In the expression un po’, po’ is short for poco (small quantity). Poco is a very common word that can be an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun, and, depending on the context, can correspond to different degrees of quantity.
This week on Yabla, we take a first look at the city of Florence. Arianna has a map to help her figure out how to get around. As she thinks out loud, she uses a common phrase:
Vediamo un po' come possiamo raggiungere il centro della città.
Let's have a look at how we can reach the center of the city.
Caption 7, In giro per l'Italia - Firenze - Part 1Play Caption
Another way to translate vediamo un po’ is simply “let’s see.” It is extremely common for Italians to add un po’ to a verb, just to round off the expression:
Sentite un po' il congiuntivo imperfetto e trapassato:
Have a listen to the simple past and past perfect subjunctive:
Caption 27, Anna e Marika - Il verbo essere - Part 4Play Caption
Allora ci dice un po' quali sono frutta e verdura tipiche romane?
So could you tell us a little which fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Caption 37, Anna e Marika - FruttivendoloPlay Caption
In the example above, the addition of un po’ doesn’t really add any meaning to the phrase, but it rounds it out. We might also translate it as:
So could you just tell us what fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Sometimes un po’ can mean “pretty much” or “just about.” It loses its actual diminutive significance.
Al nord abbiamo precipitazioni e burrasche, un po' dappertutto.
In the north we have rain and storms, just about everywhere.
Caption 59, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9Play Caption
It can be used to give a vague kind of answer:
Sì. Un po' e un po'.
Yes, in a way, yes, in a way, no [a little bit and a little bit].
Caption 15, Amiche - FilosofiePlay Caption
Ironically, we can also use un po’ to mean a lot, when we insert the adjective bello (nice, beautiful): un bel po’ (a good amount, a good number, plenty).
Non deve essere troppo salata, non... insomma ci sono un bel po' di cose da sapere legate alla mozzarella.
It shouldn't be too salty, not... in other words, there are plenty of things to know in connection with mozzarella.
Captions 37-38, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1Play Caption
Un po’ has come to mean so many different amounts, and can also simply mean “some.”
Mi dai un po’ di pane?
Could you give me some bread?
So, if someone asks you if you speak Italian, you can answer un po’ but if you really want to say you don’t speak much at all, you might use the diminutive of an already “diminutive” word: un pochino. Or you might even diminish the amount further by saying pochissimo.
Practice - verbs in context:
Returning to this week’s video about Florence, here are the infinitive forms of the verbs Arianna uses in the first person plural (with noi/we). Can you recognize their conjugated forms in the video? Attenzione, some of them are used as auxiliaries/helping verbs attached to other verbs. You can use your ears to listen for the verbs while watching the video, or use your eyes with the transcript (you’ll find the pop-up link following the description of the video). Don’t forget, you can choose to see only Italian or Italian and English. A couple of these verbs are irregular, but super common. Why not take the opportunity to review the other conjugations of these verbs? Links are provided to a conjugation chart for each verb.
Essere (to be)
Vedere (to see)
Andare (to go)
Stare (to be/to continue to be)
Potere (to be able to/can)
Attraversare (to cross)
Chiamare (to call)