I have read the following sentence in an Italian learning tool:

"Sono venuto a vedere se stai bene"

Wouldn't the correct be "Sono venuto a vedere se stavi bene", since "sono venuto" is a past tense?

  • 2
    This is a sentence you can say when you are entering someone's home. "Sono venuto" because you have already arrived and "vedere se stai bene" because you want to know if the person you are visiting is OK at that moment. Here you can find a sentence with the same structure written by Italo Calvino: "Sacra Maestà, – disse al Re, – sono venuto a vedere se mi fa la grazia di comprarmi questo granchio".
    – Charo
    Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 8:57
  • The form with stavi is more colloquial, but correct. Another peculiar usage of “imperfetto” is when children plan how to play: facciamo che io ero un cowboy e tu un indiano.
    – egreg
    Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 9:51
  • @egreg: Nevertheless, you may say "Ieri sono venuto a vedere se stavi bene", which is not necessarily colloquial.
    – Charo
    Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 10:14
  • @Charo so, in short, the choice of the verb tense depends if I'm checking on you now (as in your example in the first comment) or if I have checked on you in the past (eg earlier, yesterday, last week). Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 11:59
  • Sono venuto means that you just came. It may be past tense but it's about now. You can say Sono venuto a vedere se stai bene because it's about now, you can say Sono venuto a vedere se stessi bene because you're not sure if I'm fine or not, and you can say Sono venuto a vedere se stavi bene because stessi (congiuntivo imperfetto) becomes stavi (indicativo imperfetto) in a colloquial register. You can also say Sono venuto a vedere che tu stia bene (congiuntivo presente, notice che instead of se)! Commented Apr 6, 2020 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


"Sono venuto a vedere se stai bene"

While speaking, a person doesn't think too much about what grammar says, and often the speaker makes errors. Often these errors become so frequent that dictionaries, after some time, record them as correct. First of all, hence, as this phrase sounds normal, it is normal and so it is correct (this idea is debatable, but not totally wrong).

But in this case there is something more because, as already explained in comments, this phrase contains two distinct concepts: 1) "Sono venuto (a vedere)", 2) "Se stai/stavi bene". The first part:

1) Sono venuto a vedere... (I came here to see/check...)

uses the past because the action is already terminated. Because of this, it's simply more natural to use the past than to use the present, which instead would be used, for example, in a immediately preceding telephone call: "Allora vengo a vedere" (then I come to see). The choice is up to the speaker.


2) (a vedere) ...se stai bene (...whether you are fine)

is just the motivation of the visit, a totally separate concept which does not need to match with the previous one. But note that the speaker could also say

2) ...se hai mangiato (...whether you did eat something)

or even use the future. Maybe (this is true for me, for example), the speaker uses the past because in its mind it connects the care about the other person with the act of moving on to the other person. With the two ideas connected, at the time of the visit both are placed in the past:

"Sono venuto a vedere se stavi bene": that past "stavi" can be there because, in the mind of the speaker, the time of the decision to visit is back in the past.

Consider also that the imperfect can be used to add courtesy (Imperfetto di cortesia: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indicativo_imperfetto#Imperfetto_di_modestia_o_di_cortesia); a speaker can choose to not use the imperfect just to avoid the courtesy.

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    Sì, le tue osservazioni sono interessanti perché diverse formulazioni possibili hanno a che fare con la prospettiva temporale in cui si pone chi formula la frase. "Mental spaces" di Gilles Fauconnier è un approccio interessante che usi senza probabilmente spaerlo.
    – Nico
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 18:34

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