Comparison of Italian and Spanish

Simple Tenses

By 'simple' tenses I mean ones which involve changing the verb itself, rather than introducing auxiliary verbs. In both Italian and Spanish these are the present, imperfect, past, future and conditional.

In both languages, there are three main conjugations. The infinitive endings are -are, -ere and -ire in Italian, and -ar, -er and -ir in Spanish.

Present:

Examples of present tense conjugations of regular Italian verbs are as follows:

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parlovendoparto
2nd pn sg.parlivendiparti
3rd pn sg.parlavendeparte
1st pn pl.parliamovendiamopartiamo
2nd pn pl.parlatevendetepartite
3rd pn pl.parlanovendonopartono

The equivalent is Spanish is:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablovendoparto
2nd pn sg.hablasvendespartes
3rd pn sg.hablavendeparte
1st pn pl.hablamosvendemospartimos
2nd pn pl.habláisvendéispartís
3rd pn pl.hablanvendenparten

Again, there are obvious similarities. The main difference is that all Italian finite forms end in a vowel, but in Spanish this does not hold.

Imperfect:

This tense is extremely simple in Italian; it basically involves the insertion of the letter 'v':

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parlavovendevopartivo
2nd pn sg.parlavivendevipartivi
3rd pn sg.parlavavendevapartiva
1st pn pl.parlavamovendevamopartivamo
2nd pn pl.parlavatevendevatepartivate
3rd pn pl.parlavanovendevanopartivano

Spanish is similar, except that it involves the addition of 'b' in the first conjugation and 'í' in the second and third conjugations:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablabavendíapartía
2nd pn sg.hablabasvendíaspartías
3rd pn sg.hablabavendíapartía
1st pn pl.hablábamosvendíamos partíamos
2nd pn pl.hablabaisvendíaispartíais
3rd pn pl.hablabanvendíanpartían

Note that Spanish does not make a distinction between the first and third person singular here.

Simple past:

The simple past is called the passato remoto in Italian and the pretérito in Spanish. The regular forms in Italian are:

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parlaivendeipartii
2nd pn sg.parlastivendestipartisti
3rd pn sg.parlòvendé partì
1st pn pl.parlammovendemmopartimmo
2nd pn pl.parlastevendestepartiste
3rd pn pl.parlaronovenderonopartirono

The regular forms in Spanish are:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablévendépartí
2nd pn sg.hablastevendistepartiste
3rd pn sg.hablóvendiópartió
1st pn pl.hablamosvendimospartimos
2nd pn pl.hablasteisvendisteispartisteis
3rd pn pl.hablaranvendieronpartieron

There are some clear similarities in the verb endings. However, in both languages there are many irregularities, and in the case of Italian there are even alternative forms for some verbs. The usage of the simple past also differs from one language to another. It is rarely used in spoken Italian, and is reserved mainly for formal written language. Italians tend to prefer the perfect tense (see below). In Spanish, however, it is used extremely frequently, as indeed in English. For example, 'I did the shopping yesterday' would be ho fatto la spesa ieri (perfect tense) in Italian, but fui de compras ayer (simple past tense) in Spanish.

Future:

Here is the future tense in Italian:

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parleròvenderò partirò
2nd pn sg.parleraivenderaipartirai
3rd pn sg.parleràvenderà partirà
1st pn pl.parleremovenderemopartiremo
2nd pn pl.parleretevenderetepartirete
3rd pn pl.parlerannovenderannopartiranno

The basic idea is to add an appropriate ending to the infinitive. The same idea applies in Spanish, but the endings are slightly different:

HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablarévenderé partiré
2nd pn sg.hablarásvenderás partirás
3rd pn sg.hablarávenderá partirá
1st pn pl.hablaremosvenderemospartiremos
2nd pn pl.hablaréisvenderéis partiréis
3rd pn pl.hablaránvenderán partirán

Both languages use the future tense less frequently than in English, with a preference for the present tense.

Care must be taken when producing statements such as 'when you come, I will pay you'. Here, English uses the present tense for the first clause and the future for the second. In Italian, the two tenses must be the same; either both present (quando vieni, ti pago) or both future (quando verrai, ti pagherò). Spanish on the other hand follows English, except that the first verb must be in the subjunctive: cuando vengas, te pagaré.

Conditional:

Finally, the conditional tense. In Italian:

ParlareVenderePartire
1st pn sg.parlereivendereipartirei
2nd pn sg.parlerestivenderestipartiresti
3rd pn sg.parlerebbbevenderebbepartirebbe
1st pn pl.parleremmovenderemmopartiremmo
2nd pn pl.parlerestevenderestepartireste
3rd pn pl.parlerebberovenderebberopartirebbero

As with the future tense, the basic idea is to add an appropriate ending to the infinitive. The same idea applies in Spanish, but the endings in Spanish are easier to remember because they resemble the imperfect endings:

.
HablarVenderPartir
1st pn sg.hablaríavendería partiría
2nd pn sg.hablaríasvenderías partirías
3rd pn sg.hablaríavendería partiría
1st pn pl.hablaríamosvenderíamos partiríamos
2nd pn pl.hablaríaisvenderíais partiríais
3rd pn pl.hablaríanvenderían partirían

Created October 2006 by Adam N. Letchford.