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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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Three Ways to Crush It: pestare , schiacciare , frantumare

This week, Anna and Marika finish explaining how to make pesto, the delicious Ligurian pasta specialty.

 

In part 1, they talked about why pesto is called pesto.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

The cooks also use two other verbs that have to do with breaking something down into smaller pieces. Let's look at each of these three words to see when we use them, and what the differences are among them.

 

Let's start with the word that gives its name to the dish. Pestare is the verb: to crush, to mash, to pound. We carry out this action when tenderizing meat, or when stepping on someone's toes.

Oh, scusamit'ho pestato il piede.
Oh, sorry, I stepped on your foot.

 

Pestare is the action someone or something carries out in order to crush something. Except for when it's someone's toes, we might think of a repeated action, such as in making pesto the old-fashioned way. Just keep pounding to break the material down little by little.

 

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A relative of pestare is calpestare (to tromp on, to trample, to step on), specific to using one's feet. You might see a sign that says:

Non calpestare l'erba
Do not walk on the grass.  

 

In some cities, you really have to look where you put your feet.

E... camminando camminando, ciak! Che cosa ti vado a calpestare?
And... walking along, splat! What do I go and step on?
Un escremento canino! -Bleah! -Una cacca bella fresca fumante!
Canine excrement! -Yuck! -Nice fresh steaming poop!
Captions 21-22, Francesca e Marika: Gestualità 

 

Here we might think of the action more than the recipient of the action.

 

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Schiacciare also means to crush, to smash, or to mash, and here we can visualize the thing we are crushing being crushed.  

The classic example is lo sciaccianoce. The nutcracker. One rather violent move, and the thing is cracked or crushed.

You crush a clove of garlic. Lo schiacciIt's less rewarding when it's your finger being crushed.

Mi sono schiacciato il dito nella porta. Aia!
smashed my finger in the door. Ouch!

 

Think of something being flattened by a heavy weight.

 

We can also use schiacciare when pressing a button on a machine.

Schiaccia il bottone rosso per fermarlo (press down on the red button to stop it).

 

Schiacciare is used figuratively, too.

Allora, signora, Suo marito ha una personalità dominante che schiaccia la Sua da anni.
So, ma'am, your husband has a dominating personality which has been crushing yours for years.
Captions 4-5, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 4 of 17 

 

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Lastly, we have frantumare. Here, we can visualize a mirror breaking and shattering into pieces or frantumi (fragments, smithereens). 

In making olive oil, grindstones crush the olives with their pits.

L'oliva viene frantumata intera.
The olive gets crushed whole.
Caption 23, L'olio extravergine di oliva: Il frantoio

 

Anna and Marika use all three of these verbs in their videos about pesto, so check them out! As you replicate the recipe, try using them yourself!

Ora sto pestando questi pinoli (now I am pounding these pine nuts).
Devo fare attenzione a non pestare anche le dita (I have to be careful not to pound my fingers, as well).
Forse sono sufficientemente frantumati (maybe they're fragmented enough). 
Se faccio cadere il piatto per terra, si frantumerà! È di porcellana (if I drop this plate on the floor, it will break into pieces. It's porcelain).
L'aglio lo posso schiacciare con un batticarne (I can smash the garlic with a meat mallet). 
Devo stare attento a non schiacciarmi le dita (I have to be careful not to crush my fingers).

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Asking Questions in Italian

In English we use "do," "did" or other question words to form questions. This is hard for Italians learning English because in Italian, to ask a question, all you have to do is change your tone of voice.

 

Here's an example from last week's lesson. Marika is telling us something.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

But, with a little change of inflection, she could use the exact same words and ask a question.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato?
Does "pesto" mean that it has been crushed?

 

The voice is raised at the end of the phrase, or, the voice stays the same, but "no" (with a raised voice) gets added on to make it a question:

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato, no?
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed, right?
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed, doesn't it?

 

With modal verbs, too, inflection is everything.

Posso offrirle uno "Spritz".
I can offer you a "Spritz".
Caption 10, Una pasticceria: al Lido di Venezia 

 

To turn this into a question, it remains the same in Italian. Only the inflection changes, and in writing it, we use a question mark rather than a period. 

Posso offrirle uno "Spritz"?
Can I offer you a "Spritz?" 

 

Try making statements into questions by changing your inflection, or adding "no?" at the end, to make it into a question. Pay special attention to how questions happen in videos with plenty of dialogue, such as La Ladra or Commissario Manara

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Becoming Familiar with the Passato Remoto

The passato remoto (remote past) tense in Italian may not be necessary to know in order to converse in the language, but we find it often enough in writing when the subject is history, so it's good to be familiar with it.

 

Daniela has recently finished talking about this tense in her Corso di Italiano, and in the final segment, she talks about when it is used.

 

Si usa, per esempio, per azioni che sono avvenute una sola volta nel passato.
You use it, for example, for actions that occurred once, in the past.
Captions 4-5, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il passato remoto - Part 4 of 4

 

In this week's video about Pisa, we see it in action. Arianna is talking about medieval times.

 

Già dall'inizio ebbe dei problemi, perché fu costruita su un terreno instabile e per questo pende.
From the start, it had problems because it was built
on unstable terrain and because of this, it leans.
Captions 17 -18, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni - Part 1 of 3

Another place we find the passato remoto being employed is in stories and fairy tales. In fact, reading fairy tales is an excellent way to gain familiarity with the passato remoto. The stories are usually repetitive and predictable with the verbs in the third person singular and plural.Yabla has quite a few animated fairy tales to choose from. 

 

Quindi aprì la porta e il ranocchio saltellò dentro.
So she opened the door and the frog hopped in.
Caption 52, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 1 of 2

 

Further practice:
To make friends with the passato remoto, pick out a fairy tale and watch the video, paying extra attention to the verbs. Then open the transcript, pick the printer-friendly version so you can just see the Italian, and then read the story out loud (in Italian), as if you were reading it to a child. You will, of course, see verbs in other tenses like the passato prossimo and theimperfetto, too. As in English, a mixture of tenses renders the story more fluid and more interesting.

 

If you're not sure which tense you are looking at, click on the word, even when you are in theprinter-friendly version, and a dictionary will pop up to help you. Some verbs occur only occasionally, and don't really need to be assimilated, but other verbs like avere (to have) essere (to be), andare (to go), venire (to come), guardare (to look), and vedere (to see) will occur more often, and you can start adding them to the verbs you recognize, even in thepassato remoto. Reading out loud will make the verbs start feeling right on the tongue.

 

Hopefully, when you watch the video again, the verbs in the passato remoto won't seem so strange anymore.

 

WordReference has conjugation charts for most verbs. Try keeping the tab open so you can get to it easily when you need it.

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Dante and Dante

In a recent segment of La Ladra, Eva and Dante are in the kitchen of the restaurant. Dante is trying to win Eva's affections by cooking irresistible dishes. He makes a reference to the famous star-crossed lovers, Paolo and Francesca, mentioned in the fifth Canto of Dante's Inferno. In it, Francesca recounts that she and Paolo had been reading in the Arthurian legends about Lancelot and Guinevere and how they had fallen in love as if under a spell, helped along by Galehaut, or Gallehaud, and called Galeotto in Italian. The spell seemed to affect Paolo and Francesca, too, and they fell in love immediately, as if struck by the book itself.
 

Learn more about these stories here (in English). Following are the original lines from Dante

Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante».

The book and whoever wrote it was the matchmaker [what did it]:
That day, we read no further in it.

 

So, Galeotto is considered to be a sort of matchmaker, an intermediary in love matters, a cupid-type figure, we might say, but not necessarily a person or god. 

 

To add to the mix, galeottowith a lower case "g" is often used as an adjective, whose ending changes according to the gender of the noun it's modifying.

 

Here's a definition of galeotto from an Italian dictionary (De Mauro):

1 (aggettivo), che favorisceincoraggia l’amore fra due persone: motivo galeotto, canzonegaleotta 
(adjective), favoring, encouraging love between two people). 
2 (aggettivo, sostantivo maschile), intermediario d’amore (adjective, masculine noun), matchmaker, intermediary in love matters)

 

So when something is described with the adjective galeotto, it has the quality of being an amorous catalyst or agent, causing two people to fall in love.

 

Galeotto can describe a song, a kiss, a dance, some poetry, an action, and in the case of our chef, Dante, food, or at least, that's the way he sees it.

Hai presente il quinto canto dell'Inferno dove Paolo e Francesca vengono fatalmente attratti dalla galeotta lettura di un libro?
You know the fifth canto in the “Inferno,” where Paolo and Francesca are fatally attracted through the romance-inducing reading of a book?
Ecco, qui non c'è un libro galeotto, ma... un'alchimia di sapori, un amore e una passione per la cucina.
Well, in this case, there is no love-potion of a book, but...  an alchemy of tastes, a love and a passion for cooking.
Captions 20-24, La Ladra: Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 8 of 14

 

There have been plenty of discussions about the adjective galeotto on language forums and it's almost impossible to find an English adjective that fits the bill. So we thought it was worth discussing what this word is all about.

 

Have you ever fallen in love and blamed it on the le stelle (the stars), la luna (the moon), unacanzone (a song), una situazione (a situation), una parola (a word), un film (a movie)? That's what galeotto is about.

È stata la luna galeotta.
It was the romantic moon [that made us fall in love].

 

Attenzione, the noun galeotto also means "galley slave" and has come to mean "jailbird" or "inmate."

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Being Embarrassed in Italian

In this lesson, we’ll talk about a curious use of the noun imbarazzo (embarrassment). But first let’s look at another word associated with embarrassment: the noun la vergogna and the verb vergognarsi (to be ashamed, to be embarrassed). Here, you need context to help decide if someone is ashamed or embarrassed because they're closely tied.

Valeria, eri disperata, non è colpa tua.
Valeria, you were desperate. It's not your fault.
Però mi vergogno molto.
But I'm very ashamed.
Captions 6-7, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 8 of 17 

 

In the following example, the meaning is more of embarrassment. Note that the speaker is using the subjunctive.

Suo padre alleva pecore. È normale che se ne vergogni un po', no?
Her father raises sheep. It's natural for her to be a bit embarrassed about it, right?
Captions 69-70, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 2 of 14 

 

Italian often uses the noun form imbarazzo (embarrassment) with the preposition in (in) when expressing embarrassment, as in the following example.

Te ne sei andata come se avessi visto il diavolo.
You took off as if you'd seen the devil.
Scusami, non so che cosa mi è preso, forse mi sono sentita in imbarazzo.
Sorry, I don't know what came over me, maybe I felt embarrassed.
Captions 27-28, Il Commissario Manara - S1Ep5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 12 of 14

 

In this week’s segment of La Ladra, Dante and Eva’s son are looking at bicycles, to replace Eva’s old bike, which Dante inadvertently wrecked. The bike store proprietor says:

Ecco, non c'è che l'imbarazzo della scelta.
Here you are. Nothing but an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Caption 37, La Ladra: Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 1 of 14  

 

The above translation uses an English idiom, which comes from an 18th-century French play. “Embarras” in French means “embarrassment” or “confusion.”  We could also say that the choice is overwhelming or almost embarrassing, because every item is worthy of being chosen.

 

L’imbarazzo della scelta is a great expression to be familiar with because it’s used quite often when someone is a presented with a vast choice of great things to choose from, for example: What Italian city would you like to visit? C'è solo l'imbarazzo della scelta. The problem is choosing one!

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Conjugating Verbs in the Subjunctive

In previous lessons, we’ve mentioned that the subjunctive is often used after the conjunction che (that). The congiuntivo (subjunctive) can be tricky for Italians, not only for non-native speakers, so it’s fitting that conjugating a verb in the subjunctive be used as a challenge in a quiz show such as the one featured this week on Yabla.

 

Allora, io dirò l'infinito, tu mi devi dire il congiuntivo presente.
Mostrare. -Che io mostri.
So, I'll tell you the infinitive, you have to tell me the present subjunctive.
To show. -That I show.
Captions 3-5,  L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 - Part 5  

 

The contestant has to conjugate a verb in the present subjunctive, first person. Note that when Italians conjugate the subjunctive mood, they add che (that), the person, and then the subjunctive conjugation. That way, the subjunctive is distinguished from the indicative.

 

In the above-mentioned episode, we have the infinitive and the first person present subjunctive of several verbs. Can you provide the present indicative of the verbs mentioned? You can look up a verb’s conjugation here.

 

Some people are adept at memorizing lists of verb conjugations. Others might prefer to learn verbs in the subjunctive on a need-to-know basis, one by one. You will discover that certain verbs are used more often than others in the subjunctive, verbs such as:

andare (to go) - che io vada (that I go)
È meglio che vada a letto presto stasera (I should really go to bed early tonight).

 

fare (to make, to do) - che io faccia (that I do)
Cosa vuoi che faccia (what do you want me to do)?

 

essere (to be) - che io sia (that I am)
Pensi che io sia stupida (do you think I'm stupid)?

 

stare (to stay, to be) - che io stia (that I am, that I remain)
Non pretendere che io stia zitta (don't expect me to be quiet).

 

venire (to come) - che io venga (that I come)
È fondamentale che io venga alla riunione (is it necessary for me to come to the meeting)?

 

These are the verbs to learn early on. What verbs would you like to add to this list?

 

After practicing the first person subjunctive, move on to the other persons, one by one, and get the hang of them. In many cases, the third person is the same as the first person in the subjunctive. Using them in sentences will help you remember them.

To brush up or learn about the subjunctive, see Daniela’s lessons about the subjunctive here.

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Pronunciation Tips for Beginners

For English speakers, Italian can be difficult to pronounce, especially when reading. Watching, listening, and doing the exercises Yabla provides can all help reinforce correct pronunciation, but let’s zoom in on one of the basic sounds.

We’re not looking for the nuances here, of which there are plenty, but just the very bare bones.

In Italian, the vowels, in particular, sound so different from what they look like to an English speaker, so let’s start there.

Let’s have a look at pronouncing the letter "A."

To hear the Italian “A” click on the audio icon here, and you can hear the correct pronunciation and repeat it. Maybe you can find a word in English that you pronounce with this sound. Some people find the noun "father" helpful for this sound, and others won't. The Italian "A" sound has no diphthong in it, and never sounds like a long "A," as in April.

Let’s take the word naso (nose). If you pronounce the "A" as you do in "ah!," you will come pretty close!

Quindi ho bisogno di soffiare il naso tantissime volte.
So I have to blow my nose lots of times.
Caption 13, Marika spiega: Il raffreddore 

What are some other words with this sound?

How about pasta?

 

La pasta alla Norma è una pasta semplicissima da cucinare.
Pasta alla Norma is a very simple pasta dish to make.
Caption 5, Anna e Marika:  L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1 of 2

 

In fact, if we look carefully,  there are plenty of words containing the letter "A" in this one sentence. Listen to the video, and you will hear that they are all pronounced the same way. Listen to how Marika and Anna pronounce each others’ names. It’s the same kind of "A."

Try pronouncing the title. Italia a tavola (Italy at the Table).

In this week’s segment of La Ladra (try pronouncing the title), there’s a word that’s very similar to its English counterpart, but the "A’s" sound a bit different.

Assassino!
Murderer (Assassin)!
Caption 9, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 13 of 13 

For more on the alphabet, see Marika's videos about the alphabet and about pronunciation.

Let us know if this was helpful, and we’ll talk about another vowel, soon. 

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