Italian Lessons

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Dotato o Negato? (Gifted or Talentless?)

Either you've got it or you don't. In English you have talent or you don't have it. But in Italian, there is a special word for each end of the scale. Dotato or negato.

Il maestro dice che non ha mai visto nessuno più negato di me
The teacher says he has never seen anyone less gifted than me.
Caption 41, Rai Cinema Questione di Karma - Part 9

 

So the speaker had to use the Italian comparative adverb più (more) before the adjective negato (not at all gifted). Whew! Talk about something not translating smoothly into English!

 

Negato is really a great word, though. It offers a great excuse when you want to get out of doing something you don't like to do. 

Sono negato! Fallo tu.
I'm no good at this! You do it.

 

That isn't to say that we can't also talk about having or not having talent, as, for example, in this week's segment of Adriano Olivetti's story:

Adriano, tu hai così tanti talenti.
Adriano, you have so many talents.
Caption 22, Adriano Olivetti: La Forza di un Sogno part 7

 

Another way we can translate negato is "hopeless," because negato implies that one is never going to get better at something. He or she is lacking in the wherewithal to improve. Instead of a higher being bestowing a gift (the gift of talent) on someone, it has been denied him or her.

Ma, dottore non mi dice niente?
But Doctor don't you have anything to say?
Le dico che Lei è negato.
I'll tell you that you're hopeless.
Captions 43-44, Psicovip: Il ballo - Ep 25

 

And in fact, the verb negare means "to deny."

Senta, Lei è un bel tipo, io non lo posso negare.
Listen, you're a cute guy, I can't deny it.
Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6 of 14

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"Let Me Know" in Italian

In this week's episode of Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno, at the very end, there is an expression that's used just about every day, especially at the end of a conversation, email, a phone call, or text message, so let's have a look.

In this particular case, one person is talking to a few people, so he uses the imperative plural, which happens to be the same as the indicative in the second person plural. 

Fatemi sapere.
Let me know.
Caption 62,  Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8 of 26

 

Let's take the phrase apart. The verb fare (to make) has been combined with the object pronoun mi which stands for a me (to me). To that is added the verb sapere (to know), in the infinitive.

 

So, first of all, we might have been tempted to use the verb lasciare (to let, to leave). It would be a good guess, but instead, we use the ubiquitous verb fare"to make me know." Sounds strange in English, right? But in Italian, it sounds just right. You'll get used to it the more you say and hear it. 

 

Let's look at this expression in the singular, which is how you will use it most often.

 

The most generic version is this: fammi sapere (let me know).

Va be', quando scopri qualcosa fammi sapere.
OK, when you discover something, let me know.
Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 3 of 18

This use of "to make" plus a verb in the infinitive is also used a lot with verbs besides sapere (to know).

Do a Yabla search of fammi and you will see for yourself. There are lots of examples with all kinds of verbs.

Chi c'è alle mie spalle? Fammi vedere. -Francesca.
Who's behind me? Let me see. -Francesca.
Caption 13, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1 of 15

Sometimes we need to add a direct object to our sentence: "Let me see it."

In this case, all those little words get combined into one word. Fammelo vedere (literally "let me itsee" or Let me see it).

Using fare means we conjugate fare, but not the other verb, which can make life easier!

Fare is a verb that is used on so many occasions. Read more lessons about fare

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When Pensare Doesn't Mean "to Think"

One of our readers has expressed interest in knowing more about a certain kind of verb: the kind that has a special idiomatic meaning when it has particelle (particles) attached to it. In Italian these are called verbi pronominali. See this lesson about verbi pronominali. The particular verb he mentioned is pensarci, so that's where we are going to start.

 

The root verb is pensare, so we assume it has to do with "thinking." The particle is ciCi is one of those particles that mean a lot of things, so check out these lessons about ci. In the following example, pensare is literal: "to think," and ci stands for "of it."

Ma certo! Come ho fatto a non pensarci prima?
But of course! Why didn't I think of it before!
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 10

 

Sometimes, when used as a kind of accusation, it's basically the same but it has a different feeling.

È un anno che organizziamo questo viaggio. -Potevi pensarci prima.
We've been organizing this trip for a year. -You could have thought of that before.
Caption 32, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 2

 

In the two previous examples, pensarci stays in the infinitive, because we have another helping or modal verb in the sentence. But we can conjugate it, too. In the following example, it is conjugated in the second person singular informal imperative.

Pensarci can mean "to think of it," but it can also mean "to think about it."

Noi non potremmo mai mandare avanti la fabbrica da soli, lo sai bene.
We could never run the factory on our own. You know that well.

Adriano, pensaci.
Adriano, think about it.
Captions 37-38, Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8

 

But sometimes, pensare doesn't exactly mean to think. It means something more along the lines of "to take care," "to handle," and here, pensare is really tied to the little particle ci as far as meaning goes. Ci still means "of it" or "for it." But we're talking about responsibility. Ci pensi tu (will you take responsibility for getting this done)? For this meaning, it's important to repeat the pronoun, in this case, tu. It helps make the meaning crystal clear, and is part of the idiom. What a huge difference adding the pronoun makes!

Barbagallo, pensaci tu.
Barbagallo, you take care of it.
Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 16

Toscani, io c'ho un appuntamento, pensaci tu.
Toscani, I have an appointment, you take care of it.
Caption 57, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 7

Even though in meaning, ci is connected to pensare, we can still separate the two words.

Ci penso io!
I'll take care of it!

 

Ci pensa lei!
She'll take care of it.

 

Pensarci is a very widely used verb in all of its meanings. When you want someone else to do something, it's a very common way of asking. Here are some examples to think about.


Ci pensi tu a lavare i piatti (will you take care of washing the dishes)?
Ci pensi tu a mettere benzina (will you take care of getting gas)?
Ci pensi tu al bucato (will you take care of the laundry)?
Ci pensi tu a preparare la cena (will you take care of getting dinner ready)?
Ci pensate voi a mettere a posto dopo cena? Io vado a dormire (will you [plural] clean up after dinner? I'm going to bed)!
Vuoi veramente comprare una macchina nuovaPensaci bene (do you really want to buy a new car? Think twice about it).
È il momento per andare in vacanzaPensiamoci bene (is it the right time to go on vacation? Let's think about it a moment).

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Absolutely Superlative!

We've talked recently about comparatives of equality, and so it makes sense to talk about yet another kind of comparative. We're not really comparing two or more items, but rather giving one item a very high vote.

 

In English we use words or prefixes such as "super," "very," "extra," "maximum," "mega."

 

There is a super easy way to make adjectives into absolute superlatives in Italian.

 

Daniela explains how this works:

Ripeto due volte la parola "bravo" e dico: "Lui è bravo bravo".
I repeat the word “brilliant” twice and I say, “He is extremely brilliant.
Caption 6, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Superlativo assoluto - Part 2 of 3

 

There are certain adjectives we use quite frequently in this form to express an absolute superlative.

 

One is bello (beautiful, nice):

Là, in mezzo a quelle canne ci sono due belle fagiani [fagiane] con un maschione bello bello.
There, in the middle of those canes, there are two nice pheasants with a really nice big male.
Caption 70-71, Anna e Marika - Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 3 of 3

 

Another is piccolo (small):

E aveva soltanto un balcone per prendere un po' d'aria e un appartamento piccolo piccolo.
And he only had a balcony for getting a bit of air, and a very tiny apartment.
Captions 22-24, Andromeda: e i gatti 2 - Part 1 of 2

Still another is nuovo (new):

Se si vince, si prende il primo premio.
If we win, we'll get the first prize.
Me lo dici che premio è?
Will you tell me what the prize is?
Un carro armato vero, nuovo nuovo.
A real tank, brand new.
Captions19-21, Trailer - La vita è bella: Roberto Benigni

 

There are lots of others, and you will, little by little, start noticing them as you listen to spoken Italian, where they occur most frequently.

 

Practice: 
Think of things in your everyday life, and try forming sentences with this form of the superlativo assoluto. It's fun and easy.

Here's a head start.

Il frigo è vuoto vuoto (the fridge is completely empty).
Questo pavimento è sporco sporco (this floor is very dirty).
Il disco rigido è pieno pieno (the hard drive is totally full).
Questo video era facile facile da capire (this video was super easy to understand).
Tieni il volume basso basso (keep the volume really low).

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Comparatives of Equality

We have seen that comparatives work a bit differently in Italian as compared to English. Read more here. For most adjectives and adverbs in Italian, there is no specific comparative form. We use the adverbs più (more) or meno  (less) to form the comparative. Notable exceptions are buono (good) and bene (well), which have their own comparative forms. We have discussed them here

 

But things get tricky when we compare things that are equal. For the most part, in English, we use the same adverb or conjunction "as" in both parts of the comparison. 

 

You are as tall as I am. We are both the same height.

 

In Italian, there are basically two pairs of words that are sometimes interchangeable and sometimes not. Tanto (lots, as much) pairs with quanto (how much), and così (like, so) pairs with come (how, as).

Il comparativo di uguaglianza si forma facendo precedere l'aggettivo dall'avverbio "tanto",

o "così", seguito dall'aggettivo, più "come" o "quanto".
The comparative of equality is formed by placing the adverb "tanto" [as much] or "cosi" [like, as], followed by the adjective, plus "as" or "as much."
Caption 23-28, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il comparativo - Part 3 of 6

 

 

And sometimes we can omit one of the two words in a pair. Tutto sommato (all in all), it can be a bit confusing.

 

Here are some examples of complete sentences from Yabla that feature comparatives of equality, so you can become more familiar with them. 

Insomma, i ponti sono tanto frequentati quanto sconosciuti ai romani di oggi.
In other words, the bridges are as traveled as they are unknown to the Romans of today.
Captions 44, I Love Roma: guida della città - Part 8 of 9

 

Ed è stata tanto colpa nostra quanto colpa sua.
And it was as much our fault as his fault.
Caption 55, Italiano commerciale: Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 3 of 3

 

 

The following example uses che, another ingredient of comparatives, as described by Daniela, but here, it's used incorrectly. This just goes to show that comparatives of equality can be tricky for Italians, too.

Disarmonie e contrasti sono ingredienti indispensabili tanto della vita che della cucina.
Disharmonies and contrasts are indispensable ingredients, as much in life as in cuisine.
Caption 18, L'arte della cucina: La Prima Identitá - Part 10 of 17

 

Here is what the speaker should have said.

Disarmonie e contrasti sono ingredienti indispensabili tanto nella vita quanto nella cucina.
Disharmonies and contrasts are indispensable ingredients, in life as well as in the kitchen.

 

This next example compares two comparatives on equal terms (more=more). Can you wrap your head around it

Quanto più l'impasto è durotanto meglio viene la pasta.
The stiffer the dough, the better the pasta will be.
Caption 45, Marino: La maccaronara

 

In the following example, Adriano is using così come to compare the adjective intenso (intense) on an equal basis between one day and other days.  

Spero che anche voi possiate avere delle giornate così intense come questa.
I hope that you too can have days that are as intense as this one.
Captions 56, Adriano: Giornata

 

We often find così and come together in a sentence and it can often be translated as "just as" or "just like."

Al verso è docile e al contro è duro, così come la vita.
Along the grain it's soft and against the grain it's hard, just like life.

Captions 11-12, Claudio Capotondi: Scultore - Part 1 of 6

 

Here are examples of the two types of pairings, along with versions where the first adverb is omitted, as described by Daniela.

Non conosco nessuno così bravo come te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.
Non conosco nessuno bravo come te.
I don't know anyone smart like you.
Non conosco nessuno tanto bravo quanto te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.
Non conosco nessuno bravo quanto te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.

 

Practice: 
Try looking around your home and comparing things. 

Questa stanza è più grande di quella (this room is bigger than that one).
Quella stanza è meno grande di questa (That room is smaller than this one).
Questo tavolo è tanto grande quanto quel tavolo lì (this table is as big as that one there).
Questo tavolo è grande quanto quello lì (this table is as big as that one there).
La mia poltrona è tanto comoda quanto la tua (my armchair is as comfortable as yours).
La mia poltrona è comoda quanto la tua (my armchair is as comfortable as yours).

 

Start simple and get comfortable. Hint: In comparisons of equality, it's more common to omit the first adverb than to include it, at least in everyday speech. Whew! 

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3 Ways of being a cavallo (on horseback)

There's a great expression in Italian to describe being between two things: cavallo, or rather, essere a cavallo di or tra/fra (to straddle) meaning con un piede da una parte euno dall'altra (with one foot on one side and the other on the other side).

Di solito, questo stato influenzale, quindi il raffreddore o l'influenza,
Usually, this flu-like state, that is, a cold or the flu
si prende nel periodo che è a cavallo di due stagioni in particolare.
is caught in the period that straddles two seasons in particular.
Captions 7-8, Marika spiega: Il raffreddore

 

The expression is often used figuratively when referring to historical dates: cavallo di due secoli —negli anni finali di un secolo e iniziali del successivo (straddling two centuries: in the last years of one century and the first years of the following one).

 

We also use cavallo to mean touching on two or three places. 

Maratea si trova al sud d'Italia, eh... a cavallo di tre regioni:
Maratea is located in the south of Italy, uh... straddling three regions:
Caption 35, Antonio: Maratea, la carne e il pesce

 

But without the proposition di (of) or fra/tra (between), cavallo means something else entirely.

 

Essere a cavallo can mean "to be golden, in good shape." In other words, we're riding horses rather than having to walk, and that's a good achievement.

Ora lo facciamo analizzare
Now we'll have it analyzed
se corrisponde a quello trovato sul mio cuscino,
and if it corresponds to the one found on my pillow,
siamo a cavallo.
we'll be in the saddle [all set].
Captions 11-13, Il Commissario Manara: S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 10 of 14

 

Firmi, ed è fatta.
Sign, and it's done.
Ah, allora siamo a cavallovedi?
Ah, so we're on horseback [we're on our way, we're in good shape], you see?
Captions 42-43, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 12 of 16

 

Of course, there is the literal meaning as well: andare a cavallo (to go horseback riding).

a cavallo ci si arriva?
And can you get there on horseback?
Caption 63, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola- Interrogazione sulla Puglia - Part 1 of 2
 

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Ci Siamo (we're there)!

Let's look at a few idiomatic expressions people tend to use when holidays are approaching. They're useful at other times of the year, too.

 

The title of this lesson is ci siamo (we are there). It literally means "we are there," or "we are here," but often means "this is the moment we've all been waiting for" or "we have succeeded." It can also mean "this is the moment we were dreading!"

Ecco qua, ci siamo quasi.
Here we go, we're almost there.
Caption 73, Anna e Marika: Hostaria Antica Roma - Part 3 of 5

 

And when we use it in the negative, non ci siamo, it can mean, "this is not a good thing." It's a synonym for non va bene (this is not OK).

No, no, non ci siamo.
No, no, this is no good.
Caption 91, Anna e Marika - L’Italiana a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna

 

Natale è alle porte [Christmas is at the doors] (Christmas is just around the corner).

 

Siamo sotto Natale. Sotto usually means "under/underneath/below," but in this case, it means during, or we could construe it to mean under the influence of the holidays. 

 

Sotto le festei negozi fanno orari straordinari (around/during the holidays, shops keep extended hours).

 

In Italy, le feste non finiscono più (the holidays never end). 

 

Christmas starts on the 24th of December with la vigilia (Christmas Eve) and lasts until la Befana (Epiphany). Only after that do kids go back to school and things get back to normal.

 

The 26th of December is Santo Stefano, (Saint Stephen's Day), a perfect time for visiting relatives you didn't see on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Traditionally, shops are closed, but oggi giorno (these days), anything goes.

 

And if there is a weekend in the middle of the festivities, there's il ponte (a four or five-day weekend, literally, "the bridge").

 

Quando una festa viene il giovedì, spesso si fa il ponte (when there's a holiday on Thursday, we often take Friday off for a long weekend).

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Comodo: Comfortable or Handy?

The adjective comodo (comfortable) is easy to find in the dictionary, and is easy to understand, too, in a normal context.

Questo divano è molto comodo (this sofa is very comfortable).

 

Tu disfa le valigiemettiti comodo.
You unpack your bags. Get comfortable.
Caption 114, Casa Vianello: Natale in Casa Vianello - Part 1 of 2

 

In this context, we also have the verb accomodare, which means to get comfortable, but it is used in a wide range of expressions about placing someone or something somewhere or even repairing something. 

Se ho degli ospiti a pranzo o a cena,
If I have guests for lunch or for dinner,
li faccio accomodare qui,
I have them sit here,
questo tavolo.
at this table.
Captions 34-36, Marika spiega: Il salone

 

This verb is very often used in its reflexive form, accomodarsi, especially in formal situations, such as in an office when someone asks you to come in, sit down, or wait somewhere.

Signora Casadio, prego, si accomodi.
Missus Casadio, please have a seat.
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara: S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 4 

 

Consider this exchange between two young people. Here the ti (the object pronoun "you") is connected to the verb, but the information is the same as in the previous example. And make sure to put the accent on the first in accomodati.

Scusami, è libero?
Pardon me, is this place free?
Sì certo, accomodati. -Posso? -Sì sì... -Grazie.
Yes, sure, have a seat. -May I? -Sure... -Thanks.
Caption 2-3, Milena e Mattia: L'incontro

 

But there are other contexts in which comodo is used in Italian, and these might be a bit harder to grasp.

 

Comodo can mean "convenient," as in an easy answer, as in over-simplifying.

Ho cambiato idea, me ne ero dimenticato, non gliel'ho detto?
I changed my mind, I had forgotten, didn't I tell you that?
Troppo comodo, Manara.
Too convenient, Manara.
Ormai le sue dimissioni saranno già protocollate.
At this point, your resignation will have been registered.
Captions 33-35, Il Commissario Manara: S1E12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 4 of 13

 

In a recent segment of a special Christmas video Casa Vianello, after welcoming their guest and asking him to make himself at home (as in our first example), the Vianellos argue, as they often do. They use a common expression: fare comodo (to be useful, convenient, handy), often paired with the adverb sempre (always) to qualify it. Mrs. Vianello starts in without really thinking through what she is saying:

Comunque, un figlio fa sempre comodo.
Anyway, a child always comes in handy.
Ma come fa sempre comodo? Tu parli di un figlio come se si trattasse di un paio di pantofole di lana.
But what do you mean "One always comes in handy?" You talk about a child as if it were about a pair of woolen house slippers.
Caption 50-51, Casa Vianello: Natale in Casa Vianello - Part 1 of 2

 

The following example offers a more normal context for fare comodo, this time in the past conditional.

Che caldo!
It's so hot!
Certo, un ombrellone nelle ore centrali del giorno avrebbe fatto veramente comodo.
Of course, an umbrella in the middle of the day would have been really handy.
Captions 1-2, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4

 

And here's an example closer to home!

Fanno molto comodo i sottotitoli in due lingue, no?
Subtitles in two languages are very handy, aren't they?

 

For a different sort of expression where comodo is featured, see this lesson

Comodofare comodoaccomodare, and accomodarsi are all closely related, but cover a lot of different kinds of situations and contexts. Little by little, you will get better at untangling them from one another as you continue to listen, read, speak, and write.

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Provare and Provarci

Provare is a verb that has so many meanings and nuances that it merits some attention. In this week's episode of La Ladra, it has a special meaning that is important to be aware of, especially for those who are thinking about dating.

 

But first, let's go to the basic meanings of this verb. Provare is one of several synonyms meaning "to try." See this lesson about this meaning of provare.

Ora ci provo. Vediamo se ci riesco.
I'm going to try it now.  Let's see if I succeed in it.
Caption 50-51, Francesca: neve - Part 3 of 3

 

This exact same construction takes on a different meaning when we're talking about people being sentimentally interested in one another.  Every language has different terms that come into general use when talking about relationships, like "going out," "dating," "going steady" in English, and in Italian, stare insieme (to be together, to be a couple, to go steady).

 

But before that happens, there is usually an approach. We used to call this courting. These days it can be in person, by text, by phone or in person. It can start with a flirtation. But one person has to approach the other. He or she has to try to get the other person's attention. Because there isn't a true equivalent in Italian, flirtare (to flirt) has become a verb we find in the dictionary. 

 

But generally, this stage of the game, the approach, especialy when it's not very subtle, is described in Italian with provarci.

 

So if I want to say, "That guy was flirting with me!" I might say: Ci stava provando con me!

 

Literally, it means "to try it" as in our first example, but, ci, as we know from previous lessons, means many things, and it can mean "to or with something or someone."

Ci vengo anch'io. I'll come with you [there].

 

In this week's episode of La Ladra, Barbara, an employee, is interested in her boss and she doesn't want any interference, and so she gives Alessia, her co-worker, a rough time and accuses her of flirting with him. In reality, poor, shy Alessia has no such intentions, and is quite shocked to be accused of anything of the sort. In this specific context, provarci means to try to get the sentimental attentions of someone (often by flirting).

Alessia:
Ma questo non significa che io... 

But that doesn't mean that I...
Barbara:
Ho visto come lo guardi, sai?

I've seen how you look at him, you know.
Ma tu, con Aldo, non ci devi neppure provare.
But you with Aldo, you mustn't even try to get his attention.
Alessia:
Io? Ma sei matta?

Me? But are you nuts?
Captions 18-21, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 4 of 14

 

On a general level, however, provarci just means "to try it," as in our first example. In English we leave out any object: we just say "I tried." In Italian, there is usually ci as a general, even neutral, object. It is often shortened to a "ch" sound in a contraction. C'ho provato (I tried). Provaci is an informal command: "Give it a try!"

 

The Italian title for an old Woody Allen film is Provaci ancora, Sam.

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How to Talk About Email in Italian

How do Italians talk about email? Even in English we don't all use the same spelling. Some people write it as one word; some use a hyphen. We also use email as a verb in English, too: "I'll email you." Language doesn't stay the same. It evolves.

 

In Italian, too, "email" as a word, and as a concept, receives different treatment from different people. Be that as it may, the official name for email is la posta elettronica. It makes sense: the electronic mail.

 

And if you say la posta elettronica, you won't be wrong. But la posta elettronica actually stands for email in general, or even the inbox itself. One single email is more like unmessaggio di posta elettronica.

 

Still, more and more frequently, Italians use English words when talking about computers and the internet.

 

Since saying la posta elettronica every time can get old pretty quickly, the English term emailhas been adopted by many Italians. It's certainly quicker to say than la posta elettronica or unmessaggio di posta elettronica. But there's a basic problem. La posta is a feminine noun, so it makes sense for email to be feminine, too. So it might become la email. But how to pronounce the "E"?

 

Vowels:
Many Italians don't fully realize that we Americans pronounce the "E" in "email" like the letter "E."  We say email, e-book, ezine, e-commerce, etc. In Italian, an "E" is pronounced more like the "A" in make.

 

Italians learn to pronounce just about every letter they see. There are rules. But when they come upon foreign words, they can have a hard time imagining a pronunciation different from what think it should be by following the rules. As in most languages, people invent a version of a foreign word that sounds good or right to them. 

 

And regarding the word "mail," an average Italian who doesn't know English would pronounce the "mai" in "mail" as something more akin to "my."  So it's actually a very difficult word to pronounce.

 

To pronounce email in a similar way to English, an Italian would write something like ìmeil. Pretty weird, right?

 

Accent:
In English, we put the accent on the "E," and when the word came into being, there was a hyphen so it was easier to figure this out, but Italians don't necessarily realize that it's the letter "E" as an abbreviation for "electronic." They just read it as they see it and the accent ends up on "mail."

 

So we get la email or worse, una email, with two vowels juxtaposed: "A" followed by "E," neither of which is accented. It's awkward.

 

So lots of people just shorten email to mail

Ti mando una mail.
I'll send you an email.

 

In the latest episode of La Ladra, someone is sending some files via email. But what they say is via mail. It has become very common to say it this way.

Allora, io Le mando via mail tutti i dati della villa
So, I will send you all the information about the villa by email.
Caption 52, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 3 of 14

 

In the following example, la mail refers to a single email.

L'hai mandata la mail al commercialista?
Did you send the email to the accountant?
Caption 30, Marika spiega: Pettegolezzi in ufficio con Anna

 

In the following example, what's meant is the email account.

Se per te privacy è entrar nella mia mail e scrivere a Marco al posto mio...
If privacy for you means going into my email account and writing to Marco in my place...
Caption 55, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 11 

 

Sometimes you need to provide your email address.

Certo. Qual è l'indirizzo mail?
Sure thing. What's your email address?
Caption 68, Italiano commerciale: Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 2 of 2

 

Italians have found a darling way to name the @: the "at" sign. They call it a chiocciola (a snail).

Sì, certo. È Arianna chiocciola Phones and More punto it.
Yes, of course. It's A - R - I - A - N - N - A at Phones and More dot it.
Caption 68, Italiano commerciale - Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 2 of 2

 

Can you provide your email address in Italian? If you can't remember how to say the names of the letters, check out Marika's video. If you have trouble making yourself understood, check out this handy telephone alphabet. Remember that punto (point, period, full stop, dot) is what you say for the dot in "dot com." In Italy, some email addresses end in "com," but many end in it for Italy. Sometimes it gets spelled "I-T" but sometimes it gets pronounced as a word, as in the previous example. 

 

Italians use English words more and more frequently, but they might differ from the original in meaning and in pronunciation, so they might be the hardest words to understand when an Italian is using them in the middle of an Italian sentence.

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Meglio or Migliore?

In our last lesson, there was mention of the Italian comparative adjective migliore (better).  This brought up an excellent question on the part of one of our readers. What's the difference between migliore and meglio? They both mean "better." When should we use meglio instead of migliore?

 

It's a great question, because the answer is not so simple. On a very basic level, migliore is an adjective and is the comparative of buono (good). It is also, with the addition of an article, the superlative of buono (good), as in the following example.

 

La moto è il mezzo migliore per superare il traffico.
The motorbike is the best means of transportation for getting past the traffic.
Caption 27, Adriano: Giornata 

 

Migliore stays the same in both the masculine and the feminine.

Io voglio solo una vita migliore di questa.
I just want a better life than this.
Caption 70, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 5 of 25 

 

La mia migliore amica.
My best [girl]friend.
Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7  

 

But in the plural it's always migliori, for both the masculine and the feminine.

Ed è uno dei vini migliori della Basilicata, è chiamato Aglianico.
And it's one of the best wines of Basilicata, it's called Aglianico.
Caption 53, Milena: al supermercato

 

No, veramente le cose migliori le abbiamo fatte insieme, no?
No, actually, the best things are the ones we've done together, right?
Caption 47, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 7 of 12

 

Migliore and its plural form migliori can also be nouns, just like in English. 

Sei il/la migliore!
You're the best!

 

Migliore is either an adjective or a noun — never an adverb.

 

Meglio, on the other hand, is basically an adverb, so it makes sense for it to be the comparative of bene (well). Meglio often means in modo migliore (in a better way).

Facciamo un esempio così capite meglio.
Let's make up an example, that way you'll understand better.
Caption 7, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Approfondimento Verbi Modali - Part 1 of 2

 

But meglio has a gray area, too, and is much more flexible than migliore. Unlike migliore, which is either an adjective or a noun, meglio, in addition to being an adverb, is often also used colloquially as an adjective or in some contexts as a noun. It's also used in a huge number of expressions. 

 

Note that the verb migliorare exists, too, to mean "to improve," to "get better."

Se posso migliorare, perché non farlo?
If I can improve, why not do so?
Caption 4, L'arte della cucina: L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni - Part 13 of 16

Il mio italiano è molto migliorato.
My Italian has gotten much better.

 

We'll focus on meglio next week, but in the meantime, why not compare things with migliorein your home or workplace?

Think about food, movies, books, the time of day/year for doing something.

Per esempio:

In questo bar, fanno il miglior caffè della città.
In this bar, they make the best coffee in the city.

Il mio italiano scritto è migliore di qualche anno fa.
My written Italian is better than a few years ago.

Non ero la migliore della classe quando andavo a scuola. 
I wasn't the best in the class when I went to school.

Qual è la stagione migliore per visitare la Sicilia?
What's the best month for visiting Sicily?

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Two Oddball Words in Odd Contexts

In one of this week's videos, we find two words in contexts that could use a bit of explaining.  

We're watching the first segment of a new episode of L'Eredità (the inheritance). To start off the show, there's the usual banter between the host and the contestants with some introductions. It just so happens that one of the contestants has a last name prone to getting joked about.

Buonasera. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Good afternoon. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Caption 43, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

The name looks innocent enough, but scarafone (also scarrafonescaraffonescardafone,scordofone) is another word for scarafaggio (cockroach). There's an expression in Italian, and you will see this on the WordReference page for scarafaggioogni scarafaggio sembra bellosua madre (every cockroach is beautiful to its mother). There are other ways to interpret this, from "a face only a mother could love" to "even a homely child is beautiful to his mother." 

Pino Daniele, a famous Neapolitan singer-songwriter made this phrase famous in one of his songs. He used the Neapolitan variant, scarrafone, which is also the title: 'O Scarrafone, so when someone has a last name like that, it's almost impossible not to think of Pino Daniele's song if you've ever heard it. You can listen to the song here.  There is no actual video, just the album cover, but the text in Italian is there, too. 

 

Another word that is good to be able to recognize in a special context is culo. It is an informal word for buttocks, but Italians (informally only, prego!) use it to mean "luck."

Tirato a indovinare! Il solito culo!
Took a guess! The usual butt [luck]!
Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 2 of 16

 

But on TV, for example, such words might not be not acceptable, so the contestant's brother says il fattore C and everyone knows what he is talking about. The host then explains jokingly that "C" stands for culturale (cultural) not culo

Be', speriamo che il fattore ci [culo = fortuna] l'aiuta [aiuti] tanto. 
Let's hope that the “C Factor” [butt = luck] helps her out greatly. 
Caption 37-38, L'Eredità: Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

 

A common comment about someone with good fortune is:

Che culo!
What luck!

It can also be used sarcastically to mean "bad luck."

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Good News About Comparatives in Italian

Daniela is back with some more Italian lessons, classroom-style. This time she will be teaching us how to compare things. And the good news is that apart from a few exceptions like buono (good),  migliore (better), il/la migliore (the best), you won't have to learn the comparative forms of an adjective. Basically, you just have to use the adverb più (more) or meno (less). 

 

Sometimes this corresponds to the English, because in English, not all adjectives have a comparative form.

"Arrivederci" [quando vado via] è una forma di saluto più elegante, formale.
"Arrivederci" [when I leave] is a more elegant, formal form of saying "goodbye."
Caption 3, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Salutare - Part 1 of 2

 

But in many cases, there is a specific comparative form in English.

 

In the following example, a recipe is being described.

Si può personalizzare: più piccantemeno piccante.
You can personalize: sharper or milder.
Caption 3, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 1 of 2

 

So, if you are translating, you have to find the "right" word in English. But as you become more familiar with Italian, you will start thinking in Italian, and the English equivalent won't really come into play.

 

One tricky thing is that you have to take into account whether you are comparing things or actions. The preposition you use, di (than) as opposed to che (than), will change accordingly. 

Lucca è una città più piccola di Firenze (Lucca is a smaller city than Florence). Lucca è meno grande di Firenze (Lucca is smaller than Florence).

 

A Lucca, è più comodo girare in bici che girare in macchina (in Lucca, it's easier to get around by bike, than to get around by car).

 

Practice:

Watch Daniela's video, first of all. Then go around your house, or wherever you happen to be, and compare things. 

Questo libro è più grande di quel libro (this book is bigger than that book).

Gain confidence in comparing things using di (than). Then move on to comparing actions. It's a little trickier, with che (than).

Comprare online sarà più veloce che andare al negozio (purchasing online will be quicker than going to the store).

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A Few Unconventional Plurals

This lesson is based on the premise that you basically know how to form the plural of nouns. To help you get caught up, very generally, if a noun ends in "o," it's usually masculine and the plural usually will end in "i." If it ends in "e," the plural will also likely end in "i", and if a singular noun ends in "a," (usually feminine), the plural will most likely end in "e." To learn more, check out Daniela's lessons about plurals here and here.

 

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. In two different videos this week, we find unconventional plurals, one of which is well worth knowing, and one that you likely won't run into every day.

 

In one video, Arianna goes to Lucca. She learns that Lucca still has its ancient walls: le mura. The singular is il muro (the wall).

Le mura hanno tutto un percorso sopra che puoi fare.
The walls have a whole path on top that you can do.
Caption 63, In giro per l'Italia: Lucca

To help you remember the name for "wall," in Italian, think of a mural, which is a piece of art, like a painting or enlarged photograph, right on a wall. Or think of "intramural" — within the walls of a school or institution.

 

Anna and Marika are busy in the kitchen dealing with fish, and more specifically, anchovies. They are pretty small fish, so taking out the guts is a tedious job they gladly leave to the fish vendor.

 

You might be familiar with the adjective interiore (inside, internal, interior) but there is a noun, le interiora, which means "the guts," "the entrails," or "the internal organs," and is always in the plural: interiora.

Le alici dovranno essere senza testa e eviscerate...
The anchovies should be without their heads and gutted...
Quindi bisogna togliere le interiora.
Therefore, one needs to remove the entrails.
Caption 13 - 15, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a Tavola - Involtini di alici - Part 1

 

And let's not forget some other unconventional plurals that work pretty much the same way:

un uovo, due uova (one egg, two eggs)

Prendiamo una forchetta e iniziamo a sbattere le uova...
We take a fork and begin beating the eggs...
Caption 13, Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara - Part 2 of 2

 

un braccio, due braccia (one arm, two arms)

Ma com'è?
But what's she like?
E com'è? C'ha due gambe, due braccia, due occhi, come deve essere?
So what's she like? She has two legs, two arms, two eyes. What should she be like?
Captions 13 - 14, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 4 of 14

 

un miglio, due miglia (one mile, two miles)

La Mille Miglia è la corsa più bella del mondo!
The "Mille Miglia" [one thousand miles] is the greatest race in the world!
Caption 33, La Mille Miglia: del passato per vivere quella di oggi - Part 3 of 3

 

un migliaio di, poche migliaia di (about a thousand, a few thousand)

Il debito era di poche migliaia di euro.
The debt was of a few thousand euros.
Caption 40, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 14 of 16

 

un paiodue paia (a pair, two pairs)

Ma quattro paia di scarpe vanno bene lo stesso.
But four pairs of shoes are fine, too.
Caption 52, Psicovip: I Visitatori - Ep 14

 

This list is not complete, but we'll look at other such nouns in a future lesson.

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2 Very Different Meanings of the Verb Investire

The verb investire has a cognate in English: "to invest." So if you are buying a house,stai investendo i tuoi soldi (you are investing your money).

E lui è così ricco, che pare che abbia investito i guadagni in lingotti d'oro.
And he is so rich that they say he invested his earnings in gold ingots.
Caption 21, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 2 

 

But there is another meaning of investire that is less easy to guess at: "to hit" (as in getting hit by a car), "to knock down," "to run over".

Però andiamo dove non puoi investire nessuno.
But let's go where you can't run anyone over.
Caption 47, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 7 of 13

 

This is also the meaning in Yabla's most recent video about Firenze, where the camera operator finds herself in danger of being investita (run over). Even pedestrian areas like the Ponte Vecchio require staying alert for stray taxis or delivery trucks.

Non preoccupatevi, la nostra cameraman non è stata investita dalla macchina.
Don't worry, our cameraman wasn't hit by the car.
Caption 46,  In giro per l'Italia: Firenze - Part 5 of 5

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A Righe or a Quadretti?

Lots of adjectives in Italian correspond to adjectives in English and vice versa, but sometimes an adjective form doesn't really exist in one language or the other, and a different form is used. One such form uses a (which is usually a preposition meaning "to" or "at") plus a noun. In this case, we might say this a stands for "in the manner of" or "with." It can be part of the answer to questions such as "What's it like?" "What kind is it?"

 

One example of this came up in this week's episode of La Ladra. It occurred in a rather banal exchange between Gina and her husband. He couldn't find his striped socks.

 

In English, we can say something is striped or it has stripes. In Italian, it's a bit different. We often use a

Come dove stanno i calzini righe?
What do you mean where are your striped socks?
Caption 3, La Ladra - Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 10 of 14

 

Potrebbe anche essere una tovaglia a quadretti bianchi e rossi, oppure bianchi e gialli o a grosse righe.
It could also be a red and white checked tablecloth, or else, white and yellow or with wide stripes.

Captions 4-5, Come preparare con creatività: una tavola per la campagna

 

In Italy, quaderni a quadretti (notebooks with grids or graph paper) are very popular. But in the U.S., unless you are using a grid for a specific purpose, like math or a making a chart, most notebooks are righe (lined). There doesn't even seem to be a standard translation for quadretti regarding paper. However, we asked readers to write in what they would call un quaderno a quadretti in English.

 

Update: Most of the people who have written in say that in English, they would call a quaderno a quadretti a "graph paper notebook." One person provided this interesting link.

 

Additional notes: Along with notebooks, we have notepads. The official word for this in Italian is taccuino but the more commonly-used term is a corruption of English: bloc-notes or even the pseudo-English block-notes. Make sure you pronounce the final e and s all'italiano! Let's remember that in Italian the adjective usually comes after the noun, and so notes is the kind of blocco (notebook or notepad for taking notes). A blocco is a group of similar items, so we use blocco or, when it's small, blocchetto for paper, for checks: blocchetto di assegni (checkbook).

 

In this lesson, we have talked about adjective equivalents. But there are adverb equivalents that use a, too, and we'll look at them in a future lesson.

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When Giallo is not Only a Color

This brings us to another word used in this week's segment of L'Eredità, the quiz show: giallo (yellow).

Ritenne che la maggior parte dei pendolari aveva una grande passione per i racconti gialli.
She found that the majority of commuters had a great passion for yellow [detective] stories.
Captions 36-37, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 Part 12

Here, although the color yellow does play an important role, un giallo is something specific: a crime, mystery or detective story. Note: The moderator of the quiz show uses giallo as an adjective: i racconti gialli (the detective stories) and it is common to say un romanzo giallo (a detective novel), to specify the format, but giallo as a noun encompasses any format and is widely used and understood by Italians. 

 

But what's this "yellow" business?

 

Here's the story. (click here for the extended Italian version).

 

In 1929, Mondadori, a major Italian publishing house, came out with a series of detective novels. They were tascabili (in paperback, literally "pocket-sized") and had a distinguishing yellow cover. They were called libri gialli della Mondadori (Mondadori's Yellow Books). In 1946, the name of these books changed to gialli Mondadori. The name giallo caught on, and has been used ever since to indicate a detective, crime, or police mystery, and can be applied to books, comic books (as in Diabolik mentioned on the quiz show), movies, or even news events. Giallo with this meaning has become a word everyone should know, especially if you like to read. And it can't be guessed at if you don't know the story. But now you know the story, too.

 

You may have heard of an American television series from the eighties and nineties called Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury. This series, dubbed into Italian, became extremely popular (and stilll is) as La Signora in Giallo (The Lady in Yellow). This play on words should make sense to you now!

 

Read this article (in Italian) for more information about the Italian version of the show, and, why not? Find it for streaming in Italian, just for fun.

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A Creative Italian Word for "Commuter"

Italian has a wonderful word for "commuter." It comes from the back and forth movement of a pendulum, and is, you guessed it: pendolare.

Ritenne che la maggior parte dei pendolari aveva una grande passione per i racconti gialli.
She found that the majority of commuters had a great passion for detective stories.
Captions 36-37, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 Part 12

Pendolare is originally a verb having to do with the movement of a pendulum, or pendolo, but it is now commonly used to mean "commuter." Italy is a long, narrow penisola (peninsula) with mountains in the middle. Many people live in one place but work in another. Rather than actually moving, they become pendolari (commuters). Being a pendolare is tough, and often complicated, so if you listen to the news, you'll hear the word pendolare often. A pendolare may travel by car (in macchina), by bike (in bici) by bus (in pullman), by train (in treno), or by plane (in aereo). Note the preposition in ! But generally, when we think of pendolari, we imagine them on trains. Nowadays, people have phones (cellulari), laptops (portatili), or tablets (tablet) to occupy them while traveling by train, but it wasn't always so. People used to read libri (books), riviste (magazines), or giornali (newspapers). A certain kind of book was particularly popular. Il giallo. See the lesson about it!
 

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