This is a sentence in Italo Svevo, La coscienza di Zeno:

Certo il mondo sarebbe meno aspro se molti mi somigliassero.

I understand from this example that the conditional proposition beginning with ‘if/se’ requires the tense ‘congiuntivo imperfetto’: is this universaly correct, or is it only what occurs in a written form or in literature? Could we also say as follows?

Certo il mondo sarebbe meno aspro se molti mi somigliavano.


1 Answer 1


The use of imperfect indicative in place of subjunctive and conditional in a conditional sentence (se lo sapevo non venivo rather than se l'avessi saputo non sarei venuto) is quite widespread. It's frowned upon in a formal or literary register, but perfectly acceptable in spoken language and even in informal written language: you can find examples of it in good writers too.

I'd say that your example, however, sounds a bit unnatural (as a comment remarks) for two reasons: it's a bit strange to use an informal indicative (somigliavo) in the if-clause and a formal conditional (sarebbe) in the then-clause. If anything, one would say Certo il mondo era meno aspro se molti mi somigliavano. But, even so, the rather deep thought, the use of an elegant image such as mondo aspro would clash with the sloppy syntax.

  • So the only correct form is indeed Certo il mondo sarebbe meno aspro se molti mi somigliassero ?
    – kiriloff
    Mar 24, 2022 at 10:27
  • 1
    @kiriloff I would say it's the one that feels the most natural to me - certainly the one I would use unprompted. In general I'd say that in a hypothetical phrase of the "unreality" type the use of indicative feels unnatural.
    – Denis Nardin
    Mar 24, 2022 at 10:42
  • @kiriloff, The phrasing by Svevo is, so to say, the most “correct” one, but the notion of “correctness” in modern linguistic is far from being an absolute, if it's even admitted. For sure, it's the phrasing nobody would object to.
    – DaG
    Mar 24, 2022 at 16:17

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