Storytelling in the past tense

There are many tenses we can use to talk about what happened in the past, including the passato prossimo (perfect tense), the past perfect, the imperfect, the past historic and the past conditional.

Credevo credere, imperfetto che venissi venire, congiuntivo imperfetto a cena, ma alla fine non sei venuto venire, passato prossimo

I thought that you were coming to dinner, but in the end you didn't come.

We use the imperfect for the following:

  • Talking about habitual actions that took place at some unspecified time in the past (without knowing when they ended).

Chiamava sua mamma tutti i giorni chiamare, imperfetto.

His mom called/used to call every day.

  • To describe something in the past or talk about the circumstances surrounding a past event.

L'hotel era molto antico essere, imperfetto.

The hotel was very old.

Pioveva quando sono arrivata in aeroporto piovere, imperfetto.

It was raining when I arrived at the airport.

We use the passato prossimo (perfect tense) or past historic for the following:

  • To talk about actions that were completed at a specific point in the past.

Ho comprato un biglietto per il concerto comprare, passato prossimo.

I bought/I have bought a ticket for the concert.

Comprai un biglietto per il concerto comprare, passato remoto.

I bought a ticket for the concert.

  • To express sudden actions that interrupt a narrative.

Aspettavo l'autobus quando ho visto Marcello vedere, passato prossimo.

I was waiting for the bus when I saw Marcello.

Aspettavo l'autobus quando vidi Marcello vedere, passato remoto.

I was waiting for the bus when I saw Marcello.

We use the past perfect tense to talk about an action in the past which took place before another moment or action in the past.

Avevo comprato un biglietto per il concerto, ma non ho potuto andarci comprare, trapassato prossimo.

I had bought a ticket for the concert, but I wasn't able to go.

We use the past conditional to express a future action viewed from some point in the past.

Il meteo diceva che ci sarebbe stato bel tempo essere, condizionale passato.

The weather forecast said there would be good weather (literally “there would have been”).


  • The perfect tense is more common in northern Italy, while the past historic tense is commonly used in central and southern Italy, as well as in historical accounts and literary texts throughout Italy.

L'anno scorso sono andato a Pisa (Italia del Nord) andare, passato prossimo.

Last year I went to Pisa. (northern Italy)

L'anno scorso andai a Pisa (Italia Centro-Sud) andare, passato remoto.

Last year I went to Pisa. (southern Italy)

La costruzione del Duomo di Milano iniziò nel 1386 iniziare, passato remoto.

The construction of Milan Cathedral began in 1386.

Still facing difficulties with 'Storytelling in the past tense'? Enhance your grammar and learn Italian through our online Italian lessons.
Start with a free test and improve today!

What our users say:



I enjoy doing my online Italian lessons. Only ten minutes daily are enough...Thank you!



I love your innovative method which allows me to learn a new language and have fun at the same time!



Your method is unique! Your courses have helped me to progress and gain confidence during my travels.



Gymglish has allowed me to improve my Italian. A daily routine I wouldn't miss for anything in the world!

More testimonials.

Improve your Italian further and test Saga Baldoria, online Italian course.