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In the Trello app, when you have no cards assigned to you a message is displayed on the screen: "Quando ti viene assegnata una scheda...", which I translate as "When a card is assigned to you...".

I've noticed that this isn't the only time venire is used as a sort of "helper" verb -- but I can't find any explanation for this in my grammar books (they are a little outdated, so that may be why).

Researching, the closest thing I can find is that in idiomatic usage, it can sometimes be used in place of "essere" but this usage isn't encouraged. Why then, is Trello (an app that is pretty modern) using this "discouraged" usage? Or is the explanation wrong?

  • Venire - 8. Con funzione di verbo ausiliare, o completiva di altri verbi: treccani.it/vocabolario/venire – Gio Jun 19 '17 at 19:18
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    Outdatedness is not the reason: venire as an auxiliary was already used by Boccaccio (gli vennero vedute tra altre gioie una borsa e una cintura, II, 9). – DaG Jun 19 '17 at 20:51
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The use of venire is a perfectly legitimate way to form passive phrases, as a not-exactly-equivalent alternative to essere, and I don't see why it should be “discouraged” (where did you find that?).

In its Italian grammar, Luca Serianni describes

L'uso di venire (solo nei tempi semplici) in luogo di essere, il quale conferisce alla frase un valore dinamico, sottolineando un'azione: «‘la finestra viene chiusa’ parla dell'atto di chiuderla; mentre ‘la finestra è chiusa’, che pure è il normale passivo di ‘chiude la finestra’, viene più spontaneamente interpretato come copula+aggettivo, con riferimento allo stato della finestra (‘la finestra è chiusa’ come ‘la finestra è grande’), e non all'azione di chiuderla» (Lepschy-Lepschy).

Talvolta il ricorso a venire come ausiliare non risponde a un particolare modo di presentare l'azione, ma al semplice gusto personale di chi parla o scrive, come nel seguente passo di Tomasi di Lampedusa (Il Gattopardo, 73-74), nel quale in luogo di venire avrebbe potuto figurare essere, almeno per le prime tre occorrenze: «la serata [...] venne seguita da altre egualmente cordiali; durante una di esse il generale venne pregato di interessarsi affinché l'ordine di espulsione per i Gesuiti non venisse applicato a padre Pirrone che venne dipinto come sovraccarico di anni e malanni». (XI.14)

To summarise in English, venire can be used to form passive voices in the simple tenses, especially to emphasise the dynamical aspect of a verb, that is, the fact that an action is being described: la finestra viene chiusa to mean “the window is being closed”, as opposed to la finestra è chiusa, which could also mean “the window is closed”. However, venire can also be used as an alternative to essere where there is no ambiguity, as happens (four times) in the excerpt from Il Gattopardo.

To clarify further, some passive constructions with essere are actually ambiguous: la finestra è chiusa might mean “the window is being closed” but, at least out of a specific context, almost everybody will understand it not as a passive construction but simply as a nominal predicate, “the window is closed”. In other cases the construction with essere is more distinctly passive, as in, say, sarai giudicato (“you will be judged”), which could also be said as verrai giudicato. In still other cases the construction with essere is the only possible, since venire as a passive auxiliary can only be used in simple tenses, as mentioned above. So we can (unambiguously) say la finestra è stata chiusa but not * la finestra veniva stata chiusa.

  • Thanks for the great explanation. In the present tense -- it's almost seems like a passive continuous, vs the regular present imperative tense? I imagine, then, if I wanted to say the window was closed, (as in, in the past I closed it) it would be "la finestra veniva chiusa", compared to "la finestra è stata chiusa" (the window was in a closed state), or "la finestra verrà chiusa" (the window will undergo closing) vs "la finestra sarà chiusa" (the window will be in a closed state). Am I understanding it correctly? – Marco Jun 20 '17 at 14:11
  • Mostly yes, @Marco. I have added something more about the difference in the constructions with essere and venire. Ask if you have more doubts. (Note that the imperative mood – smetti! mangiate! – has nothing in particular to do with a construction with venire. Did you perhaps mean “active”?) – DaG Jun 20 '17 at 18:01
  • Sorry about that, I meant the indicative -- don't know why I wrote imperative. On your addition, are you saying that you cannot say "la finestra veniva chiusa"? Or are you specifically referring to "la finestra veniva stata chiusa" as wrong? Other than that, you've answered my question, and then some. – Marco Jun 20 '17 at 18:52
  • Veniva chiusa is fine, if you refer to a past, iterative or continuous event: something like Le porte della città venivano chiuse tutte le sere al tramonto (“The city's gates were closed every day at sunset”). Instead, a compound tense such as * veniva stata chiusa (or * stava venuta chiusa) is not grammatical. – DaG Jun 20 '17 at 19:35

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