Lezioni italiano

Argomenti

Lessons for topic Verbs

Being supportive in Italian by staying close by

When someone is having a hard time, we often try to be supportive. Or we can give someone some support. That's how we say it in English, but Italians say it a bit differently. They use more words.

 

In Italian, we are supportive by staying close to someone, we are by their side. We're there for them. 

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Being supportive by staying close

So in the following exchange between Ugo and Nora, he is actually accusing her of not having been there for him, not having been supportive.

 

Non mi sei stata molto vicina in quel periodo, lo sai?

You weren't really by my side in that period, you know that?

Caption 19, Sposami EP 2 - Part 8

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A less literal translation would be:

You weren't very supportive [of me] during that period, you know that?.

or

You didn't give me much support during that period, you know that?

or 

You weren't really there for me during that period, you know that? 

 

A little further on in the dialogue, there is a play on words because Nora goes on to accuse Ugo of having had the American woman (the one he was having an affair with) literally by his side — in bed!

 

E invece l'americana ti è stata vicina?

But the American was by your side?

Caption 25, Sposami EP 2 - Part 8

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Sometimes the meaning is literal, so we need to be aware of the context. It can also be a mix of being physically nearby and being there for someone, being supportive.

 

How to use this expression

Now that we have looked at the meaning, we can look at how to use the expression. The formula is stare (to be, to stay) + vicino (close) + a (to) + qualcuno (someone). When we use pronouns, they can get attached to the verb, as in the following example.

 

Here are a few more examples:

Adriano sta male e io voglio stargli vicino.

Adriano is ill and I want to be near him.

Caption 2, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 11

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The translation is pretty clear, but, depending on the intention of the speaker, it could also be:

 Adriano is ill and I want to be there for him.

 

Note that since there is a modal verb, in this case, volere (to want to), the verb stare will be in the infinitive and volere will be conjugated.

 

1) What about a version where the verb stare is separated from the pronoun?

2) What if it were Adriana, not Adriano?

3) What if you were talking directly to the person who is ill?

 

Sometimes the meaning is ambiguous

In the following example, the staying close is more physical, since Paola asks Adriano to hold her close, but she is also asking Adriano to be there for her, to give her some support because the entire conversation is about her problems and the fact that she feels alone. She uses the second person informal imperative of stare with the personal (indirect object) pronoun attached to it.

Senti, facciamo così, dormiamoci sopra. Poi domani mattina sarai più lucida. -Tu stammi vicino, però. Stringimi.

Listen. Let's do this. We'll sleep on it. Then tomorrow morning, you will be more clear-headed. -You stay close to me, though. Hold me tight.

Captions 32-35, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 14

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4) As an exercise, what if Paola were using the polite form of address? 

 

Attenzione: Let's avoid the temptation to use the suspiciously similar sopportare in this case, because it means "to bear," "to tolerate."

Ma non ce la facevo più a sopportare i suoi deliri.

But I couldn't bear to tolerate her ravings anymore.

Caption 63, Il Commissario Manara S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 3

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We hope this little lesson will help you understand the discussion Nora and Ugo have about their past in Sposami. And let's hope they can make up and move on!

 

1) Adriano sta male e gli voglio stare vicino.

2) Adriana sta male e io voglio starle vicino.

3) Tu stai male e io voglio starti vicino

3b) Tu stai male e ti voglio stare vicino.

4) Mi stia vicino, però. Mi stringa.

 

 

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Rispondere: to answer or to respond?

Rispondere, with its English cognate "to respond" seems like it would be a very easy verb to use, and sometimes it is, indeed, easy. The verb rispondere translates as both "to respond" (its cognate) and "to answer" (a verb English inherited from the Old Norse "andsvar").

 

As with many verbs, by using a modal verb, we can keep the main verb in the infinitive, thereby avoiding the need to remember how to conjugate it. 

Senti... Posso parlare con Luca? No, Luca non può rispondere, ha avuto un problema.

Listen... Can I speak with Luca? No, Luca can't answer, he had a problem.

Captions 49-50, Il Commissario Manara S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9

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If we don't include an object in the sentence, there are no complications. In the following example, we could also have translated rispondere with "to respond."

Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima di rispondere chiamo il mio avvocato.

All right, then I will also follow normal procedure and before I answer, I'll call my lawyer.

Captions 25-26, Il Commissario Manara S2EP8 - Fuori servizio - Part 6

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1) What if the speaker used the conjunction che (after prima) as an alternate way to say the same thing?

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An important detail

Once we start involving an object in our sentence (such as "the question"), we have to keep in mind that rispondere is an intransitive verb (meaning it doesn't take a direct object), so if I want to say, "I answer the question" in Italian, I have to use a preposition after the verb followed by an indirect object (in this case, la domanda (the question). Think: "I respond to the question."

 

Rispondo alla domanda (I answer the question/I respond to the question).

 

Se la sente di rispondere a qualche domanda? -Sì.

Do you feel you can answer a few questions? -Yes.

Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 2

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2) Can you ask this same question to someone you are on familiar terms with?

Non ha risposto alla mia domanda. Che cosa vuole?

You haven't answered my question. What do you want?

Caption 40, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 13

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3) Can you say the same thing informally?

 

2 Ways in English, 1 way in Italian

In English, "to respond" is intransitive and "to answer" is transitive, so we use them two different ways and we rarely have to think about it. We might think of using "to respond" in more formal situations.

I can respond to your letter or I can answer your letter. 

 

But when we are translating from English to Italian, we have to remember that we need a preposition after rispondere.

 

Rispondere with an indirect object personal pronoun

We can also use rispondere where the indirect object is a person, perhaps expressed with a personal pronoun, as in the following example. In this case, we use "to answer" in our translation. "To respond" wouldn't work.

 

Toscani, per favore rispondimi. È importante, dai.

Toscani, please answer me. It's important. Come on.

Caption 56, Il Commissario Manara S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata - Part 9

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Memorizing rispondimi is a good idea. You never know when someone is going to faint and it's also handy to have when arguing with someone. Above all, remember that mi stands for a me (to me) so we do have a preposition (in this case a (to).

 

4) How would you say the same thing to a person you don't know very well? And for the record, you wouldn't say dai. Can you think of an alternative?

 

Cases of Incongruence between Italian and English

In the following clip, we have an indirect object pronoun in the Italian, but none in the English. These days, we might say "I didn't pick up,"  "I didn't answer the phone," I didn't answer your call," "I didn't return your call." But we probably wouldn't say "I didn't answer you" unless it were an email or a letter. In this context, we think of answering the phone, not the person.

Sì, lo so, mi hai chiamato cento volte, però io non ti ho risposto perché ho avuto un sacco di cose da fare, Teresa.

Yes, I know, you called me a hundred times, but I didn't answer because I had a bunch of things to do, Teresa.

Captions 23-24, Il Commissario Manara S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1

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5) The above clip is very informal, between brother and sister, but he could have said he hadn't answered the phone. How could he have phrased it?

 

There are plenty of instances in which Italians insert an indirect object pronoun, where in English, none is called for. It's just something to be aware of.

 

We hope this lesson has provided some clarity about using the verb rispondere. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to write to us at newsletter@yabla.com

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Risposte Answers

1) Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima che risponda, chiamo il mio avvocato.

1b) Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima che risponda io, chiamo il mio avvocato.​

2) Te la senti di rispondere a qualche domanda? -Sì.

3) Non hai risposto alla mia domanda. Che cosa vuoi?

4) Agente Toscani, mi risponda, per favore. È importante, la prego.

5) Sì, lo so, mi hai chiamato cento volte, però io non ho risposto al telefono/alla tua chiamata perché ho avuto un sacco di cose da fare, Teresa.

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A little quirk concerning the verb sapere

We talked about the important verb sapere (to know) in a previous lesson. You might have also figured out that even though sapere means "to know," in English, "to know" isn't always translated into Italian with sapere. It can also be translated as conoscere (to know, to be familiar with, to meet for the first time). We have a lesson about that, too.

Sapere (to know how)

Another nuance of the verb sapere is that it often means "to know how." In this case, just as "to know how," in English, is followed by a verb in the infinitive (such as in "to know how to do something"), sapere, when it means "to know how" is also followed by a verb in the infinitive. We can see an example of this in the following clip.

 

Ma come, l'hai inventata tu la Lettera Ventidue e non la sai usare?

But how come? You invented the Lettera Twenty-two and you don't know how to use it?

Caption 38, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 24

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An alternative translation

But there is another similar way to translate this sense of sapere. And that is with "can" or "to be able to." Just as with "can," sometimes it's about being capable of doing something (as in the previous example), and sometimes it is about being able to or kind enough to do something (as in this next example).

Mi scusi, buon uomo. Mi sa dire l'ora, per favore? -Le cinque e trentacinque. -Ma è sicuro? E trentasei mo, eh! -Ah! Grazie, eh! -Prego.

Pardon me, my good man. Can you tell me the time, please? -Five thirty-five. -But are you sure? -[And] thirty-six now, huh! -Ah! Thanks, huh! -You're welcome.

Captions 1-7, Barzellette L'asino che dà l'ora

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Literally, this might have been translated as: "Do you know how to tell me the time?" But that's not really what he means. Of course, the guy on the scooter could have said something else, such as:

Sa che ore sono (Do you know what time it is)?

 

but that isn't actually asking for the person to share the information. He also could have said:

Mi può dire che ore sono (can you tell me what time it is)?

Mi può dire l'ora per favore (can you tell me the time, please)?

Che ore sono, per favore (what time is it, please)?

Può dirmi che ore sono (can you tell me what time it is)?

 

So we can use the verb potere (to be able to), but using sapere to mean "can" in certain contexts, especially with verbs such as dire (to say) indicare (to indicate), consigliare (to recommend), is a very typical way to ask if someone can do something. It is ever so slightly round-about and gives an impression of informal politeness. We might say it's a cross between "Can you?" and "Do you know how?"

 

Exercises

1) Can you ask the above questions using the informal form of address?

 

2) How about transforming these sentences by replacing potere with sapere?

-2a) Mi puoi dire come raggiungere la stazione (can you tell me how to get to the station)?

-2b) Non poteva dirmi l'ora perché non aveva l'orologio (she couldn't tell me what time it was because she didn't have her watch on).

-2c) Non ti posso consigliare una buona pizzeria perché non sono di questa zona (I can't recommend a good pizzeria because I am not from around here).

 

Answers to exercises:

 

1) 

Sai dirmi l'ora (can you tell me the time)?

Sai che ore sono (do you know what time it is)?

Mi puoi dire che ore sono (can you tell me what time it is)?

Mi puoi dire l'ora per favore (can you tell me the time, please)?

Che ore sono, per favore (what time is it, please)?

Puoi dirmi che ora sono (can you tell me what time it is)?

2)

2a) Mi sai dire come raggiungere la stazione (can you tell me how to get to the station)?

2b) Non sapeva dirmi l'ora perché non aveva con se l'orologio (he/she couldn't tell me what time it was because she didn't have her watch on).

2bb) Non ha saputo dirmi l'ora perché non aveva con se l'orologio (he/she couldn't tell me what time it was because she didn't have her watch on).

3c) Non ti so consigliare una buona pizzeria perché non sono di questa zona (I can't recommend a good pizzeria because I am not from around here).

 

Let us know if you have any questions (newsletter@yabla.com), and thanks for reading!

 

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Italians know their chickens

Here's a great expression Italians use all the time. We can figure out the meaning easily, but finding a specific English equivalent is not all that straightforward. The important thing is to understand what Italians are trying to get across when they say it, and to be able to use it ourselves in Italian when the situation calls for it.

The expression itself:

When you know who you are dealing with and can predict an outcome based on how well you know that person or type of person, that's when you say:

 

Conosco i miei polli (I know my chickens).

E gli ha detto di farsi operare nella sua clinica privata. -E tu come lo sai? -Perché conosco i miei polli.

And he told him to have the operation in his private clinic. -And how do you know? -Because I know my chickens [I know who I'm dealing with].

Captions 24-25, La Ladra EP.11 Un esame importante - Part 4

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Some attribute this expression to Saint Francis of Assisi, who was a great lover of animals and nature, so it seems it goes way back to the 13th century as well as being alive and well today.

 

Italians are known for setting up orti (vegetable gardens) and pollai (chicken coops or henhouses) whenever and wherever they have the opportunity. So chickens, in many cases, are part of everyday life. These days, this is a less frequent phenomenon, but in the past, during the war, for example, raising chickens and having a little vegetable garden was a question of survival. 

 

Taking the expression apart:

Let's just mention that conoscere can have a few different nuances of meaning. Check out this lesson all about the verb conoscere. In the present case we are talking about knowing a person well, being familiar with their habits. It may be a friend who is always late, so you won't be surprised when they arrive with a 15 minute delay... It may be someone who never offers to pay, or always offers to pay. It may mean making an extra amount of pasta because you know your dinner guest is a good eater. It can be positive or negative, and can be said before someone does something, or as a justification afterwards. 

Ci butto un etto di pasta in più perché conosco i miei polli. Gianni è una buona forchetta.

I'll throw in one hundred grams more pasta because I know my chickens. Gianni is a big eater.

1) If you were to say this after the fact, to explain why you made so much pasta, what could you say?

 

Even if we are talking about one person, as in the video clip included above, the plural is generally used — it's a fixed expression. 

And this might be a good time to remember that we need the article before the possessive pronoun in Italian, but not in English. I miei polli. The singular would be il mio pollo

You can also use the expression in reference to someone else knowing their chickens.

Conosci i tuoi polli, eh? (you know who you're dealing with, I guess).

2) Let's say someone is telling you that they would always make more pasta than usual for this particular guest. How would you modify the question?

 

Practice:

As you go about your day, think of people you know and try predicting what they will say or do. As they prove you right, with a little chuckle, you can say to yourself, "Conosco i miei polli."

One more thing:

One more word about chickens. A chicken is young, and a hen is old. In English we can say "henhouse" or "chicken coop." In Italian, it's usually pollaio but naturally, the pollaio is full of both polli (chickens) and galline (hens). 

 

Another expression using galline describes people who go to bed early:

Alle otto se ne vanno a casa e non escono più, come le galline.

At eight o'clock they go home and don't go out again, like hens.

Caption 40, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 12

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3) What if the person were talking about one other person, not a group of people? What might he say?

 

The translation we have provided here is literal, and therefore "hens," but in English we would sooner say "chickens" when we want to be generic. The only time you really need to know the difference between galline and polli is when buying them to eat. We want pollo for most dishes, but Italians love broth and it's common to use certain cuts of beef plus a piece of gallina or fowl to make il brodo (the broth).

 

A proposito... (speaking of which...)

There's another famous expression in Italian, often referring to a woman of a certain age who might be feeling old. It's a compliment of sorts.

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo ([An] old hen makes good broth).

 

More about brodo (broth) in this lesson.

 

And let's not forget the male member of this group of animali da cortile (barnyard animals) : il gallo (the rooster).

Ho provato ad immaginare il classico finale dove lei lascia tutto e si trasferisce in campagna, perché ha scoperto quanto è bello farsi svegliare dal gallo.

I tried to imagine the classic ending where she leaves everything and moves to the country, because she discovered how wonderful it is to be woken up by the rooster.

Captions 5-7, Sei mai stata sulla luna? film - Part 30

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1) C'ho buttato un etto di pasta in più perché conosco i miei polli. Gianni è una buona forchetta.

2) Conoscevi i tuoi polli, eh? 

3) Alle otto se ne va a casa e non esce più, come le galline.

4) Sto provando ad immaginare il classico finale dove lei lascia tutto e si trasferisce in campagna, perché ha scoperto quanto è bello farsi svegliare dal gallo.

Provavo ad immaginare il classico finale dove lei lascia tutto e si trasferisce in campagna, perché ha scoperto quanto è bello farsi svegliare dal gallo.

Proverò ad immaginare il classico finale dove lei lascia tutto e si trasferisce in campagna, perché ha scoperto quanto è bello farsi svegliare dal gallo.

Stavo provando ad immaginare il classico finale dove lei lascia tutto e si trasferisce in campagna, perché ha scoperto quanto è bello farsi svegliare dal gallo.

Provo ad immaginare il classico finale dove lei lascia tutto e si trasferisce in campagna, perché ha scoperto quanto è bello farsi svegliare dal gallo,

 
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How to Wear Clothes in Italian

In this week's segment of Sposami, there is talk of modelling wedding gowns. The verb used at one point is indossare. If we look closely, we might recognize the root word dosso, which in Dante's time, was a variant of the noun dorso, meaning "spine," or "back."

 

We can make the clothing connection with the English hyperbolic idiom "giving someone the shirt off one's back," referring to generosity. The noun dosso is no longer used to mean "back," exactly, but it means "bump," such as a bump in the road or a speed bump.

 

In a previous lesson we talked about the adverb addosso or di dosso (which bring images of someone on your back). So even though we don't use dosso to mean "back" anymore, it has been incorporated into other words and phrases that have become crystalised as standard.

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In this lesson, we will look at the verb indossare and other verbs that have to do with putting clothes on. We talked about taking clothes off in this lesson!

 

Practice: At the end of some video examples, there's a little grammar question, giving you the chance to expand on the example itself. You'll find the answers at the bottom of the page. Don't worry if they give you trouble, as they are aimed at more advanced learners. It may be an opportunity to find out what you don't know and to ask us questions! We'll be glad to give you some answers. Make sure to read the full lesson before answering the questions, as they might refer to examples further down the page.

Modeling an outfit

If we have to model an outfit, we have to wear it, but in this case, it's wearing something with the specific purpose of displaying it. Indossare is the best choice if we are looking for a verb. 

E poi, se proprio servisse di indossare un abito, posso farlo io. -No, tu no.

And besides, if it were really necessary to model a dress, I can do it. -No, you can't.

Captions 32-33, Sposami EP 2 - Part 3

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1) Nora starts her sentence in the subjunctive but finishes it in the indicative rather than the conditional (not really correct). What if she were to finish it in the conditional? What would she have said?

 

Regarding the video clip, the translation of indossare could also have been "to put on," or "to wear," but we thought it was important to make the distinction regarding the purpose: not putting something on to go and buy milk, but to put it on display. And let's remember that "to model" in this context can't be translated into Italian with modellare. That doesn't quite work (false friend). 

 

A bit of cultural background relative to indossare

When we talk about modeling a dress or outfit, it's sometimes done by a professional model. Although the term modella (usually in the feminine version) is used to mean "fashion model," the more "Italian" term is indossatrice. During the period of Italian fascism, foreign words were rooted out, including the commonly used French noun mannequin. By law, it had to be replaced by indossatrice.

 

If you haven't seen the documentary about the Italian Language and Italian Fascism (on Yabla), check it out. Ne vale la pena (it's worth the effort). There is mention of removing words like modella or the French "mannequin" from the language and using a more Italian word.

Parole straniere e borghesia sono mali da estirpare. [Mannequin - Indossatrice]

Foreign words and the bourgeoisie are evils to be rooted out. [Mannequin – indossatrice] (fashion model)

Captions 6-7, Me Ne Frego Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5

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That said, the verb indossare is used all the time by Italians. It's transitive, so we can use the question word "what."

Al momento della scomparsa, indossava un paio di jeans chiari, delle scarpe da ginnastica anonime...

When she went missing, she was wearing a pair of light colored jeans, unbranded sneakers...

Captions 37-38, Chi m'ha visto film - Part 7

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2) How would you say this using the adjective vestito?

 

Getting dressed

The basic verb for getting dressed is vestire (to dress), used in the reflexive, vestirsi

Eh, scusate, commissario, ma come ci dobbiamo vestire? -Eh, infatti. Il tema della festa è anni ottanta, quindi regolatevi.

Uh, sorry Commissioner, but how should we dress? -Yeah, exactly. The theme of the party is the eighties, so act accordingly.

Captions 39-40, Il Commissario Manara S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11

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The question word in our example is come (how), which we commonly answer with an adverb or adverbial phrase. We can't follow it with a noun, as with indossare.  Sometimes we choose one word over the other depending on how we want to construct the phrase, or what we want to include or exclude.

3). But what if he had used the question word "what?" How could he have posed the question?

 

A related adjective

The verb vestire is often transformed into the adjective vestito. In this case, the person is already dressed.

Mamma è morta sei mesi fa e papà aveva organizzato una messa in suffragio. Ecco perché era vestito così elegante.

Mom died six months ago and Dad had organized an intercession mass. That's why he was dressed so elegantly.

Captions 20-22, Il Commissario Manara S2EP2 - L'addio di Lara - Part 2

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4) Maybe we could modify the second sentence in the example above — to say something similar — using the verb indossare. You will have to come up with a direct object noun to make it work. 

 

Let's keep in mind that vestito is also a noun meaning "dress" or, for a man, "suit."  

 

Putting clothes on

Just as in English, Italian uses the verb mettere (to put). But whereas in English, we say "to put on," Italian uses the reflexive form mettersi (to put on).

Tu che cosa ti metti? Io avevo pensato di mettermi il vestito rosso.

What are you going to wear? I thought of wearing my red dress.

Caption 34, Anna e Marika Il verbo pensare

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In this last example, the question is che cosa (what [thing]?). So we will need a noun as an answer. The formula is reflexive verb mettersi + noun.

5) We can do 2 exercises with this example. 

a) Use the transitive verb indossare in the question and in the answer. In this case it is a learning exercise, but an unlikely real-life option!

b) Ask the question with come. You can still use mettersi or indossare in the answer, or you can come up with something using the same verb as in the question. In this case you'll need to be creative.

 

We'll often hear someone giving this order to someone else. 

Dai, forza, vestiti.

Come on, get dressed.

Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara S2EP12 - La donna senza volto - Part 10

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6) If you were giving this command to a bunch of kids, what would you say? Tip: Don't worry that dai is singular. it's an expression that stays in the singular.

 

But attenzione. As you can hear in the example, in the previous example in the imperative, the stress is on the first syllable. It looks exactly like the plural of the noun vestito, (dress, suit) as in the following example, but sounds different. When used in the plural, i vestiti means "clothes."

Eh, andate a cercare i vestiti per la festa. Forza, via, via.

Yeah, go find some clothes for the party. Go on, get going, get going.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11

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Once you're dressed

Once you have dressed, you are wearing something. We can use indossare, of course, but we can also use the verb portare (to carry).

 

7) Let's say you are asking this question, not to a friend, but to your boss, or to your Italian mother in law, with whom you are on formal terms. What would you say?

 

Secondo me dovresti portare la gonna più spesso perché ti sta molto bene.

In my opinion, you should wear a skirt more often. It looks very good on you.

Caption 25, Il Commissario Manara S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 6

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8) What's another way to say the same thing? There's more than one!

 

We've talked about different verbs we can use to talk about getting dressed and wearing clothes: vestire (used reflexively) indossare (transitive), mettersi un vestito (reflexive with a direct object), portare (transitive). Find out more about clothing in this video from Marika. Adriano also talks about clothes to wear in the different seasons.

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Now to some solutions for the quiz questions scattered throughout the lesson:

 

1) E poi, se proprio servisse di indossare un abito, potrei farlo io. -No, tu no.

2) Al momento della scomparsa, era vestita con un paio di jeans chiari, delle scarpe da ginnastica anonime...

3) Eh, scusate, commissario, ma cosa ci dobbiamo mettere?

4) Ecco perché indossava un vestito così elegante.

5a) Tu che cosa indossi/indosserai? Io avevo pensato di indossare il vestito rosso.

5b) Come ti vesti? Io avevo pensato di vestirmi di rosso. 

Io avevo pensato di vestirmi con il vestito rosso.  

Io avevo pensato di mettermi il vestito rosso.

6) Dai, forza, vestitevi!

7) Secondo me dovrebbe portare la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

8) Secondo me dovrebbe indossare la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

Secondo me dovrebbe mettersi la gonna più spesso perché le sta molto bene.

 

Afterword: When we use the reflexive verb vestirsi, it's tricky because we can't use a direct object after it as we can with mettersi. We need the conjuction con (with) after it, or an adverbial phrase, which answers the question come (how).

One such phrase that comes to mind is: Vestirsi a cipolla (to dress in layers).

Quando vado in montagna, mi vesto sempre a cipolla (I always dress in layers [literally, "onion-style") when I go mountain climbing).

 

Send your questions or comments to newsletter@yabla.com and thanks for reading!

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Getting by with cavarsela

You may know that we can ask someone how things are going with come va (how's it going)? It's the simplest and least personal way to ask that. More personal is come stai (how are you)?

"Ciao, come va?" Si può anche dire "come stai?" Come stai.

"Hi, how's it going?" You can also say, "how are you?" How are you?

Captions 5-7, Corso di italiano con Daniela Chiedere "Come va?"

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Here's yet another way to talk about how things are going for someone. We use it in both questions and answers when the situation or outcome is uncertain, like, for example, the one we are experiencing at the moment all over the world. 

And the verb is..... cavarsela. It's a pronominal verb — a verb that has pronouns attached to it — so let's take it apart.

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The main verb inside this pronominal verb is cavare (to remove, to extract). If you think of a cavity, something has been removed to create it. 

 

As a matter of fact, Marika has done a video about 2 similar verbs: cavare and togliere, which can both mean to remove. 

Cavare vuol dire estrarre, tirare fuori qualcosa da qualche parte.

"Cavare" means to extract, to pull something out from somewhere.

Captions 7-8, Marika spiega I verbi cavare e togliere

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As with many pronominal verbs, cavare can also be reflexive, becoming cavarsi. There are two ways to look at this. One is as a typical reflexive verb like levarsi, togliersi, when talking about taking one's shoes off, for example. 

 

Mi tolgo le scarpe... indosso una vestaglia, mi distendo sul divano, guardo un po' di televisione,

I take off my shoes... I put on a robe, I stretch out on the couch, I watch a little TV,

Captions 40-42, Adriano Giornata

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If you are familiar with the verbs togliere and levare, you don't need to remember cavarsi in this context, as it is not the most common word people use.

 

There is, however another context, where we commonly do use the reflexive cavarsi, when it means to get out of a dicey situation, but we add la which in this case means "it." "It" in turn, represents a situation, often a difficult one.

 

As we mentioned above, the pronominal verb is cavarsela:

cavare + si + la.

 

When putting the verb into its infinitive form, we remove the "e" ending of the original verb in its infinitive, so cavare becomes cavar. Then, since we are going to have a direct object pronoun in there, too, si (usually an indirect object pronoun meaning "to oneself") becomes se. And then we add, at the end, la, which is a direct object pronoun (meaning a generic "it") — cavarsela.

 

Cavarsela can mean "getting [oneself] out of a situation," like an exam you hadn't studied for, but you got through anyway.

Me la sono cavata, menomale (I got through it, thank goodness).

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But it often means "managing," "getting by." 

Insomma, neanche in sogno riesco a cavarmela da solo.

Anyway, not even in a dream can I get by on my own.

Caption 58, Psicovip I Minivips - Ep 13

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Practically speaking

OK, but how do we use cavarsela when we're talking, and when we need to conjugate the verb rather than using it in the infinitive? Great question! Ottima domanda!

 

Questions

 

Let's start with how we use cavarsela in a question. A woman who has horses is thinking of hiring some help. She asks: 

Come te la cavi con i cavalli?

How do you manage with horses?

How good are you with horses?

Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 16

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An answer to this question might be:

Me la cavo (I do all right).

 

In a different context, you might ask someone how they are getting on in a certain situation, say, during lockdown.

 

The present tense can work:

Come te la cavi (how are you getting on)?

 

or you can use the present continuous:

Come te la stai cavando (how are you getting on, how are you managing)?

 

When lockdown is over, you might ask:

Come te la sei cavato/a (how did you do, how did you manage, how did you hold up)?

 

If you are talking to two or more people:

Come ve la siete cavati(how did you do, how did you manage, how did you hold up)?

 

Answering the question

 

Ce la caviamo bene (we'll manage), we're managing).

Ce la stiamo cavando (we're managing).

Me la sono cavata/o bene (I did fine).

and in the plural:

Ce la siamo cavati così così (We did just OK).

 

E tu? Come te la stai cavando con l'italiano?

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A Tricky but Useful Pronominal Verb Volerci

It seems like there's no end to the uses of the little particle ci. We've done several lessons on it, and here we are again.

 

As we have seen in previous lessons, ci can mean various things and often has to do with reflexive and reciprocal verbs. It can also be an indirect pronoun that incorporates its preposition within it, and it can be attached to a verb or detached from it. Whew!

 

This time, we are talking about a pronominal verb — the kind of verb that has pronouns and particles connected to it that change the meaning of the verb. In this case, the particle is ci.

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Volerci = volere + ci

With the pronominal verb volerci, we're talking about the amount of something that's necessary to carry something out — time, money, courage, ingredients, attitudes, etc. In the following example, pazienza (patience) is the substance and molto (a lot) is how much you need of it. One way we can translate volerci is "to be necessary," "to be needed," "to be required." Of course, in everyday conversation, we often use "it takes" or "you need," in English, to express this idea.

 

Ci vuole molta pazienza

You need a lot of patience [a lot of patience is necessary].

It takes a lot of patience.

A lot of patience is required.

Caption 25, Professioni e mestieri Belle Arti -Tecniche di decorazione - Part 1

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One very important feature of this particular pronominal verb is that it is always in the third person and can be either singular or plural. If we are talking about "patience" as in the previous example, it's singular. If we're talking about ore (hours), as in the following example, it's plural. 

Quante ore ci vogliono per andare da Roma a Milano?

How many hours does it take to go from Rome to Milan?

How many hours are necessary to go from Rome to Milan?

Caption 17, Marika spiega La particella NE - Part 2

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We can use it in the negative:

Non ci vuole l'articolo in singolare. In plurale ritorno a volere l'articolo.

You don't need the article in the singular. In the plural I go back to needing the article.

The article is not necessary in the singular.

Captions 20-21, Corso di italiano con Daniela Aggettivi Possessivi - Part 6

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The Passive Voice can Help 

If in translating volerci, we use the passive voice, we can match it up as far as singular and plural go, and it might make better sense to us.

 

I pinoli, che sono davvero speciali e ci vogliono i pinoli italiani, ovviamente.

The pine nuts, which are really special, and Italian pine nuts are required, obvously.

Captions 50-51, L'Italia a tavola Il pesto genovese - Part 1

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Although volerci is always in the third person, we often translate it into English with the first or second person: "I/we need" or you need."

 

Common Expressions with Volerci

Volerci is very popular in the expression:

 

Non ci voleva (it would have been better if that hadn't happened, I really didn't need that, that's all I needed).

That's what you say when, say, one bad thing happens after another.

 

Volerci can also be used as an expression of relief when something good happens. It's like saying, "That's just what the doctor ordered."

A Dixieland ci si diverte con poco e nulla e un numero di magica magia era proprio quel che ci voleva per chiudere in bellezza la festa.

At Dixieland one has fun with next to nothing and a number with magical magic was exactly what was needed to conclude the party nicely.

Captions 30-33, Dixieland La magia di Tribo

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Another fun way to use volerci is when you want to say,  "How hard can it be?"

Che ci vuole (how hard can it be)?

Le mucche muggiscono. -Embè? Vanno munte. Ahi. -Scusa, scusa, scusa, scusa. -Sei sicura? -E sì, che ci vuole? L'avrò visto mille volte su National Geographic.

The cows are mooing. -So what? They have to be milked. Ow! -Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Are you sure? -Yeah, how hard could it be? I must have seen it a thousand times on National Geographic.

Captions 37-42, Sei mai stata sulla luna? film - Part 11

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We hope you have a bit more insight into this supremely common and useful pronominal verb (verb+pronoun+preposition all in one). 

 

If you found this lesson helpful, you might very well say, Ci voleva!  (that's exactly what I needed!).

 

TIP

We must also mention that not every time you see volerci (conjugated or in the infinitive) will it mean what we have set out to describe in this lesson. Since, at the outset, we mentioned that ci has a way of working its way into so many kinds of verbs and phrases, context is key. Little by little you will start distinguishing, but it will take time and practice. Watching Yabla videos will give you tons of examples so you can start sorting out the meanings. And don't forget: When you have a doubt, write it in the comments. Someone will get back to you within a few days. If you have a question or doubt, chances are, someone else will have the same one!

 

In a coming lesson, we will discuss a similar but unique pronominal verb metterci. Get a head start by watching Daniela's video lesson about both of these pronominal verbs.

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Noticing things (or not) in Italian with accorgersi

 

Some words are easy in Italian and some others are a little complicated. Here's a verb we use a lot but that is kind of tricky to use: accorgersi (to notice, to realize).

 

Accorgersi: Let's take it apart.

Let's take it apart to make some sense of it. Hint: It is reflexive, and while some verbs can be both normal and reflexive, this one is always reflexive.

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In a recent episode of La Ladra, a guy wants his car taroccata (rigged) (we talked about the verb taroccare in this lesson). The mechanic tells the guy that he won't even notice he's going 300 kilometers per hour. Usually, we notice something, so very often, since accorgersi is reflexive, we have both a direct and an indirect object pronoun in the sentence. When that occurs, we have to deal with those pesky particles that can attach themselves to the verb in different ways. For more on this, have a look at these lessons.

 

In the following example, we can see that the verb is conjugated in the second person singular (the mechanic is talking to his customer).

 

Co' [romanesco: con] questa c'arivi [ci arrivi] a trecento che manco te n'accorgi.

With this one, you don't even notice it when you get to three hundred.

Caption 35, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 13

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The infinitive form has the impersonal si connected to the verb — accorgersi, but when conjugated, the reflexive verb accorgersi gets separated into two parts — the root of the verb (accorgere) and the person onto whom it reflects, in this case, te (to you). Then there is an n which is a contraction of ne (of it, to it). In order to understand better how accorgersi works, we might translate it as "to become aware of." Here, there is the preposition "of." 

By the time to get to three hundred [kilometers an hour], you will not even be aware of it.

 

"Of it" is represented by ne (in this case contracted into n').

 

Accorgersi in the past tense with the particle ne

In the following example, however, we have the past tense. In Italian, it's the passato prossimno formed with the auxiliary verb essere (to be) and the past participle, accorto. When you conjugate reflexive verbs in the past tense, you must use essere as your auxiliary verb.

 

Gira e gira, ai vertici dell'Olivetti, non c'è spazio che per uno di famiglia. Lo so, me ne sono accorto. -Ecco.

At the end of the day, in the upper echelons of Olivetti, there's no room for anyone but a family member. I know, I noticed that. -That's it.

Captions 44-46, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 8

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Me is the indirect pronoun (to me)

Ne is another indirect pronoun (of it, about it)

Accorto is the past participle of accorgere

 

Accorgersi in the past tense without the particle ne

Let's look at an example without this particle ne. Here, it's not necessary because we have nulla (nothing) as an indirect object preceded by the preposition di. We have the auxiliary verb essere. The reflexive particle si is contracted and refers to the third person singular reflexive pronoun.

Guardi, non s'era accorto di nulla.

Look, he hadn't noticed a thing.

Caption 73, Il Commissario Manara S2EP2 - L'addio di Lara - Part 5

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You made it this far, good for you! If the verb accorgersi is too difficult for you at this stage of the game, you can also use the verb notare, a nice, simple, transitive verb. 

 

Durante il viaggio avete notato qualcosa di strano? Pensateci bene, ah.

During the trip, did you notice anything strange? Think about it carefully, huh.

Captions 30-31, Il Commissario Manara S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata - Part 6

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To say the same thing with accorgersi, it would take a few more words:

 

Vi siete accorti di qualcosa di strano? 

Qualcuno si è accorto di qualcosa di strano? 

Did you notice anything strange? 

Did anyone notice anything strange?

 

Further learning

For even more about reflexive verbs, with charts. Here's a great resource.

 

If you do a search on Yabla with accorgere, you won't find much, nor will you find much with accorgersi. But if you search the past participle accorto (masculine), accorta (feminine), or accorti (plural), you will find numerous examples. Now that we have taken the verb and its particles apart, you can start getting a feel for this useful, but complex verb. Hopefully, picking out the verb and its accessories and then repeating them will be helpful to you.

 

Attenzione: There will also be some constructions we haven't covered here, such as in the following example. Suffice it to say that it involves the third person impersonal pronoun si with a reflexive verb in the passato prossimo (present perfect) tense. It's pretty advanced and a lot to absorb, and so we'll confront this in a future lesson.

 

Quando si è sistemata la piazza nel millenovecentonovantuno, ci si è accorti che il palombaro, cioè questa grande cisterna, era colmo fino all'orlo.

 

When the piazza was renovated in nineteen ninety-one, they noticed that the "palombaro", that is, this large cistern, was full to the brim.

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Combining Conjugated Verbs and Infinitives Part 3

We've been looking at conjugated verbs followed by verbs in the infinitive. Some can be connected directly as we saw in Part 1, some are connected with the preposition a, as we saw in Part 2, and others are connected with the preposition di, which we will look at in this lesson. 

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Verbs that take di before a verb in the infinitive:

Let's start with an example. 

 

Ti ho portato il millefoglie. Mentre lo mangi, io finisco di prepararmi e poi usciamo, eh?

I brought you a millefeuille. While you're eating it, I'll finish getting ready and then we'll leave, huh?

Captions 18-20, La Ladra Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 13

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Finisco is the conjugated verb (finire) and preparare is in the infinitive. We have the formula: conjugated verb + di + verb in the infinitive. Attenzione: The verb preparare is attached to the personal pronoun mi (myself) because in this case, the verb prepararsi is reflexive and means "to get [oneself] ready." 

 

One important verb we use with the preposition di is decidere (to decide).

Anita, per migliorare il suo livello di italiano, ha deciso di trascorrere le sue vacanze estive in Italia, dove ha la possibilità di comunicare, conversare con i miei amici, i miei familiari, i miei parenti e di conoscere più a fondo la vera cultura italiana e la vera cultura della Sicilia, la regione da cui io provengo.

Anita, in order to improve her level of Italian decided to spend her summer vacations in Italy, where she has the possibility of communicating, conversing with my friends, my family, my relatives, and to get a deeper understanding of the true Italian culture and the true culture of Sicily, the region I come from.

Captions 36-41, Adriano Adriano e Anita

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There are plenty of important and useful verbs that take the preposition di before the infinitive, and you can find a list here, but here are a few more examples from Yabla videos:

 

Oppure: chiudo l'ombrello, perché ha smesso di piovere.

Or else, “I close the umbrella because it has stopped raining.”

Caption 7, Marika spiega Il verbo chiudere

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Let's remember that although cercare basically means "to look for," "to seek," it also means "to try" or, we could say, "to seek to." We use the preposition di in this case.

 

Quando vai in paese, cerca di scoprire qualcosa di interessante.

When you go into town try to find out something interesting.

Caption 62, Il Commissario Manara S2EP7 - Alta società - Part 4

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Another great verb is credere, which basically means "to believe," but when it's used in conjunction with a verb in the infinitive, we often translate it with "to think," as in:

 

Ferma! Sta ferma! Dove credi di andare?

Stop! Stand still! Where do you think you're going?

Captions 46-47, Provaci Ancora Prof! S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale - Part 15

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In fact, you could say the exact same thing with the verb pensare, which also takes the preposition di before an infinitive. 

Dove pensi di andare?

 

Sperare is another great verb that works the same way, and to close, we'll say:

Speriamo di vedervi presto su Yabla (we hope to see you soon on Yabla)!

 

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Combining Conjugated Verbs and Infinitives Part 2

When we talk about verbs, we distinguish between conjugated verbs and verbs in the infinitive. In Italian, verbs in the infinitive are easily recognizable most of the time because they end in either -are, -ire, or -ere. Exceptions occur when verbs in the infinitive are combined with particelle (particles), when they are reflexive, or when they are truncated. Then, admittedly, they may be harder to recognize.

In this lesson, we are talking about the specific case of when we want to use a conjugated verb followed by a verb in the infinitive. How do we connect them?

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In some cases, we connect them directly

In part 1, we talked about combining a conjugated verb with an infinitive where no preposition is necessary. This typically occurs with the modal verbs potere (to be able to), volere (to want to) e sapere (to know how to, to be able to). Here's an example that can be useful if you are traveling in Italy.

Posso andare in bagno?

May I use (go to) the bathroom?

 

But there are also other, non-modal verbs where we don't need a preposition. See Daniela's series for examples.

Lascia fare a me!

Let me do it!

 

 

In other cases, we need a preposition between the conjugated verb and the verb in the infinitive

If we want to say the same thing we did above with a different verb, we might need a preposition, as in this example:

Permettimi di aiutarti.

Let me help you (allow me to help you).

 

There are two main prepositions we will use to connect a conjugated verb to a verb in the infinitive: di and a. Roughly, di corresponds to "of" or "from," while a corresponds to "to" or "at." These translations are not much help, though. One general rule (with many exceptions) is that verbs of movement use a to connect with a verb in the infinitive. The bottom line is, however, that you basically just have to learn these combinations little by little, by reading, by listening, and (sigh) by being corrected. 

In some cases, the same verb will change its meaning slightly by the use of one preposition or the other.

 

Non penserai mica di andare via senza salutare!

You're not thinking of leaving without saying goodbye, are you?

 

Ci penso io a comprare i biglietti.

I'll take care of buying the tickets.

 

Verbs that take the preposition a before an infinitive

In this lesson, we'll look at some important verbs that need the preposition a.

Here's the formula:

verbo coniugato + preposizione "a" + verbo all’ infinito (conjugated verb + the preposition [to, at] + verb in the infinitive)

 

aiutare (to help)

Per esempio, io ho un amico e lo aiuto a fare qualcosa dove lui ha difficoltà, lo aiuto a riparare la bicicletta, lo accompagno in aeroporto...

For example, I have a friend and I help him in doing something he has difficulty with, I help him repair his bicycle, I take him to the airport...

Captions 28-30, Corso di italiano con Daniela Approfondimento Verbi Modali - Part 2

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cominciare (to begin)

Comincia a fare il nido il povero cucù

The poor cuckoo starts making his nest

Caption 8, Filastrocca Il canto del cucù

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continuare (to continue, to keep on) 

E si continua a pestare.

And you keep on crushing.

Caption 53, L'Italia a tavola Il pesto genovese - Part 2

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riuscire (to manage, to succeed, to be able)

Così riesco a seguire meglio la faccia eh... e le labbra di chi sta parlando.

That way, I manage to follow the face better, uh... and the lips of whoever is speaking.

Captions 41-42, Professioni e mestieri il doppiaggio - Part 1

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insegnare (to teach) 

Oggi, ti insegno a cucinare la parmigiana di melanzane.

Today, I'm going to teach you to cook eggplant Parmesan,

Caption 2, Marika spiega La Parmigiana di melanzane - Part 1

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andare (to go)

Sì, lo diciamo a tutti e dopo andiamo a ballare. Andiamo anche a ballare.

Yes, we'll tell everyone, and afterwards we'll go dancing. We'll go dancing, too.

Captions 11-12, Serena vita da universitari

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Practice

We've talked about several verbs that take the preposition a before a verb in the infinitive. Why not try forming sentences, either by improvising ad alta voce (out loud) or by writing them down? Take one of these verbs (in any conjugations you can think of) and then find a verb in the infinitive that makes sense.

Here are a couple of examples to get you started:

Mi insegneresti a ballare il tango (would you teach me to dance the tango)?

Non riesco a chiudere questa cerniera (I can't close this zipper).

 

To find charts about verbs and prepositions, here is an excellent reference.

Go to Part 3 where we talk about verbs that take the preposition di.

 

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A Leftover Jukebox Word

In this week's episode of La Ladra, there's a curious adjective (in the form of a past participle). Eva and Dante are discussing the popularity of their dishes, a ginger risotto and seafood couscous.

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The adjective is gettonatissimo, the superlative form of gettonato. It comes from the verb gettonare. But let's backtrack a moment and talk about the noun the verb comes from: il gettone.

 

Depending on your age, and if you have travelled to Italy, you may or may not have heard of a gettone, the special token people would use, back in the day, to make phone calls in a bar or cabina telefonica (phone booth). It was a coin with a groove on either side.

 

In addition to using gettoni for making phone calls, people used them for playing songs on the juke box. It was common to go to the bar to make phone calls, and there would often be a little booth where you could use the phone in private. In the same bar where you might make a phone call, there might also be a jukebox. 

 

So if lots of people put a gettone in the juke box for a particular song, we could say that song is gettonata. These days, gettoni are used at laundromats, for supermarket carts, and at carwashes, but little else. The term gettonato has remained, however, to describe something as popular, something that people choose over other things.

Stasera sei tu in vantaggio, i tuoi piatti sono gettonatissimi.

Tonight you're ahead. Your dishes are hugely popular.

Caption 2, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 4

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If we backtrack even further from the noun gettone, we find the verb gettare (to throw, to cast). If you have learned how to say "to throw" in Italian, you have most likely learned buttare. It is a synonym for gettare in many cases, and is a more informal word in general, when it means the physical act of throwing. But gettare is used in specific situations such as the one in the example below. 

 

Ammetto che è la prima volta in vita mia che ho voglia di mettere radici in un posto. -Ahi ahi ahi. Hai deciso di gettare l'ancora? Ebbene sì, lo ammetto.

I admit that it's the first time in my life that I have the desire to put down roots in a place. -Uh oh. Have you decided to drop anchor? Well, yes, I admit it.

Captions 24-27, La Ladra Ep. 7 - Il piccolo ladro - Part 6

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As we have seen, verbs and nouns may be used to form new words. One modern-day example of this is in the description of a single-use item or something disposable.

Vola, vola, vola sulla bicicletta Contro la cultura del consumo "usa e getta"

Fly, fly, fly on the bicycle Against the culture of "disposable" consumption

Captions 40-41, Radici nel Cemento La Bicicletta

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You will see usa e getta crop up in ads for and labels on dustcloths, latex gloves, contact lenses, etc. From two verbs: usare (to use) and gettare (to throw), a compound adjective was born: usa e getta (use and throw/single-use).

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Solutions to Exercises from "Servire a Tricky Verb to Use"

Here are the solutions to the exercise in the lesson. The task was to change sentences with bisogno to ones with servire or the contrary, adding personal pronouns where necessary or desirable. In some cases, you can even use the verb bisognare (adding a verb). If you have an answer that you think is right, but isn't present here, write to us at newsletter@yabla.com. We'll get back to you.

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Meanwhile, here's another example of when to use the verb servire. Here, it's in the conditional.

Allora... che ti metti per uscire? -Stasera? Possiamo andare a fare shopping! OK, a me... servirebbe un paio di scarpe, un paio di ballerine.

So... what are you wearing to go out? -Tonight? We can go and do some shopping. OK, I... could use a pair of shoes, a pair of ballerinas.

Captions 41-43, Serena vita da universitari

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Per questa ricetta, ho bisogno di tre uova (for this recipe, I need three eggs).

Per questa ricetta, servono tre uova.

Per questa ricetta, mi servono tre uova.

 

Di che cosa hai bisogno (what do you need)?

Che cosa ti serve?

Ti serve qualcosa?

 

Non c'è bisogno di prendere l'autobus, il posto è a due passi a piedi (no need to take the bus. The place is well within walking distance).

Non serve prendere l'autobus. Il posto è a due passi a piedi.

 

Che bisogno c'era di essere così cattivo (Why did you need to be so mean)?

A che cosa serviva essere così cattivo?

 

Servirà un ombrello, visto il cielo (judging from the sky, an umbrella will be necessary).

Avremo bisogno di un ombrello, visto il cielo.

Avrai bisogno di un ombrello, visto il cielo.

Ci sarà bisogno di un ombrello, visto il cielo.

Bisogna prendere l'ombrello, visto il cielo.

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Serve un altro posto a tavola, perché viene un mio amico (we need another place at the table, because a friend of mine is coming).

Abbiamo bisogno di un altro posto a tavola, perché viene un mio amico.

C'è bisogno di un altro posto a tavola, perché viene un mio amico.

Bisogna aggiungere un posto a tavola, perché viene un mio amico. 

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Servire: a surprisingly tricky verb to use

 

A recent user comment prompted this lesson about servire when it's used to express need. The Italian approach to expressing need bears some explaining. In fact, we have already addressed this before. 

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One way to express need is with the noun il bisogno (the need) and the odd verb bisognare only ever used in the third person singular impersonal. See this previous lesson. We can also use the verb servire (to be necessary, to be useful, to be used). In fact, we have already had a look at this interesting verb in this lesson. Take a look at these two lessons to get up to speed. In the present lesson, we will talk some more about how to use servire. It can be tricky!

 

There has been some discussion about a caption in a recent Yabla video. It's the story of Adriano Olivetti —Yes, that Olivetti: the typewriter guy. This is a fictionalized RAI production, starring Luca Zingaretti, famous as Commissario Montalbano in the well-known Italian TV series of the same name.

 

Here's the Italian sentence:

Serviranno dei fondi.

Here's our original translation:

We'll need funds.

 

 

A learner wrote in to say the translation should be "They will need funds."

 

Indeed, serviranno appears in its third person plural form. So, of course, you would think it should be "they."

 

This comment reminds us that the verb servire doesn't really have a counterpart in English, not one that works the same way, at any rate.

Yabla translators have since modified the translation to be less conversational, but easier to grasp. As a matter of fact, the verb servire is often best translated with the passive voice. As freshly modified, it is easier to see that the third person plural (future tense) serviranno comes from "the funds."

 

 

Serviranno dei fondi.

Funds will be needed.

Caption 63, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 15

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Indeed, Adriano could have said, ci serviranno dei fondi, making it personal, but he didn't (although we can infer it) and that's why it was particularly confusing.

 

In the following example, the indirect object ci (for us, to us) is present, so it's a bit easier to understand. Serviranno, the third person plural of servire, refers to the utensili (the utensils) listed: lemon squeezer, knife, etc.

 

Per quanto riguarda gli utensili, ci serviranno, dunque, uno spremiagrumi per i limoni, un coltello per tagliare i limoni

In regard to utensils, we will need, accordingly, a lemon squeezer for the lemons, a knife to cut the lemons,

Captions 40-44, L'Italia a tavola Involtini di alici - Part 1

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In English, especially in speech, we often use "to need" in an active way, as a transitive verb. "I need something." You may have discovered that there is no Italian verb we can use the same way. When we use servire, the thing we need is the subject and we use an indirect object with it. In the following example, Martino is asking himself what he needs to camp out in an old farmhouse. "What is necessary for me to take with me?" 

 

Che mi può servire?

What do I need?

Caption 30, Chi m'ha visto film - Part 9

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To make things more complicated, servire also means "to be used."  In this case, servire is used with the preposition a (to, for). We may ask the question:

 

A che cosa serve (what is it used for, what is it for)?

Serve a [insert verb in the infinitive or a noun] (it's used for, it's for [insert a gerund or a noun]).

 

Ecco a cosa serve il brodo vegetale.

That's what the vegetable broth is for.

Caption 95, L'Italia a tavola La pappa al pomodoro - Part 2

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The following example shows how needing, being useful, or being used are so close that Italians use the same word.

 

Una fabbrica che funziona, in una società che non funziona, non serve a niente.

A factory that works in a society that doesn't work is useless.

Caption 26, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8

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We can translate non serve a niente in a couple of additional ways:

 

Who needs a factory that works, if the society it is part of doesn't work?

A factory that works in a society that doesn't work is of no use to anyone.

A factory that works in a society that doesn't work serves no purpose. 

 

Note: Servire can also mean "to serve" as in serving someone at the table, or at the counter in a post office, supermarket or any other place. But that's much less complicated and not what this lesson was about.

 

PRACTICE

We hope we have been successful in clarifying the verb servire, at least in part. We'll leave you with a few exercises that may further clarify the verb as you do them.

Change these sentences with bisogno or bisogna to one with servire or the contrary. Add personal pronouns where necessary or desirable.

 

Per questa ricetta, ho bisogno di tre uova (for this recipe, I need three eggs).

Di che cosa hai bisogno (what do you need)?

Non c'è bisogno di prendere l'autobus, il posto è a due passi a piedi (no need to take the bus. The place is well within walking distance).

Che bisogno c'era di essere così cattivo (Why did you need to be so mean)?

Servirà un ombrello, visto il cielo (judging from the sky, an umbrella will be necessary).

Serve un altro posto a tavola, perché viene un mio amico (we need another place at the table, because a friend of mine is coming).

Have fun. You'll find some possible solutions here. If you think your solution is correct, but isn't present among the possible solutions, let us know at newsletter@yabla.com.

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How to Get Mad in Italian

Did you watch last Wednesday's episode of Commissario Manara? You might have noticed that there's an excellent example of a pronominal verb.

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Review pronominal verbs here.

 

Ce l'hai ancora con me. E perché mai dovrei avercela con te, scusa? Sono in vacanza.

You're still mad at me. And why on earth should I be mad at you, pardon me? I'm on vacation.

Captions 6-7, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP8 - Fuori servizio - Part 1

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There are plenty of pronominal verbs Italians use constantly, and avercela is one that has a few different nuanced meanings. The verb avere (to have) combines with the direct object la (it) and the indirect object ci which can mean so many things, such as "to it/him/, for it/him/us" and it still doesn't make sense to an English ear, but it can mean to get angry, to feel resentment and more.

 

The meaning can be aggressive, as in "to have it in for someone." Avercela con qualcuno (to have it in for someone) happens to fit fairly well into a grammatically reasonable English translation, but avercela can also have a milder connotation, as in the example above, "to be mad at someone." And in this case, grammar pretty much goes out the window.

 

When you sense that something is not right with a friend, that they are not their usual talkative self, you wonder if you had done or said something wrong. This is the time to ask:

Ce l'hai con me? (Are you mad at me?)

 

Using the pronominal verb avercela, it becomes very personal and often implies resentment or placing blame. The feeling of anger or resentment has to be directed at someone, even oneself. 

Non ce l'ho con te. So che non era colpa tua. Ce l'ho con me stesso.
I'm not blaming you. I'm not holding it against you. I know it wasn't your fault. I have only myself to blame. I'm mad at myself.

 

There's a more official word for feeling resentful, too, risentirebut as you see from the dictionary, this verb has several meanings, so it isn't used all that often in everyday conversation. When you're mad, you want to be clear!

 

Let's look at the classic word for getting or being angry: fare arrabbiare (to make someone angry, to anger), arrabbiarsi (to get angry), arrabbiato (angry, mad), la rabbia (the anger).

 

If a parent, teacher, or boss is angry with a child, student, employee who did something wrong, then the word arrabbiarsi is the more suitable and direct term. It doesn't normally make sense to be actually resentful in these cases. In the following example, a colleague is talking to her co-worker about the boss. 

 

Alleluia! -Guarda che questa volta l'hai fatta grossa. Era veramente arrabbiato.

Halleluja! -Look. This time you really blew it, big time. He was really mad.

Captions 20-21, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP7 - Alta società - Part 14

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Closely related to avercela con qualcuno is prendersela, another pronominal verb! We've discussed this here, and as you will see, in some cases, both avercela and prendersela are used in similar situations.

 

But prendersela contains the verb prendere (to take). It might be helpful to think of "taking something badly." 

Non te la prendere (don't feel bad, don't take this badly).

 

Unlikle avercela,which is direct towards someone, prendersela is reflexive, with se (oneself), as in prendersi (to take for oneself)— You're more on the receiving end of an emotion, which you then transfer to someone else.

Me la sono presa con Giuseppe (I took it out on Giuseppe, [but I shouldn't have]. I lost it).

 

One last expression bears mentioning. Arrabbiare is the correct word to use for getting angry, but lots of people just say it as in the following example. We are replacing the more vulgar term with the polite version: incavolarsi (to get angry), fare incavolare (to get someone angry).

 

E questo l'ha fatto incazzare tantissimo,

And this made him extremely angry.

Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 12

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Now you have various ways to get angry in Italian, but we hope you won't need to resort to them too often.

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Working Things Out with Sistemare

In a recent segment of Meraviglie, Alberto Angela uses a verb that looks familiar: sistemare. It must have something to do with "system," right?

 

The noun il sistema certainly exists, and is a true cognate of "the system" in English.

 

E allora con un ingegnoso sistema di raccolta delle acque, riuscì a riempire ben sette cisterne che sono sparsi [sparse] per tutto il territorio.

And so with an ingenious system for collecting water, he managed to fill a good seven cisterns that are scattered around the whole area.

Captions 36-37, In giro per l'Italia - Asciano - S. Giuliano Terme: Villa Bosniascki - Part 1

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A detail to remember is that although it has a typically feminine ending, sistema is a masculine noun. In English, too, “system” has any number of connotations.

 

So the noun sistema is fairly straightforward, but English doesn't really have a corresponding verb to go with sistemare. Sistemare might even fall into the category of untranslatable Italian verbs, although it's an easy-to-figure-out untranslatable verb. Sistemare is a general, catch-all type of verb that can mean any number of things, depending on the context. 

 

When Alberto Angela tells us the fascinating story of a huge underground cistern in the city of Matera, what does he mean by sistemare? Good question.

 

Quando si è sistemata la piazza nel millenovecentonovantuno…

When the piazza was renovated in nineteen twenty-one…

Caption 12, Alberto Angela - Meraviglie - Ep. 1 - Part 15

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We see from the translation that the piazza was renovated, and we get this from the context of the documentary itself. But sistemare could also have referred to it being  "neatened up," "cleaned up," "put in order," "put to rights."

 

When you want to fix something up, make improvements, put things right, make minor repairs, put things in a certain place, make preparations, or even get your pet ready for the night, sistemare is a good verb.

 

In the following examples from Yabla videos, sistemare is used to mean "to work out," "to set up," and "to fix up."

 

Note that in the first example, the reflexive form sistemarsi is used. 

Mi dispiace molto, Marika, e spero che tutto si sistemerà al più presto.

I'm really sorry, Marika. And I hope everything will work out as soon as possible.

Caption 41, Italiano commerciale - Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 1

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Valter arrivava sempre prima per sistemare l'attrezzatura per gli allievi.

Valter always came early to set up the equipment for the students.

Caption 52, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso - Part 1

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Adesso hai quest'impressione perché lo vedi così tutto in disordine, quando sarà sistemato vedrai...

Now you have that impression because you're seeing it all messy, when it's fixed up, you'll see...

Captions 35-36, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 3

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One general way of thinking about the verb sistemare is with "to take care of". 

You took care of an unpaid bill? L'hai sistemato. You took care of it.
Your plumber fixed that leaky faucet? L'ha sistemato. He took care of it. He fixed it.
You wrote a draft of an article? Lo devi ancora sistemare. You still have to fine-tune it.

 

We can also turn sistemare into a noun: una sistemata. In English, we might use a gerund for this, as in the first example below. 
 

You don't really want to give your kitchen a thorough cleaning at the moment, but you want it to look nice. Ci dai una sistemata (you give it a neatening up).
You ask your hairdresser, Mi dai una sistemata ai capelli (Will you give me a little trim)?

 

 

With the noun sistemata, we often use the verb dare (to give), which can also be used reflexively.

Dopo il viaggio, mi sono data una sistemata prima di presentarmi agli suoceri (after the trip I freshened up before meeting my inlaws/I gave myself a freshening up).

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Practice:

As you go through your day, as you take care of one problem after another, try using sistemare when you have succeeded, or when you haven't yet. Maybe you will even have fun taking care of these problems!

L'ho sistemato! Menomale. (I took care of that. Whew!)

Questo lo devo sistemare (I have to take care of this).

 

Ask someone else to help you take care of something — something that needs fixing, or a situation that needs resolving.

Me lo puoi sistemare (can you take care of this for me)?

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Dare: the Gift that Keeps on Giving

 

Dare is an extremely common verb. It basically means "to give." But it also gets used as a sort of catch-all.

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Dai!

We've seen it many times in its informal, imperative form, all by itself:

Dai, dai, dai, dai che ti ho preparato una cosa buonissima che ti piace moltissimo.

Come on, come on, come on, come on, because I made you something very good, that you like a lot.

Caption 74, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 3

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As we see, it doesn't mean "to give" in this case. It means something like "come on." As "come on," it has plenty of nuances.

 

Dai is often used as a filler, as part of an innocuous and fairly positive comment, and can mean something as generic as "OK." Let's keep in mind that va be' also means "OK!" Va be' is short for vabene (all right).

Mi dispiace, Massimo, ma dobbiamo rimandare il pranzo. Va beh, dai, se devi andare... facciamo un'altra volta.

I'm sorry, Massimo, but we have to postpone our lunch. OK, then, if you have to go... we'll do it some other time.

Captions 65-66, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 2

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Dai is also used to express surprise and/or skepticism. In this case, it is often preceded by ma (but). We see this in last week's segment of Commissario Manara, when Luca figures out that Marta might be the target of a shooting. She feigns skepticism. 

E se per caso il bersaglio non fosse stata la Martini, ma fossi stata tu? Io? Ma dai!

And if by chance the target hadn't been Martini, but had been you? Me? Yeah, right!

Captions 5-7, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro - Part 13

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An all-purpose verb: dare

In English we use the verb  "to have" when giving commands: "Have a seat," "Have a drink," "Have a look." In Italian, though, the verb avere (to have) is rarely used in these situations. And there isn't just one Italian verb that is used, so it may be practical to learn some of these expressions one by one. 

 

We use the verb dare when asking someone to do something like check (dare una controllata), or have a look (dare un'occhiata).

Dai un'occhiatadai un'occhiata...

Have a look around, have a look around...

Caption 43, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 1

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Literally:

Let's not forget the literal meaning of dare, which can easily end up in the informal imperative.

E che fai, non me lo dai un bacetto, Bubbù?

And what do you do, won't you give me a little kiss, Bubbù?

Caption 41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1

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Darsela a gambe

And to echo a recent lesson, and give another example of a verbo pronominale  (a phrasal verb using particelle or short pronoun-related particles) — this time with dare — we have darsela. We have the root verb dare (to give) plus se (to oneself, to themselves, to each other) and la (it). It's hard to come up with a generic translation, as it depends on the other words in the expression, but here are two different ones from Yabla videos. Maybe you can come up with other examples, and we will be glad to dare un'occhiata. The phrasal verb here is darsela a gambe (to beat it, or run away on one's legs).

È che è molto difficile trovare la donna giusta. Secondo me, se la trovi, te la dai a gambe.

It's that it's very difficult to find the right woman. In my opinion, if you find her, you'll high-tail it out of there.

Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9

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Here's a colorful example from this week's episode of La Ladra:

Aldo Piacentini e la, la, la Barbara Ricci, insomma, i presunti amanti,
che se le davano di santa ragione.

Aldo Piacentini and, uh, uh, uh Barbara Ricci, anyway, the presumed lovers,
who were really beating the crap out of each other.

Captions 45-46, La Ladra Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 14

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The meaning of se le davano isn't very obvious, so let's try taking it apart. Se is a reciprocal indirect pronoun, "to each other"; le is the plural generic direct object pronoun, "them"; and dare, in this case, can stand for "to deliver". In English it might not mean much, but for Italians the meaning is quite clear.

 

We could say they are giving each other black eyes, if we want to use the original meaning of dare.

 

Di santa ragione adds emphasis or strength, and might be translated as "the holy crap," "the hell," or "really."

In case you haven't gotten the chance, check out this lesson about verbi pronominali. 

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"Let Me Know" in Italian

In an episode of Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno, at the very end, there is an expression that's used just about every day, especially at the end of a conversation, email, a phone call, or text message, so let's have a look.

In this particular case, one person is talking to a few people, so he uses the imperative plural, which happens to be the same as the indicative in the second person plural. 

Fatemi sapere.

Let me know.

Caption 62, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8

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Let's take the phrase apart. The verb fare (to make) has been combined with the object pronoun mi which stands for a me (to me). To that is added the verb sapere (to know), in the infinitive.

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So, first of all, we might have been tempted to use the verb lasciare (to let, to leave). It would be a good guess, but instead, we use the ubiquitous verb fare"to make me know." Sounds strange in English, right? But in Italian, it sounds just right. You'll get used to it the more you say and hear it. 

 

Let's look at this expression in the singular, which is how you will use it most often.

 

The most generic version is this: fammi sapere (let me know).

Va be', quando scopri qualcosa fammi sapere.

OK, when you discover something, let me know.

Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 3

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This use of "to make" plus a verb in the infinitive is also used a lot with verbs besides sapere (to know).

Do a Yabla search of fammi and you will see for yourself. There are lots of examples with all kinds of verbs.

Chi c'è alle mie spalle? Fammi vedere. -Francesca.

Who's behind me? Let me see. -Francesca.

Caption 13, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

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Sometimes we need to add a direct object to our sentence: "Let me see it."

In this case, all those little words get combined into one word. Fammelo vedere (literally "let me it see" or Let me see it).

Using fare means we conjugate fare, but not the other verb, which can make life easier!

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Fare is a verb that is used on so many occasions. Read more lessons about fare

 

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When Pensare Doesn't Mean "to Think"

 

One of our readers has expressed interest in knowing more about a certain kind of verb: the kind that has a special idiomatic meaning when it has particelle (particles) attached to it. In Italian these are called verbi pronominali. See this lesson about verbi pronominali. The particular verb he mentioned is pensarci, so that's where we are going to start.

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The root verb is pensare, so we assume it has to do with "thinking." The particle is ciCi is one of those particles that mean a lot of things, so check out these lessons about ci. In the following example, pensare is literal: "to think," and ci stands for "of it."

Ma certo! Come ho fatto a non pensarci prima?

But of course! Why didn't I think of it before!

Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 10

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Sometimes, when used as a kind of accusation, it's basically the same but it has a different feeling.

È un anno che organizziamo questo viaggio. -Potevi pensarci prima.

We've been organizing this trip for a year. -You could have thought of that before.

Caption 32, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 2

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In the two previous examples, pensarci stays in the infinitive, because we have another helping or modal verb in the sentence. But we can conjugate it, too. In the following example, it is conjugated in the second person singular informal imperative.

Pensarci can mean "to think of it," but it can also mean "to think about it."

Noi non potremmo mai mandare avanti la fabbrica da soli, lo sai bene. Adriano, pensaci.

We could never run the factory on our own. You know that well. Adriano, think about it.

Captions 37-38, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8

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But sometimes, pensare doesn't exactly mean to think. It means something more along the lines of "to take care," "to handle," and here, pensare is really tied to the little particle ci as far as meaning goes. Ci still means "of it" or "for it." But we're talking about responsibility. Ci pensi tu (will you take responsibility for getting this done)? For this meaning, it's important to repeat the pronoun, in this case, tu. It helps make the meaning crystal clear, and is part of the idiom. What a huge difference adding the pronoun makes!

Barbagallo, pensaci tu.

Barbagallo, you take care of it.

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 16

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Toscani, io c'ho un appuntamento, pensaci tu.

Toscani, I have an appointment, you take care of it.

Caption 57, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 7

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Even though in meaning, ci is connected to pensare, we can still separate the two words.

Ci penso io!
I'll take care of it!

 

Ci pensa lei!
She'll take care of it.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Pensarci is a very widely used verb in all of its meanings. When you want someone else to do something, it's a very common way of asking. Here are some examples to think about.


Ci pensi tu a lavare i piatti (will you take care of washing the dishes)?
Ci pensi tu a mettere benzina (will you take care of getting gas)?
Ci pensi tu al bucato (will you take care of the laundry)?
Ci pensi tu a preparare la cena (will you take care of getting dinner ready)?
Ci pensate voi a mettere a posto dopo cena? Io vado a dormire (will you [plural] clean up after dinner? I'm going to bed)!
Vuoi veramente comprare una macchina nuovaPensaci bene (do you really want to buy a new car? Think twice about it).
È il momento per andare in vacanzaPensiamoci bene (is it the right time to go on vacation? Let's think about it a moment).

 

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