Si sedette e ascoltò la radio.

English Original Sentence

He sat and listened to the radio.

A question to the native English speakers out there: would all of you instinctively translate the English using passato remoto (or prossimo)? My naive (non-native) translation would use the imperfect: Era seduto e ascoltava la radio.

Background: I seem to remember learning that plain “sit” describes a state, whereas “sit down” describes a change in state, from standing.



Context would make a difference, so for example my guesses would be;

(Ogni sera) si sedeva e ascoltava la radio.
(Quella sera) si è seduto e ha ascoltato la radio.

If I just have the actual sentence, my gut reaction is to mix it up;

Si è seduto e ascoltava la radio.

…but that’s probably wrong!

The one thing I definitely would not think to use would be passato remoto!

As for “sat” and “sat down”, I had never really thought about it, but yes, the latter suggests an action.


I am with you here David. I always think of the remoto as a totally completed finished action where nothing more will happen or is likely to happen. It may be years before I feel at home with the passato remoto!

Presumably this chap just sat and listened to the radio, punto e basta;-)


I think the choice of remoto is a red herring, but unfortunately this was the only example I could find. For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend the Italian is si è seduto e ha ascoltato la radio.


@morbrorper I am always particularamente felice to avoid the Remoto;-)


You can completely avoid the “passato remoto” easily in conversation, especially in Northern Italy. But in written Italian it is still used, so don’t ignore it completely.

For example it is the tense used in writing about historical events, or biographies of deceased people.


Hi @mike-lima Yes indeed. I’m currently reading a lot of Nicolò Ammaniti so this helps me to keep learning and using some Remoto. Definitely a “must” when reading any book in Italian.


Thanks for the helpful clarification!

I was wondering what your thoughts would be on the use of sedersi here? I would’ve interpreted it like @morbrorper suggested: the action of “He sat down” instead of the static “He was sat down” (“Era seduto”) as is suggested in the English translation.


“Si sedette” means “he changed his stance from standing to sitting”. You may want to use “He sat down”.

If you want to use the “passato prossimo” instead of the “passato remoto”, you have to change the sentence this way:

“Si è seduto e ha ascoltato la radio”. So two actions one following the other.

“Si è seduto” is different from “è seduto”, the first indicates an action in the past, the latter a state in the present.

“Era seduto e ascoltava la radio” means “he was sitting and (while) listening to the radio”. The sitting and listening parts happen together, for a while, in the past.


Thank you for confirming our suspicions, so it seems correct that in our eyes the English translation isn’t a great match, since that one suggests no change in stance at all (since it speaks of sitting not sitting down).


Here’s another, similar sentence: “A fat white cat sat on a wall and watched them with sleepy eyes.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an Italian translation, but the Spanish one uses the equivalent of passato remoto; the Danish and Finnish have a meaning equivalent to using imperfetto.

The point is, how do you read the English sentence?

If you consider it a description of a static scene, “imperfetto” is the tense to use in Italian. If you consider it as a sequence of events, than “passato remoto” or “passato prossimo” are the right tenses to use.

Personally, it feels more like the description of a static scene to me (because “sat” feels like a state of being rather than an action), so I would go with the “imperfetto”:

“Un grosso gatto bianco sedeva sul muro, e li guardava con occhi assonnati” is probably the most literal translation I can think of, although if I wanted a looser translation, I would probably go with:

“Un grosso gatto bianco seduto sul muro li guardava con occhi assonnati.”

Edit: I checked the tatoeba page, and it looks like French is using the “passato prossimo” equivalent, while the Japanese sentence is worded in a “scene description” kind of way.


Before seeing the Spanish and French translations I would definitely have gone for imperfetto, but recent discussions have made me unsure :wink: As a Swedish speaker, I may have been influenced by the likeness of English “sat” and Swedish satt (was sitting), as opposed to satte sig (sat himself down).

We should also have in mind that this is a Tanaka Corpus sentence; I wonder if a native might have worded it differently, maybe “A fat white cat was sitting on a wall, watching […]”. By the way, “with sleepy eyes” is also an indication of a static scene.

I always thought that the Italian equivalent of passé simple was passato remoto, and passé composé to passato prossimo.

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