Italian Auxiliary Verbs

In Italian, the verbs essere (to be) and avere (to have) are called auxiliary verbs because they have the function of “helping” the other verbs to form compound tenses.

  • The verb avere to have means to possess.

Emma ha una maglietta verde.

  • The verb essere (to be) means to stay or exist.

Emma è a scuola.
Qui c’è una palestra molto bella.

The verb to be is also used as a copula, that is, to connect an adjective or noun to the subject.

Giorgio è intelligente.

The verbs essere and avere help the other verbs to form the compound tenses and to form the passive voice.

Io ho camminato. (tempo composto)
Io sono partito. (tempo composto)

Io amo. (forma attiva)
Io sono amato. (forma passiva)

The verbs essere and avere are also used with verbs that indicate movement, although there is a slight difference:

  • An action verb accompanied by the verb essere expresses an action that is directed towards something or someone.

Io sono andata a Venezia.
(Io sono andata verso Venezia = complemento di moto a luogo)

  • A verb of movement accompanied by the verb avere doesn’t express movement to a place. It doesn’t say where you go it just says that you go.

Oggi ho corso tantissimo.
Io ho viaggiato in treno.
Lui ha superato l’esame.

See also:

Italian Verb ESSERE (to be)

Italian Verb AVERE (to have)