Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The passato prossimo with essere

It's important in learning the present perfect tense, or passato prossimo, to remember that a number of the verbs take essere as an auxiliary and not avere. Learners are sometimes told that the latter are verbs of motion, but this is inaccurate. Morire, nascere, stare take essere, for example, and there are verbs of motion that take avere. The only thing is to bite the ole bullet and memorize the exceptions. Your dictionary or teacher will tell you which ones are exceptions.

And this brings me to an amusing story, about the only memory I have of learning Italian. My parents moved to Italy when I was seven and put me in a Catholic school in Livorno (on the coast of Tuscany) called Maria Ausiliatrice. Although my mother was Italian, we had never spoken the language at home because my father and we children didn't know it yet. So I underwent a full immersion in school. One day when I had finished a test, I took the nun my paper and said: "sono finita." She laughed and corrected me, saying that it should be "ho finito." It took me a good while to see why she had laughed: "sono finita" means "I'm finished" in the sense of "done for, washed up, it's all over for me." Rather premature for a seven-year-old.

(Above, a picture from a 2005-2006 student at Maria Ausiliatrice- showing a green cypress against the blue sea, with a blue sky overhead- typical of the area)