The Italian Verb Succedere (To Happen, To Occur): Meaning, Usage and Conjugation – With Examples

How to use the Italian verb succedere
How to use the Italian verb succedere (to happen/ to occur)

Written by Federica  in Italian language

What does succedere mean in Italian?

The primary meaning of the Italian verb succedere is to happen or to occur. Two other less widely-used meanings of succedere are to succeed (in the sense of taking over a throne) or to follow in a sequence.

NOTE: The Italian verb succedere should not be confused with the English verb to succeed in the sense of to achieve a goal. To express being successful in Italian we say avere successo (literally, to have success).

What conjugation does succedere belong to?

Succedere belongs to the second Italian conjugation. The infinitive form ends in -ere (succedere), the participle form ends in -esso (successo, when it means to happen) or -uto (succeduto, when it means to follow or to take over the throne) and the gerund ends in -endo (succedendo).

Is succedere regular or irregular?

Succedere mostly follows a regular conjugation, so, if you know how to conjugate regular second-conjugation Italian verbs, you will also be able to conjugate succedere. However, there is an irregularity in compound tenses, whereby, when succedere means to happen, the past participle is successo, not succeduto.

Does succedere use an essere or avere auxiliary?

Italian compound tenses such as the present perfect (passato prossimo) require the main verb to be preceded by an auxiliary, essere or avere

Succedere, similarly to the closely-related verb avvenire) is an intransitive verb, that is, a verb which does not take an object but, instead, makes sense on its own, when standalone. For this reason, succedere takes the essere auxiliary all the time (for example è successo– it happened) and never the avere auxiliary.

NOTE: something that can be very confusing to a learner of Italian is that successo is both past participle of the verb succedere and a noun meaning success.

Consider the phrase ha successo ovunque va (he/ she has success wherever he/ she goes). A learner of Italian might think, mistakenly, that ha is an auxiliary verb to successo and that “ha successo” might mean has happened, while the correct translation is he/ she has success, and successo is not a verb but a noun in this case.

Uses of succedere

Succedere is a popular, everyday verb in Italian. While its main translation is to happen, we also use it more informally in the sense of to go on/ to take place.

Here are some of the ways in which you can use succedere:

  • Cosa è successo? what happened?)
  • Cosa sta succedendo qui? (what’s happening here?)
  • Suo figlio gli succederà al trono (his son will succeed him to his throne)
Use of the Italian verb succedere
Use of the Italian verb succedere as to succeed
  • Com’è potuto succedere? (how could this happen?)
  • Dobbiamo fare di tutto perchè questo non succeda (we need to do all we can to prevent this from happening)
  • Questo non deve succedere mai più (this mustn’t happen again)
  • Se arrivi un po’ in ritardo non succede niente (if you arrive a little late, that’s OK) – note that the literal translation of this is “nothing happens”

Italian set phrases with succedere

One popular Italian set phrase with the verb succedere is:

Sono cose che succedono

These things happen (lit. “these are things that happen”)
Use of the Italian verb succedere - to happen
Use of the Italian verb succedere as to happen

Synonyms of succedere

A closely-related verb to succedere is avvenire (also to occur, to happen). Succedere, however, is a more everyday verb, and not as formal as avvenire.

Two more closely-related verbs to succedere are accadere and capitare. These also mean to happen, but they are more suitable to describe events that are outside of your control, random or unpredictable. For example:

  • È sempre una buona idea avere un’ assicurazione, perchè non si può mai sapere se può capitare una disgrazia (it’s always a good idea to have insurance, because you can never know if an unfortunate event could happen)

The participle tense of succedere, that is, successo is also a noun, and it means success. This can potentially cause some confusion for learners of Italian, because there may be situations where you might wonder if you are dealing with a noun or with a verb.

One way to remove the ambiguity in this case is to remember that the verb succedere always wants an essere auxiliary, so, if the verb avere is in the sentence, you must be dealing with successo as a noun.

Another way to disambiguate successo as a verb or as a noun is to look out for any definite article that precedes it. If the definite article is there, or if successo is in the plural (successi) then you must be dealing with successo as a noun. For example:

  • Questa sera celebreremo tutti i successi dell’ ultimo mese (this evening we’ll celebrate all the successes of the past month)

The complete conjugation of succedere

Due to its meaning and usage, succedere is mostly found in the third person singular (succede– it happens) and third person plural (succedono– they happen). So, if you are learning the conjugation of succedere, it might be a good idea to focus primarily on memorizing these two.

In the table below you can see the complete conjugation of succedere in all tenses and moods.

Present indicativesuccedosuccedisuccedesuccediamosuccedetesuccedono
Present perfect indicativesono successo/asei successo/aè successo/ asiamo successi/esiete successi/esono successi/e
Imperfect indicativesuccedevosuccedevisuccedevasuccedevamosuccedevatesuccedevano
Past perfect indicativeero successo/aeri successo/aera successo/aeravamo successi/eeravate successi/eerano successi/e
Remote past indicativesuccessisuccedestisuccessesuccedemmosuccedestesuccessero
Preterite perfect indicativefui successo/afosti successo/afu successo/afummo successi/efoste successi/efurono successi/e
Simple future indicativesuccederòsuccederaisuccederàsuccederemosuccederetesuccederanno
Future perfect indicativesarò successo/asarai successo/asarà successo/asaremo successi/esarete successi/esaranno successi/e
Present conditionalsuccedereisuccederestisuccederebbesuccederemmosuccederestesuccederebbero
Past perfect conditionalsarei successo/asaresti successo/asarebbe successo/asaremmo successi/esareste successi/esarebbero successi/e
Present gerundsuccedendosuccedendosuccedendosuccedendosuccedendosuccedendo
Past gerundessendo successo/aessendo successo/aessendo successo/aessendo successi/eessendo successi/eessendo successi/e
Present subjunctivesuccedasuccedasuccedasuccediamosuccediatesuccedano
Present perfect subjunctivesia successo/asia successo/asia successo/asiamo successi/esiate successi/esiano successi/e
Imperfect subjunctivesuccedessisuccedessisuccedessesuccedessimosuccedestesuccedessero
Past perfect subjunctivefossi successo/afossi successo/afosse successo/afossimo successi/efoste successi/efossero successi/e
Table showing the complete conjugation of the verb succedere in all Italian tenses