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Becoming Familiar with the Passato Remoto

The passato remoto (remote past) tense in Italian may not be necessary to know in order to converse in the language, but we find it often enough in writing when the subject is history, so it's good to be familiar with it.

 

Daniela has recently finished talking about this tense in her Corso di Italiano, and in the final segment, she talks about when it is used.

 

Si usa, per esempio, per azioni che sono avvenute una sola volta nel passato.
You use it, for example, for actions that occurred once, in the past.
Captions 4-5, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il passato remoto - Part 4 of 4

 

In this week's video about Pisa, we see it in action. Arianna is talking about medieval times.

 

Già dall'inizio ebbe dei problemi, perché fu costruita su un terreno instabile e per questo pende.
From the start, it had problems because it was built
on unstable terrain and because of this, it leans.
Captions 17 -18, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni - Part 1 of 3

Another place we find the passato remoto being employed is in stories and fairy tales. In fact, reading fairy tales is an excellent way to gain familiarity with the passato remoto. The stories are usually repetitive and predictable with the verbs in the third person singular and plural.Yabla has quite a few animated fairy tales to choose from. 

 

Quindi aprì la porta e il ranocchio saltellò dentro.
So she opened the door and the frog hopped in.
Caption 52, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 1 of 2

 

Further practice:
To make friends with the passato remoto, pick out a fairy tale and watch the video, paying extra attention to the verbs. Then open the transcript, pick the printer-friendly version so you can just see the Italian, and then read the story out loud (in Italian), as if you were reading it to a child. You will, of course, see verbs in other tenses like the passato prossimo and theimperfetto, too. As in English, a mixture of tenses renders the story more fluid and more interesting.

 

If you're not sure which tense you are looking at, click on the word, even when you are in theprinter-friendly version, and a dictionary will pop up to help you. Some verbs occur only occasionally, and don't really need to be assimilated, but other verbs like avere (to have) essere (to be), andare (to go), venire (to come), guardare (to look), and vedere (to see) will occur more often, and you can start adding them to the verbs you recognize, even in thepassato remoto. Reading out loud will make the verbs start feeling right on the tongue.

 

Hopefully, when you watch the video again, the verbs in the passato remoto won't seem so strange anymore.

 

WordReference has conjugation charts for most verbs. Try keeping the tab open so you can get to it easily when you need it.

Grammar

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