Lezioni italiano

Argomenti

Those Pesky Possessive Adjectives

Becoming comfortable using possessive adjectives and personal pronouns in Italian can be a challenge because they work a bit differently then they do in other languages. To learn about them with Daniela, check out her series of lessons about possessive adjectives:

Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi 

 

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An important thing to remember regarding possessive adjectives is that Italian uses both an article and an adjective (think: the my book), which certainly takes some getting used to. So, "my book" would be: il mio libro. But there's an important exception. Daniela explains that family members get special treatment in terms of possessive adjectives:

 

Regola generale: l'aggettivo possessivo in italiano vuole sempre l'articolo, tranne in un caso, quando parlo della famiglia, della mia famiglia, dei miei parenti stretti in singolare. In questo caso non voglio l'articolo. Non dico: il mio padre, la mia madre. Dico: mio padre, mia madre.

General rule: the possessive adjective in Italian always needs the article except in one case, when I talk about the family, about my family, about my close relatives in the singular. In this case I don't want the article. I don't say: the my father, the my mother. I say: my father, my mother.

Captions 44-50, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi - Part 6

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There is also another special case: an exception to the exception. When the nouns denoting family members become altered nouns (see this lesson about altered nouns), as in sorellina (little sister) instead of sorella (sister), or mamma (mom) rather than madre (mother), we put back the article!

Ho fatto una passeggiata con la mia sorellinaMio fratello ci ha accompagnato.
I went for a walk with my little sisterMy brother came with us.

See this article about mamma (not a totally clear cut case) and other family terms of endearment. 

See this chart about possessive adjectives, summing up in English what Daniela has been talking about in Italian.

Here are some exercises to test your comprehension:

Try this online exercise.
Do a short quiz.
Take another short quiz.

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Possessive adjectives are just plain tricky. Not only do you need to know the rules, but you need to get plenty of practice before they become second nature, so be patient with yourselves and you will slowly but surely start getting these pesky possessive adjectives right, more often than wrong! 

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Fagioli e Legumi: Beans and Legumes

An important staple of the Italian diet is il fagiolo (the bean). There's a vast variety of beans in many shapes, colors, and sizes, with local names, but the principal ones areborlotti (pinto beans) and cannellini (small white beans). Other popular legumi (legumes) include ceci (garbanzo beans or chickpeas), lenticchie (lentils, of which there are many varieties), and fave (fava beans).

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When in season (late spring), cannellini and borlotti are sold fresh in their pods, da sgranare (to shuck), but in addition to being canned, they're found on the shelves of supermarkets and alimentari (small grocery stores or delis) in dried form. They get soaked for many hours, and then cooked for a relatively long time, in terra cotta pots (traditionally). They contain a fair amount of protein, so they're a great source of protein for vegetarians, as well as for people who can't afford to buy much meat. 

Even the cooking water from the beans doesn't go to waste, but gets pureed with a portion of the beans themselves, making a great vegetarian brodo (broth) for the kind of soups that are particularly popular in Tuscany.

There's talk, in this week's video about famous Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi, about the type of lunch that would be served in his parents' trattoria (small family run restaurant), which catered to workers, and consisted of humble ingredients and dishes.

 

...un ristorante frequentato, fondamentalmente, da operatori di questo tipo, quindi un ristorante dove si facevano panini, dove si faceva la trippa, e dove si facevano ... non so i fagioli.

...a restaurant frequented, fundamentally by workers of this type, therefore a restaurant where they made sandwiches, where they made tripe, and where they made ... I don't know, beans.

Captions 3-8, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá - Part 6

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Trippa (tripe), from the first stomach of the cow, is (or was) one of the more inexpensive animal proteins, which is why Gualtiero talks about it being a popular dish at his parents' trattoria. See this article about preparing la trippa!

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Fagioli may seem like an unassuming, inexpensive, simple contorno (side dish), but when conditi (seasoned) with high quality olio extravergine di oliva (virgin olive oil), they become a delicious classic dish appreciated by diners all over Italy.

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Two Words in One, with a Catch: Perché

When someone asks you perché? (why?), you can recycle the same word in your response because perché also means “because”! Yes, two in one! Let’s look at the following example, where Daniela is asking her students to justify using one article over another. Make sure to look at the context and listen to the inflection!

 

L'articolo è uno. Uno scontrino, perché?

The article is "uno." "Uno scontrino" (a receipt). Why?

Perché la parola inizia per s più consonante.

Because the word starts with "s" plus a consonant.

Captions 54-56, Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo

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So perché actually has two grammatical forms. One is as an adverb meaning “for what reason.” It’s used in forming a question:

Perché l’hai interrogato?
Why did you interrogate him?

The other grammatical form of perché is a “causal conjunction” meaning “because.” It’s used to introduce the cause when it follows the effect (which might be simply implied as in our first example above). If we use a full sentence to respond to the above question, it might go something like this:

L’ho interrogato perché non l’hai fatto tu!
I interrogated him because you didn’t do it!

In the above example, “I interrogated him” is the effect and “you didn’t do it” is the cause, so perché (because) goes in the middle: effect-perché-cause. 

But here’s the catch. If you want to put the cause first, such as when you’re explaining yourself without being asked, or elaborating on your reasons, then things change in Italian. In English you could technically start your full sentence answer with the cause, using “because.”

Because you didn’t interrogate him, I did.

However, in Italian you cannot use perché in this case. The word to go to is siccome (because, as, given that, whereas, or since), used exclusively to introduce the cause when it precedes the effect: siccome-cause-effect. Siccome and perché have similar meanings but are not interchangeable within the structure of the sentence. This may seem complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it will become natural. Here’s an example in context, where Lara is explaining her actions to Luca Manara.

 

Ginevra deve essere iscritta nella lista degli indagati e deve essere interrogata,

Ginevra must be recorded on the list of suspects and has to be interrogated,

e siccome non lo fai tu lo faccio io, tutto qui.

and because you're not doing it, I'm doing it, that's all.

Captions 17-19, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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In the above example you could replace “because” with “given that,” "as," “whereas,” or “since.” But you can’t replace siccome with perché!

As your Italian becomes more fluent, you’ll find siccome to be extremely handy when you’re telling stories and explaining things. There are other similar words to call on as well, but we’ll save them for another time.

 

Learning suggestion:
To get a feel for perché in both of its two contrasting but related meanings, “why” and “because,” check out their occurrences in Yabla videos (and figure out which is which). Do a search with siccome to get acquainted with it, and hear it in context. Then, to really grasp the mechanism, ask yourself some questions, and answer them. Get used to using perché as both the question “why” and the answer “because.” Then, elaborate on your answers using siccome and perché according to how you structure your sentence. Don’t forget the accent on perché!

 

Here’s a head start:

Perché sei così nervoso?
-Perché... è una storia lunga. Siccome avevo dimenticato di caricare la sveglia ieri sera, stamattina mi sono alzata tardi. E siccome avevo un appuntamento alle nove, non avevo tempo per fare colazione. Farò colazione al bar, perché ora ho fame. Dopo mi sentirò meglio, perché avrò la pancia piena. Siccome la pancia sarà piena, mi sentirò molto meglio.

Why are you so tense?
-Because... it’s a long story. Since I had forgotten to set the alarm last night, this morning I got up late. And because I had an appointment at nine, I didn’t have time for breakfast. I’ll have breakfast at the coffee shop because now I’m hungry. Afterwards I’ll feel better, because my stomach will be full. Since my stomach will be full, I’ll feel better.

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To enhance your skills, make sure you practice ad alta voce (out loud), too. 

Perché? Perché sì!

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This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land: Paese and Terra

The Krikka Reggae, a cosìddetto (so-called) Italian reggae group, sing about their home region, way down in the heel of the boot of Italy, called Basilicata, also known as Lucania. They sing about their paese (country) and their terra (land), and even about the terra madre (native land). Let's have a look at some of the different connotations of these nouns.

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Paese can be specific, meaning nation or country: 

 

È Ravenna la città in cui si vive meglio in Italia. ... A dirlo è l'edizione 2014 della classifica delle città più vivibili del paese.

Ravenna is the city in which one lives best in Italy. ... Saying this is the two thousand fourteen issue of the classification of the most liveable cities in the country.

Captions 20-22, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 10

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Paese can be specifically a town:

 

Eh, adesso ci troviamo ad Avella, un paese in provincia di Avellino.

Uh, right now we're in Avella, a town in the province of Avellino.

Caption 3, Escursioni Campane - Castello Normanno - Part 1

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Paese can be more general, as in country, region, or area:

 

Poi scopriamo che la Liguria è il paese del basilico, è anche speciale.

Then we discover that Liguria is the country of basil, it's special, too.

Caption 43, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua - Part 12

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Terra is often more general than paese, and gives the idea of homeland or home country, rather than hometown:

 

Per la tua terra lotti, per la terra combatti

For your homeland, you fight, for the homeland you struggle

Caption 31, Krikka Reggae - Lukania (Lucania)

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Terra can give you a more visual image of a place than paese: 

 

Io vengo da una terra dove l'acqua è un bene prezioso.

I come from a land where water is a precious resource.

Caption 44, Gianni si racconta - Chi sono

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Terra can indicate the planet Earth.

 

Pare che l'unico poliziotto sulla faccia della terra che lo può risolvere sono io!

It seems that the only policeman on the face of the earth who can resolve it is me!

Caption 13, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Terra can indicate ground or soil:

 

Forse è la terra. Questa specie di rose ha bisogno di molto nutrimento!

Maybe it's the soil. This kind of rose needs lots of nourishment.

Captions 7-8, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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The lack of clear cut definitions of terra and paese may make more sense if we remember that Italy became one nation, divided into regions, as late as the second half of the 19th century. 

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Keep on the lookout for paese and terra, and remember that they have slightly different meanings depending on the context. A Yabla search of a word is always a great way to get a quick overview of how it's used. 

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Parole Alterate - Modifying Words to Create New Ones

This week Marika talks about parole alterate (modified words). Modifying existing words by adding suffixes or prefixes is a very Italian way of creating new words.

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Marika describes the different categories of altered nouns and what suffixes and prefixes go with them, and she gives you some tips on how they work. Instead of using a modifier in the form of an adjective, the noun itself gets changed. Here are some examples.

Pane (bread) in the form of a roll, with the addition of -ino, turns into un panino (a little bread). Panino has also become the word for sandwich, commonly made with a roll. 

Un piatto (a plate), when full to the brim with pasta, with the addition of the suffix -one, turns into un bel piattone di pasta (a nice big plate of pasta).

Una giornata normale (a normal day) turns into una giornataccia (a bad day), by using the pejorative suffix: -accio/-accia:

 

Ieri ho avuto davvero una giornataccia.

Yesterday I had a really terrible day.

Caption 45, Marika spiega - Le parole alterate

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There are also altered nouns or adjectives called vezzeggiativi, from vezzo (caress), which are used as terms of endearment. The most common suffixes are: -uccio and -otto. Adding this suffix bestows something special, tender, and possibly intimate to a word. A teddy-bear, for example, is called un orsacchiotto, from orso (bear). A term of endearment for a person you care about might be tesoruccio, from tesoro (treasure).

In this week's segment of the popular Commissioner Manara series, Lara is back from the hospital after risking her life to save a dog from a burning building. Luca is so concerned that he lets his guard down.

When Lara comes into the office, Luca looks at her and sees that she's pale. But he doesn't just use pallida (pale) to describe her, he adds a suffix of endearment. It's quite subtle, but it's clear he cares.

 

Però sei un po' palliduccia, ah.

However, you're a bit on the pale side, huh.

Caption 35, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Speaking of suffixes and prefixes, let's have a quick look at a word used in another of this week's new videos. Massimo Montanari is talking about the art of cooking. He takes the verb padellare (to fry up something after it's already been cooked), from the noun padella (frying pan), then uses the prefix s to turn it into spadellare. It's a colloquial way of saying someone is managing the pots and pans on the stove.

 

La cucina, intesa non semplicemente come l'atto di spadellare, ma come... il percorso complessivo che trasforma una ri' [sic]... una risorsa naturale.

Cooking, understood not simply as an act of working at the stove, but as... an overall process that transforms a re'... a natural resource.

Captions 36-37, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá - Part 5

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Learn more about suffixes and prefixes in these Yabla videos:

Marika spiega: La formazione dei nomi - Part 1 
Marika spiega: La formazione dei nomi - Part 2 

Keep an eye out for the suffixes and prefixes in Yabla videos. Once you know the root word, you can expand your vocabulary in many cases, without having to learn new words, but by merely altering them!

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Bear Up with "Sopportare" and "Reggere"

In a previous lesson we discussed not being able to stand someone, using the verb vedere (to see):

Non lo posso vedere!
I can’t stand him!

In an episode of "Commissario Manara," we hear another verb employed to express a similar sentiment: sopportare (to bear, to put up with, to tolerate). Lara is talking about her situation with Luca. She may be saying she can’t stand him, or that she can’t stand it (the situation).

  

Non lo sopporto!

I can't bear it/ I can't stand him!

Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Another way to say this would be:

E’ insopportabile!
It’s unbearable/He's unbearable!

Another verb that is useful in this context is reggere (to hold, to hold up, to bear). Reggere, too, may be used when you can’t stand or bear someone or something.

Non lo reggo!
I can’t bear him!
I can’t bear it!

You may recall reading about retto as a noun in a completely different context in another lesson, but in the following example, retto is the participle of reggere.

 

Rodolfo non ha retto il peso della mia malattia.

Rodolfo couldn't bear the burden of my illness.

Caption 3, Anna presenta - La Bohème di Puccini - Part 2

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It can mean physically holding something, as in:

Mi reggi questa borsa un attimo?
Could you hold this bag for me a moment?

Or holding onto, as in:

 

L'alcol, l'alcol, non lo regge, -Mh. Eh... si vede che... -Che, tu lo reggi?

The alcohol, alcohol, he can't hold his, -Hm. Yeah... it turns out that... -Because, you can hold yours?

Captions 48-49, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi

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Reggere is often used when talking about how sturdy something is.

Questa scala è un po’ marcia. Reggerà?
This ladder is a bit rotten. Will it hold up?

Sopportare and reggere are useful words in all kinds of contexts. Have a look at the online dictionary of your choice to get an even better grasp of them. 

Just for fun:


Questo tetto non reggerà per molto. L’ho detto a mio marito, ma lui non sopporta l’idea di dover spendere soldi. Il suo atteggiamento lo trovo insopportabile, e non lo reggo proprio quando si comporta così. Vedremo per quanto ancora reggerà il tetto, e per quanto tempo ancora io potrò sopportare mio marito! Quasi quasi, se mi reggi questa scala, andrò io a dare un'occhiata al tetto!

This roof won’t hold up for long. I told my husband this, but he can’t stand the idea of having to spend money. His attitude I find to be intolerable, and I can’t stand him when he behaves that way. We’ll see how much longer the roof will hold, and for how long I’ll be able to stand my husband! On second thought, if you hold this ladder for me, I'll go and have a look at the roof myself.

Think about things you (and people you know) can or cannot put up with, and use sopportare and reggere to talk about it!

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"Di che cosa si tratta?" (What's it about?)

Avere a che fare con, which we discussed in a recent lesson, is rather similar in meaning to another turn of phrase: trattarsi di (to be about, to be a matter of, to be a case of), which is used in the impersonal third person singular. Being impersonal, it’s also a little bit more formal.

Let’s back up and look at other forms of this verb.

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In its normal form, trattare (to treat) is transitive (meaning it takes an object).

Mi tratta male.
He treats me badly.

Followed by the preposition di (about, with, of, from), trattare di (to be about, to deal with, to talk about) is intransitive.

Il libro tratta di come costruire una casa.
The book deals with how to build a house.

If you substitute the verb parlare (to talk, to speak), it’s easier to grasp:

Il libro parla di come costruire una casa.
The book talks about how to build a house.

But, as mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, there’s also a way of using the verb with no grammatical subject, that is, the impersonal form: trattarsi di (it concerns, it’s a matter of, it’s about). It’s important to remember that with the impersonal, the actual subject is absent, although it gets translated with “it.” (Think of when we say "It's raining.")

Commissioner Manara is questioning a suspect for the first time.

  

Senta, signor Manuli, qui non si tratta soltanto di inquinamento. -Si tratta di omicidio!

Listen Mister Manuli, it's not just a matter of pollution here. -It's a matter of murder!

Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Trattarsi di is commonly used to answer the question, “What’s it about?” or sometimes, “What is it?” In fact trattarsi di is often used in the question itself:

Di che cosa si tratta?
What does it concern? 
What does it deal with? (note the similarity with avere a che fare)
What’s it about?
What is it?

Si tratta di una conferenza sul razzismo.
What it is, is a conference about racism.
It consists in a conference about racism.

When the subject is a generic “it,” we can use trattarsi di.

A good translation is tough to come up with, however, because in English we’d just say:

It’s a conference on racism.

It’s handy to be able to use trattarsi di in a question. When you get a phone call from someone you don’t know, or when strangers come to your house, your first question might be:

Di che cosa si tratta?
What’s this about?

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Further learning:
This link takes you to a Yabla search of tratta. There’s one instance in which non si tratta della forma impersonale (it’s not about the impersonal form). Can you find it?

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Having to Do with “Having to Do with”: avere a che fare con

In this week’s episode of Commissario Manara, there are two instances of a turn of phrase that’s easy to miss when listening to Italian speech: avere a che fare con (to have to do with, to refer to, to be in relation to, to deal with). Lots of little words all in a row, and when the third person singular present tense is used, mamma mia! It can be difficult to hear ha a in ha a che fare con... But if you know what to listen for, it gets easier. It’s actually not so difficult, because the verb is always avere (to have), which is conjugated according to the subject and time element, and the rest of the expression doesn’t change. Remember that fare means both “to make” and “to do.” 

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Manara is questioning a suspect:

 

Lei ci ha detto di non aver mai conosciuto Sianelli e di non avere mai avuto a che fare con la giustizia, giusto?

You told us that you'd never met Sianelli and that you had never had anything to do [been in troublewith the law, right?

Captions 6-7, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Later he reports his findings to Lara.

 

E quindi siamo sicuri che ha già avuto a che fare con la vittima in passato.

And so we're certain that he'd already had dealings with the murder victim in the past.

Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Avere a che fare is rather informal and personal. The subject is accounted for. There's another more impersonal way to say pretty much the same thing: si tratta di (it's about, it has to do with, it means), which we'll cover in another lesson.

Quando vado in città, ho a che fare con tutti tipi di persone.
When I go to the city, I deal with all kinds of people.

The subject can be an idea or fact rather than a person:

La conferenza ha a che fare con il razzismo.
The conference has to do with racism.

This turn of phrase is especially effective in the negative: Remember that double negatives are quite acceptable in Italian.

Non voglio aver niente a che fare con quel tizio.
I don’t want to have anything to do with that guy.

Questo pesto non ha niente a che fare con quello genovese.
This pesto has nothing in common with the Genovese kind.

 

Just for Fun:

Questa lezione ha avuto a che fare con un’espressione comune e informale. Una futura lezione avrà a che fare con altre espressioni che vogliono dire più o meno la stessa cosa. Quando ho a che fare con una nuova espressione, cerco di ripeterla tante volte durante la mia giornata, così diventa parte di me. Non ho a che fare con un cervello giovanissimo! Non vorrei aver niente a che fare con persone che non vogliono imparare.

This lesson was about a common and informal expression. A future lesson will deal with other expressions that mean more or less the same thing. When I’m dealing with a new expression, I try repeating it lots of times during the day. I’m not dealing with a super young brain! I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with people who don’t want to learn.

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Cops: Carabinieri, Vigili, or Poliziotti?

This week Yabla features an interview with a poliziotto (policeman). Nicola gives us some insight into what it really means to be a policeman. 

 

Sono un agente di Polizia da ventitré anni.

I've been a police officer for twenty-three years.

Caption 2, Nicola Agliastro - Poliziotto

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But what brand of policeman is he? In Italy there are different categories of police, with different roles, rules, and uniforms.

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Judging from the sign at the Commissariato (police headquarters) at the beginning of the video, Nicola appears to be part of the Polizia di Stato (state [national] police), which is the main, national police force. They are responsible for patrolling the autostrade (highways), ferrovie (railways), aeroporti (airports), and la dogana (customs). Their vehicles are blue and white (see thumbnail of video).

 

If you subscribe to Yabla, you’re quite familiar by now with La Polizia di Stato, since the popular series Commissario Manara takes place in that environment (in fact, there's a new segment this week!). 

 

Luca and Lara are usually in borghese (plainclothes), and wear their uniforms only on special occasions. At first glance Luca Manara doesn't quite look the part, and Ginevra, the medico legale (coroner), who doesn't look the part any more so, comments:

 

Tu devi essere il nuovo commissario, però non ne hai l'aspetto.

You must be the new Commissioner, but you don't look it.

Caption 62, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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La polizia municipale (local police force) on the other hand, works at a local level and is responsible primarily for traffic control, but also for enforcing national, regional, and local laws regarding commerce, legal residence, pets, and other administrative duties. The officers of the municipal police aren’t automatically authorized to carry weapons, since public safety is generally relegated to the Polizia di Stato. The municipal forces may be called polizia comunale (community police), polizia urbana (town police), or polizia locale (local police). They’re commonly called vigili urbani (town guards), but the correct nomenclature is agenti di polizia locale. Their vehicles depend on local tastes and traditions, and differ from town to town, and from region to region.

 

If you’re in Italy and you lose your wallet, or something gets stolen, you go to the Carabinieri to report the theft or the loss. They file a report, and make it official. When you’re driving, the Carabinieri may have you pull over for a routine checking of license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you have reason to believe there is a crime being committed, call the Carabinieri.

 

The police emergency number is 113, equivalent to 911 in the United States.

 

Here’s hoping you never need it!

 

Another important police force is la Guardia di Finanza (financial guard). The Guardia di Finanza deals primarily with financial crime and smuggling, and is the primary agency for suppressing illicit drug trade. They work on land, sea, and in the air. These are the agents who might ask you to produce a scontrino (receipt) upon exiting a shop, restaurant, or bar. The customer, since 2003, no longer incurs a fine, but it’s still good practice to hang on to your receipt until well away from the place of business.

 

These agents wear grayish green uniforms with the insignia of a yellow flame on the shoulder. Because of this, they are sometimes called le fiamme gialle (the yellow flames).

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Whichever kind of policemen you see around, be they carabinierivigiliagenti di polizia localepoliziotti, or fiamme gialle, remember they're there primarily to help, not to give you trouble.

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Staying on the Straight and Narrow with Retto and Retta

The word “right” has several different meanings, and some interesting history. See this entry about its etymology. It stands to reason that if we look at some of the words that mean “right” in Italian, like retto/rettadestro/destradiritto/dirittaritto/ritta, it will be just as interesting. As a matter of fact, both the English “right” and the Italian retto come from the Latin recto/rectum.

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Let’s start where “right” and retto meet most clearly: in geometry. Quite simply, un angolo retto is a right angle, made of two perpendicular straight lines (so the fact that retto in Italian, and recto in Latin mean “straight” makes sense). In fact, “rectangle” in older English meant “right angle.” In modern usage, a rectangle is made of 4 right angles. Rettangolo when used as an adjective refers to a right-angled triangle, but when it’s a noun—un rettangolo—it’s a rectangle!

 

And, since retto is an adjective, the ending changes to agree with the noun it’s modifying (angolo is masculine). Retto is commonly found with its feminine ending, as in la linea retta (the straight line). 

 

Puoi viaggiare in tondo oppure andare in linea retta

You can travel in a circle or go in a straight line

Caption 45, Radici nel Cemento - La Bicicletta

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It can even be used by itself as a noun: una retta (a straight line).

 

Rettilineo is another way of saying “straight,” or “rectilinear,” and can be used (in racing, or referring to maps) as a noun—il rettilineo meaning “the straight road” (as in “homestretch”).

 

When referring to “left” and “right,” we use sinistra and destra, and here too there’s a connection because, in Renaissance Italy, destro (right) also meant retto (straight).

 

When we’re referring to the opposite of sbagliato (wrong), we use giusto to mean “right” or “correct,” but a less common way to say giusto is retto.

 

One way of doing things right is seguire la retta via (to follow the straight and narrow).

 

The real reason for all this etymology is to make sense of the expression dare retta (to pay attention, to listen to, to obey, to heed). If you think about asking someone to agree you’re “right” about something, (and then to do as you say), it makes sense. There’s no one right way to translate dare retta, but hopefully these examples will give you the idea.

 

Se vuoi essere felice come un tempo dammi retta

If you want to live happily like in the past, do as I say!

Caption 43, Radici nel Cemento - La Bicicletta

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E va be', però non bisogna dar sempre retta alle chiacchiere.

And OK, but you shouldn't always believe the gossip.

Caption 68, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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If your child, dog, or horse doesn’t do as you ask, you might say:

Non mi dà retta.
He doesn’t listen to me (he doesn’t obey me).

 

Please see WordReference or some other dictionary for other (unrelated) meanings of nouns retto and retta. And note that retto is also the participle of reggere (to withstand, to hold up)!

 

As you saw at the beginning of this lesson, retto and retta are only two of the words connected with “right.” Retto isn’t far from ritto (erect, vertically straight) or diritto (straight, direct). But we’ll save that for another lesson.

 

In a nutshell:
Retto is used as an adjective (changing its ending according to what’s being modified):

retto (straight)
un angolo retto (a right angle)
la retta via (the straight and narrow)
rettilineo (straight)

As a noun:

la retta (the straight line)
dare retta (to heed, to pay attention to, to obey)
il rettilineo (the straight line, the straight road)

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Just for fun:

Per stare sulla retta via, cerco sempre di dare retta alla mamma. Porto a passeggio il mio cane, ma non mi  quasi mai retta. Lo porto sempre in una strada rettilinea, ma lui vorrebbe andare in tondo. Quando torno a casa, devo fare i compiti. Geometria! Devo ricordarmi che un triangolo rettangolo è fatto di un angolo retto, più una retta, ma che un rettangolo è fatto da quattro angoli retti. Faccio qualche disegno per aiutarmi, ma senza righello, non sono bravo a tracciare una retta. Tu riesci a disegnare una linea retta senza righello? Se do retta al mio istinto, dico che non sono portato per la geometria.

To stay on the straight and narrow, I always try to obey my mom. I take the dog for a walk, but he hardly ever does as I say. I always take him on a straight road, but he would like to go in a circle. When I get back home, I have to do my homework. Geometry! I have to remember that a right-angled triangle is made of a right angle plus a straight line, but that a rectangle is made of four right angles. I make a few drawings to help me, but without a ruler I’m not good at drawing a straight line. Can you draw a straight line without a ruler? If I listen to my own instincts, I’ll say I’m not cut out for geometry.

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Chiuso per Ferie: The Slowest Week of the Year

Ferragosto (August 15th) is one of the most important and respected holidays of the year in Italy. It's also a religious holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, a very important holiday for Catholic countries like Italy, and so there's something for everyone: beach, barbecues, religious processions, fireworks, horse races—you name it.

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In recent years, things have changed somewhat. Lately, people have had less money to spend on long vacations, and laws have changed, allowing stores to stay open on holidays, so there's a bit more city life than there used to be. Still, Ferragosto is not when you want to get a flat tire (forare), or a toothache (mal di denti).

Le strade sono deserte, le serrande sono chiuse (streets are deserted, stores are shuttered). You'll see signs on those closed serrande saying chiuso per ferie (closed for vacation). Ferragosto is also one of the hottest holidays, full of sun and blue skies. People want to be at the seaside.

In a video about the culinary arts, an art critic mentions gli anni di piombo (the years of lead), the sad and scary seventies when terrorism was an everyday reality in Italy, and there was gunsmoke in the air. He gives us this image of Milan:

 

Sembrava che la nebbia ci fosse anche a Ferragosto.

It seemed as though there was fog even at Ferragosto (national holiday on August 15th).

Caption 26, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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Luckily, these days Ferragosto is much calmer. In fact, Ferragosto (which can also refer to the days around the 15th of August) is the time of the year in Italy when it's hard to get certain things done because so many shops and services are chiusi per ferie. Small commissioni (errands, tasks) can get complicated, such as:

comprare il pane (buying bread)
portare la macchina all'elettrauto (taking the car to the auto electrician)
farsi i capelli dal parrucchiere (getting your hair done at the hairdresser's)
mangiare al tuo ristorante preferito (eating at your favorite restaurant)
andare in palestra (going to the gym) 
comprare l'aspirina per quel mal di testa (buying aspirin for that headache)
pagare l'assicurazione sulla macchina (paying your car insurance)
prendere un appuntamento col dentista (making a appointment with the dentist)
spedire un pacchetto alla posta (mailing a package at the post office)
chiamare un corriere (calling a delivery service)
fare riparare la lavatrice (getting your washing machine repaired)

 

Italians worry about what supermarkets might or might not be open on and around Ferragosto, and they stock up on acqua minerale (bottled mineral water), birra (beer),salumi (cold cuts), carbonella (charcoal), crema solare (sunblock), and molto ancora (lots more) before heading for il mare (the seaside).

 

Before wishing you buone ferie, a quick reminder about le ferie. It's a noun, always used in the plural to indicate time off, leave, or vacation.

 

If you've kept up with Commissario Manara, you'll know how thrilled he was to finally have some ferie (time off), but invece (instead) he had to stay put and solve a crime.

 

Ho dovuto sudare sette camice, ma alla fine la tua settimana di ferie eccola qua.

I had to sweat seven shirts [I had to go to a lot of trouble], but in the end, your week of vacation, here it is.

Captions 20-21, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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It's very easy to confuse the meaning of the adjective feriale, which refers to just the opposite situation. Giorni feriali (workdays) include Saturdays, but not giorni festivi (Sundays and holidays). These terms are very important when you're parking your macchina (car) in order to avoid getting una multa (a fine or ticket).

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So whether you're spending your ferie (time off) a casa (at home) or going in vacanza (on vacation) someplace exciting, or even if you're working, here's hoping you can relax and enjoy the rest of the summer.

Yabla non è chiuso per ferie! (Yabla is not closed for vacation!)

 

Just for fun:

Here are some visuals to help you get a feel for the Ferragosto spirit:

Chiuso per ferie                         

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Getting to the Point with Dunque and Nocciolo

Before getting to il nocciolo (the kernel) of this lesson, let’s get a little background.

Dunque is primarily a conjunction similar to allora (in that case, at that time, so, well), quindi (therefore, so), and perciò (for this reason).

 

E dunque dovrei andare con il sette.

And so (therefore) I should go with the seven.

Caption 27, Briscola - Regole del gioco - Part 2

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E dunque, per me essere madre vuol dire parecchio...

And well, for me being a mother means a lot...

Caption 18, Essere... - madre

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But to get to the point, the crux, the heart of this lesson: dunque is also used as a noun in the expressions venire al dunque (to come to the point), andare al dunque (to get to the point), and arrivare al dunque (to get to the point). It means getting to the reason for the conversation, or the real subject. It’s a good expression to know when the conversation is dragging on, or if you need a quick conclusion. In this episode of Commissario Manara, Luca is questioning someone and doesn’t want to waste time beating around the bush.

 

Le dispiace se andiamo subito al dunque?

Do you mind if we get right to the point?

Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Be careful how and when you use this expression, because it implies impatience. However, you can also use it to refer to yourself, when you want to be concise.

Vengo subito al dunque.
I’ll get right to the point.

Dunque stands for “the reason for this conversation or this meeting,” and is part of an idiomatic expression. When referring to the point itself, punto (point) does the trick just fine.

 

Però non è questo il punto, zia.

But that's not the point, Aunt.

Caption 63, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Another alternative is noccioloIl nocciolo is the kernel or pit of a peach or other fruit. It’s the heart of the matter. Note that the accent is on the first syllable. If we put it on the second syllable it becomes a hazelnut tree!

Arriviamo al nocciolo della faccenda.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

Practice:
Try starting out your thoughts with an introductory allora (well, so), and then repeat the sentence using dunque, to get the feel of that. In this case, dunque becomes one of those words to use as a filler, when you’re thinking of what to say. See this lesson on using allora as a filler word. Then try using dunque in a sentence, where you might put the more common quindi (therefore, so). Do a Yabla search for some examples.

Pretend you’re in a meeting that’s getting out of hand. Learn some of the expressions above (using the verbs arrivareandarevenire) so that they’re ready when you need them.

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Just for fun:

Dunque, sarebbe meglio arrivare presto al dunque, perché siamo già andati fuori orario. Qual’è il nocciolo della questione, dunque?

Well, it would be better to get to the point soon, because we’ve already gone overtime. So, what’s the crux of the matter?

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Verbs of Uncertainty and the Subjunctive

We talked about the subjunctive together with the conditional in a previous lesson. But there are other cases in which we need to use what’s called il congiuntivo (subjunctive mood). Certain verbs, usually having to do with some kind of uncertainty, “kick off” the subjunctive. This means that they are conjugated normally in the indicative themselves, but if they precede a conjunction like che (that), then the subjunctive comes into play with the verb that follows.

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These particular verbs express wishes, thoughts, beliefs, worries, and doubts. Here are some of them:

accettare (to accept), amare (to love), aspettare (to wait), assicurarsi (to insure), attendere (to wait for), augurare (to wish for), chiedere (to ask), credere (to believe), desiderare (to desire), disporre (to arrange), domandare (to ask), dubitare (to doubt), esigere (to require), fingere (to make believe), illudersi (to delude oneself), immaginare (to imagine), lasciare (to leave), negare (to negate), permettere (to permit), preferire (to prefer), pregare (to pray), pretendere (to expect), rallegrarsi (to rejoice), ritenere (to retain), sospettare (to suspect), sperare (to hope), supporre (to suppose), temere (to fear), volere (to want).

It’s a daunting (and partial) list, but you can learn them gradually, on a need-to-know basis.

The issue of the subjunctive arises when we have a main clause and a dependent clause. The two clauses, or parts of the sentence, are often connected by che (that). There are other conjunctions, but once you learn how to use che, it’ll be easier to use the other conjunctions.

Let’s focus on a relatively simple sentence from this informative and popular Yabla interview with Silvia D’Onghia, a journalist, who obviously loves her job. At the end she says:

 

Credo che sia il lavoro più bello del mondo.

I believe that it's the greatest job in the world.

Caption 58, Professioni e mestieri - Silvia D'Onghia, giornalista

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Note that in English no subjunctive is necessary here, and we could leave out “that.” Sia is simply the subjunctive of essere in the present tense. If you look at any conjugation chart, for example here, the subjunctive conjugation is the same in the first, second familiar, and third persons. Silvia’s comment provides us with a convenient formula to work with:

verb kicking off the subjunctive (credere) + che + verb in the subjunctive (essere)

Try using different verbs from the list above in place of credere. You can have fun with this while trying to have the sentence make sense. You’re simply replacing the main verb (conjugated normally), while the rest of the sentence stays the same. The idea is to get used to using the subjunctive so that it feels natural to you when using the appropriate verbs. Once it feels natural, you can go on to change other elements of the model sentence.

We can easily change the person in the main clause (this time it’s a reflexive verb!), but the subjunctive part of the sentence stays the same as in the model:

Ci illudiamo che sia il lavoro più bello del mondo.
We’re deluding ourselves that it’s the greatest job in the world.

Spera che sia il lavoro più bello del mondo.
She hopes that it’s the greatest job in the world.

Advanced learners might want to replace the verb in the subjunctive with fare (to do, to make) or avere (to have), for example:

Credo che faccia il lavoro più bello...
I believe that I do the greatest job...

Or:

I believe that he does the greatest job...

 

Credo che abbia il lavoro più bello...
I believe that I have the greatest job

Or:

I believe that she has the greatest job...

As mentioned above, the subjunctive is the same in the third person and the first person (which makes it easy, but can also cause confusion). You can add the personal pronoun for clarity if need be:

Credo che lui abbia il lavoro più bello...
I believe that he has the greatest job...

 

Further exploration:
Do a Yabla search of sia. Does che or some other conjunction precede it? Look for the verb that kicks it off. You’ll recognize many of the verbs from the list above.

Noi di Yabla speriamo che tu abbia capito questa piccola lezione sui verbi che prendono il congiuntivo, ma immaginiamo che non sia facilissima da mettere in pratica. Desideriamo che tutti voi siate felici di imparare con noi!

We at Yabla hope that you have understood this little lesson about verbs that take the subjunctive, but we can imagine that it isn’t all that easy to put into practice. We would like you all to be happy to learn with us!

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Understanding Addosso

When you’re feeling things in such a way that they seem to be “on top of you,” they’re addosso, like in this Lorenzo Jovanotti song.

L'estate addosso

Summer [is] upon us

Un anno è già passato

A year has already gone by

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He’s talking about the summer season, but also the weight (and heat) of summer. We might even say he feels it on his shoulders or back. Addosso can mean on top, right nearby, but definitely close (in time or space), close enough to be breathing down your neck. It can even be so close as to be inside you.

 

This somewhat peculiar word has a little history. Dosso is a rather archaic way of saying dorso (back, spine). Remembering this will help in assimilating addosso and di dosso (off of). As a noun, dosso by itself is used when talking about geological formations (bumps or hills), or in la segnaletica stradale (road signs) to indicate a bump or a rise.

 

Dosso usually gets together with a preposition to be transformed into a compound preposition/adverb: addosso. If there’s an indirect object in the form of a noun, as in the following example, we need the preposition a (to).

Il ramo è caduto addosso ad un bambino.
The branch fell onto a child.

If we use an object pronoun, we have:

Il ramo è caduto addosso a lui.
The branch fell onto him.

 

To make the sentence flow better, we can turn it around, employing the famous combination: indirect object pronoun + preposition (if this is unfamiliar to you, see Ci Gets Around: Part 1 and Ricordare: Remembering and Reminding). A lui (to him) becomes gli (to him):

Gli [a lui] è caduto il ramo addosso.
The branch fell on top of him.

 

In this case, we generally find addosso at the end of the sentence or clause, and the object pronoun will be elsewhere.

 

Eh sì. Infatti, lui ci ha rovesciato tutto il vassoio addosso.

Oh yes. In fact, he even spilled the contents of the tray on top of us.

Caption 36, Anna e Marika - Il verbo essere - Part 1

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Related words:
Di dosso (from your back, off your back), usually used with a word meaning “to remove” such as togliere or levare:

Me lo sono levato di dosso.
I got it off my back [I got rid of it].

Toglimi le mani di dosso.
Take your hands off me.

 

Addossare isn’t very common in normal conversation, but means something along the lines of “to lean.” It’s used when talking about blame or responsibility:

addossare la colpa
to lay the blame

addossarsi la responsabilità
to take responsibility

 

Indossare (to wear, to put on, literally “to put on one’s back”):

Indossava una sciarpa rossa.
She was wearing a red scarf.

 

In a nutshell:
When referring to “on,” we use addosso
When referring to “off,” we use di dosso

Addosso will need the preposition a (to), which may be hidden in the object pronoun.

Di dosso, on the other hand, already has its (detached) preposition: di (of).

The most common related verb form is indossare (to wear).

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A Yabla video search of addosso will give you some good examples of how it’s used.

Just for fun:
Stavo facendo un giro in bicicletta. Indossavo una maglia colorata, e quindi ero ben visibile, ma nonostante ciò, una macchina mi è venuta proprio addosso e sono cascato. Poi la bici stessa mi è cascata addosso. Non sono riuscito subito a togliermela di dosso. L’autista non mi ha aiutato e neanche voleva addossarsi la responsabilità. Ogni tanto, questa cattiva esperienza me la sento ancora addosso.

 

I was taking a bike ride. I was wearing a bright jersey, and so I was quite visible, but in spite of that, a car bumped right into me and I fell off. Then the bike itself fell onto me. I wasn’t able to get it off me right away. The driver didn’t help me, nor did he want to take responsibility. Every now and then, I still feel this bad experience inside of me.

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The Underlying Meaning of "Allora"

Allora (so, then, well) is one of those filler words that’s highly useful when thinking of what to say in Italian. It buys you a little time and tells the listener you’re thinking things over, especially when used by itself, or to introduce a sentence. Used by itself, it can express impatience:

Allora! (Come on!, Hey!)

or can be introductory:

Allora, vediamo. (Well then, let’s see.)

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But what does it really mean? The word actually comes from the Latin ad illa horam (at that time). And, not surprisingly, allora can indeed mean “at that time,” when it refers to the past. It’s true that we can use “then” as a translation, but “then” has other meanings as well, so it helps to have an idea of allora’s underlying meaning.

The following example gives you the idea:

 

Io penso che tu lo sappia che prima di allora... eh, Roma aveva un grandissimo problema proprio per le alluvioni.

I think that you know that before that time... uh, Rome had indeed a huge problem with flooding.

Captions 36-37, Anna e Marika - Il fiume Tevere

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In a video series about the recent history Italian cuisine, Chef Gualtiero Marchesi is telling the story of his restaurant. He uses allora twice in the same sentence, but to mean different things: the first instance is the filler that gets used so often; the second instance is a bit more specific.

 

E allora proponevo questo piatto, il grande antipasto di pesce, che allora aveva tre versioni.

And so I offered this dish, a large fish antipasto, which at that time had three versions.

Captions 12-13, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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Allora can also mean “in that case.” In fact, the second instance of allora in the above example could also possibly have meant “in that case.” In the following example, the meaning is less ambiguous. You might be asking, can’t we just say “then”? In this case, yes, because it’s clearly an “if/then” situation, but “in that case” helps us understand allora more fully.

 

Quindi, la differenza è minima, però capirete quando vedete: è un aggettivo o un avverbio? Se io parlo di un avverbio, allora è sempre "bene", una situazione, se parlo di un aggettivo uso "bello" o "buono".

So, the difference is minimal, but you'll understand when you see: is it an adjective or an adverb? If I'm talking about an adverb, in that case it's always "bene," a situation, if I'm talking about an adjective I use "bello" or "buono."

Captions 24-27, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Le parole: bello, buono e bene

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In place of allora, Daniela could have used in tal caso or in quel caso to mean “in that case,” but since she is speaking informally, she has used allora.

We use allora a lot in speech without even thinking about it, so being aware of where it comes from may give us una marcia in più (“an edge,” literally “one more gear”).

 

In a nutshell:

Allora is a filler word much of the time (well, so, then).

Allora comes from the Latin ad illa horam (at that time) and means precisely that, when talking about the past. Allora means “then” in several senses of the word (well/so, at that time, in that case).

 

Just for fun:

Allora, vi racconto un po’ della mia storia. Da bambina portavo una gonna per andare a scuola. Allora era vietato alle ragazze mettersi pantaloni. Il sabato, per giocare, allora potevano mettere anche i pantaloni. Allora! Mi ascoltate? No? Allora, non vi dico più niente.

Well, I’ll tell you a bit about my past. As a girl I wore a skirt to go to school. At that time girls were not allowed to wear pants. But on Saturdays, to play, then (in that case) they could wear pants, too. Hey! Are you listening to me? You’re not? In that case, I won’t tell you anything more.

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Learning suggestion:

There are a great many instances of allora in Yabla videos. By doing a search and just scrolling through, now that you’re in the know, you’ll be able to figure out if someone’s thinking of what to say, or if he or she is being more specific.

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Vivere: Living the Experience

The basic meaning of the verb vivere is “to live.” In this case it’s intransitive, meaning it doesn’t take a direct object.

 

Non è per niente male vivere in Italia, anzi!

It's not at all bad living in Italy, on the contrary!

Caption 54, Francesca - sulla spiaggia - Part 3

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But Italian also uses vivere to mean “to go through,” “to experience.” In this case, it’s transitive, meaning it takes a direct object. In this first example, Gualtiero “lives” the problem (direct object) of having to eat out every day.

 

Quindi ho vissuto in prima persona il problema del pranzo fuori casa.

So I experienced firsthand, the problem of lunch away from home.

Caption 13, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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In talking about how he experienced this problem, he could have said, ho vissuto personalmente, but he used in prima persona (in the first person, firsthand) which is a very common way to say the same thing.

As a guest in a foreign country like Italy, you'll often be asked about your esperienze (experiences). If you use the noun form, then esperienza is your friend.

 

È stata una delle esperienze più intense della mia vita.

It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

Caption 5, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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When instead you want to use the verb “to experience,” then vivere is a good choice:

 

Nel ristorante che stavo ideando, la cucina e l'ambiente stesso avrebbero dovuto risvegliare emozioni da vivere e condividere con il cliente.

In the restaurant I was designing, the kitchen and the space itself would have to awaken emotions to experience and share with the customer.

Captions 14-15, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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And here’s Jovanotti in his song about positive thinking, with a verb and a noun that both mean “experience”!

 

...e vivere le esperienze sulla mia pelle...

...and live out the experiences on my own skin [personally]...

Caption 32, Lorenzo Jovanotti - Penso Positivo

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It wouldn’t sound good to say “experience the experiences” in English (using “experience” as both a verb and a noun in the same line), but it wouldn’t be incorrect! And now, you've discovered still another way to say “personally.”

 

In a nutshell:
There are two important (related) meanings of vivere:

vivere (to live)

vivere (to experience, to live out, to go through)

There are different ways to express “personally.” Both Gualtiero and Jovanotti could have used any of the following to mean pretty much the same thing:

personalmente (personally)
sulla propria pelle (on one’s own skin, firsthand, personally)
in prima persona (in the first person, firsthand, personally)

“Experience” as a noun is pretty much the same as esperienza. There’s no verb form of esperienza.

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“To experience” is most frequently translated as vivere. Check out some of the other possibilities here.

Just for fun:
Non sono italiano ma vivo in Italia. Vivere qui è un’esperienza straordinaria. Hovissuto dei momenti fantastici, però ho anche vissuto sulla mia pelle cosa vuol dire essere extracomunitario. La procedura delle impronte digitali l’ho vissuto in prima persona. Non è stata un’esperienza per niente simpatica, e personalmente, ne avrei fatto a meno di viverla.

 

I’m not Italian, but I live in Italy. Living here has been an extraordinary experience. I’ve experienced some fantastic moments, but I’ve also experienced, firsthand, what it means to be non-European. The procedure for fingerprinting I experienced firsthand. It wasn’t a nice experience at all, and personally, I could have done without going through that.

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Getting someone’s attention in Italian: ascoltare and sentire

One way to get someone’s attention is to use the imperative command form of a verb. Two useful verbs for this purpose are ascoltare (to listen) and sentire (to hear). In Italian it’s important to know to whom you are giving the command; this will determine both the word choice and its conjugation.

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Commissioner Manara has a familiar relationship with Lara and uses the informal form of address: He’s getting her attention by saying ascolta (listen). There’s a slight urgency with ascolta.

 

Ascolta Lara, a volte bisogna prendere delle scorciatoie, no?

Listen Lara, sometimes you have to take shortcuts, right?

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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In the next example, there’s a bit of urgency, but this is Manara’s boss talking to him. They use the polite or formal form of address:

 

Manara, mi ascolti bene.

Manara, listen to me carefully.

Caption 23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Note that the imperative verb can stand alone, or be paired with an object personal pronoun as in the above example. It adds to the urgency, and makes it more personal. Manara’s boss could have added mi raccomando (make sure) for extra urgency:

Manara, mi ascolti bene, mi raccomando!

 

This next example is between two people who really don’t know each other at all. It’s a formal situation, so the Lei form of “you” is used. Senta is more passive and less intrusive than ascolti. In fact, it means “hear” or “listen,” but is actually a way of saying “excuse me.”

 

Senta Signora, oltre a Lei, chi lo sapeva di queste lettere?

Excuse me ma'am, other than you, who knew about these letters?

Caption 64, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi

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Senta (listen, excuse me, or hear me) is a command you’ll use in a restaurant when wishing to get the attention of the cameriere (waiter).

Senta, possiamo ordinare?
Excuse me, may we order?

 

Often, senta (listen) goes hand in hand with scusi (excuse me), to be extra polite.

 

Buonasera. Senta scusi, Lei conosceva il dottor Lenni, giusto?

Good evening. Listen, excuse me.  You knew Doctor Lenni, right?

Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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And in a familiar situation, such as between Marika and the mozzarella vendor in Rome, there’s no urgency but Marika wants to get the vendor’s attention before asking her a question.

 

Senti, ma quante mozzarelle dobbiamo comprare per la nostra cena?

Listen, but how many mozzarellas should we buy for our dinner?

Caption 50, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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Without necessarily studying all the conjugations of sentire and scusare, it’s a good idea to just remember that in polite speech, the imperative has an “a” at the end of senta, but an “i” at the end of scusi. The familiar command form would be senti, scusa. These endings can be tricky for beginners because they seem wrong, being the opposite of the indicative endings. It’s quite easy to get mixed up. The command form originally comes from the subjunctive, which is why it has a different, special conjugation.

 

Learning suggestion:

Getting someone’s attention is part of the basic toolkit you need to communicate in Italian, so why not practice a bit, in your mind? Look at someone and get their attention using the correct verb and correct form.

If you don’t know the person, or you address them formally for some other reason, you use:

Senta! Senta, scusi.
Senta, mi scusi.
[Mi] ascolti. (Not so common, and a bit aggressive, useful if you’re a boss.)

 

If you’re trying to get the attention of a friend, you’ll use:

Senti... (It’s almost like saying, “Hey...”)
Ascolta...

Ascoltami... (This can be aggressive or intimate depending on the tone and the context.)

 

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Learn more about the imperative in Italian here.

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Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu

In this week's lesson, Daniela shows us how different colors behave differently according to gender and number. Some of the colors are easy to understand, and to find equivalent names for, but when it comes to blue, Italians make some important distinctions. The three basic shades of blue are bluazzurro, and celeste.

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Blu is the most basic and can have an adjective attached to it such as in blu notte (midnight blue, dark blue, or navy blue) or blu elettrico (electric blue) or blu petrolio (oil blue or teal blue)It's the darkest of the three and also the "bluest." Think of the American or French flag. That's blu.

Azzurro isn't just any blue. It's a blue that reminds us of the transparent waters of the Mediterranean Sea along a rocky coast, the sky when it's so incredibly clear, that it seems unreal, with the sun shining high in the sky. It's a blue that has a tiny bit of green in it, tending more towards turquoise than deep blue, or even royal blue. Azzurro is also the name given to the Italian national sports teams. They wear jerseys or shorts of this color. The color azure exists in English, but it's not commonly used to describe the color of everyday items. 

Celeste is a kind of sky blue (think: "celestial"), like the sky in the early evening or early morning on a summer day. There's not a whole lot of sun, and the sky is clear but not intense. That's celeste. Baby blue is quite close to celeste.

In describing Sicily, Adriano uses both blu and azzurro:

 

Ma quello che di più colpisce è il contrasto spettacolare tra il colore azzurro, blu del mare che si staglia sul verde della montagna di Monte Pellegrino.

But what is most stunning is the spectacular contrast between the blue color, the blue of the sea that's outlined on the green of the mountain of Monte Pellegrino.

Captions 42-44, Adriano - Monte Pellegrino

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Milena is showing us some items at the supermarket. There may be some discussion as to whether the cap on the milk container is azzurro or celeste, but it's clear that it's a blue that's on the light side, to indicate "light" milk. 

 

Questo è il latte parzialmente scremato. Di solito ha il tappo celeste.

This is partially skimmed milk. Usually it has a sky-blue cap.

Captions 23-24, Milena - al supermercato

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These two lines from Adriano Celentano's hit song, Azzurro, sung by Milena and friends, give you an idea of what azzurro is all about:

 

Cerco l'estate tutto l'anno e all'improvviso, eccola qua

I've been looking for summer all year long and all of a sudden, here it is

Azzurro, il pomeriggio è troppo azzurro e lungo per me

Blue, the afternoon is too blue and long for me

Captions 2-5, Amiche - È tempo di cantare

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Another famous Italian song known as Volare, by Domenico Modugno, uses blu, notazzurro, to describe the sky. It must be said that blu rhymes with a lot more words than azzurro!

Nel blu dipinto di blu 
In the blue painted blue
Felice di stare lassù
Happy to be up there

 

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Learning suggestion:

Take a look around at all the blue items you can see. Try to say which color they are in Italian, and, after following Daniela's lesson, use the colors as adjectives in both the singular and the plural. Bluazzurro, or celeste

 

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