The Italian Subjunctive: How To Master The Basics… FAST!

italian street

When you first started learning Italian it was new and exciting. You were full of motivation and progress came quickly.

But before long, the honeymoon period was over and now reality has started to bite…

Endless verb conjugations, tricky prepositions and more confusing grammar that you can't get your head around. Worst of all… the dreaded Italian subjunctive.

Sound familiar?

Trust me… You're not alone in feeling this way.

But there is hope!

In this post, I'll show you exactly what the Italian subjunctive is and how to learn it. Meaning you can spend less time sweating the grammar and more time enjoying la dolce vita!

Sound good? Ok, let's started!

What Exactly Is The Italian Subjunctive & Why Should You Learn It?

traditional Italian street

The subjunctive (il congiuntivo in Italian) is a grammar mystery to many English-speaking Italian learners. It can be intimidating because we rarely, if ever, use the equivalent in our day-to-day conversations in English.

Even in Italian, use of il congiuntivo is declining with each passing generation. But it's still alive today, especially in more educated circles.

You might question the point of learning the subjunctive at all. And in all fairness, you could get by without ever learning to use the Italian subjunctive.

But you'd be missing out if you did! 

The Italian subjunctive is a handy little verb form that let's you express:

Pretty important for expressing yourself fluently right?

Where To Find The Subjunctive In Italian

gondalas in Venice

There are many different situations where the subjunctive can pop up in Italian. No wonder it's intimidating trying to figure out when to use it.

But there is one major “clue”: the word che.

That's right! Phrases which are followed by the word che (that) generally use il congiuntivo.

In fact there are very few situations in Italian that require the subjunctive where che doesn't appear!

Any verbs in the phrase before the che will be conjugated normally, meaning that you add an ending to make them agree with the person doing the action or the verb tense (past, present, future).

But then in the section of the sentence after the word che, any verbs will be conjugated according to subjunctive patterns.

More on those conjugations in a second. 

Let’s start by looking at some of these che phrases that indicate the subjunctive.

Now let’s choose one of those phrases and form a sentence using il congiuntivo.

In this case,“that you speak” in the subjunctive is written as che tu parli. The infinitive form of “to speak” is parlare.

As in other conjugations, the –are at the end is removed and replaced with a new ending according to the subject.

How To Conjugate The Italian Subjunctive

Let’s look at some conjugations to see how other verbs are conjugated in the subjunctive. We will look at a the three kinds of regular Italian verbs: 

Italian subjunctive are verbs

Italian subjunctive ere verbs

Italian subjunctive ire verbs

The conjugations above are the best place to start because these regular conjugations are the endings you’ll use most often when speaking or writing in the subjunctive.

As you can see, there's a lot of repetition across the conjugations. For instance, the io, tu and lui/lei endings are the same for each verb type. And the -ere and -ire verb endings are identical!

Not as intimidating as you expected, right?

It's true that there are a lot of different conjugations to get used to in the subjunctive. But if you've gotten this far in Italian, you're pretty used to mastering conjugations by now!

Just take your time, focus on one verb type at a type and don't let yourself become overwhelmed by all the different conjugations.

If you start to feel stressed, just remember – you could probably get by without learning the subjunctive all!

Mastering it is like the icing on the cake of learning Italian.

But if you make the odd mistake, people will still understand you. So don't sweat it!

Italian Subjunctive Study Tips

woman in Italian museum

With so many verb endings to learn, strong study habits are important when learning to use the subjunctive.  Here are some of my top tips for making your learning process as easy and fun as possible:

Tip #1: Don't Spend Hours Memorising Rules!

Trying to cram all those Italian subjunctive grammar rules into your brain is not the best way to improve.

Read that again. It's pretty important!

This might seem illogical, but it's true.

Memorising the rules may help you complete the exercises in your textbook or ace an Italian exam, but it doesn't help much if you goal is to speak Italian in conversation.

I managed to reach a really good level of Italian in just a couple of months… without any formal grammar study whatsoever.

So I know the method works.

But if you never study the subjunctive, how on earth are you going to learn it? Here's how…

Tip #2: Read, Read, Read!

Now that you've read this article you have a basic understanding of how the subjunctive works.

Now what you needs is lots and lots of examples. You need to see the subjunctive used in context over and over again until it just “feels right” to you.

And what better way to do that than by reading?

This is an approach that's backed by some of the world's top linguists:

Reading what you want to read, is responsible for most of our literacy development. Readers have better reading ability, know more vocabulary, write better, spell better, and have better control of complex grammatical constructions.

– Dr. Steven Krashen

So what are you waiting for?

Find some interesting Italian reading material and get started!

(Just don't forget to keep an eye out for the subjunctive when it pops so you can notice how it works in context!)

Ciao Grammar Fear, Hello Fluent Italian!

In this post, you've seen that the subjunctive isn't quite as scary as it may first seem in your head.

Like I said in the beginning, we all find grammar concepts that don't really exist in our native languages a little intimidating.

The key to understanding and using the subjunctive is recognising the trigger expressions followed by che (that) which let you know that you'll need to add a subjunctive in the next part of the sentence.

The best way to do this is by reading in Italian as much as possible. As you read, you'll see the subjunctive pop up time and again in natural context.

In time, this will allow you to get to a point where the subjunctive just “feels right”.

You'll develop an innate understanding of when to use it.

And you'll be able to express a wider range of concepts in Italian like wants, desires and hopes.

Best of all, you'll sound much more natural in conversation with native Italian speakers!

So, how do you feel now about the Italian subjunctive? Do you feel better about using it in real life to express yourself more fluently? Let me know in the comments!

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