduto fossimo usciti/e
voi aveste comprato aveste venduto foste usciti/e
loro avessero comprato avessero venduto fossero usciti/e
(to be)
(to have)
io fossi stato/a avessi avuto
tu fossi stato/a avessi avuto
lui/lei/Lei fosse stato/a avesse avuto
noi fossimo stati/e avessimo avuto
voi foste stati/e aveste avuto
loro fossero stati/e avessero avuto

The Imperfect and Past Perfect Subjunctive are used in the same way and in the same situations as the Present and Past Subjunctives, with the only difference that the main phrase is in the past tense, which can be the Present Perfect, Imperfect, Historic or Past Perfect.

Desideravo che tu partecipassi alla festa I wanted you to come to the party

Credevo che Claudia volesse venire a cena da me I thought that Claudia wanted to come to dinner at mine

L’insegnante ha preferito che stessimo in silenzio The teacher preferred for us to be silent

The Past Perfect Subjunctive is used in  hypothetical phrases when talking about something impossible in the past: 

IF + Past Perfect Subjunctive [hypothesis] + Past Conditional [consequence]

Se ieri avessi preso l’autobus, non sarei arrivata in ritardo If I had taken the bus yesterday, I wouldn’t have arrived late

Se non mi fossi ammalata, avrei fatto sport nel pomeriggio If I hadn’t been ill, I would have done some sports in the afternoon

Se fossi nata in Giappone, avrei abitato a Tokyo If I had been born in Japan, I would have lived in Tokyo

The use of the Subjunctive – L’uso del Congiuntivo

The Subjunctive is used in phrases that depend on another, and in particular after verbs or expressions that indicate:

Personal opinions or uncertain situations, for example with verbs like pensare (to think), credere (to believe), immaginare (to imagine), ritenere (to retain), essere sicuro/certo (to be sure), avere l’impressione (to have the impression), supporre (to support), dubitare (to doubt), sembrare (to seem), parere (to seem)

Ho l'impressione che Lucia sia molto stanca ultimamente I have the impression that Lucia is very tired lately

Lucia pensa che Giulia e Matteo siano molto simpatici Lucia thinks that Giulia and Matteo are very kind

Dubito che Maria venga alla cena I doubt that Maria will come to dinner

Feelings, worries, or emotional states, with verbs like essere felice/contento (to be happy), avere paura (to be scared), dispiacersi (to be sorry), temere (to fear), preoccuparsi (to be worried)

Sono contenta che tu vada finalmente in vacanza I am happy that you are finally going on holiday

Mi dispiace che tu stia male I’m sorry that you are ill

Temo che Luca non arrivi in tempo per l'inizio dello spettacolo I’m afraid that Luca won’t arrive in time for the start of the show

Desires, orders or hopes  with verbs or expressions like volere (to want), preferire (to prefer), è meglio (it’s better), è preferibile (it’s preferable), è necessario (it’s necessary), bisogna (need), sperare (to  hope), desiderare (to desire), augurarsi (to congratulate), aspettare (to wait), pretendere (to hope)

Spero che non faccia troppo freddo domani I hope it’s not too cold tomorrow

Preferisco che Lucia non vada a casa da sola I prefer that Lucia doesn’t go home by herself

É necessario che Emanuela telefoni prima delle 11:00 It’s necessary that Emanuela phones before 11.00

La mamma vuole che tu pulisca la tua stanza Mum wants you to tidy your room

Impersonal expressions like è necessario (it is necessary), occorre (need), bisogna (need), è probabile (it’s probable), è possibile (it’s possible), si dice (it is said)

Dicono che in quel ristorante si mangi bene They say that in that restaurant you eat well

È possibile che Matteo sia malato It’s possible that Matteo is ill

Verbs in the negative form like non so (I don’t know), non credo (I don’t believe), non penso (I don’t think so)

Non credo che Laura abbia già fatto la spesa I don’t believe that Laura has already done the shopping

L'insegnante non pensa che lo studente sia in grado di superare l'esame The teacher doesn’t think the student is ready to pass the exam

The Subjunctive is also used after some particular words like:

Sebbene (even though), nonostante (although), a meno che (unless/as long as), senza che (without), prima che (before), a patto che (on the condition that), a condizione che (on the condition that), qualunque (whatever), qualsiasi (whatever); affinché/perché (in order to)  

Domani io e Tatiana andiamo al mare, a meno che non piova Tomorrow Tatiana and I are going to the sea, as long as it doesn’t rain

Qualsiasi cosa io dica, Marco mi dà sempre torto Whatever I say, Marco always argues with me

Nonostante Marco mi piacesse, ho preferito uscire con Matteo Even though Marco liked me, I preferred to go out with Matteo

Ho regalato a Rossana quel libro perché lo leggesse I gave that book to Rossana so that she read it

Sometimes it is used in standard phrases, and in these cases it can express:

Doubts (and it’s phrased as a question)

Laura non è venuta al lavoro oggi! Che sia malata? Laura didn’t come to work today! Is she ill?

Paolo e Luca non escono più insieme. Che abbiano litigato? Paolo and Luca don’t go out together anymore? Have they had a fight?


Magari potessi vivere alle Maldive! If I only could live in the Maldives!

Ah... se solo avessi ancora 20 anni! Ah...if only I was 20 again!

The Subjunctive Tenses Consistency – La consecutio temporum del Congiuntivo

After a main phrase in Indicative Present we use:

The Present Subjunctive or Simple Future of Indicative to express a future action

Penso che Marco parta/partirà domani I think that Marco leaves/will leave tomorrow

Dubito che la mamma faccia/farà la spesa oggi I doubt that mum does/will do the shopping today

Pare che Silvia traslochi/traslocherà presto fuori città It seems that Silvia is moving/will move out of the city soon

The Present Subjunctive or the Present Progressive in the Subjunctive form, if we want to express a simultaneous action

Penso che Marco parta/stia partendo in questo momento I think that Marco leaves/is leaving right now

Dubito che la mamma faccia/stia facendo la spesa ora I doubt that mum does/is doing the shopping now

Pare che Silvia traslochi/stia traslocando adesso It seems that Silvia moves/is moving now

Past or Imperfect Subjunctive to express a previous action (according to the typical function of each tense)

Penso che Marco sia partito sabato scorso I think that Marco left last Saturday

Dubito che la mamma abbia fatto spesa ieri I doubt that mum did the shopping yesterday

Para che Silvia abbia traslocato lo scorso mese It seems that Silvia moved last month

Penso che Marco, da bambino, andasse spesso in Francia I think that Marco used to go to France often when he was a kid

After a main phrase with verb in any Indicative Past (Present Perfect, Imperfect, Past Perfect or Historic Past) we use:

Imperfect Subjunctive or Past Conditional to express a future action

Avevo immaginato che mangiasse/avrebbe mangiato al ristorante dopo il lavoro I had imagined that he would have eaten at the restaurant, after work

Ho pensato che Marta andasse/sarebbe andata in discoteca sabato sera I have thought that Marta would have gone to the disco

Imperfect Subjunctive or Imperfect Progressive to express a simultaneous action

Pensai che mangiasse/stesse mangiando al ristorante quel pomeriggio I thought that she was eating at the restaurant that afternoon

Pensavo che Marta andasse/stesse andando in discoteca I thought that Marta was going to the disco

Past Perfect or Imperfect Subjunctive to express a previous action (according to the typical function of each tense)

Ho pensato che Paola avesse mangiato al ristorante sabato scorso I have thought that Paola had eaten at the restaurant, last Saturday

Ho pensato che Paola, da bambina, andasse spesso al mare I have thought that Paola went to the sea often, when she was a child

Sometimes we can use Imperfect Subjunctive also after a main phrase with Indicative Present to express an action who would typically be expressed in Imperfect Indicative

Penso che Paola da bambina fosse molto vivace (habit in the past) I think that Paola was very lively, when she was a child

Credo che lo scorso fine settimana piovesse a Firenze (atmospheric description) I think that last weekend rained in Florence

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