Italian infinitive verbs: grammar tips, exercises in pdf | ELLCI

Learning the infinitive form of verbs in Italian

italian infinitive verbs

Learning the infinitive form of verbs in Italian


ELLCI_insegnante_ Roberto Ciao!
I am Roberto, Italian teacher here in ELLCI Milano, today let’s see together Italian infinitive verbs!


The Italian Infinitive: L’Infinito! What is Infinito? Well, first of all, it is a wonderful and well-known poem by Giacomo Leopardi, the famous Italian writer of the 19th century. It is also a very profound philosophical question, what scientists and thinkers have been trying to answer for centuries. But in grammar, what do we mean by “infinito”?

L’infinito expresses the concept of a verb without making explicit a tense or the people acting in the verb (what is called an indefinite mode). It has only the present and past tenses.

The past tense is formed with the infinitive of the auxiliary and the past participle of the verb:

– infinito presente: amare, leggere, capire

– infinito passato: avere amato, avere letto, essere capiti

In Italian grammar, infinito is one of the most complex topics, because you will find it in from the lowest levels (A1-A2), but then it reappears in more elaborate forms in the higher levels (C1-C2). Why this dual nature?

We begin to become familiar with  Italian infinitive verbs from the first Italian lessons. This is because it is the basic form of the verb, the one we look for in the dictionary when we want to find its meaning: mangiare, prendere, dormire.. And we study from the beginning that when there is a subject in the sentence the verb must be conjugated. So we can’t say “Io mangiare una mela”, but we say “Io mangio una mela”. 

Basic rules and tips with simple grammar exercises in pdf

The use of Italian infinitive verbs has many functions. To understand better when to use it, read our suggestions.

1. Italian infinitive in the independent clause

We find infinito in independent clauses that can stand alone as sentences and do not depend on another sentence (or another verb). For example, we use it for:

express a doubt: “Che fare?”, “Che dire?” -“What to do?”, “What to say?”;
a sudden fact: “Ecco arrivare il professore!”; -“Here comes the professor!”
an unfulfillable longing: “Ah, avere vent’anni!”; -“Ah, to be twenty years old”;

2. L’infinito introduced by prepositions

Generally, we use infinito in a dependent clause, that is, a sentence that depends on another sentence, in the presence of a preposition:

Sono a scuola per imparare la lingua italiana. I’m at school to learn the Italian language.
Vado al mercato a comprare la frutta. – I go to the market to buy fruit.
Penso di fare un viaggio in Thailandia. – I plan to travel to Thailand.
In frigo ci sono un sacco di cose da mangiare. – There are a lot of things to eat in the fridge.

3. Modal verbs often go with Infinito

The Italian modal verbs (dovere, potere, volere, sapere – when it means to be able to and not to know) require infinite verbs. The tense variation is expressed through the modal verb.

present: Qui non posso parcheggiare. I can’t park here.
past: Dovevi studiare di più se volevi passare l’esame. You should have studied more to pass the exam.

4. L’infinito and other friendly verbs

Besides modals, other verbs like cercare, andare, trovare, provare, pensare, sognare e piacere  are often accompanied by infinity and a preposition.

Penso di fare un viaggio in Thailandia.
Provo a dormire un po’. I am going to try to sleep a little.
Cerco di mangiare più verdura. I am trying to eat less.
Pensavo di andare al cinema. I was thinking of going to the cinema.
Mi piace suonare la chitarra.

5. L’infinito passato

The past infinito (aver mangiato – having eaten, essere andato – to be gone) is usually used with the conjunctions “dopo – after”, “senza- without”, “prima di – before”:

Bambini, potete uscire ma solo dopo aver mangiato. – Children, you can go out but only after eating.
Siamo andati in discoteca senza aver cenato. – We went to the disco without having dinner.
Prima di averlo visto, pensavo fosse un film interessante.- Before I saw it, I thought it was an interesting movie.

  1. Infinito sostantivato 

Often the infinito is also used as a noun, especially when there aren’t appropriate terms in the Italian vocabulary like for the names of action and process.

il continuo bere gli ha distrutto il fegato ~ il continuo *bevimento gli ha distrutto il fegato – the continuous drinking has destroyed his liver ~ the continuous * drinking has destroyed his liver
tutto questo discorrere mi disturba ~ tutto questo *discorrimento / *discorso mi disturba – all this talk disturbs me ~ all * the talking / * speech disturbs me

  1. Infinito for instruction and orders

The infinito is used to give generic instructions, for example in instruction booklets or for recipes:

Inserire il cavo nella presa di corrente. – Plug the cable into the socket.
Lavare e asciugare l’insalata. – Wash and dry the salad.

The infinite is also used in the negative form of the imperative: “do not run!”, “Do not watch too much television!”.

A little trick: when there are an infinitive and a pronoun, the pronoun binds directly to the infinite form: “to know Italian well, you have to practice it more often”; “If you want to cook a perfect pizza, you have to prepare it the day before!”.

Certainly, to become familiar with this type of more particular functions of the infinite, you have to practice a lot of languages, read and listen a lot! An “infinite” job! 🙂

Download our exercises to practice Italian infinitive verbs

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