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Life Events: Nascere, Vivere, Morire

In a recent lesson we talked about some of the verbs in the inscription on a stone plaque in Valsinni, Basilicata. We discussed some verbs in the passato remoto. In this lesson we’ll focus on the verbs nascere (to be born), vivere (to live), and morire (to die), which also appear in the inscription.


Questo castello che vide nascere,

This castle, which saw the birth,

vivere e morire la poetessa Isabella Morra...

life, and death of the poet Isabella Morra...

Captions 1-4, Basilicata Turistica - Non me ne voglio andare

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It’s interesting to note that in Italian, being born is expressed with the active verb nascere, whereas English requires the passive voice of the verb “to bear”: Someone is, or was, born. The only way to make being born active is to use a phrase like “to come into being.”

In Italian history books, the third person remote past of the (intransitive) verb nascere (to come into being, to be born) is used quite often: nacque (he/she/it was born).

The Valsinni inscription could have just as easily read:

Qui nacquevisse, e morì la poetessa Isabella Morra

(Here the poet Isabella Morra was bornlived and died).


The remote past of the irregular verb vivere (to live) might be familiar to opera lovers. Vissi d’arte (I lived for [my] art), from Puccini’s Tosca, is one of the most famous opera arias of all. In fact, the aria is a great source of verbs in the passato remoto.

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,

I lived for art, I lived for love,

non feci mai male ad anima viva!

I never did any harm to a living soul!


Morire is also an irregular verb.

Floria Tosca muore alla fine dell’opera.

Floria Tosca dies at the end of the opera.

Isabella Morra morì a Valsinni.

Isabella Morra died in Valsinni.


What’s interesting about the verb morire (to die) is that, as with many verbs, the past participle morto (died) is the same as the adjective morto (dead). You need to pay close attention to the context to know which it is. 

Isabella è morta diversi secoli fa.

Isabella died several centuries ago.

È morta da diversi secoli.

She has been dead for several centuries.


On a lighter note, in a video about Beauty and the Beast, there is another life event where English requires the passive voice, while Italian uses the active: il matrimonio (marriage).


Belle e il principe si sposarono nel giardino di rose.

Beauty and the Prince were married in the rose garden.

Caption 67, Ti racconto una fiaba - La Bella e la Bestia

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In this case, the si is not reflexive, but reciprocal. Beauty and the Beast marry each other. See Marika’s video about reflexive and reciprocal verbs.


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