There is a verb form in Italian – the gerund – that may appear difficult to some students. It has the function of a participle (both present and past) and also of an infinitive. It is used to describe secondary actions that are taking place simultaneously with the principal action, or that cause the main action. It’s also used in describing actions that are in progress, with the auxiliary ‘stare’. Let’s consider some examples of its usage. It is not dissimilar from English, and there are only two pitfalls that I’ll mention.
Sbagliando s’impara = one learns by making mistakes.
Mangiando una prugna mi si spaccò un dente = I broke a tooth while eating a plum.
Arrivando tardi, non si trovano più i posti migliori = when you arrive late, you can no longer find the best seats.
Sentendosi stanca mentre guidava, ha fermato la macchina ed ha fatto un pisolino = feeling tired while driving, she stopped the car and had a snooze [NB the reflexive form of sentire means to feel, eg sentirsi bene, male = to feel well, unwell whereas the verb sentire means to hear eg hai sentito l’ultima? = have you heard the latest? Similarly, the reflexive fermarsi means to stop [oneself] eg mi sono fermata al semaforo rosso = I stopped at the red lights whereas fermare means to stop an object eg quell’ubriaco ha fermato il traffico = that drunkard stopped the traffic. Finally, note that you cannot translate ‘while driving’ as ‘mentre guidando’].
Attraversando la strada senza guardarsi attorno, il ragazzo non si è accorto della macchina che spuntava dalla curva ed è stato investito = Crossing the road without looking around, the young man did not notice the car coming around the corner and was run over.
Io ho sempre studiato ascoltando musica e così penso facciano tutti i giovani = I’ve always studied while listening to music, and I think all young people do the same [Note the difference in the two languages: listening to the bird songs = ascoltare il canto degli uccelli].
Mentre eravamo in Europa, abbiamo visitato sei paesi diversi e dieci musei = while in Europe, we visited six countries and ten art galleries [NB you need a verb after ‘mentre’ whereas in English you can skip it].
Cosa sta facendo Lucia? Sta guardando le stelle con il nuovo telescopio = What’s Lucia doing? She’s looking at the stars with her new telescope.
And now, two examples of the verb in the past tense: avendo già spedito l’email, non ho potuto cambiarne il testo = having already sent the email, I could not change its text [Note the use of ‘ne’ to indicate of the email].
Essendo arrivati senza prenotazione, non abbiamo trovato posto in albergo = having arrived without a booking, we didn’t find any room at the hotel.