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Italian ways to think about things

The Italian verb for "think" is pensare. But there are so many ways, in every language, to talk about thinking. Let's look at a few of them  in Italian.

Pensare (to think)

A quick review of the verb pensare reminds us that it's an  -are verb, and this is good to know for conjugating it, but it's also a verb of uncertainty and some of us already know that that means we often need the subjunctive, especially when it's followed by che, as in the following example. We don't worry about that in English.

Io penso che Vito sia arrabbiato per una cosa molto stupida.

I think that Vito is angry over something very stupid.

Captions 5-6, Corso di italiano con Daniela Il congiuntivo - Part 7

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For more about the verb pensare, here are some lessons and videos to check out:

 

Corso di italiano con Daniela - Il congiuntivo - Part 6 This is part of a 17-part series on the subjunctive.

Anna e Marika - Il verbo pensare Marika and Anna use the various conjugations of pensare in conversation.

I Have This Feeling... - Sapere Part 1 This is a lesson about yet another way to say "I think..." And it doesn't need the subjunctive!

 

Riflettere

When someone asks you a question and you need to think about it, one common verb to use in Italian is riflettere (to reflect). We do use this verb in English, but it's much more common in Italian. 

Ci devo riflettere (I need to think about it).

Sto riflettendo... (I'm thinking...)

C'ho riflettuto e... (I've thought about it and...)

Fammi riflettere (let me think).

 

Idea

A word that is closely connected with pensare is idea. It's the same in English as in Italian, except for the pronunciation.

Ho un'idea (I have an idea)

 

Another relevant word is la mente (the mind) where thinking happens and ideas come from.  So when you are thinking about something, often when you are planning something, you have something in mind. Here, the Italian is parallel to English: in mente. As you can see, the response uses the verb pensare

Che cosa ha in mente? -Sto pensando di impiantare una fabbrica lì.

What do you have in mind? -I'm thinking of setting up a factory there.

Captions 24-25, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 8

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The question is being asked by someone who is using the polite form of avere (to have). [Otherwise, it would be: Che cosa  _____ in mente?]*

 

So sometimes when we think of something, it comes to mind. Italians say something similar but they personalize it.

T'è venuto in mente qualcosa? -No!

Did something come to mind? -No!

Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 10

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So we use in mente (to mind) with a personal pronoun plus the preposition a (to).

A (negative) response could be:

A me non viene in mente niente (nothing comes to mind / I can't think of anything).

 

or, more likely

Non mi viene in mente niente (nothing comes to mind / I can't think of anything).

 

La testa

La mente (the mind) is another word for il cervello (the brain), which is in la testa (the head), so some expressions about thinking use la testa just as they do in English (use your head!) But sometimes the verb is different.

 

In this week's episode of Provaci ancora, Prof! a husband is talking about his wife wanting to divorce him. He says:

Adesso si è messa in testa che vuole anche il divorzio.

Now she has gotten it into her head that she also wants a divorce.

Caption 14, Provaci Ancora Prof! S1E4 - La mia compagna di banco - Part 27

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In English, we personalize this with a possessive pronoun (her head) and we use the catch-all verb "to get," but in Italian, we use the verb mettere (to put) in its reflexive form (mettersi). This often implies a certain stubbornness.

Sembrare

Let's add the verb sembrare (to seem) because lots of times we use it in Italian, when we just use "to think" in English.

Invece a me sembra proprio una buona idea.

On the contrary, to me it seems like a really good idea.

On the contrary, I think it's a really good idea.

Caption 45, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio A corto di idee - Part 1

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Ti sembra giusto (do you think it's fair)?

 

Just for fun, here's a dialog:

Mi è venuto in mente di costruire un tavolo (I was thinking of building a table).

-Come pensi di farlo (how are you thinking of doing it)?

-Ci devo riflettere (I have to think about it).

-Che tipo di tavolo hai in mente (what kind of table do you have in mind)?

-Mi sono messo in testa di farlo grande ma mi sa che dovrò chiedere aiuto a mio zio (I got it into my head to make a big one, but I think I will have to ask my uncle to help me).

-Hai avuto qualche idea in più (have you come up with any more ideas)?

-Ho riflettuto, e penso che sarà troppo difficile costruire un tavolo grande, quindi sarà un tavolo piccolo e semplice (I've thought about it and I think it will be too difficult to build a big table, so it's going to be a small, simple table).

Mi sembra saggio (I think that's wise).

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*Answer: Che cosa  _hai_ in mente?

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