congiuntivo imperfetto vs. congiuntivo trapassato

Discussion in 'Italian-English' started by slsande, Jun 21, 2011.

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  1. slsande Member

    United States

    I am currently researching the use of the subjunctive mood in Italian, and I have a question that hopefully can be explained by an experienced speaker.

    I am having trouble understanding when to use the congiunctivo imperfetto and congiunctivo trapassato remoto moods. The book that I am using gives the following rule:

    1. If the verb of the opening clause is either past tense or conditional, then the imperfetto (trapassato remoto) mood is used.

    Another source simply says:

    2. Use the imperfetto or trapassato remoto subjunctive moods when the action contained in the secondary clause is unsure.

    Rule number one is understandable and concrete. Rule number two is not.

    Take, for instance, sentence (A) which was included as an example of the presente subjunctive mood . . . (A) Spero che lei vada alla nostra festa stasera.
    I hope that she is coming to our party this evening.

    Since the opening clause in sentence (A) is, "I hope," does this not make the action of the second clause unsure? How would that fit with rule #2, or is there a more concrete way to state that rule? Is rule #2 even correct?

    If only rule 1 is correct, then would sentence (B) be incorrect?

    (B) Non è possibile che tu nuoti in questo fiume in inverno.
    It's impossible for you to swim in this river in winter.

    Although sentence (B) is a negative statement, it is a statement of fact. If I had said, "Non penso," then obviously this is a statement of supposition, and would make the second clause, "che fossi possibile nuotare in questo fiume in inverno," since the action could be seen as doubtful.

    I am sooooooo confused and cannot seem to find an understandable explanation of the congiunctivo imperfetto mood . . . .

    BTW, When I checked the sentence (B) with Yahoo Babelfish (yes, I know it's horrible. most of the time it won't even translate using the subjunctive mood . . .), it stated that nuoti was wrong and I had to reword the phrase using nuotassi instead.

    Can someone explain?

    Mille Grazie!

    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 21, 2011
  2. MünchnerFax

    MünchnerFax Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    Just a minor point: it's called congiuntivo without c. :)

    Rule 2 as a general statement seems rubbish to me, unless we are speaking about conditional clauses (if... then...) or very special cases. Rule 1 seems much more reasonable. The choice between congiuntivo passato, congiuntivo imperfetto, and congiuntivo trapassato can be a bit tricky. The difference between congiuntivo passato and imperfetto is similar to the one between the normal passato prossimo and imperfetto (this and what I'm going to say only applies to normal subordinate sentences requiring congiuntivo - no conditional clauses or special exceptions), so if you have learnt choosing correctly betweern passato prossimo and imperfetto you can apply the same rules when having to choose between congiuntivo passato and congiuntivo imperfetto.
    However, congiuntivo trapassato expresses priority of the subordinate clause with respect either to the main clause or to the main topic in general you are talking about: Examples:
    Pensavo che fosse andato via prima. I thought at time B that he had gone away at time A (where time A is prior to B).
    Quando sono arrivato, Luigi non c'era. Penso che fosse andato via prima. Luigi had gone at A, I arrived at B, and I'm formulating my supposition just now (Penso, present) but nevertheless I'm using the congiuntivo trapassato because I'm referring what I'm saying to time B and I want to express Luigi had gone at time A which was before B.

    Anyway, the problem with the congiuntivo is that it is a very huge topic and it would be hardly effective to try to explain it generically a forum thread. A good Italian course and most of all lots of practice are needed to master it. If you have a concrete example which is causing you problems, we can talk about it.

    But I think I need to point the following out to you. You might have read or heard congiuntivo is the mood of uncertainty, doubt, and whatnot and you might have gathered the impression you can choose between indicativo (i.e. the "normal" tenses)and congiuntivo freely according to what you'd like to say. Well, this is mostly not true: in most cases, congiuntivo is strictly required by a connective, a certain verb or an idiom, regardless if the action is sure or doubtful, and you just have to learn in what cases you must use it. The phrase in your sentence, non è possibile che..., is exactly one of those cases in which is it compulsory to use the congiuntivo. Unfortunately, most language course books don't make this clear.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2011
  3. Alessandrino Senior Member

    I don't think that this is possible. I might be wrong, but the only possibility I see here is Penso che sia andato via prima.
  4. johngiovanni

    johngiovanni Senior Member

    I thought that, in principle, if the main clause is in the present or future tense, (or the passato remoto used with reference to the present) then any appropriate tense of the congiuntivo can occur in the subordinate clause. Penso che fosse andato via prima is fine. I think the problem for people like me who are learning Italian is that the tense sequences we see listed are often incomplete.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2011
  5. MünchnerFax

    MünchnerFax Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    I think it's fine in the context provided. (In other words I agree with myself. :p)
  6. slsande Member

    United States
    Thank you for the very informative responses! I will continue along your suggested line and try to ignore rule number 2 for now.

    Also, I forgot to include a third formal rule that I have been going by which I believe covers a lot of the idiomatic phrases that you mentioned, those such as begin with phrases like, "È necessario che," and, "Non è possibile che." The text that I am using to help guide me calls these types of idiomatic phrases impersonal expressions, because no specific subject is involved. Basically, these are expressions whose subject is solely "It." I know there are a lot of others that I will simply have to learn by listening to native speakers.

    Also, I think I understand the difference between the imperfetto and trapassato remoto uses as well. Both are a conditional subjunctive mood, but trapassato remoto is used when the action in the second clause of a sentence has occurred before the action stated in the opening clause.

    Per esempio . . .

    Ho pensato che lui fosse andanto alla mercato devanti sono andanto in farmacia.

    I thought that he had gone to the market before he went to the pharmacy. (please correct me on the sono andato if needed. I can't recall if both should be fosse or not). Since the going to the market occurred before the fact that I thought it, this is when trapassato remoto would be used.

    I hope that makes sense . . .

    Either way, these are the guidelines that I have formulated during my study of the subjunctive mood . . .

    1. Presente or Passato remoto is used when a subjunctive clause . . .

    Conveys personal opinions ( I think, It's my opinion that, I'm happy that, etc. ).
    Expresses uncertainty or doubt ( I hope that, I'm not sure that, I'm afraid that, etc. ).
    Expresses likes or dislikes ( I like, I don't like, I suggest, I forbid, etc. ).
    Conveys expectations ( I expect, I'm waiting for, etc. ).

    2. Imperfetto or Trapassato remoto is used when a subjunctive clause . . .

    Conveys actions or outcomes that are conditional ( It may be that, I would like, etc. ).
    Is the object of an impersonal expression (It's necessary that, It's improbable that, It's important that, etc. ).

    3. Presente and Imperfetto are used when the action in the subjunctive clause occurs at the time of or after the action of the first clause.

    4. Passato remoto and Trapassato remoto are used when the action of the subjunctive clause occurs before the action in the first clause occurs.

    I know I sound like a teacher or something making all these rules, and actually I am a teacher (not of Italian). Creating a set of guidelines as if I am teaching a class helps me to learn and remember the usage better.

    Either way I think a light bulb went off while reading your reply. I feel like I'm on track now . . .

    Grazie a tutti!!!!

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2011
  7. Alessandrino Senior Member

  8. slsande Member

    United States
    I forgot to add to my former post that in order to use any of the congiuntivo tenses, you must be dealing with two independent clauses, each of which has its own subject, and which are joined by a conjunction, usually che.

    "Mi piace camminare con te." I like to walk with you.

    Only one complete clause = indicativo mood.

    "Mi piace che camminiamo insieme."
    I like that we are walking together.

    Two clauses, "I like" joined by che to "We are walking together" = congiuntivo mood.

    Sorry about the length and specificity of my posts. But, I feel that if you understand that I understand, then I must understand . . . . :)

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2011
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