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"Dire" Says More Than Just “To Say”

When someone answers the phone, they’ll say “pronto,” which actually means “ready.” This dates from the days when you probably did have to be ready to receive the call. Now it’s simply the equivalent of “hello” on the phone.


When we’re in an official or business situation where two speakers might not know each other, there’s a formula for what to say after that. In America, if you call a business, they might say, “How can I help you?” or  “What can I do for you?” Or more coldly, “Yes?”


In Italy, the verb dire (to say, to tell) is what’s used, conventionally.


Pronto? Commissariato, dica pure.

Hello, police headquarters, go ahead, tell me [I'm listening].

Caption 27, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP9 - Morte in paradiso

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In the above example, Quattroni adds pure (also). He’s being extra polite and saying, “Go ahead and state your business. [You’re not disturbing me, I’m listening].” Pure is a great adverb to sprinkle into the conversation. Please see the Yabla lesson on pure!


While pronto is used exclusively on the phone, dica is also used in person when you go to the counter at the post office, or some other kind of office. The person who says dica, or mi dica, is essentially asking you (politely) to state your business.


In the following example, Massimo works for Doctor Nicasto. So when he says dica, he is most likely asking for instructions or information.


Massimo. -Ah, dica, dottor Nicasto, dica.

Massimo. -Ah, what can I do for you, Doctor Nicasto, what can I do for you?

Caption 59, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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Grammatically speaking, dica is the formal second person singular imperative of the verb dire. It’s worth mentioning that in Italian, the formal imperative is actually taken from the third person singular subjunctive of dire (see chart from below).



For more about the imperative in Italian, see these lessons.


If you do a Yabla search of dica, you’ll find plenty of examples of dica as an imperative, and plenty more as the third person or second person subjunctive used when grammatically required. See these lessons about the congiuntivo (subjunctive).


Dica might not sound very friendly, and sometimes isn't, but it's mostly just neutral. The more personal but formal expression would be mi dica (tell me, say to me). The person is saying, “Say [to me] what you have to say. I’m listening.” In an informal situation it would be  (tell) or, much more common, dimmi (tell me, say to me). Remember that in the informal imperative, the indirect object pronoun, in this casemi (to me), is attached to the verb, whereas in the formal imperative the indirect object pronoun mi is separate from the verb. So, mi dica is formal; dimmi is informal.


Here’s a quick example of the difference between the informal and formal imperative. Note how, in the informal, in addition to the indirect object pronoun mi (to me) being attached to the verb, the direct object lo (it) is attached as well, and how instead of mithere’s me, because of the presence of the direct object lo.

A che ora ci vediamo (at what time shall we meet)? 
Dimmi tu a che ora (you tell me at what time).
Dimmelo tu (you tell it to me).


A che ora ci vediamo (at what time shall we meet)?
Mi dica Lei a che ora (you tell me at what time).
Me lo dica Lei  (you tell it to me).


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