Hi rambler-ga -
For a new student of Italian you did a great, in fact a perfect job on
the tenses you filled in.
I filled in the blanks in caps for easier reading . As you can see,
in English the indicative simple past, conditional past perfect, and
indicative past perfect tenses are used when translating the Italian
past subjunctives. The subjunctive mood is much less popular in
English (see link at bottom of page).
ITALIAN TENSE ENGLISH USAGE
Indicative Future I will go, I will be going
Future perfect I will have gone, I will have been going
Present I go, I am going, I do go
Present perfect I have gone
Imperfect I was going, I used to go, I have been going
Past simple I went, I did go
Pluperfect I had gone
Preterite perfect* I had gone (& then sth else happened . . .)
Imperative Present Go!
Subjunctive Present that I may go
Present perfect I WENT (simple past indicative)
Imperfect I WENT or I WOULD HAVE GONE (simple past indi-
cative or past conditional)
Pluperfect (Past Perfect) I HAD GONE (past perfect indicative)
Conditional Present I would go, I would be going
Past I would have gone, I would have been going
*Primarily a literary usage
Below are some simple examples, each followed by a link that gives more examples.
Lui crede che io sia andata in Italia l'anno scorso. [present perfect subjunctive]
He believes that I went to Italy last year. [past indicative]
E peccato che andassi Lunedi quando non c'era nessuno. [imperfect subjunctive]
It's a pity that I went on Monday when there was no one there. [simple
Sometimes, however, the conditional is used in order that the
sentence READ smoothly. (Note that I slipped in the subjunctive in the
Non e probabile che andassi senza l'impermeabile. [imperfect subjunctive]
It is not likely that I would have gone without a raincoat. [ past conditional]
Voleva che me ne fossi andata prima di Giovanni. [pluperfect subjunctive]
He wished that I had gone before Giovanni. [Past perfect=pluperfect]
A good reference website for Italian grammar is:
For a review of the uses of the subjunctive in English, this site from
Wikipedia is a good reference. It shows that the uses for the
subjunctive in English are much more limited than in Italian.
Lots of luck in your studies. I'm sure you'll agree that Italian is a
beautiful language, and I'm sure you'll enjoy learning it.
Request for Answer Clarification by
10 Feb 2006 07:52 PST
Thank you for your very helpful answer. I need two clarifications:
(1) For the English present subjunctive, the only example I gave (above) was
"that I may go". But how about "that I go" and "let me go". Would
these also be considered present subjunctive?
(2) If English does not have the past perfect subjunctive, then what tense
is "had I gone", as in "Had I gone, I'd have missed my favourite TV show"?
What I'm trying to do is come up with many English examples for each tense
so that, when translating, I have a rich variety of choices for finding
the "perfect transation".
Clarification of Answer by
11 Feb 2006 09:07 PST
Hello again rambler-ga,
I'm happy to oblige. Let me first explain why I used the phrase
"English Usage" in my chart. This was because the English translation
will not necessarily be in the same grammatical form as the Italian.
(1) "That I go" may be used to translate the Italian present
subjunctive, but in most cases it wouldn't flow as freely.
Mamma vuole che io vada a scuola.
Mom wants me to go to school RATHER THAN Mom wants that I go to school.
"Let me go" is the imperative of "let".
(2) "Had I gone" is not the subjunctive form in English. It is simply
the past perfect indicative form. Even when used after "if" in
English, the indicative FORM is used. In essence it is an implied
subjunctive, but the verb form, "had gone" is the past perfect in
English. That said, you may use "had I gone" in a translation from the
Se fossi andato in ufficio postale, avrei trovato la lettera.
Had I gone to the post office, I would have found the letter.
(If I had gone to the post office, I would have found the letter.)
But note bene: the "se" clause takes the subjunctive FORM in Italian
(all tenses), but the English "if" clause does not in the past
perfect. In other words, "fossi andato" is different from "sono stato
andato," but "had gone" does not change form even after "if."
In the following example, the "had gone" form is the same, but the
meanings are different.
I had gone to his house, but he wasn't home.
If I had gone to his house, I wouldn't have found him.
I think you are on the right track to try to find as many possible
translations as possible. But remember, the translation of an Italian
subjunctive will not necessarily be in the subjunctive in English.
A parting word: In English meaning is more important than form. In
the languages derived from Latin form is primary and meaning closely
follows; they are in lockstep.
All the best,