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Lezioni Italiano

Argomenti

The Italian Alphabet - Part 2

The Italian Alphabet - Part 1

L’alfabeto telefonico (The telephone alphabet)

Speaking on the phone in a foreign language can be quite a challenge. As Marika spells out in a lesson for beginners about the alphabet, Italians use the names of cities (for the most part) when they need to be crystal clear in spelling a name or a word.

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The Italian way is to use the name of a city directly, leaving out the letter itself completely, once it’s clear you’re using this system. Notice how Marika does it, as she makes a phone reservation for a friend. The person taking the call asks her to spell the name, or fare lo spelling (to do the spelling). Spelling is a word taken pari pari (exactly as it is) from the English, except that it’s used as a noun, with its article lo.

Claudia Rossi. -Mi può fare lo spelling?

Sì, certo! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.

Claudia Rossi. -Can you spell that for me?

Yes, of course! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.

Captions 10-11 Marika spiega: Fare lo spelling

The spelling for Yabla would be: ipsilon, Ancona, Bologna, Livorno, Ancona.

Here’s the complete list of the cities generally used for spelling: 

• A: Ancona

• B: Bologna

• C: Como

• D: Domodossola

• E: Empoli

• F: Firenze

• G: Genova

• H: acca, or hotel

• I:  Imola 

• J: i lunga, or Jolly, Jersey

• K: kappa

• L: Livorno

• M: Milano

• N: Napoli

• O: Otranto

• P: Palermo

• Q: Quarto, Quadro

• R: Roma

• S: Savona

• T: Torino

• U: Udine

• V: Varese, Venezia

• W: vu doppia, doppia vu, or Washington

• X:  ics, or di raggi x (x rays)

• Y:  ipsilon, y greca, or di Yacht, di York

• Z:  zeta or Zara

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Learning suggestion:

Learn to spell your name and address using the alfabeto telefonico! Some of these cities, such as Udine, Otranto, Imola, Empoli, and Napoli are pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Domodossola is accented on the third syllable. Domodossola happens to be one of the important frontiere (border crossings) on the train line between Italy and Switzerland. Pronunciation aids along with the list (with some alternate city names) can be found here. Knowing what cities to associate with letters is especially handy if you intend to travel in Italy, so memorizing this list can be fun and useful.

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The Italian take on “take” and “make” (prendere and fare)

When speaking a foreign language, the important thing is to make yourself understood. Sometimes, however, unless someone makes a point of correcting you, you might spend years saying something that sounds right to you and gets the appropriate result or response. Then un bel giorno (one fine day) you realize with horror that you’ve been using the wrong word all this time and no one has ever corrected you because they understood anyway. This can easily happen with common words like fare (to make, to do) and prendere (to take, to have), because Italian and English have different conventions about how they get paired with nouns to mean something specific. It’s easy to fare confusione (get mixed up).  

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For example, you or I might make an appointment, but when Francesca gets serious about buying a new car, she “takes” an appointment:

Dobbiamo prendere quindi un appuntamento per andare dal notaio.

So we have to make an appointment to go see the notary.

Caption 27, Francesca: alla guida - Part 1 of 4 

And while most English speakers make decisions, Italians “take” decisions:

Siamo preoccupati, perché dobbiamo prendere delle decisioni molto importanti.

We're worried, because we have to make some very important decisions.

Caption 41, Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2 

Do you take a nap in the afternoon? Well, the nonno in Medico in Famiglia “makes” a nap.

Io ho fatto solo venti minuti di pennichella... 

I took a nap for just twenty minutes...

Caption 21, Un medico in famiglia: 1 - Casa nuova - Part 12 of 16

You want to take a trip to Sicily, but if you call an Italian travel agent, remember that Italians “make” trips.

Salve, vorrei fare un viaggio alla Valle dei Templi ad Agrigento.

Hello, I'd like to take a trip to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.

Caption 2, Pianificare: un viaggio

All this talk about fare brings to mind a popular Italian proverb:

Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare.

Between saying and doing, there’s an ocean in the middle. [Things are easier said than done.]

Learning suggestion:

Bearing this proverb in mind, we could say that repeating a list of which verbs to use when and where is il dire (saying). It will only get you so far. Fare is a catch-all word, a little like “have” or “get,” having so many shades of meaning that you can’t possibly absorb them all in un colpo solo (in one fell swoop). Fare means “to do,” “to make,” “to give” (see the lesson on Gifts and Giving), “to be,” and more (see the lesson on Making It Happen). Prendere is less of a catch-all verb, but also has several meanings like “to get,” “to catch,” “to have,” and “to receive.” So when you are watching Yabla videos and come upon the verb fare or prendere, pay special attention to how the verb gets paired with the noun in the specific context, and then make it your own: Listen for it, repeat it, write it, conjugate it, make up sentences with it. This is il fare (doing). It will gradually start to feel right. 

The following are just a few more examples in which fare and prendere are paired with nouns in ways we might not expect:

  • fare una pausa (to take a break)
  • fare un massaggio (to give a massage) 
  • fare una passeggiata (to take a walk)
  • fare colazione (to have breakfast)
  • prendere un caffè (to have a coffee)
  • prendere un raffreddore (to catch a cold)
  • fare la doccia (to take a shower)
  • fare il bravo (to be good, to behave)
  • fare una foto (to take a picture)

Ce la farai! (You’ll get it!)

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For more on proverbs see:

Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 1 of 2

Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2

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The Italian Alphabet - Part 1

The Italian Alphabet - Part 2

This lesson is aimed at beginners, but even more advanced students might learn something they didn't know before.

English consonants are typically written out as the letters themselves (B, C, D) rather than as words approximating their pronunciation (we don't write "bee" when we mean "B"). Yet Italian consonants do have words that represent them, which you'll learn by following along with Marika.

A, bi, ci, di, e, effe, gi, acca, i, i lunga, cappa,

elle, emme, enne, o, pi, qu,

erre, esse, ti, u, vi, doppia vu, ics, ipsilon, zeta.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J (long I), K,

L, M, N, O, P, Q,

R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

Captions 5-7, Marika spiega - L'alfabeto

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Another distinction is that while many English words end in consonants, it's rare that an Italian word does. If you look at Marika’s list of words, those ending in consonants are “loan words” from other languages. Because it’s much more common for an Italian word to end with a vowel than a consonant, Italian consonants themselves (except for X) are all written and pronounced ending in a vowel, and sometimes they begin with a vowel, too. The word for the letter may be more than one syllable in length. Let’s take the letter “S” for example. Listen to how Marika says it: esse: two syllables. As a matter of fact, in the commercial world, Italians sometimes use this way of spelling a letter to come up with clever names of companies, stores, or products. A well-known example in Italy is the supermarket called Esselunga (Long S).

The native Italian alphabet contains 21 letters. With language becoming more and more international, Italian has adopted five new letters to spell the foreign “loan words.” These are:

• J-   i lunga (“long I”)**

• K-  kappa

• W- vu doppia, or doppia vu (“double V”)**

• X-  ics

• Y-  i-greca (Greek “I”) or ipsilon (upsilon)

**These names make more sense if you think that before semi-modern times, I and J were considered variant forms of the same letter, same as U and V.

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Learning tip:

Once you've repeated after Marika in the video, and you've done the exercise she suggests, try spelling some Italian words you know out loud, and, of course, try spelling your name.

When spelling out loud, pay careful attention to “A,” “E,” and “I” because in Italian the vowel “E” is pronounced not unlike the English “A,” and in Italian the vowel, “I” is pronounced not unlike the English pronunciation of “E,” so, to avoid confusion, it’s always important to establish what language you're spelling in! And of course when you get to “R” try rolling that “R!” In the Italian spelling of this letter (erre) there are indeed 2 of them, so they need rolling.

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Getting to Know Conoscere

In a previous lesson we discussed addressing people formally or informally, using Lei or tu. Deciding which is appropriate has to do with the degree of conoscenza (knowledge, acquaintance, familiarity). Conoscenza comes from the verb conoscere (to know, to be acquainted with). (For the other kind of knowing — sapere — see the previous lessons, Sapere: Part 1 and Sapere: Part 2.)

 

Conoscere is worth a closer look, because although it’s used to mean “to know, to be acquainted with,” Italians also use it to mean “to meet, to get acquainted with, to get to know.” In the following example from one of Daniela’s Italian lessons, it’s clear she means “to know, to be acquainted with.” 

Se io per esempio non conosco Alex, Alex è il mio vicino di casa, o una persona che ho incontrato per la strada, voglio sapere come si chiama, io do del Lei.

If, for example, I don't know Alex, Alex is my next door neighbour, or a person I've met on the street, I want to know his name, I give the "Lei."

Captions 18-21, Corso di italiano con Daniela Tu o Lei?

 Play Caption

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In the same lesson, Daniela is talking about meeting someone for the first time, and she uses the same verb, conoscere. The context tells us what she means.

Dobbiamo sapere, quando conosciamo una persona, se darle del Tu o del Lei.

We have to know, when we meet a person, whether to give him the "tu" (informal "you") or the "Lei" (formal "you").

Captions 2-3, Corso di italiano con Daniela Tu o Lei?

 Play Caption

 

 

In a previous lesson, Making It Happen, we talked about combining fare (to do, to make) with other verbs to make things happen, or get things done. Fare gets combined with conoscere to make introductions: fare conoscere (to make someone or something known, or to introduce someone or something).

 

Francesca is going to her first riding lesson at a nearby stable, and she tells us:

Ehm, questo ragazzo che mi accoglierà, e che vi farò conoscere...

Uh, this fellow who will receive me, and to whom I'll introduce you...

Caption 8, Francesca Cavalli - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

When you talk about when and where you met someone for the first time, use conoscere:

Ho conosciuto Alberto solo oggi. Conosce molto bene i suoi cavalli.

I met Alberto today [for the first time]. He knows his horses very well.

 

Now that Francesca has heard all about these horses from Alberto, she’s ready for a closer look. 

E quindi va bene, ne andiamo a conoscere qualcuno. -Andiamo a conoscerne un bel po'. -OK.

And so all right, let's go to meet some of them. -We're going to meet a lot of them. -OK.

Caption 63, Francesca Cavalli - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

In case you’re wondering why ne is attached to the end of conoscere the second time it appears, it’s because it means “of them.” Like ci, as we’ve already seen in Ci Gets Around, ne is a particle that can either be separate, as in the first sentence, or can become part of the verb, as in the second. You’ll find more information on ne here

 

To sum up, here’s a list of variations of conoscere, including a few new ones:

conoscere (to know, to be acquainted with, to be familiar with)

conoscere (to get acquainted with, to meet for the first time)

fare conoscere (to introduce, to make known)

conosciuto (well known)

conoscenza (knowledge, acquaintance, awareness, consciousness)

a conoscenza (aware)

delle conoscenze (knowledge, influential people, connections)

fare la conoscenza (to get acquainted)

riconoscere (to recognize)

un conoscente (an acquaintance)

• the reflexive form: conoscersi (to know oneself, to know each other/one another)

riconoscente (appreciative, grateful) 

uno sconosciuto (a stranger)

sconosciuto (unknown, little known)

 

And putting them all together, just for fun, here’s what we get: 

 

Se finora non eri a conoscenza del sistema Yabla, probabilmente non conoscevi questo trucco: clicchi su qualsiasi parola sconosciuta, o su una parola che non riconosci, e puoi subito conoscerne il significato nella tua lingua, perché si apre il dizionario. O forse te l’aveva detto un conoscente, e sei stato riconoscente. Tu ti conosci meglio di chiunque altro, e quindi saprai tu se vuoi vedere i sottotitoli o no. Tutti gli utenti Yabla conoscono questo trucco. E a proposito, come hai conosciuto Yabla? C’è qualcuno che te l’ha fatto conoscere, o l’hai conosciuto per caso? A che livello è la tua conoscenza o a che livello sono le tue conoscenze dell’italiano? È vero che noi non ci conosciamo, ma per convenzione, ci diamo del tu.

 

Before sneaking a peek at the English translation, see how much you understand of the Italian!

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If, up until now, you were not aware of the Yabla system, you probably weren’t familiar with this trick: click on any unknown word, or on a word you don’t recognize, and you can immediately find out (get acquainted with) the meaning of it in your language because a dictionary opens up. Or maybe an acquaintance had already told you that and you were grateful. You know yourself better than anyone, so you must know if you want to see the captions or not. All Yabla users know this trick. And by the way, how did you learn about Yabla? Was there someone who introduced you to it, or did you know about it already? What’s your level of knowledge in Italian? It’s true that we don’t know each other, but by convention we use the familiar form of address.

 

E se non basta (and if that’s not enough), here are two more links for you: sapere and conoscere and How to Use the Italian Verbs Sapere and Conoscere

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Pizza al taglio, aperitivi, and stuzzichini

Italy is known for its three-course lunches and dinners, but in most cities and towns, there’ll be a more casual type of place where you can get take out, eat at a little table, or mangiare in piedi (eat standing up). 

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Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) is very popular all over Italy, especially in Rome. As Anna explains, prices vary according to size and what’s on the pizza.

Tu scegli il pezzo di pizza, viene pesato, a seconda del tipo di pizza. Ha un prezzo diverso al chilo, e paghi a seconda della grandezza e del peso di pizza che hai scelto.

You choose the piece of pizza, it's weighed, depending on the kind of pizza. It has a varying price per kilo, and you pay depending on the size and the weight of the pizza you've chosen.

Captions 69-72, Anna e Marika: Pizza al taglio romana - Part 1 of 2

You can certainly find pizza al taglio in Tuscany, but in addition, and baked in the same oven, you’ll often see la cecina, made from farina di ceci (chickpea flour). Learn more here. Liguria and Tuscany, as well as Puglia have focaccia, in some areas called schiacciata, which is made with flour, water, oil and yeast, like pizza, and often takes the place of bread. You’ll find it in bakeries, bars, and pizzerie. As a quick snack, Romagna has the piadina, a flat bread made with lard rather than olive oil, which gets filled with cured meats or cheese. Learn more here.

A way for people to get together socially, without having to spend lots of money on dinner, is to have drinks before they go home for dinner: fare or prendere l’aperitivo (to have an aperitif). As we’ll see, aperitivo has different sfumature (shades of meaning).

Prima di andare a cena, quindi verso le sei o le sette, gli italiani fanno un aperitivo.

Before going to have dinner, so, around six or seven o'clock, Italians have cocktails.

Captions 1-2, Corso di italiano con Daniela: L'aperitivo

Adriano, in describing his day, includes an aperitivo, at least on the weekend.

Mi rilasso e mi sfogo con gli amici dopo una lunga giornata di lavoro.

Mi concedo qualche aperitivo e poi anche qualche cocktail alcolico.

I relax and I let off steam with my friends after a long day of work.

I allow myself some aperitifs and then also a few cocktails.

Captions 44-46, Adriano: Giornata

It’s pretty clear that Adriano considers aperitivo in its broader sense, and he uses qualche aperitivo here to mean a few appetizers. For an explanation of how to use qualche, see this previous lesson. For the drink itself, Adriano uses "cocktail.” As with most English words integrated into the Italian language, "cocktail" will remain in the singular no matter how many he has.

 While the aperitivo, usually served with patatine (potato chips) or olive (olives), is an established ritual in most parts of Italy, one of the latest trends is the apericena. If you combine aperitivo (drinks) with cena (dinner), you get apericena. What is it? It’s drinks and appetizers, both savory and sweet, that are varied and abundant enough to replace dinner, served buffet style. The apericena exists both in bars about town, offering an alternative to a costly tab in a restaurant, and in homes, making for a relatively low-budget, flexible, and fashionable alternative to a sit-down dinner. It encourages mingling, conversation, and allows for guests to just stop by. These light buffet dinners are becoming more and more popular all over Italy.

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All over the world there's a tendency to take foreign words and knowingly or unknowingly give them a meaning different from the original. So, be aware that in bars, the apericena or the aperitivo (depending on how much there is to eat) is sometimes called a “happy hour,” which in Italy is not about discounts on drinks as in the United States, but rather having drinks accompanied by a small buffet of stuzzichini (appetizers) for a fixed, though variable, price. More about the Italian happy hour here. The word for “toothpick” in Italian is stuzzicadenti. Little bite-size appetizers are often served with toothpicks, thus the term stuzzichini. If you travel to Venice, you'll want to check out the Venetian version of stuzzichini: cicchetti.

Learn more here. This is an important tip, given that it’s quite a challenge finding good food at reasonable prices in Venezia.

Buon appetito!

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Prendere and Riprendere

In a previous lesson we talked about beccare which in colloquial speech is often used in place of prendere (to take, to catch, to get, to have): For instances of prendere see previous lessons as well as Yabla videos. But let’s focus on a variation of prendereriprendere (to take up again, to retake, to take back, to film). The same word, meaning two very different things, appears at a distance of just a few lines in the same video. 

Ti dispiace se oggi riprendo la nostra seduta? No, mi va bene. Allora, sei a tuo agio? Sì. Riprendiamo da dove eravamo rimasti l'ultima volta.

Do you mind if I film our session today? No, it's OK with me. So, are you at ease? Yes. Let's take up where we left off last time.

Captions 1-5, Fabri Fibra In Italia ft. Gianna Nannini

 Play Caption

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In the first instance we’re talking about filming or shooting: riprendere. It’s also common to use the noun form of riprendereripresaFare una ripresa is “to make a video/film recording” or “to shoot.” So una ripresa is “a shot.” And you might easily jump to the conclusion that “to take a picture” in Italian would be prendere una foto. But no! Sbagliato (wrong)! We have to say fare una foto (to make a picture). 

In card playing, prendere is “to draw,” so riprendere in this context means “to draw again!” or “to take again.”

Ora riprendiamo le carte. -Esatto, la riprendo io, perché sono stata l'ultima, -Bene. -che ha preso.

Now we draw cards again. -Exactly, I draw another, because I was the last one, -Good. -who took [the cards].

Captions 32-33, Briscola Regole del gioco - Part 2

 Play Caption

 

If you’re having a second helping, you might say:

Riprendo un po’ di pasta.

I’ll have a second helping of pasta.

 

To end on a melancholy note, here’s Alice singing to her (ex) boyfriend, who is quite preso da (taken by) another woman, Elisa.

Lei ti lascia e ti riprende come e quando vuole lei

She leaves you and takes you back however and whenever she wants

Caption 13, Alice: Per Elisa

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The simple, clear, and easy-to-relate-to lyrics may not be exactly uplifting, but this ripresa video of a live performance vi prenderà (will get to you).

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Beccare

Just as “get” in English serves many purposes, and has many shades of meaning, there are words in Italian that work in a similar way. One of these is beccare. It comes from becco (beak) and means “to peck,” but it’s used in colloquial speech to mean “to take,” “to catch,” or “to get.” It’s often used reflexively (for more on reflexives, see this lesson), and that’s how Manara uses it as he questions an uncooperative witness: 

Se non vuoi beccarti un'incriminazione per complicità in omicidio...

If you don't want to get yourself an indictment for complicity in murder...

Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara: Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Ep 4 - Part 11 of 17

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Here’s one more example from a Yabla video:

I fotografi! -C'hanno beccato!

The photographers! -They got us!

Caption 3, Trailer: Paparazzi

If you get caught doing something you shouldn’t, that’s when you say mi hanno beccato (they caught me)! You might use beccare if you get caught in the rain without an umbrella: mi sono beccato [or beccata] un raffreddore (I caught a cold), or if after dialing someone’s number many times, they finally answer: finalmente t’ho beccato (I finally got you)! 

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It's not always easy to know when using beccare would be appropriate, but by listening for it and repeating it to yourself when you hear it, little by little you'll find it on the tip of your tongue at just the right moment. More meanings and examples can be found here

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In fondo in fondo

When you arrive in a new country, one of the first challenges is to find your way around. Asking directions is one thing. Understanding them is another!

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A destra (to the right) and a sinistra (to the left) are pretty basic, but when someone starts saying in fondo (at the end, in the end, at the bottom), there may be some confusion as to exactly what’s meant. 

 

Fondo has to do with distance and depth. Let’s first look at its literal, physical meaning. 

Ha bisogno di qualcosa? Sì, sì, un bagno. È in fondo a destra. -Scusi.

Do you need anything? Yes, yes, a bathroom. It's at the end of the hall, to the right. -Excuse me.

Captions 40-42, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 5

 Play Caption

 

The above is a very typical answer to the question, “Where is the restroom?”

In fondo may indicate the furthest point (at the end) or the lowest point, as in in fondo alle scale (at the bottom of the stairs). If you’re late for a movie, you will probably sit in fondo (at the back).

 

Fondo often has to do with long distance, as in sci di fondo (cross-country skiing). A long-distance bicycle race will be il gran fondo. Note that the word profondo (deep) contains the root fondo! A very low bass singer will be a basso profondo

 

Ed ecco davanti a noi, nel blu profondo, una forma scura come quella di un grosso pesce adagiato sul fondo.

And here, in front of us, in the deep blue, a dark form shaped like a big fish lying on the bottom.

Captions 38-39, Linea Blu Sicilia - Part 5

 Play Caption

 

Italians often use piatti fondi (soup plates) for eating pasta or brodo (broth). They’re deep enough to hold liquids. 

 

Note that fondo is used both as a noun and as an adjective! Un fondo can be a fund, it can be a storage area, it can be a backdrop or background. It can be a piece of land. In makeup, fondotinta is your makeup base or foundation. 

 

Turning now to concepts rather than physical things, fondo, preceded by the preposition a (to, at, in), takes on the idea of “in depth,” or “thorough.”

 

In bagno, è molto importante pulire a fondo.

In the bathroom it's very important to clean thoroughly.

Caption 34, Marika spiega Le pulizie di primavera - Part 1

 Play Caption

 

 

If you think about getting “to the bottom” of things, a fondo makes sense.

If you want to go all the way, vai fino in fondo (you go all the way), both literally and figuratively.

In fondo is used to mean “in the end,” or “after all is said and done,” or “deep down.”

 

Per questo preferisco i gatti. E poi, i gatti in fondo hanno sempre sette vite.

That's why I prefer cats. And then, after all, they always have seven lives.

Captions 30-31, Escursione Un picnic in campagna - Part 1

 Play CaptionThen there’s a popular expression in fondo in fondo (deep down) used primarily in talking about people:

 

Insomma, sai che ti dico, zia? Che come commissario, in fondo in fondo, non è poi così male...

All in all, you know what I have to say, Aunt? That as a commissioner, deep down, he's not really so bad...

Captions 11-12, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 17

 Play Caption

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It wouldn’t hurt to approfondire (to go into things more thoroughly, more deeply) a bit regarding the word fondo. There are plenty of examples in Yabla videos, and there are plenty of examples on WordReference.com. Remember that context is key! In fondo in fondo, è una parola molto utile! (All in all, it’s a very useful word!)

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I like it - Mi piace

It's very important to be able to say what you like and what you don't like. In English, “to like” is an active verb, as in “I like strawberries.” Italians use the verb piacere (to be pleasing, to delight) to say they like something. But attenzione! In Italian it gets turned around like this:

I like snow. (To me snow is pleasing.)

Mi piace la neve.

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"Snow" is singular, so piace is singular. If what we like is in the plural, like "strawberries," piacere will get conjugated in the plural (in this case, third person plural). 

Mi piacciono queste fragole.

To me these strawberries are pleasing [I like these strawberries.]

This can all be very confusing for new Italian speakers, but if you think about the fact that when you like something, it’s pleasing to you, it will make more sense.

So "I like" becomes mi piace. In her lesson on mi piace Daniela explains that mi (to me) is really just a contraction of a me (to me). A me is used when we want to emphasize the person, as opposed to the object the person likes, as in this hit song by Nina Zilli, Cinquantamila lacrime (Fifty thousand tears).

A me piace così -A me piace così

I like it like that. -I like it like that

Caption 7, Nina Zilli 50 mila

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Remember that mi is an indirect object meaning "to me." Whatever or whoever is doing the pleasing (for example, strawberries) on the other hand, becomes the subject of the sentence (and governs the conjugation of piacere). 

 

You may hear Italians say: a me mi piace. Now that you know that mi is short for a me, you may sense that it's wrong because it's a repetition. In fact, it's bad grammar. Still, people say it because it emphasizes just about everything in the sentence. It's sort of like saying, "Me, I like it."

 

So, what if I want to tell a person I like him or her?

Mi piaci.

You please me. [I like you.]

 

Although mi piaci or mi piace can just refer to liking someone in general, more often than not, it’s about finding the other person attractive. To say that someone is generally likable or agreeable without alluding to their attractiveness, Italian uses a word that doesn’t have a direct English equivalent: simpatico (agreeable, likable).

 

If you say mi sei simpatico or, as is more common in the south, mi stai simpatico (you're agreeable to me, you’re likable to me), you’re essentially telling the person you like him! It’s safer than mi piaci in many situations. 

 

Let’s take an example from our favorite commissioner, Manara. He’s convinced his new colleagues don’t like him, but there’s a job to do. 

Sentite, che io non vi sto simpatico l'ho capito perfettamente. Però abbiamo un caso molto complicato da risolvere,

Listen, I understand perfectly that you don't like me. However, we've got a very complicated case to solve,

Captions 43-44, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8

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In a nutshell: 

In English, the person doing the liking is the subject, and the thing or person one likes is the object. In Italian, the person or thing that pleases is the subject, and the person who does the liking, or who’s pleased, is the object! 

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Learning suggestion: 

Look around you and see what you like and what you don’t like. Saying it out out loud in Italian will give you practice conjugating the verb piacere. Remember that when you don’t like something, just put non in front of mi: Non mi piace questo vino (I don’t like this wine).

Online Resources:

-This article will help you get the grammatical lay of the land regarding liking things in Italian.

-This article provides some extra input on using piacere.

Tune in to more lessons with Daniela on the subject: Ti piace and Piacere.

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Summer Offerings

During the summer, one nice thing to do on a hot afternoon is prendere un gelato (go for ice cream), especially if you’re with friends and you happen to pass una gelateria. You might want to be the one to treat everyone. If so, then the verb you need here is offrire (to offer). 

Allora, sai che facciamo? Per festeggiare, ti offro un gelato.

So, you know what we'll do? To celebrate, I'll treat you to an ice cream.

Caption 28, Francesca: alla guida - Part 3 of 4

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When somebody looks ready to pull out his wallet, that’s the time to say, offro io! (I’m buying!)

In a gelateria, there are various prices relating to how many scoops, or palline (little balls), of gelato you get on your cono (cone) or in your coppetta (little cup), and the good news is that each scoop can be a different gusto (flavor). 

As far as gusti go, rarely will you find vaniglia (vanilla), but you will find fior di latte or fior di panna (or even panna fredda in the Bologna area). Why these names? Fiore (flower) can be used as an adjective, fior, to describe something as being special, of the best quality, in this case latte (milk) or panna (cream). Think of something flourishing or blossoming. In fact, fior fiore is an expression used outside the realm of gelato to mean “the cream of the crop” (la crème de la crème). So we’re talking about the best quality milk, the best quality cream. Theoretically, that’s what goes into this kind of gelato, which, whatever the gelataio chooses to call it, (fior di latte, fior di panna, or panna fredda), refers to gelato with no added flavoring, just the taste of the milk, cream, and sugar. It’s white in color, and naturally, this “neutral” flavor goes well with all the other gusti.

Gelato alla crema, on the other hand, is made with the above ingredients, plus eggs, and because of this, is rich, yellow, and more custardy. It’s probably the closest you’ll get to “vanilla.” It’s the kind of gelato that ends up on top of fragole (strawberries) or macedonia (fruit salad).

Una macedonia con il gelato alla crema. -Ok, alla crema, perfetto.

A fruit salad with vanilla ice cream. -OK, vanilla, perfect.

Caption 28, Una gita: al lago - Part 4 of 4

Apart from the ever popular cioccolato, other well-loved flavors are: 

  • nocciola (hazelnut)
  • stracciatella (shredded chocolate laced through fior di latte, from stracciare [to shred])
  • gianduia (chocolate and hazelnut)
  • amarena (fior di latte laced with amarene [sour cherries] in their syrup)


...and many more! Italians like to combine the flavors on the same cone or in the same little dish. They may even use a little spoon to eat the ice cream off the cone! 

If you’re invited to someone’s home for dinner in the summertime, it’s rarely a mistake to bring, as a gift, a vaschetta (little tub) of gelato. Pick a variety of gusti so there’s something for everyone. The gelataio will give you a polistirolo (styrofoam) container so it stays cold.

For more about gelato, see: Andromeda: in - Storia del gelato - Part 1 of 2 and Andromeda: in - Storia del gelato - Part 2 of 2.

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Summer can be a great time to reinforce a foreign language experience. If you’ve already seen the Yabla offerings of Italian TV episodes like Medico in Famiglia or Commissario Manara, try watching an entire puntata (episode) from start to finish without the captions. You might be surprised at how much you understand! 

For a greater challenge, watch some classic Italian movies with (or without) subtitles, such as:

Fellini films like La Strada or La Dolce Vita, which are mentioned in the interviews with Fellini on Yabla, and Lina Wertmüller’s Pasqualino Sette Bellezze from which Yabla featured the ironic and humoristic opening song from the soundtrack. See also the interview with Lina Wertmüller.

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Che sarà sarà

The future tense with conjunctions: A will-will situation


In a previous lesson, we discussed how Italian uses the future tense to express probability, as well as the future itself. Now, getting back to the normal use of the future tense, we’re going to see how it works when using conjunctions such as se (if), quando (when), appena (as soon as), non appena (as soon as), finché (as long as), and finché non (until) to connect two parts of a sentence. Italian and English have two different approaches to this. In Italian the future tense has to be present on both sides of the conjunction, while in English the future tense appears on only one side. Consider the following example, where Francesca is telling us about what she is going to wear when she goes skiing: 

Questa la indosserò quando sarò in prossimità dei campi da sci.

This I'll put on when I'm close to the ski slopes.

Caption 27, Francesca: neve - Part 2 of 3 

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Translated literally, this would be: This I’ll put on when I will be close to the ski slopes.

What we we need to remember is that in Italian the future tense will appear on both sides of these conjunctions—a “will-will” situation. 

One important conjunction frequently used with the future is appena (as soon as). Attenzione! Appena by itself is also an adverb meaning “barely,” “scarcely,” or “just.”  

Ho appena finito.

I just finished.

Si vedeva appena.

One could barely see it. 

When used as a conjunction meaning “as soon as,” appena will often be preceded by non, which, depending on the context, can give it an extra bit of urgency or emphasis. (Note that non in this case has nothing to do with negation.) In English we might say “just as soon as” for that same kind of emphasis.

Mi chiamerà appena starà meglio.

She’ll call me as soon as she’s better.

Mi chiamerà non appena starà meglio.

She’ll call me as soon as she’s better. 

Or,

She’ll call me just as soon as she’s better.

We can put the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, but il succo non cambia (the “juice” or gist doesn’t change). 

Appena starà meglio, mi chiamerà. 

[It could also be: Non appena starà meglio mi chiamerà.]

As soon as she's better, she’ll call me. 

Or,

Just as soon as she’s better, she’ll call me.

Two more related conjunctions used with the future are finché (as long as) and finché non (until). While appena can appear with or without “non” preceding it and mean pretty much the same thing, with finché and finche non, we have two related but distinct meanings. Finché by itself means “as long as,” but if we negate it with non, it becomes “until.” Let’s see how this works. 

In the following example, Manara’s boss is warning him about his unconventional behavior. Grammatically speaking, he uses the futuro anteriore, but the key here is that he uses the future, where in English “until” calls for the present perfect (“have shown”) here. 

Lei non se ne andrà da qui finché non avrà dimostrato di essere un vero commissario.

You' won’t leave here until you've shown yourself to be a true commissioner.

Caption 35, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 3 of 14

Translated literally: You won’t leave this place until you will have shown yourself to be a true commissioner.

Or, to understand how finché non becomes “until”: You won’t leave this place as long as you will not have shown yourself to be a true commissioner.

Attenzione! Occasionally finché non will be used in speech without “non,” but will still clearly mean “until.” The context will clue you in. If you watch this video about Fellini, you’ll come across an example of this in caption 13.

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Learning suggestion:

As you watch Yabla videos, pay special attention to the conjunctions mentioned above when they crop up. It’s worth spending some time understanding first hand how this works in Italian, so why not try making up some sentences using these conjunctions and the future tense? To get started:

Non appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

Just as soon as I’m finished eating, I’ll do my homework.

Appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

As soon as I’ve finished eating, I’ll do my homework.

Non farò i compiti finché non avrò finito di mangiare. 

I’m not going to do my homework until I’ve finished eating.

Finché starò a tavola, non penserò ai compiti.

As long as I’m at the dinner table, I’m not going to think about my homework.

Se non avrò finito di mangiare, non potrò cominciare.

If I haven’t finished eating, I won’t be able to start.

Quando avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

When I’ve finished eating, I’ll do my homework.

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The Future is Now (Probably)!

In this lesson, we're going to talk about the future tense in Italian, and how it's used, not just for the future, but also for probability.

In our first example, Federico Fellini is talking about a future meeting with Ingmar Bergman, and as you can see from the translation, he uses the verb essere in its future tense in a straightforward way. He has no doubts about the outcome: It’s going to be stimulating!

Io penso che l'incontro fra lui e me sarà veramente molto stimolante.

I think that the encounter between him and me will be really very stimulating.

Caption 32, Fellini Racconta: Un Autoritratto Ritrovato - Part 18 of 21 

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In this next example, however, the verb essere is again used in the future tense, but here it means something completely different! In fact, one of the uses of the future tense in Italian is to express a supposition, probability, uncertainty, or doubt. In this case, the element of time is no longer taken into consideration and is replaced by a kind of conditional mood (appunto, the future is now—probably).

Guarda, stamattina ho appetito. Sarà l'aria di campagna.

Look, this morning I have an appetite. It must be the country air.

Caption 13-14, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 12 of 12 

Although this special use can be applied to any verb, it’s most common with essere and avere. In Un medico in famiglia, Lele is reassuring his daughter, Maria, about the future. He’s sure!

Sono sicuro che ti piacerà la nuova scuola e avrai un sacco di nuovi amichetti.

I’m sure you will like the new school and you’ll have a lot of new playmates.

Captions 9-10, Un medico in famiglia - 1: Casa nuova - Part 7 of 16    

But here, the signora is just making a good guess as to how hungry her passenger Alessio is. 

Avrai fame immagino, sì? Andiamo?

You must be hungry, I imagine, right? Shall we go?

Caption 10, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 12 of 23

In her Yabla newscast, Marika is giving us some very suspicious news from another planet, and she expresses her consternation:

Sarà vero?

Could it be true?

Caption 41, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 2 of 5 

    Another way to ask the above question would be: potrebbe essere vero? (could it be true?) or even può essere vero? (can it be true?). But more often than not, the future tense will be used when talking about probability in the present, or even in the past (together with a participle), as in the following example, where there’s uncertainty in retrospect.

Non lo so. Sarà stata una buona idea farlo venire qua?

I don't know. Was it such a good idea to have him come here?

Caption 19, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 10 of 23 

Here are a couple more examples to give you an idea.  

In an episode of Un medico in famiglia, the family members are wondering what Cetinka is about to take out of her suitcase:

Che è, che sarà? -Non lo so!

What is it, what could it be? -I don't know!

Captions 36-37, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 9 of 12 

In a lively discussion between Lara and her zia about Ginevra, the attractive medical examiner, the aunt defends Commissario Manara, which infuriates Lara even more. 

E Luca la sta coprendo! -Avrà le sue buone ragioni, eh!

And Luca is covering for her! -He must have a good reason, huh!

Caption 31, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 8 of 17  

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Learning suggestion:

As you watch and listen to Yabla videos, notice how the future tense is used. You may be surprised at how often it is used to express probability, supposition, or uncertainty. And as you go about your day, maybe talking to yourself in Italian, use the future tense of essere or avere to wonder about things and their probability. Sometimes you may really be wondering about the future, as in:

Sarà una bella giornata?

Will it be a nice day?

But other times you may just be conjecturing:

Sarà una brava persona, ma dal suo comportamento non sembra proprio.

He may be a good person, but from his behavior it certainly doesn’t seem like it.

Sento bussare alla porta. Sarà il postino.

I hear someone knocking at the door. It’s probably the postman.

Perché non è ancora arrivato? Avrà avuto un contrattempo!

Why hasn’t he come yet? He must have had a setback.

So as you can see, in Italian, the future can be right now!

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Being Polite With "Dare del Lei"

As we saw in a previous lesson, Italians are very conscious of formal and informal greetings, and will say hello in different ways depending on the situation. But there’s more. When speaking or writing to someone they must, or want, to treat with respect, they’ll use the polite form of “you”—Lei. This happens to be identical to the word for “she,” lei. For a fascinating explanation, see this article and its continuation here. To show respect, Lei gets capitalized, together with its possessive pronouns Sua, Sue, Suoi (your, yours) and its object pronouns La and Le (you). Although the capitalization of these pronouns is going out of style, it can be helpful for figuring out who is being talked about. Using the formal “you” is called dare del Lei (giving the formal “you”). The opposite is called dare del tu (giving the informal “you”).  

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In Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui (But What Am I Doing Here?), Alessio finds himself in an embarrassing situation. (Yes, he’s about to fare brutta figura!) Things have gotten decidedly intimo, but Alessio da ancora del Lei (is still giving the formal “you”) to this woman, and she calls him out on it.

Ma che fai, mi dai ancora del Lei?

What are you doing, you still address me formally?

Caption 39, Ma che ci faccio qui! Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 13

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In an episode of Commissario Manara, Lara is trying to get some information from a woman in shock over the death of her employer. Lara uses Lei since she is addressing someone older than her, and whom she doesn’t know. Lara sees the woman is touchy on the subject at hand so she immediately apologizes, even though she’s done nothing wrong.

 

When the personal pronoun in question is an object, either direct or indirect, it can become part of the verb, as we’ve talked about in a previous lesson. In the example below, the polite “you” is a direct object of the verb offendere (to offend), and becomes part of it (with a respectful capital letter in this case).

Mi scusi, non volevo offenderLa.

I'm sorry, I didn't want to offend you.

Caption 57, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 2

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In another episode, Luca Manara is being polite to his boss, but only on the surface. In this case, the indirect object pronoun is part of the compound verb, riferire a (to report to).

Ma, come, purtroppo Lei mi ricorda, io devo riferirLe tutto, no? -Si aspetta magari che le dica bravo?

But, since, unfortunately you remind me, I have to tell you everything, don't I? -Maybe you're expecting me say, "Good work?"

Captions 25-26, Il Commissario Manara S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 17

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In the concluding segment of “Vendemmia tardiva,” la zia, as usual, uses her powers of conversazione and intuizione femminile to help solve the crime:

Avevo capito che, in tutti questi anni, è stata innamorata di lui. E per trent'anni gli ha dato del Lei, ma ti rendi conto?

I'd figured out that, for all these years, she'd been in love with him. And for thirty years she addressed him formally, can you imagine that?

Captions 5-6, Il Commissario Manara S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 17

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Dare del tu (to address informally) or dare del Lei (to address formally) is an important aspect to settle in a new relationship. A common question to ask is: ci possiamo dare del tu? (can we give each other the informal "you?") or, ci diamo del tu? (shall we give each other the informal “you?”). The answer is almost always: sì, certo!

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Fare Figura: To Make an Impression

In certain situations, it’s important to put one’s best foot forward, to make a good impression. In Italian, that’s fare bella figura, or simply, fare figura.  For example:

Le sue scarpe sono costate poco, ma fanno figura.

Her shoes didn’t cost very much, but they make her look good (or, “they make a good impression”).

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Fare bella figura (making a good impression) isn’t always possible though. Sometimes, without meaning to, you botch it and make a bad impression, or worse, are embarrassed by something you did or said. And that’s when you use brutta figura (bad impression). Just as bella is often left to our imagination, in this case, too, it’s common to leave off the brutta. To determine whether someone’s talking about a good or bad figura, pay close attention to the context, as well as to the speaker’s inflection and facial expression.

O mamma mia! Mamma mia, che figura che ho fatto.

Oh dear! Oh dear, what a bad impression I've made.

Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6

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Note: The fact that there’s no article here is normal for this idiom, but in some cases an article or other modifier will be included for clarity or emphasis.

 

What about when someone puts you in an embarrassing situation, or makes you look like a fool? Ti fa fare brutta figura (he/she makes you make a bad impression). 

 

In an episode of Medico in Famiglia, Maria has gone missing, and her parents call her supposed boyfriend to find out where she is. He’s not her boyfriend, though, so just imagine how embarrassed she is upon discovering they’d called him. 

Mi avete fatto fare questa figura?

You made me make a bad impression? [Did you make me look stupid?]

Caption 62, Un medico in famiglia s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 13

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Maria’s brother has a retort ready with a play on words. He uses a more neutral definition of figura (figure, person, appearance, impression):

Non hai fatto nessuna figura perché quello, a te, non ti vede proprio! -Eh, bambini...

You made no impression at all because that one doesn't even see you! -Uh, kids...

Captions 63-64, Un medico in famiglia s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 13

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Another expression that’s used a lot in relational conversations comes from the verb figurare (to appear, to be, to show). This expression can be used as a sort of antidote to someone’s feeling as if they’re making or have made a brutta figura. It uses the reflexive form figurarsi (to imagine).

 

If you apologize for being late, or if you ask if you are disturbing someone, the response might likely be figurati! (of course not!). The person saying it is attempting to put you at ease, for example after you forgot a dinner date.    

E tu lo trovi leale accettare un invito a cena e poi non presentarsi? -Non ti ho avvertito? Scusami. Ci sei rimasto male? -Figurati, la cena era ottima.

And do you find it loyal to accept a dinner invitation and then not come? -Didn't I let you know? Sorry. Did you feel hurt? -Of course not, the dinner was excellent.

Captions 6-9, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 3

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At the same time, it can mean something like “no way!” or “yeah, right!” or “don’t count on it!”:    

C'hai paura? Paura io? Ma figurati.

What, are you scared? Scared, me? Don't count on it.

Captions 44-46, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 17

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Learning suggestion:

Watch and listen to the Yabla videos where these expressions are present (do a search of both figura and figurati). Hide the translation. Listen for the inflection. Is the speaker trying to put someone at ease, or being ironic? When no adjective is present for describing the figura, which do you think it is? 

Meanwhile, imagine a situation—invent a dialogue. Here’s something to get you started.

Ti ho fatto fare brutta figura? -Ma figurati, ho fatto la figura dello scemo tutto da solo.

Did I embarrass you? -Of course not, I came off as an idiot all by myself. 

 

Devo dire che quegli orecchini da due soldi fanno figura! -Grazie, ma questa giacca vecchissima, che figura fa? -Beh, per me, fai sempre una bellissima figura.

I gotta say, those cheap earrings happen to look really nice! -Thanks, but this super old jacket, how does that make me look? -Well, to me, you always look great!

 

Che figura! Quando sono arrivata alla cassa, non avevo abbastanza soldi per pagare.

How embarrassing! When I got to the check out, I didn’t have enough money to pay.

 

Il capo mi darà un aumento, sicuro! -Figurati!

The boss is going to give me a raise, for sure! -Yeah, right. (or, “Don’t count on it!”)

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Divertitevi! (Have fun!)

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Don't Worry!

When you worry about something, it’s hard to think about anything else. With this in mind, it won’t come as too much of a surprise that the Italian word for worrying sounds a lot like the verb “to preoccupy.” The infinitive is preoccupare (to worry), usually used reflexively—preoccuparsi (to worry about)—the adjective/participle is preoccupato (worried), and the noun is preoccupazione (cause for worry) with its plural, preoccupazioni (worries, troubles). We all do our share of worrying, so it’s a good word to be familiar with!

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In the story of La Bohème, Rodolfo is worried about Mimì because she has tuberculosis. 

l'ho sentito che si confidava con Marcello, il suo amico pittore, e gli diceva che era preoccupato per via della mia malattia.

I heard him confiding to his friend Marcello, his painter friend, and he told him that he was worried because of my illness.

Captions 30-31, Anna presenta La Bohème di Puccini - Part 1

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Andiamo a casa, va'! Se no zia si preoccupa.

Let's go home, come on! Otherwise Auntie will worry.

Captions 36-37, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 9

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Sometimes people worry for no reason, so we want to reassure them. In other words, we’re giving the negative command, “Don’t worry.” Negative commands in Italian are easy when you’re talking to friends and family: non + the infinitive of a verb.

So, if a friend or familiar person is preoccupato and they shouldn’t be, take after Adriano, who’s reassuring his grandmother. She’s family, so he speaks informally to her. As he sings her praises, she notices something off-camera and points to it. He doesn’t want her to worry about it, or even to pay attention to it:

 

Non ti preoccupare, nonna.

Don't worry Grandma.

Caption 26, Adriano Nonna

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Remember that preoccupare is generally used reflexively (preoccuparsi), so just like with other reflexive verbs, the personal pronoun can go in two different positions (both are equally grammatical): before the verb, as Adriano says it, or attached to the end of the verb as below. See this previous lesson, and this one, too, for more on reflexive verbs.

 

Scusa, eh, per le foto così brutte, ma le ha fatte mio marito, quindi... No, ma non preoccuparti.

Sorry, uh, for such bad photos, but my husband took them, so... No, but don't worry about it.

Captions 34-35, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7

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If, on the other hand, you need to tell someone you don’t know very well not to worry, use the polite form of the imperative (more on doing so here): Non si preoccupi. Without delving into a lot of grammar, just memorizing the phrase (with a nice accent on the “o”) will be helpful when you’re addressing someone like a salesperson, someone’s parent, a teacher, or a doctor, as in the following example. 

 

Dottore non si preoccupi, ci occuperemo noi di lui.

Doctor don't worry, we'll take care of him.

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 12

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Gualtiero Marchesi forgets his troubles by going back to his childhood haunts. Pensieri (thoughts, worries) go hand in hand with preoccupazioni (worries, troubles):

Sono sempre tornato nei luoghi della mia infanzia, a volte, all'improvviso, lasciandomi alle spalle pensieri e preoccupazioni.

I've always returned to the places of my childhood, sometimes, suddenly, leaving my thoughts and worries behind.

Captions 16-17, L'arte della cucina Terre d'Acqua - Part 12

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As an aside, the antidote to worrying is frequently to take care of something, and the verb for that is occuparsi (to take care of, to deal with), not to be confused with preoccuparsi.

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Learning suggestion:

When you meet people or pass them on the street, consider whether you would speak to them informally or formally, and tell them, in your mind, not to worry. Would you say non ti preoccupare or non si preoccupi

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Elegant and Not So Elegant Turns of Phrase

Francesca is showing Daniela how to play one of the most popular Italian card games, Briscola. Two little words stand out, and merit some attention. They’re both in the category of “but,” yet they are more specific and allow for a more elegant turn of phrase. The first is the conjunction bensì (but rather).

La briscola, eh, come molti non sanno, non è un gioco nato in Italia, bensì in Olanda, nei Paesi Bassi.

Briscola, uh, as a lot of people don't know, is not a game originating in Italy, but rather in Holland, in the Netherlands.

Captions 5-6, Briscola: Regole del gioco - Part 1 of 2

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The other one, ovvero (or rather), is used by Francesca who’s trying make things crystal clear, so she’s using language that’s a little more formal than usual. Ovvero is somewhat archaic, and is often a fancy way of saying o (“or,” “that is,” or “otherwise”).

Nella briscola ci sono delle carte che sono più importanti delle altre, ovvero, te le vado subito a mostrare.

In Briscola there are some cards that are more important than others, or rather, I'm going to show you right now.

Captions 24-25, Briscola: Regole del gioco - Part 1 of 2

In more informal speech, you’ll hear words like ma (but), invece (but, instead, rather), nel senso (I mean, in the sense), to express similar sentiments.

Speaking of informal speech, it’s definitely the norm in Lele’s family. One of the words that creeps into casual speech is mica (“not,” or “at all”). Think of when you say, “Not bad! Not bad at all!” That’s one time you’ll want to say, mica male! It’s a form of negation equivalent to non. Therefore, non male is just about equivalent to mica male, but think, “exclamation point” at the end. The fun thing about this word is that you can use it by itself, like Ciccio does, in justifying the shoes he bought with money taken from Grandpa’s pocket:

Ma guarda, Giacinto, che eran per le scarpe, mica per un gioco!

But look, Giacinto, it was for shoes, not for a game!

Caption 22, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 10 of 12

But you can also use it together with a negative (it’s no crime to use a double negative in Italian) like Ciccio's Grandpa (before finding out who took his money) to emphasize the “no”:

Io sono un pensionato, Cetinka, non sono mica un bancomat!

I'm a retiree, Cetinka, I'm no ATM machine!

Caption 65, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 7 of 12

The character of Alessio in Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui is older than Ciccio, but just out of high school. His speech is certainly very rich in modi di dire (if you do a Yabla search with mica, you’ll find Alessio and many others!), but in one episode there’s an expression whose translation is not very intuitive—con comodo (in a leisurely way). If you remember that comodo means “comfortable” it will make more sense. Depending on the tone (like in English), it can express patience or impatience!

Vabbè, fate con comodo.

OK, take your time [literally, “do with leisure”].

Caption 30, Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 10 of 23

Watch the video to see which it is in this case!

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Learning suggestion: Enrich your vocabulary by using the Yabla search as well as WordReference to get more examples of bensì, ovvero, and mica. There’s no hurry: fate con comodo!

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Vabbè and Chi me lo fa fare?

In a previous lesson, we joined Anna and Marika at the famous Trattoria al Tevere Biondo in Rome, where they were having lunch... Later on, after their meal, they start chatting with the owner Giuseppina, who has plenty of stories to tell. She uses an expression that’s kind of fun:

Ma chi me lo fa fà [fare], io m'alzo due ore prima la mattina e la faccio espressa. Ho fatto sempre stò [questo] lavoro. -Così si cura la qualità.

But who makes me do it? I get up two hours earlier in the morning and I do it to order. I've always done it this way. -That way you make sure of the quality.

Captions 24-26, Anna e Marika Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 3

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“Who makes me do it?” is the literal translation, but the gist is, “why should I go to all that trouble?” And with her Roman speech, she shortens the infinitive fare (to make, to do) to . As a matter of fact, as she tells her stories Giuseppina chops off the end of just about every verb in the infinitive. This way of speaking is popular all over Italy, so get some practice with Giuseppina!

Giuseppina may chop off her verbs, but the characters in Commissario Manara chop off the end of the adverb bene (well), turning it into . To agree to something, va bene (literally, "he/she/it goes well") is the expression to use. But when the conversation gets going, and it's a back and forth of "OK, but..." or "All right, all right!" or "OK, let's do this," like between Luca Manara and his team, va bene often becomes vabbè. This simple expression, depending on what tone of voice is used, can say a lot. A Yabla search with vabbè will bring up many examples in Manara videos, and plenty of other videos as well.

In one episode, two detectives on Manara’s team think they’ve made a discovery, but of course the Commissario has already figured things out, and they’re disappointed. 

Vabbè, però così non c'è gusto... scusa. -Vabbè, te l'avevo detto io, 'o [lo] sapevo.

OK, but that way there's no satisfaction... sorry. -OK, I told you so, I knew it.

Captions 14-15, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 13

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Vabbè is an expression that gets used about as often as “OK.” Sometimes, though, we really do need to know if things are all right. In this case we use the full form, va bene? (is it all right?):

Eh, guardi, pago con la carta. Va bene? -OK.

Uh, look, I'll pay by credit card. All right? -OK.

Captions 38-39, Marika spiega L'euro in Italia, con Anna

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In her reply, the salesperson uses the international, “OK” but she could just as easily have said, va bene (that’s fine).

It’s important to understand abbreviated words when you hear them, but in most situations, when speaking, use the full form—you can’t go wrong.

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A Grammatical Look at Giving Gifts

The bellissimo music video Il regalo più grande (the greatest gift) is a reminder that some of the best gifts can’t be bought with money. If you check out the previous lesson, Gifts and Giving, you’ll be all set to understand what Tiziano Ferro is singing about.

Per cominciare (to start with), remember that in Italian, gifts (regali) are “made,” not "given," so we use the verb fare (to make):

Voglio farti un regalo

I want to give you a gift

Caption 1, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande

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And let's not forget that other word for "gift," dono, along with its verb form donare, used in special, often more formal situations:

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna

I'd like to give your smile to the moon

Caption 10, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande

Let’s look at these lyrics from a grammatical punto di vista (point of view). Tiziano sings in the present tense at the beginning of the song: voglio farti un regalo (I want to give you a gift). He goes on to use the conditional vorrei donare (I would like to give). But further on in the song, he would like to receive a gift, and the grammar gets a bit more complex:

Vorrei mi facessi un regalo

I would like you to give me a gift

Un sogno inespresso

An unexpressed dream

Donarmelo adesso

To give it to me now

Caption 19-21, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande

He again uses the first person conditional of volere (to want), "vorrei" (I would like), but turns the phrase around, which calls for the subjunctive of fare (to make) in the second person imperfect, facessi. Translating it a bit more loosely may help it make more sense: “I would like [it if] you gave me a gift.”

And finally, he uses the infinitive donare (minus the final e), the indirect object/personal pronoun me, and the direct object lo all in one single word, donarmelo.

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Learning suggestion:

Take a look at the conjugations of fare (to make, to do) and volere (to want). You might even be surprised to see that you know more conditional forms of these verbs than you thought, just from hearing them. Go one step further and take any of those conjugations, for example, faresti (second person conditional of fare), and do a Yabla search to find out how it’s used in the videos.

Learn more about Tiziano Ferro as he talks about his approach to writing songs, and about ecological awareness.

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