are complex systems that convey large amounts of
information that do not appear on the surface.
What is the difference in English, for instances,
between: "Have you seen that film?" and
"Did you see that film?"
difference, on the surface, is between two tenses of the
past. But my informants tell me that the first sentence
implies that it is still possible to see the film, that
it is still playing in town. The second implies that the
film is no longer availabe. These tenses contain linguistic
markers that convey different
you ever thought about it when you asked or were asked
this very question?
This premise is to introduce the difference between
Passato Prossimo and Imperfetto.
The PASSATO PROSSIMO contains linguistic markers that
indicate that an action BEGAN, TOOK PLACE and ENDED. That
is an "event". Speakers of Italian, when they
either speak or listen, hear those underlying messages.
The IMPERFETTO, on the other hand, does not explicitly
say that an action either started or ended. It focuses
only on the unfolding, on the "state" rather
than the event.
Because the Imperfetto describes a state, it is most
commonly used with verbs that are about "state"
rather than "event." ESSERE and AVERE are two
of such verbs: IO ERO simpy indicates the state of a
person ("IO"), and doens't tell that the state
ever ended. We may assume it did, but the verb doesn't
However, even ESSERE can be used with the PASSATO
PROSSIMO, to emphasize the fact that there was an end to
that state: "IO SONO STATO IN ITALIA PER TRE
MESI". This sentence requires the PASSATO PROSSIMO
because it must convey the information that the state is
whenever information about lenght of time is present, the
tense of choice must be Passato Prossimo.