Lezioni Italiano


What to Say While You're Thinking of What to Say

When we talk casually, there are words we use to fill up silences while thinking of what we want to say next, or words that just sound good and seem to help with the flow. Everyone has preferences and as you watch Yabla videos, you’ll start to recognize each person’s pet words.


The aunt (la zia) in Commissario Manara, whether she’s talking to her dog or to other people, tends to start her sentences with ma (but). You can see it doesn’t really mean “but” in every case; it’s just something to start a sentence with. Using words like the ones in the list below can be quite habit forming, even if you have a limited Italian vocabulary. Used judiciously, they can help you keep up your side of a conversation or make small talk.


Ma, nah, ma cosa fai?! Ma che stai combinando? Brigadiere! Ma stai fermo, ma cosa combini?!

But, no, but what are you doing? But what are you up to? Brigadiere! But keep still, what are you up to?!

Captions 46-48, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

 Play Caption


When she gets the least bit excited, la zia uses ma to glue her sentences together:


Ma dove, ma dove... ma no, ma tu non andrai da nessuna parte. Devi rimanere a letto. Eh, ma che scherziamo.

But where, but where... but no, but you're not going anywhere. You have to stay in bed. What, are you kidding?

Captions 6-8, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

 Play Caption


Below is a partial list of filler words you’ll hear quite often. Their translations change somewhat depending on the contesto (context), so check them out in both WordReference and the Yabla dictionary.

  • ma (but)
  • appunto (indeed)
  • invece (instead, on the other hand, but)
  • magari (maybe)
  • proprio (really)    
  • sai (you know)    
  • vedi (you see)
  • allora (well, so)
  • cioè (that is)
  • quindi (therefore, so)
  • capito (understood)
  • poi (then)
  • così (like this)
  • via (away)
  • insomma (all in all, well)
  • in pratica (basically)
  • praticamente (practically)
  • comunque (however, in any case)

Insomma (to conclude), each of the filler words could fill up an entire lesson, and appunto (indeed), a few have already gotten some special attention in Yabla lessonsAppunto, which roughly translates as “indeed,” but which has other sfumature (nuances), is featured in Making Connections With Appunto (Indeed)Magari is either used as a one word answer, or slipped in among other words, as discussed in this lesson: Magari - A Magic Word.

Insomma is an especially tricky word in that the inflection significantly changes its meaning. It's hard to pin down a specific meaning in English, and goes from meaning "so-so," (such as in response to being asked about a film or a book) to an expression of frustration or impatience (used with an exclamation point), or to a filler similar to "you know" or "like." (slipped in among the other words in a phrase). Do a Yabla search of insomma and you'll laugh at how often it crops up as a filler, rounding out the phrase, helping the flow, reinforcing the meaning, without having a pinpointable meaning in itself.


Further learning:
Pick a word from the list above, and listen for it as you watch Yabla videos. Or see how many of these filler words appear in a single video. Listen carefully for the inflection, which is important. And, of course, as you talk to yourself each morning in italiano, try each of these words on for size. You may sound ridiculous at first, but that’s OK. No one's listening. 


While talking to yourself, you might come up with something like the following, just to get the feeling of these filler words.

Allora, insomma... magari...
Well, kind of iffy... if only...
Ma poi... cioè sai... praticamente... sai... capito? -Appunto.
But then... that is, you know... practically... you know... get it? -Exactly.
Quindi, vedi, in pratica... proprio così... comunque...
So, you see, basically... really... in any case...
OK then.

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