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Getting Upset with Prendersela

In a Yabla video, Marika talks about the verb prendere (to take) and some of the expressions associated with it. Prendere is much like the English all-purpose verbs “to get” and “to have,” thus not easily taken care of with a cut-and-dried one-word translation.


One of the trickier expressions she mentions is prendersela (to get upset, to blame it [on someone], to take it personally, to take it to heart, to take it out on, to let it get to you, to take offense). Its precise meaning changes according to context. This kind of verb that contains pronouns (that when conjugated split up) is called un verbo pronominale (a pronominal verb--a verb with pronouns). More about pronominal verbs here


But let’s take this phrasal compound verb apart to understand it better in grammatical terms.


Prendere is the infinitive of the verb.

+Se (to oneself) indicates that it’s the reflexive form, prendersi. Note that to form the reflexive infinitive of a verb, we take the e off the end and add si, but if we also have a direct object pronoun in the phrase, we use se in place of si.

+La (it) is the direct object pronoun.

=to take       it    onto oneself
=Prendere   la    se

Italian inverts the indirect and direct object pronouns and connects it all together into one word: prendersela.


When we use prendersela in a sentence, we sometimes have to go hunting for the pieces because the word order might change, and prendersela will in some cases be broken up into its three elements, depending on person, tense, number, negative, imperative or question forms, and the presence of modifiers and other words.  


Prendere can be the conjugated verb:

Me la prendo con te perché non fai attenzione.
I get upset with you because you’re not careful.


But more often than not, it’s used in tenses where the conjugated verb is essere (to be), as in the following example, where prendere ends up as a past participle.

"Me la sono presa con quella persona."

"I got angry at that person."

Caption 13, Marika spiega - Il verbo prendere

 Play Caption


In the following example, there is a negative imperative, which we form with non (not) plus the infinitive of the verb in question. In this case, it’s common to place the reflexive pronoun first, thus breaking up the compound word, and saving the infinitive for the end.


Non te la prendere, ma

Don't feel bad, but

quando sto male preferisco rimanere da solo.

when I feel sick, I prefer to be by myself.

Captions 12-13, La Ladra - EP. 7 - Il piccolo ladro

 Play Caption


"Dai, non te la prendere."

"Come on, don't be upset."

Caption 16, Marika spiega - Il verbo prendere

 Play Caption


It would not be wrong to say:

Dai, non prendertela.
Come on, don't get upset.




Just for fun:

La torta è uscita storta dal forno, e mi sono arrabbiata. 
The cake came out of the oven lopsided, and I got mad.
Ma non me la potevo prendere con nessuno.
But I couldn’t blame it on anyone.
Me la sono presa solo con me stessa, perché era colpa mia.
I only blamed myself, because it was my fault.


Perché te la sei presa? Io non t’ho fatto niente, quindi non te la prendere con me!
Why did you take it personally? I didn’t do anything to you, so don’t take it out on me!
Non me la sono presa con te, me la sono presa e basta.
I’m not mad at you, I’m just upset.


Using prendersela in a sentence can be somewhat of a challenge, so... non te la prendere se non ci riesci subito (don’t get upset if you don’t succeed at it right away)!


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