Il senso (the sense, the way, the feeling) is a very useful noun and has several meanings. Some of the meanings jibe with the English cognate “sense,” but it’s not always a perfect fit. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the wrong verb with this noun, thus saying something different from what we mean.
One of the most common ways to use senso is when it has to do with “meaning” or “sense.” Note that the verb here is avere (to have) but we translate it into English using the verb “to make.”
Scusa, eh, ma se devi stare così, mi dici che senso ha?
Excuse me, huh, but if you have to feel like this, will you tell me what sense that makes?Play Caption
The response to the above question could be:
Non ha nessun senso (it doesn’t make sense at all).
Infatti, è senza senso (in fact, it doesn’t make sense, it’s senseless).
Senso also refers to one of the five senses. It also refers to “sense,” meaning “feeling” or “sensation.” The English cognate “sense” fits pretty well here and both Italian and English can use the verb “to give.”
Il secondo motivo, il più importante, è perché amo la moto e mi dà un senso di libertà.
The second reason, the most important one, is because I love the motorbike and it gives me a sense of freedom.
Captions 29-30, Adriano - GiornataPlay Caption
In the following example, senso has to do with feelings but is used with the verb fare (to make). It means something entirely different from what we looked at above. It’s about feelings, but specifically negative ones, as you can see from the translation. Something gives you a sense of creepiness, repulsion, or repugnance. So, it’s important not to use the verb fare“to make” with senso unless you really mean it this way.
I topi mi fanno un senso.
Mice give me the creeps.
Caption 8, Psicovip - Il topo - Ep 22Play Caption
Let’s remember that senso also means “way.” And just as “way” has various meanings, so does senso.
One very common question to ask someone is in che senso (in what way)? We ask this question when we need more details. It’s another way of saying, “What do you mean?”
No, per quello ho disposto diversamente. -In che senso?
No, for that I've distributed it differently. -In what way?Play Caption
Just as in English, senso means “way” in traffic too.
Questa strada è a senso unico.
This is a one-way street.
In a nutshell:
Fare senso: to give a sense of repulsion, fear, or disgust
I ragni mi fanno senso.
Spiders disgust me.
Avere senso: to make sense, to have meaning
Ha senso arrivare due ore in anticipo?
Does it make sense to arrive two hours early?
Dare un senso: to give a sense, to give meaning
Ti dà un senso di sicurezza.
It gives you a sense of security.
Aiutare gli altri ti può dare un senso alla vita.
Helping others can give some meaning to your life.
Senso unico: one way
I cinque sensi: the five senses
For even more about senso, see this lesson.