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Ways to Say “About” in Italian

"About" is a very common word in English. It is a preposition, but also an adjective and adverb. For now, we'll focus on the prepositional meaning "on the subject of" or "concerning." As in English, Italian provides a few different options. So let's take a look.

 

The first way: the preposition di (of/about).

 

If you think back to stories you have heard, even English uses “of” sometimes to mean “about.”

I will speak to you of love.

 

It may seem a bit antiquated, but it does exist. In Italian, it’s very common. In fact, Adriano speaks a very everyday kind of Italian, and normally uses the preposition di (about, of) to mean “about.”

Vi parlo della colazione, di una colazione italiana.
I'm going to talk to you about breakfast, about an Italian breakfast.
Caption 2, Adriano: fa colazione

 

Oggi vi parlerò delle stagioni.
Today I'm going to talk to you about the seasons.
Caption 2, Adriano: Le stagioni dell'anno

 

The second way: a (to, at).

The preposition a is used with the verb pensare (to think). We could also say “to reflect.” Then the preposition “on” could make sense. “To reflect on life.”

Sì, mi metto a pensare alla vita in generale. A...  a tutto.
Yes, I get to thinking about life in general. About... about everything.
Captions 6-7, Amiche: Filosofie

 

But the preposition di can also be used with the verb pensare.

Cosa pensi di questo vestito?
What do you think about/of this dress?

 

You might have run across the pronoun ne in videos and lessons about particelle (particles).

Cosa ne pensi?
What do you think about it?

 

The third way: su (on).

Allora Rossana, ti faccio qualche domanda sul tuo mestiere, insomma.
So Rossana, I'm going to ask you a few questions about your profession, in short.
Caption 54,  Anna e Marika: Il pane

 

The fourth way: proposito.

 

In a recent Yabla video on business English, Arianna is settling into her new job, but already has a problem she needs to discuss with her boss. She uses a more formal, longer way to say “about.” It’s a bit more precise, and, well, businesslike, and gives the topic a bit more importance.

Sì, certo. Ho anche bisogno di parlarti a proposito del nostro contatto della stampa estera.
Yes, of course. I also need to talk to you about our foreign press contact.
Caption 11, Italiano commerciale: Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 1 of 3

 

In the above example, we might also translate proposito as “regarding,” since it’s a moderately formal situation. In actual fact, these days, “regarding” would more likely be found in a letter than in a normal office conversation. The meaning is pretty much the same.

 

In the following example, too, proposito could be translated as “regarding.” We would need some extra context to determine which would work better. If either Lara or Luca were talking to their boss, then “regarding” might be more appropriate.

proposito del caso del cimitero...
Speaking of the cemetery case...
Regarding the cemetery case...
Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 8 of 12

 

It all depends on who is talking to whom, and whether they want to be formal or informal, or if the question is a bit off the cuff, or planned out.

 

Note: One important, and very common way proposito is used, is all by itself, without a specified object: proposito... In this case, it can mean “speaking of which” or “by the way.” It’s a rather non-aggressive means of getting a word in edgewise, changing the subject, or bringing up a topic out of the blue.

Ne parliamo stasera, OK? -A proposito, hai comprato il vino?
We'll talk about it tonight, OK? -Speaking of which, did you buy wine?/By the way, did you buy wine?
Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara 2: Ep. 1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 8 of 15

 

Sometimes these different ways of saying "about" are interchangeable, and sometimes one works better than the other. Experience will help you determine the best one for any given situation. Keep your ears open!

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Fare and Food

Fare translates as “to make” or “to do.”  But we also use fare in contexts where English uses the verb “to have.” 

 

Let's look at some ways fare is used when referring to food — the cooking of it and the eating of it. It can be straightforward and mean “to make”:

Fa il pane ogni venerdì (he makes bread every Friday).

 

But let’s look at some less predictable uses of fare and see where they lead.

 

In English, we say: “I’ll fix dinner” or “I’ll make dinner,” but in Italian, it’s common to say preparo la cena (I’ll prepare dinner) or, to be more generic and informal, faccio da mangiare (I’ll make something to eat). Note that the verb cucinare (to cook) is the actual proper Italian verb for this.

Dovrei fare da mangiare ma invece leggerò il giornale (I should fix something to eat, but instead, I'm going to read the paper).

 

“Eating breakfast” or "having breakfast" uses the verb fare in Italian: fare colazione (to have breakfast or “to eat breakfast”).

Non esco mai da casa senza aver fatto una buona colazione.
I never leave the house without having eaten a good breakfast.
Caption 5, Adriano: Giornata 

 

In Italian, unlike English, having lunch or dinner is often referred to using the verb forms of pranzo (lunch) and cena (dinner): pranzare and cenare

Ho pranzato a mezzogiorno e mezzo (I had lunch at half past twelve).

Aveva già cenato quando sono arrivata io (he had already eaten dinner when I got there).

A che ora pranzi di solito (what time do you usually have lunch)?

Oggi non pranzo. Ho mangiato un panino per strada (I’m not having lunch today. I ate a sandwich on the way).

 

Note that the verb avere (to have) can be used as an auxiliary verb, as in ho mangiato (I ate), or ho fatto colazione (I had breakfast), but is not used the way we use it in English as a kind of substitute for "to eat." Avere (to have) might be used as follows:

Ho un po' di pasta avanzata. La vuoi mangiare (I have some leftover pasta. Do you want to have it)?

 

In a nutshell:

For breakfast, we use fare colazione (to have breakfast), but for lunch and dinner, we use pranzare and cenare. Fare da mangiare is a general term meaning to prepare or make something to eat.

 

Further practice:

As you go through your day, think about your meals, answer these questions, and, if you can, make up new ones, changing the conjugations or other elements in the sentence.

Chi fa da mangiare in casa tua (who cooks the meals in your house)

A che ora hai fatto colazione stamattina (what time did you have breakfast this morning)?

Con chi ha pranzato tuo fratello (with whom did your brother have lunch)? Cosa hanno mangiato (what did they eat)?

Note that when you get specific about the food you eat, then you can use the verb mangiare (to eat), but remember you don’t “eat lunch” in Italian, you eat something (such as pasta) at/for lunch:

pranzo i miei genitori hanno mangiato dei fagioli col tonno (my parents had beans and tuna for lunch). Tu che cosa hai mangiato (what did you have)?

Ti va di cenare con solo verdura (do you feel like having just vegetables for dinner)?

Note that in Italian, we sometimes use per (for) pranzo /cena and we sometimes use (at) pranzo/cena.

Cosa c’è per cena (what’s for dinner)?

Cosa mangiamo a cena (what shall we have for dinner?)

 

There’s always more to learn about verbs such as fare. Remember, it’s an irregular verb, and a very common one, so it’s a handy verb to know how to conjugate.
 

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The Historical Present Tense in Italian

In the English language, with some exceptions, history is told in the past. The historical present does exist, however. In English grammar, the historical present is the use of a verb phrase in the present tense to refer to an event that took place in the past. In narratives, the historical present may be used to create an effect of immediacy. It’s also called the historic present, dramatic present, and narrative present.

 

But in Italian and other romance languages the historical present is commonly used to recount events in the past, especially when referring to history.

 

Context is very important, and translating can present some challenges.

 

Here’s an example of how Italian uses the historical present for something that clearly happened in the past. In English, it would sound a bit strange in the present tense, and the first phrase would be well nigh impossible to express in the present tense.

Pitrè nasce nel milleottocentoquarantuno a Palermo, in una famiglia di pescatori.
Pitrè was born in eighteen hundred forty-one in Palermo, in a family of fishermen.
Il padre, un povero marinaio del rione di Santa Lucia, è costretto, come tanti, ad emigrare in America, dove muore di febbre gialla.
The father, a poor sailor from the Santa Lucia district, was forced, like many, to emigrate to America, where he died of yellow fever.
Captions 28-32, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 2 of 15 

 

In the documentary about Fascism currently available on Yabla, the historical present is used in several instances. Sometimes it makes sense to use it in English, too, as in the following example. By using the historical present, we set the scene. We seem to observe the events from close up, as they happen.

Sono gli anni delle campagne di stampa contro le parole straniere.
Parole straniere e borghesia sono mali da estirpare.

These are the years of the publishing campaigns against foreign words.
Foreign words and the bourgeoisie are evils to be rooted out.
Captions 5 - 6, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5 of 15

 

La "Gazzetta del Popolo" di Torino inaugura la rubrica "Una parola al giorno".
Turin's “Gazzetta del Popolo” [The People's Gazette] launches the feature “Una Parola al Giorno” [A Word a Day].
Captions 14 - 15, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5 of 15 

 

The use of the historical or narrative present in Italian is just something to be aware of. Deciding whether or not to maintain the same tense in translation is a subjective one, based on the tone to be set, or based on clarity. Much of the time, using the past tense in English will be preferred, but not always.

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Those pesky particelle (particles)

In English we might imagine a dialogue such as this in a group of housemates:

Who will go to the store to buy milk? -I’ll go.

We have a very brief answer.  It includes the person who will carry out the task, and the verb “to go.” Anything else is easily inferred.

 

But in Italian, it’s common to include the place as well, or some other information, as a pronoun. So, the initial question is the same.

Chi va al supermercato per comprare il latte (who will go to the store to buy milk?)

 

But the answer will probably be:

Ci vado io (I’ll go there). We would not likely say “I’ll go there” in English, but it’s implied.

 

So, there’s this extra element in Italian, with respect to English: the place. Ci corresponds to “there,” “to that place,” “to the store.”

 

Here’s an example from Marika’s video about all these particles.

Cominciamo con "ci" più "mi". "Devo tornare a casa, mi ci porti?"
Let's begin with “ci” plus “mi.” "I need to go back home. Will you bring me there?”
Captions 17-19, Marika spiega: I pronomi combinati - Part 3 of 3 

 

Another example, not about a place but about a situation.

Who will take care of this problem? -I will.
Chi si occuperà di questo problema? -Ci penso io.

 

Ci corresponds to “of this problem,” or “about this problem.”

Italian has these little pronoun particles that say a lot, and they can often be construed to stand for something in English. But more often than not, they stand for some element of a sentence that generally gets left out in English. This makes learning the little words difficult. They don’t seem to correspond to anything.

 

If you leave them out, and say, for example, vado io, instead of ci vado io, people will understand you anyway, most likely, but little by little, as you use your Italian in real life, you will get the hang of these particles, and include them more and more often in your speech, and your Italian will become more fluent, more "Italian."

 

There are two parallel paths to becoming more fluent. The first is to listen and repeat, even if you are merely repeating in your mind as someone is speaking. Speaking, even though you know you will make mistakes, is also important. You can’t very well start out speaking perfectly, and communication certainly comes first. Having someone understand you despite all your mistakes is already a win.

 

The other path is to study and read. Studying can give you those “ah ha” moments when you figure something out, and it can give you some ground rules so you're not completely lost. But studying won’t help you too much in conversation if you don’t follow the listening path. Once you have a rudimentary knowledge of Italian and can communicate, then studying can help you refine your knowledge and skill.

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The Good, the Bad...

When we talk about people and life, we use certain somewhat standard words and expressions to describe the good and the bad.

 

Rather than using the adjectives “good” and “bad,” and their comparatives (for better or for worse), Italian tends to use the nouns il bene (goodness) and il male (evil) or, ”the good” and “the bad.”

 

In this week’s episode of L’Eredità quiz show, the host and contestants are talking about someone’s character. Some character traits can be either positive or negative or both, and that’s what they’re talking about here.

Nel bene e nel male. -Nel bene e nel male, per il resto tutti pregi, insomma.
For better and for worse. -For better and for worse, but for the rest, all positives, in short.
Caption 9, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 2 of 3

 

In wedding vows, Italians traditionally say it a different way.

Vuoi tu, Lara Rubino, prendere il qui presente Luca Manara come tuo legittimo sposo, essergli fedele sempre nella buona e nella cattiva sorte, nella gioia e nel dolore?
Do you Lara Rubino wish to take the here present Luca Manara as your lawful husband, to be ever faithful to him in good times and in bad times [for better or for worse], in joy and in sorrow?
Captions 45-48, Il Commissario Manara 2: Matrimonio con delitto Ep. 1 - Part 1 of 15 

 

Bene and male are both nouns and adverbs.The adjective forms are buono (good) and malo (bad). See this lesson about malo.

 

Closely connected to bene and male are pregi e difetti (strengths and weaknesses, strong points and weak points, virtues or qualities and shortcomings or flaws). There are various ways to say this in English but Italians commonly talk about un pregio  or un difetto. Links have been provided to WordReference so you can see how many nuances there are of these nouns.

 

Note that Adriano uses qualche (some, a few) with a singular noun, but the intention is plural. See this lesson about qualche. He could have said alcuni difetti (a few shortcomings).

La mia ragazza ha molti pregi, ma anche qualche difetto.
My girlfriend has many virtues, but also a few shortcomings.
È molto testarda, è un po' capricciosa...
She's very stubborn, she's a bit unpredictable...
Captions 33-34, Adriano: la sua ragazza  

 

Back to our quiz show... They talk about excess as being both a quality and a weakness.

È anche il suo pregioL'eccesso è... -È così... è così, insomma... -il suo pregio e il suo difetto.
It's also his strong point. Excess is... -It’s like that... is like that, all in all... -his strong point and his weakness.
Captions 10-12, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 2 of 3

 

Practice:

Quali sono i tuoi pregi (what are your strong points)?  i difetti (and your weak points)?
Can you talk about your job or your school, your teachers or your boss, your friends, siblings, or pets using pregi and difetti?

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Using Sotto (Under) and Dietro (Behind)

Marika is offering a video series explaining the different kinds of adverbs used in Italian. In many cases, however, these adverbs can also be used as prepositions, or even as conjunctions in other contexts.

 

Besides knowing what adverb or preposition to use in a given instance, it can be tricky knowing whether you need an extra preposition or not. In fact, when Italians speak English, they often add prepositions where it isn’t necessary. Instead of saying “behind me” they’ll say “behind of me.” It makes a certain amount of sense because we say “in front of me.” And it makes sense to them because that’s how they often do it in Italian. What's even trickier in learning Italian, is that in some cases you can add a preposition or not, and it will still be correct.

 

Let’s look at a couple of adverbs/prepositions on Marika’s list that can cause confusion. As you can see in the example below, she uses sotto (under, underneath) and dietro (behind) plus another preposition a (to, at).

"Sotto": conservo il pigiama sempre sotto al cuscino.
"Dietro": la mia aspirapolvere non arriva dietro al divano. 
Under.” I always keep the pyjamas under the pillow.
Behind.“ My vacuum cleaner doesn't reach behind the sofa.
Captions 21 - 22, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi - Avverbi di luogo 

The example below is about putting a halter on a horse.

Qui ci andrà il muso. Si chiude sotto alla mandibola questo, -OK. -e questo passa dietro alleorecchie.
Here's where the muzzle goes. You fasten this under the lower jaw, - OK. -and this goesbehind the ears.
Captions 18 - 19, Francesca: Cavalli - Part 2 of 9 

 

In the previous examples, there is a preposition added to the adverb/preposition. But you will also hear plenty of Italians leaving the second preposition out. Sotto il cuscino is pretty much as common as sotto al cuscino and both are correct. Al combines the preposition a and the article il.

 

The examples above could be expressed just as correctly without the addition of a before the object. In this case, the article would be written out: sotto il cuscinodietro il divanosotto lamandiboladietro le orecchie.

 

Here are some examples where there is no additional preposition.

Ed eravamo un... un mucchio di ragazzini e lavoravamo sotto questi camion senza tanta sicurezza.
And we were a... a bunch of kids and we worked underneath these trucks with very few safety measures.
Captions 22 and 26, Gianni si racconta: Chi sono 

Si nascose dietro uno scoglio per osservare cosa gli stesse accadendo.
She hid behind a rock to see what was happening to him.
Captions 50 - 51, Ti racconto una fiaba: La sirenetta - Part 1 of 2 

 

There is an important exception connected with these adverb/prepositions. If the object is a personal pronoun, then you do need the (second) preposition.

Dietro di me, c’è una finestra.
Behind me, there’s a window.

 

Vieni dietro a me.
Come on behind me (follow me).

The more you listen, the more often you will catch the short words. They can easily get lost, especially since they are so often combined with the article.

There is more to say about sotto and dietro, as they are used in lots of different contexts. And there are plenty of adverbs to talk about. But we’ll save them for future lessons. Until then, we look forward, as always, to your comments and questions.

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More on Riprendere

We talked about the verbs prendere and riprendere in this lesson.
But in a popular Kimbo commercial for coffee featured on Italian TV, there is a play on words using precisely the verb riprendere, so let’s take a closer look, in order to better appreciate the double meaning. 

Ti riprendi? -Sì. Me [dialetto romanesco: miriprendo un altro caffè.
Are you getting a hold of yourself [feeling better]? -Yes. I'll get a hold of another coffeefor myself [I’ll have another coffee].
Captions 8-9, Gigi Proietti: Caffè Kimbo - Spot - Mi riprendo un altro caffè

Prendere (to take) is the basic verb. The prefix ri- generally means “again,” so it's logical forriprendere to mean “to retake,” and it often does.

 

Gigi Proietti has lost his memory, and the doctor is trying to hypnotize him into remembering something. When we faint, or we feel bad in some way, hopefully, we then “come to,” we get a hold of ourselves, we start feeling better. This is another meaning of riprendere, but this time it's the reflexive form, riprendersi. In a reflexive verb, the direct object and the subject are the same. Mi riprendo (I get myself back).

 

So when Gigi Proietti says, mi riprendo un altro caffè, the direct object in this sentence iscaffè (coffee), not Proietti himself. He uses riprendersi, and conjugates it, mi riprendo. Onfirst glance, it looks just like a reflexive verb, but it's not reflexive, because caffè is the direct object. It does, however, use the same attached particles as reflexive and other pronominal verbs, so it's also called un verbo pronominale (pronominal verb). In this case, though, it is specifically un verbo con uso intensivo, o verbo di affetto (an intensified or personalized verb). Apart from its purpose — to personalize or intensify — we can distinguish it from the reflexive verb because, if omitted, the sentence is still complete. 

 

This extra personalization is commonly used in Italian speech, as in “I’ll have for myself another cup of coffee.” We could omit "for myself" and simply say "I’ll have another cup of coffee.” In Italian too, instead of mi riprendo un altro caffè, Proietti could have said, riprendo un altro caffè, without intensifying it, but of course, then there would have been no play on words.

So, here, mi stands for a me stesso (for myself). 

 

Here's another example. Riprendere, like prendere, is a transitive verb, so we need an object, even if the object is oneself.

 

Let's say I'm out running. After a sprint...

Riprendo fiato (I catch my breath). Fiato (breath) is the direct object.

If, during a long run, I run out of energy, then maybe I’ll need to rest and drink some water.

Mi prendo una pausa (I take a break for myself). Pausa (break) is the direct object.

Then I start feeling better again and continue the run.

Mi riprendo (I get my energy back). Mi (myself) is the direct object.

Riprendo la corsa  ( I take up running again). La corsa (running) is the direct object).

 

In a nutshell:

Verbo transitivo (transitive verb):
Prendere (to take)
Riprendere (to take another, to take again, to continue after an interruption)

Verbo riflessivo (reflexive verb), also verbo pronominale (pronominal verb):
Riprendersi (to start feeling better again)

Verbo intensificato (intensified, personalized verb) also verbo pronominale (pronominal verb): 
Prendersi qualcosa (to take something for oneself)
Riprendersi qualcosa (to take something again for oneself)

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Macchine, Macchine, and Macchine

 

Here’s a general definition of the English word “machine”: “an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work.”

 

As we look at the different things that are called macchine (the cognate of “machine” but with a double “c”) in Italian, it may be helpful to remember the above definition.

 

Apart from being a cognate of “machine” in most instances, one of the most important meanings of macchina, in Italian, is “car.” It isn’t very intuitive to translate, but it fits the description above. Other words meaning “car” are automobile, just like in English, autovettura, or just auto. These words are used more formally, and when buying and selling cars. But in everyday conversation, macchina is the noun of choice.

Con il cric si alza la macchina e si cerca di togliere la gomma bucata.
With the jack, you raise the car and you try to remove the punctured tire.
Caption 19, Francesca: alla guida - Part 3 of 4 

 

Here are some of the most common macchine (machines) you’ll see around.Macchina da pane or macchina per il pane (bread machine)
Macchina per la pasta (pasta machine)

 

La macchina che vedete in funzione, in realtà è difficile vederlo da qui, ma sta realizzando dei tortellini.

The machine you see working —  it's actually difficult to see it from here — but it's producing tortellini.
Caption 33, Anna e Marika: La pasta fresca 

 

In the pastificio (pasta-making shop) Marika and Anna visit, the machine is undoubtedly electric, but there are mechanical machines as well, powered by a human! You turn the crank. Mechanical pasta machines to use at home are sold all over Italy.

 

Macchina da scrivere  (typewriter). A machine for writing. It can be electric or manual.  We don’t see many of these around anymore, but a computer keyboard performs a similar function.

 

Macchina fotografica  (camera). This is a machine that takes still photos.  These days unamacchina fotografica often takes videos, too.

 

Macchina da ripresa (movie camera). This is also called una cinepresa in Italian. The English term videocamera has become part of Italian vocabulary. This item is also called a “camcorder” in English and a telecamera (short for the English “television camera”) in Italian.

 

Macchina da cucire (sewing machine). Here, too, we have electric sewing machines and pedal sewing machines, which are still used today by some sarti (tailors/dressmakers) orsarte (seamstresses/dressmakers) in Italy.

 

There are undoubtedly many other macchine that carry out specific tasks, and more are being invented faster than we can learn their names.

 

If you watch the video of the quiz show L’eredità, new this week, the present lesson may help you understand the play on words used in some joking around between the host and the contestants. It starts like this:

Abbiamo noleggiato la macchina ieri sera. -Esatto, una bella macchina.
We rented a car yesterday evening. -Right, a nice car.
Caption 46, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 1 of 3  

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What's the Story on Voi in the Singular?

English doesn’t make the distinction — as far as pronouns go — between familiar and polite forms, but many languages do.

 

In this week’s segment about how the Italian language was influenced by Italian fascism, we learn that Lei, the polite form of “you” (singular), was actually banned from the language by Mussolini, and that the form Voi was imposed. But what’s this all about?

 

Let’s clarify, right away, that voi with a lowercase “v” is the second person plural personal pronoun, that is, “you” plural. We use it all the time. What we’re discussing here, however, is the use of Voi — with a capital letter — as a second person singular, polite form. It uses the same conjugation as voi (you plural).

 

The story is a long, complicated, and fascinating one, but here are the basics.

 

In ancient Rome, people used only the familiar form, “tu” (which later became the Italian tu (you, singular).

 

At a certain point, around the year 300, the Latin “Vos” ("you" plural used as a singular) began to be used with important figures such as emperors, much the same way as the pluralismajestatis was used.

 

“Vos” then became Voi in Italian, and was commonly used from the 1200’s to the 1400’s for addressing artists, nobility, etc. Dante used tu and Voi. Later, in the Renaissance, with the return to studying the Greek and Roman classics, there was a tendency to go back to the “Roman” tu.

 

Also in the Renaissance, Lei began to be used in offices and courts as a polite form of address. Lei corresponds to the third person feminine singular (she/her). The words used for prominent figures, like Eccellenza (Excellence) and Maestà (Majesty) are feminine nouns, and so, this led to a feminine pronoun: LeiLei was used alongside Voi for centuries as a deferential form of address, with tu as a familiar and intimate one. Many consider that the use of Lei came into use following the model of the Spanish, whose presence was felt in Italy during the 16th Century.

 

So, though not actually foreign (but believed to be, at least, partially), Lei was banned by Mussolini as being a non-Italian word:

Imposizione del Voi.
The imposition of “Voi” ["you" singular, formal]
Parole straniere bandite e sostituite per legge.
Foreign words banned and replaced by law.
Captions 6 and 9, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 2 of 15 

 

Thus, Voi was revived and/or imposed all over Italy. After the fall of fascism, Voi fell into disuse in many parts of Italy, where it had not really had time to be assimilated.

 

In much of southern Italy, however, Voi, as a deferential form of address, had never gone out of fashion, as it had in the north. So, it simply remained, and to this day it’s still used as a sign of respect, especially in families: a nipotino (grandson) in speaking to his nonno (grandfather), for example.

 

If you are an adult and go on a trip to Naples, Sicily or other southern Italian destination, you may very well be addressed as Voi. This is a sign of respect.

 

Lei has entered Italian vocabulary and grammar books as the official personal pronoun for addressing someone formally. But since language is fluid and ever-changing — not by law and imposition, but by common use — this could change.

 

Thanks for reading, keep up the good work, and feel free to write to us at 
newsletter@yabla.com with your comments and questions.

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Adapting to Adatto and Adattare

This week, Arianna has her job interview for a marketing position. It turns out that her potential employer thinks she would be very suitable for the job. Ottime notizie (great news)! But the Italian word for “suitable” isn’t so easy to guess.

Be' Arianna, Lei mi sembra che sia proprio adatta a questo posto.
Well, Arianna. You seem very suitable for this position.
Caption 48, Italiano commerciale: Colloquio di lavoro - Part 2 of 2 

So the adjective is adatto. We use it to say “suitable” as above, “fitting,” “appropriate,”  “ideal,” or “right,” also when speaking in the negative as in the following example.

Anche se, certo, non è il momento adatto.
Even though, naturally, it's not the ideal moment.
Caption 8, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte in paradiso Ep 9 - Part 3 of 13 

 

When you’re looking for the right word in Italian, you can say,

Non trovo la parola adatta.
I can’t find the right word.

Or,

Non è proprio la parola adatta, ma forse si capisce.
It’s not really the right/appropriate word, but maybe you get my meaning.

 

There is a verb that is a close relative: adattare. The basic meaning of this verb is “to make something become suitable.” So you can adapt something, with the transitive form ofadattare, and that something becomes adatto (suitable).

Per cui ho sempre visto fare grandi cose adattate poi alla cucina del mercato.
So I've always seen them do great things, adapted, subsequently, to the cuisine of the marketplace.
Caption 40, L'arte della cucina: La Prima Identitá - Part 12 of 17

 

The reflexive form takes a preposition, much like the English.

Mi sono adattata fin da subito alla cucina italiana.
adapted to Italian cuisine right away.

 

A verb often becomes an adjective by way of its past participle. Let's take, for example, the verb pulire (to clean). The past participle is pulito (cleaned)We can say ho pulito il bagno (Icleaned the bathroom/I've cleaned the bathroom), il bagno è stato pulito (the bathroom was cleaned), or il bagno è pulito (the bathroom is clean). In Italian, the adjective pulito (clean) is identical to the past participle pulito (cleaned), and comes from the verb.

 

But with adatto and adattare, it's different. It's just something to remember.

 

In a nutshell:

Adjective: adatto (suitable)
Verb: adattare-adattarsi (to adapt), with its regular past participle, adattato (adapted).

 

Just for fun:

 

To set the scene: You arrive in your new apartment with all your furniture from the old apartment, especially one of your favorite pieces, a bookcase.

Non è lo spazio più adatto a questa libreria. Bisognerebbe fare adattare la libreria da un falegname. Io l’avevo già adattato una volta ad uno spazio molto più irregolare di questo, ed ora, temo che non si adatterà più. Sarà meglio comprare una libreria componibile che si adatti a qualsiasi spazio.  

 

It’s not an ideal space for this bookcase. We would have to have the bookcase adapted by a carpenter. I had already adapted it once to a much more irregular space, and now, I’m afraid I won’t be able to adapt it ever again. It might be better to buy a modular set of shelves that adapts to any space. 
 

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Adriano's Book

In a new video from Yabla, Adriano tells us about a book he wrote. He uses the verb importare (to matter, to be important) a few times. Importare sounds much like the English adjective “important,” but it’s a verb, and needs to be handled accordingly. If you’re not familiar with importare, take a look at this lesson about it. Adriano adds the indirect object pronoun a me/mi to importare, to mean that something does or doesn't matter to him. It’s a little stronger and more personal than non importa (it doesn’t matter). 

Ma questo a me non importa.
But this doesn't matter to me.
Caption 5, Adriano: Indietro non si torna 

 

He could also have said, ma questo non m'importa.

 

Another verb he uses is vivere. It means “to live” but also “to experience,” so see this lesson about how Italians use vivere.

Bisogna vivere il presente in maniera intensa,
One needs to experience the present in an intense way,
Caption 47, Adriano: Indietro non si torna 

 

Let’s talk for a moment about the title of Adriano’s book, Indietro non si torna (One can’t go back). First of all, he turns the phrase around to put the emphasis on indietro (back, backwards). He could have entitled it Non si torna indietro and it would mean the same thing, but it would have less impact. The emphasis would have been on non (not).

 

He uses the impersonal form of the verb tornare (to return, to go back). The impersonal form is peculiar to Latin-based languages and is used quite a bit in Italian, but can be difficult for learners to grasp. See these lessons about the impersonale. To express the same idea in English we often use the passive voice, or, especially in the negative, a general “you” that means anyone and everyone. Although not used much in conversation, English also employs the neutral "one" in the third person singular for the same purpose. In the negative impersonal, the implication is that you shouldn’t or can’t do something. So, we might freely translate Adriano's title as "You can't go back," or "There's no going back."

"A me mi" non si dice.
"To me, I" isn't said [you shouldn’t say, you can’t say, you don’t say, one doesn't say].
Caption 12, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 9 of 28 

 

Note how Italians change the word order where in English, it's less common. If we turn the Italian sentence around, it's clearer.

Non si dice "a me mi".
One doesn't say "to me, I."

 

In an impersonal positive statement, we often use “they” or the passive voice in English.

Si dice che qui il sole spacca le pietre.
It's said [They say] that here, the sun splits rocks.  
Caption 41, Adriano: Le stagioni dell'anno 

 

Hopefully, these words about Adriano's video have helped you understand some of the contents a bit better, or have reinforced what you already knew. Keep up the good work, and thanks for reading.

 

To watch other videos featuring Adriano, just do a search with his name. His videos are generally easy to understand, by way of his clearly articulated and well-paced way of speaking.

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Places to Sit in Italian, Part Two

In a previous lesson we talked about sedie (chairs), panche (benches), and panchine (park benches). But now let’s examine some more comfortable places to sit.

 

Normally, if there are arms on a chair, as in “armchair,” it’s una poltrona, for Italians, especially if it’s got padding and is comfortable. A smaller armchair, that is, a chair with braccioli (arms or armrests), may be called una poltroncina. It’s not necessarily comfortable. Il bracciolo (arm, armrest) comes from il braccio (the arm).

 

If we want to seat two people, we can talk about un divanetto. It is usually smaller in size and importance than a proper divano (sofa, couch) where you can usually lie down, put your feet up,  and take up space.

Mi distendo sul divano, guardo un po' di televisione.
I stretch out on the couch, I watch a little TV.
Captions 41-42, Adriano: Giornata

 

Sometimes people have a divano letto (a sofa bed) for guests, or even for themselves, if they lack space.

 

What you sit on in a car, train or plane, or other means of transport is un sedile (a seat). They are often called posti a sedere (places to sit).

In prima classe, i sedili sono più comodi.
In first class, the seats are more comfortable.

 

Babies and young children need special seats in a car.

È passeggino per i bambini molto piccoli, oppure seggiolino auto.
It’s a stroller for very small babies, or else a little car seat.
Caption 42, Anna presenta: Attrezzature per un neonato

 

Babies eat in special chairs called seggioloni (highchairs).

 

If you go skiing in Italy, you may want to travel up the slopes on a seggiovia (chairlift).

 

And if you really want to get comfortable, you can stretch out on un letto matrimoniale (a double or king-size bed) or un lettino (usually a single bed), or if you go to the doctor’s or to see a massage therapist, or even a psychoanalyst, you might also find yourself lying on un lettino.

Si metta sul lettino e mi parli del Suo rapporto con i piedi.
Get on the couch and tell me about your relationship with your feet.
Caption 4, Psicovip: Cappuccetto Rosso - Ep 7


 

Un lettino may also be seen at the edge of pools or at the beach.

quanto costa affittare un lettino?
And how much does it cost to rent a cot?
Caption 5, Una gita: al lago - Part 2 of 4

 

Another comfortable seat is uno sdraio (a deck chair, a recliner).

 

Sdraio comes from the verb sdraiare  (to lay down) or its reflexive version, sdraiarsi (to lie down, to recline). The plural is the same as the singular as we see in the following example.

Vengono messi ombrelloni, sdraio.
Beach umbrellas, beach chairs will be installed.
Caption 5,  Antonio: e il Lido Costa Blu 

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Chi manca (who's missing)?

The verb mancare (to miss, to be missing, to lack) is important to learn, to be able to tell someone you miss him or her, but mancare also has some other contexts, and learning these might help to understand this tricky verb.

 

In the following example, there's a piece of information we don't have. We're lacking something. It's absent.

Manca un'informazione importante.
An important piece of information is missing.
Caption 33, A scuola di musica: con Alessio - Part 3 of 3 

 

Here's a typical thing to say at the dinner table:

Manca il sale nella  pasta.
The pasta lacks salt [salt is lacking in the pasta].

Let's transpose this to talking about people. Let's say there's a meeting, but not everyone is there. Someone says: 

Chi manca (who's missing)? Chi non c'è (who's not here)?
Manca Alice (Alice is missing). Non c'è Alice (Alice isn't here).

 

That has no sentimental value. Alice should be there and she's not. But when we add a personal pronoun, in this case, an indirect object pronoun like mi (to me), ti (to you), gli (to him), le (to her), ci (to us), vi (to you plural), loro (to them), we make it about us, we make it personal. We personally feel the fact of that person's absence. That's how Italians miss someone. 

 

Marika explains:

Un altro significato è "sentire la mancanza".
Another meaning is "to feel the absence."
Caption 18, Marika spiega: Il verbo mancare

She uses mancare in this context:

Mia sorella è appena partita e già mi manca!
My sister just left, and already miss her!
Caption 19,  Marika spiega: Il verbo mancare 

 

In the following example, Luca Manara is feeling nostalgic about the past, and feels the absence of certain moments. Using the indirect object pronoun mi makes it about him, about how he feels.

Mi mancano quei momenti in cui non conoscevo la risoluzione dei problemi e tu mi passavi le risposte sotto al banco.
I miss those times when I didn't know the answers to the questions and you passed me the answers under the desk.
Captions: 64, 65 Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 8 of 14 

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Upkeep and Keeping Up with Mantenere

Mantenere (to maintain, to keep)

 

The primary meaning of mantenere is “to maintain” (a true cognate) or “to keep.”

But it doesn’t mean “keep” as in keeping a lock of someone’s hair. For that, we can use tenere(which is also part of mantenere) or conservare. It’s more about keeping a promise, as in the following example, where the subjunctive of mantenere is used. Affinché (so that, in order for) is the conjunction that requires the subjunctive in this sentence.

Il ranocchio le gridò dietro affinché lei mantenesse la sua promessa.
The frog shouted after her, in order for her to keep her promise.
Caption 32, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 1 

 

Mantenere can also imply keeping or maintaining something in a certain condition or position.

Fermo restando che insieme al, alla tintura vengono richiesti spesso, i pigmenti colorati cheservono per mantenere anche il colore,
Taking for granted that together with the dye, often we get a request for color revitalizers that are also used to maintain the color,
Captions 46-47, Happy Hair - Rivenditore per parrucchieri: Prodotti di bellezza - Part 1 

 

È un ballo molto veloce, ritmato, in quattro quarti, dove la caratteristica è mantenere le ginocchia sempre in movimento e alte.
It's a very fast dance, rhythmic, in four four, whose characteristic is to always keep the knees moving and up high.
Captions 10-11, Adriano: Jive 

 

We use mantenere to mean “to support,” too. We use the reflexive form, mantenersi,  to refer to making a living, to supporting oneself.

Si era messo a lavora' da un fornaio per mantenersi, di notte.
He started working at a bakery at night to support himself.
Caption 19, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 11 of 28 

 

Un mantenuto is someone who is “kept” or supported by someone else.

Giorgio non ha un lavoro, fa il mantenuto a casa di sua mamma.
Giorgio doesn’t have a job, he is supported by his mother.

 

Or we could say:

Si fa mantenere dalla sua fidanzata
He gets supported by his girlfriend.

 

See also these other nouns that come from mantenere:

Mantenimento, which is more about financial support of people or animals.

Manutenzione which is more about maintenance and upkeep.

 

The following example uses both mantenere and manutenzione in a single sentence.

E fornisce molto lavoro, soprattutto per i ragazzi più giovani che possono lavorare con le barche, possono affittarle, possono mantenerne la manutenzione, possono venderle.
And it provides a lot of work, above all for the younger people who can work with the boats, they can rent them, keep up with their maintenance, they can sell them.
Captions 8-10,  Milena: al porto di Maratea

 

Just for fun:

 

Ho mantenuto lo stesso giardiniere per vent’anni, perché era molto bravo nellamanutenzione degli atrezzi da giardino, e nel mantenere pulito e rigoglioso il giardino stesso. Inoltre, doveva mantenere cinque figli. Si manteneva con il giardinaggio.

 

kept on the same gardener for twenty years because he was very good with the upkeep of the gardening utensils and in keeping the garden itself neat and flourishing. Besides, he had to support five children. He supported himself by doing gardening.

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Locali, Locale, Locals

A note about Adriano and his Dublin videos. You may notice that in a recent installment, he uses the noun locali to mean “the locals.” It’s incorrect.

Questa scuola di cucina serve appunto per far conoscere a locali [sic: persone del posto] e a stranieri le tecniche, i segreti della cucina italiana.
This school serves, in fact, to acquaint locals and foreigners with the techniques, the secrets of Italian cooking.
Caption 22,  Adriano: Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1 of 2 

In Italian, un locale is a place. Adriano is using a “false friend” that made its way into his brain without his even realizing it, perhaps. This can happen very easily when we spend time in a foreign country. We make a huge effort to learn the language of the place, we even start thinking in that language, and then all of a sudden we have to speak our native language there in the foreign country. It’s easy to get a little mixed up sometimes. Living in a foreign country encourages us to become somewhat multilingual, using the word that seems the most appropriate at the moment, in whichever language. Since there is no good, single Italian word for “the locals,” Adriano just grabbed the first word that sounded right, treating it as an Italianword, making the plural with an i. If you speak English, you understand it. Just remember: it’s not correct Italian. 

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Legare (to Tie)

Adriano provides us with a useful Italian word: legare (to tie). In talking about his favorite restaurant in Dublin, he uses the verb form, legare (to tie):

Sono molti i fattori che mi legano a questo ristorante.
There are many factors that tie me to this restaurant.
Caption 24,  Adriano: Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1 of 2

 

He’s speaking metaphorically, just as in the following example, where he uses the adjective/past participle legato.

Quando ero piccolo, ero molto legato alla figura di Pinocchio
When I was little, I was very tied to the figure of Pinocchio. 
Caption 24,  Adriano: Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1 of 2

 

In Italian, the verb legare can imply feeling connected to something or someone as in the above examples, or it can be about simply tying or fastening something.

Ora, io non l'ho legato, ma naturalmente va sempre legato.
Now, I haven't fastened him in, but naturally he should always be fastened.
Caption 23, Anna presenta:  Attrezzature per un neonato

 

We’re talking about a kind of seat belt here.

And in the following example, we’re talking about a leash for a dog and tying an animal to a secure post.

Va be', sì, insomma, l'avevo legato qui fuori a un vaso, ma evidentemente...
OK, yes, in other words, I'd tied him to a flower pot out here, but evidently...
Caption 24, La ladra: Le cose cambiano - Part 11 of 17 

 

Things can be tied in a non-physical way, by association.

Comunque qualcosa legato all'incendio, no?
In any case, something tied to the fire, right?
Caption 48, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Beato tra le donne Ep. 11 - Part 9 of 12 

 

There's more to say about legare so stay tuned.

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Stare as Opposed to Essere

A subscriber has asked a good question: why Adriano used stare instead of essere in caption 6 in Adriano: Adriano e Anita.

 

In fact, knowing when to use stare isn’t always easy because like essere, it mostly translates as “to be.” Sometimes the choice is clear cut, and other times it’s a matter of taste or regional usage.

Sicuramente vi starete chiedendo chi è questa bella ragazza che sta alla mia destra.
Surely you have been asking yourselves, “Who’s the pretty girl who is on my right?”
Caption 5-6, Adriano: Adriano e Anita

Perhaps the best answer, in this case, is that stare has more to do with a position in a place or situation than essere, which is generic “to be,” and so using stare is a bit more specific. Adriano is not going so far as to say she is sitting or standing on his right, but she is there, placed at his right, in a position, so stare works.

Adriano also happens to be from Sicily. In southern Italy, people use the verb stare to replaceessere in many cases.

 

There can be multiple reasons for using stare instead of essere, and they can be interchangeable in some cases, but there are some situations in which stare works and essere doesn’t.

Come stai (how are you)? We’re talking about a condition here.

"Come stai?" rispondo "sto bene!"
"How are you?" I answer, "I'm fine."
Caption 37, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Chiedere "Come va?" 

 

On the other hand, in the (unlikely) case where I ask you come sei? (using essere), I am asking how tall, how fat or thin you are, or how good looking you are, but not how you are feeling, or how you are.

 

For more on stare, have a look at the WordReference entry for stare and see this Yabla lesson. In addition, it’s always handy to do a Yabla search of stare or its conjugations and look at the examples to get even more of a sense of when to use it. 

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The Verb Filare and its Meanings

There’s an old but beloved pop song on Yabla this week: Berta filava (Bertha Spun) and its subject merits a bit of attention. The songwriter uses the verb filareThe main translation for this verb is “to spin,” as in a spinning wheel. But just as in English where the verb “to spin” also has to do with spinning around, or spinning a tall tale, in Italian, too, it has different meanings, more or less colloquial.

 

As we mentioned above, the traditional meaning is “to spin” as in yarn. In fact, filare appears in a fairy tale.

Lì incontrò una vecchia signora che era seduta a un vecchio arcolaio.
There she encountered an old woman who was sitting at an old spinning wheel.
La principessa era curiosa e chiede [sic. chiese] se poteva provarlo.
The princess was curious and asked if she could try it out.
Alla vecchia signora gentile non risultava che fosse vietato filare nel regno,
The kindly old woman was not aware that it was forbidden to spin in the kingdom,
diede il fuso alla principessa.
and gave the spindle over to the princess.
Captions 32 - 35, Ti racconto una fiaba: La Bella Addormentata nel Bosco - Part 1  

 

In the featured song this week, the lyrics are about a certain Berta (the equivalent of Bertha) and when she used to spin. Quando Berta filava (when Bertha used to spin) has become another way of saying “in the good old days,” because the song is so well known. But each verse of the song uses a slightly different meaning of filare.

 

Let's look at some of the connotations for filare.

Filare dritto or filare a diritto (to toe the line, to behave oneself properly, to stay on the straight and narrow).

 

Quella mamma fa filare i figli (that mom makes her children behave).

 

Filare (to move quickly):

 

Fila in macchina. Dai... Forza, gambe, braccia.
Scoot into the car. Come on... Go on, legs, arms.
Captions 26-27,  Un medico in famiglia: Casa nuova - Part 2 of 16 

 

La tartaruga un tempo fu un animale che correva a testa in giù
At one time, the turtle was an animal that ran with her head down
come un siluro filava via.
like a torpedo it would speed away.
Captions 5-7, Giuditta: canta La tartaruga 

 

Scendi al pratone e lo saprai, concluse Tribo, filando via misterioso.
"Go down to the large meadow and you'll find out," concluded Tribo, taking offmysteriously.
Captions 16 - 17, Dixieland: Festa delle sorpresine 

 

Which brings us to the other meanings of filare, that have to do with interpersonal relations.

It can be about flirting, going out with someone, or going even further into intimate relations. You just need to check out the context. In Rino Gaetano’s song, he keeps repeating filava,filava, but at any time, it could mean different things to different people. That’s what makes it fun. And this repetition is a sort of spinning all its own. The refrain just keeps spinning and spinning.

Filava dritto
filava di lato
She behaved
And she misbehaved
Captions 18 - 19, Rino Gaetano: Berta filava 

Filare is a verb, but there are nouns and other verbs that “spin” around this verb. We’ll look at them in future lessons.

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