Italian Lessons


Making Sense of Senso

Il senso (the sense, the way, the feeling) is a very useful noun and has several meanings. Some of the meanings jibe with the English cognate “sense,” but it’s not always a perfect fit. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the wrong verb with this noun, thus saying something different from what we mean.


One of the most common ways to use senso is when it has to do with “meaning” or “sense.” Note that the verb here is avere (to have) but we translate it into English using the verb “to make.”

Scusa, eh, ma se devi stare così, mi dici che senso ha?
Excuse me, huh, but if you have to feel like this, will you tell me what sense that makes?
Caption 1,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 9 of 13

The response to the above question could be:

Non ha nessun senso (it doesn’t make sense at all).
Infatti, è senza senso (in fact, it doesn’t make sense, it’s senseless).


Senso also refers to one of the five senses. It also refers to “sense,” meaning “feeling” or “sensation.” The English cognate “sense” fits pretty well here and both Italian and English can use the verb “to give.”

Il secondo motivo, il più importante, è perché amo la moto e mi dà un senso di libertà.
The second reason, the most important one, is because I love my motorcycle and it gives me a sense of freedom.
Captions 28-29, Adriano: Giornata  


In the following example, senso has to do with feelings but is used with the verb fare (to make). It means something entirely different from what we looked at above. It’s about feelings, but specifically negative ones, as you can see from the translation. Something gives you a sense of creepiness, repulsion, or repugnance. So, it’s important not to use the verb fare“to make” with senso unless you really mean it this way.

topi mi fanno un senso.
Mice give me the creeps.
Caption 8, Psicovip: Il topo - Ep 22


Let’s remember that senso also means “way.” And just as “way” has various meanings, so does senso.

One very common question to ask someone is in che senso (in what way)? We ask this question when we need more details. It’s another way of saying, “What do you mean?”

No, per quello ho disposto diversamente. -In che senso?
No, for that I've distributed it differently. -In what way?
Caption 41, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 7 of 12


Just as in English, senso means “way” in traffic too.

Questa strada è a senso unico.
This is a one-way street.


In a nutshell:

Fare senso: to give a sense of repulsion, fear, or disgust

 I ragni mi fanno senso.
 Spiders disgust me.

Avere senso: to make sense, to have meaning

 Ha senso arrivare due ore in anticipo?
 Does it make sense to arrive two hours early?

Dare un senso: to give a sense, to give meaning

 Ti dà un senso di sicurezza.
 It gives you a sense of security.
 Aiutare gli altri ti può dare un senso alla vita.
 Helping others can give some meaning to your life.


Senso unico: one way
I cinque sensithe five senses

For even more about senso, see this lesson.

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Extra Reading References

There are times and situations in which reading is the thing to do.


Oppure potete semplicemente sdraiarvi sull'erba, prendere il sole e leggere un buon libro.
Or else you can simply lie on the grass, sunbathe, and read a good book.
Captions  22 - 23, Anna presenta: Villa Borghese - Part 2 of 2


Here are a few ideas to feed your Italian language curiosity.


Una parola al giorno (One word a day)

This is a great website for learning new words in Italian, or for getting explanations about words you have heard or read, and maybe even used, but would like to know more about.

The explanations are in Italian, so it’s mostly for more advanced learners. You can always consult an English language tool as well such as Google, or go straight to WordReference if the Italian is too difficult. By subscribing to Una parola al giorno, you’ll receive a new word every day in your inbox. It may be a word you don’t care about, and you can just send it to the trash, but there will be plenty of useful words, too. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe any time.

Do you like to read? 

Sometimes it’s fun to learn new words and expressions in Italian within the context of a book or story in English set in Italy. Both of the following authors pepper their writings with Italian words and phrases. It’s a great opportunity to discover when, where, and how to use them. It also gives you some inside information about Italian culture.

Tim Parks is a British author who has lived in Verona, Italy for many years. He worked as a translator and taught translating skills at Italian universities, as well as being a successful novelist. His books about Italy provide some well-written and humorous insight into Italy, Italians, and the Italian language.

Below are his non-fiction books about Italy.

Italian Neighbours, 1992. Relates how the author and his wife came to a small town near Verona and how they integrate and become accustomed to the unusual habits of their newfound neighbours. ISBN 0099286955

An Italian Education, 1996. Follow up to Italian Neighbours and recounts the milestones in the life of the author's children as they progress through the Italian school system. ISBN 0099286963

Italian Ways, on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo 2013 This is all about the railway system in Italy, and how the author travelled the length of the “boot” to discover its ins and outs.

Donna Leon has written a long series of mysteries set in Venice. She lived in Venice for many years, so her descriptions are quite true-to-life.

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Come mai?

A subscriber has asked about the common but difficult-to-translate expression come mai.

For starters, let’s take it apart.

Come (how) is easy enough and mai (never, ever) is as well. So we would be inclined to translate come mai as “ how ever.” With a bit of moving the words around, we could come up with:

Come riuscirai mai farlo?
How are you ever going to be able to do that?


But what we're examining in this lesson is the idiomatic expression come mai as a unit, because, yes, it can stand on its own or be inserted as is, into a question or certain kinds of statements. 


It’s most easily translated as “how come?” “How come” is another way to say “why.” “How come” is actually short for “how did it come about that” and dates from the mid-1800s. We can also translate it as “how is it that...” So we could say that come mai is another way of saying perché when perché means “why.” You may ask: When does perché not mean “why?” See this lesson to find out!


Come mai often expresses surprise at things being different from what one expects, so it’s an expressive way of saying “why.” In certain contexts where there is intense surprise at someone’s actions or decisions, it can even be translated as “why on earth?”

Come mai non hai tolto la pentola dal fuoco?
Why on earth didn’t you take the pot off the burner?


But come mai can also be a less aggressive way to say perché in certain situations. After all, with come mai, you are interested in knowing the other person’s reasons for doing something. So it’s not a cold, indifferent question. You may also be giving someone the benefit of the doubt. As an example, let’s say that the other person is usually reliable, but this time they messed up. Come mai? You’re wondering about it.


The question, perché non mi hai chiamato? asked with a certain tone, can be almost accusatory or dry, but come mai non mi hai chiamato implies that I was really expecting you to have called me, and so you must have a good reason for not calling me.


Let’s look at some examples from Yabla videos.

Ma sai che anche io mi sento un po' stanca, chissà come mai.
But you know that I feel a little tired, too, who knows why?
Caption 22, Anna e Marika: Il verbo avere - Part 2 of 4

The speaker could easily have said the following, and meant pretty much the same thing:

Ma sai che anche io mi sento un po' stanca, chissà perché.


But come mai gives us the idea that she is truly wondering why she is tired. She shouldn’t be. She slept fine.


Io so perché si chiama arena. - Ah, è vero! Come mai si chiama arena?
I know why it's called an arena. -Oh, that's right! How come it's called an arena?
Caption 17, Marika e Daniela: Colosseo, interno - Part 1 of 2 

In the above example, the speaker could easily have used perché. But come mai implies some real curiosity. It might indicate the wish to hear the long answer rather than the short one.


Let’s remember that perché can mean both “why” and “because.” Come mai, on the other hand, is mostly used in questions but also in some negative or questioning statements, such as:

Non so come mai arrivo sempre in ritardo.
I don’t know why I always come late.


Come mai never means “because.”


In the following example, Mimì of "La Bohème" is talking about a change in Alfredo’s behavior. Since she was jolted by this change, she uses come mai.

Era diventato geloso. Non capivo come mai.
He had become jealous. I couldn't understand why.
Captions 27-28, Anna presenta: La Bohème di Puccini - Part 1 of 2 


Hopefully, you now know a bit more about using come mai. If you have more questions about this topic, let us know!

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A Partially False Friend: Assistere

When we look at the verb assistere, and its noun form, l’assistenza, we naturally think of the English verb, “to assist.” We’re right only part of the time.


But here’s the trick. When assistere is transitive, that is, having a direct object, it means much the same as the English “to assist,” “to help.” But when assistere is intransitive, with no direct object, it means something entirely — or almost entirely —  different. If you’re not privy to this little detail, it can cause confusion.


Normally when assistere is intransitive, we will see a proposition after it, as in the following example.

Stiamo parlando di Federico Fellini che ci ha invitati qui ad assistere alla ripresa de "La dolce vita".
We're talking about Federico Fellini who has invited us here to watch the filming of "La Dolce Vita."
Captions 9-10, Fellini Racconta Un Autoritratto Ritrovato 

When intransitive, assistere is about being present, so someone might say:

Ho assistito ad un incidente grave in autostrada.

Before looking at the translation, let’s look at the sentence in Italian. Let’s look for a direct object to see if it’s transitive, or a preposition to see if it’s intransitive.

Well, there happens to be a nice preposition right after assistito(with a d after it since there’s a vowel after that) so we know right away that the speaker did not necessarily help anyone, but that he or she was indeed present, and saw the accident. Assistere often implies more than just seeing it from afar as you whiz by in the fast lane. It gives the idea of being present, or close by. We might translate it as follows:

witnessed a serious accident on the super highway.

Assistere is often used when talking about shows or events. We could say:

Ho visto uno spettacolo (I saw a show).

But it’s very common to say:

Ho assistito ad uno spettacolo (I attended a performance, I was present at a show).


Assistenza, one of the nouns associated with assistere, is often used in conjunction with health care. Assistenza sanitaria is the national health care system in Italy. There’s also la pubblica assistenza  (the [local] public health station) where you can get first aid or an ambulance. It’s often a structure where people go to see their assigned doctor. Waiting may be long and there are no appointments, but seeing the doctor is free.


Un assistito is the beneficiary of health care, legal aid, or social services: someone who is in care.


Italian also has the noun un assistente, which is much the same as the English “assistant,” but it is also used in job titles, as in the following example.

Ecco, questo è proprio il modo in cui non ti devi esprimere davanti all'assistente sociale, per favore.
There, this is exactly the way you should not express yourself in front of the social worker, if you please.
Caption 61, La Tempesta: film - Part 16  


See this WordReference entry for more jobs using assistente.


And there you have it: assistere.

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School and Workplace Vocabulary Part 1 Compito and Interrogare

We hear about i compiti in videos about school and family.The singular il compito (the assignment, the task) can refer to classwork, or a written test: il compito in classe: I compiti is the plural of il compito and generally refers to homework when in the plural: i compiti a casa(homework, assignments).

Alla scuola di polizia lui non aveva molta voglia di studiare e io facevo i suoi compiti e i miei.
At the police academy, he didn't have much desire to study and I did his homework and mine.
Captions 48 - 49, Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 7 of 14 


Un compito can also refer to an assigned task that has nothing to do with school. Sometimes it’s just a job to do.

Mi crede così ingenuo da affidare a Lei un compito così delicato?
Do you think I'm so naive that I would entrust such a delicate task/job to you?
Caption 47, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Ep 4 - Part 3 of 17 


“A job” in English is often translated as un lavoro:

Non aveva un lavoro fisso lui, no.
He didn't have a steady job, no.
Caption 37,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 2 of 17


But if you can replace “job” with “task,” then compito can work in Italian.
In the above example, it’s not possible. A job is a job — an occupation. Someone has a job, or does a job, and (hopefully) gets paid for it, or somebody goes to work.


In English we often use “job” to mean “task,” or “responsibility.” So, if I say, “It was my job to look at the proofs.” then I use compito:
Era il mio compito guardare le bozze.


A task is something you do whether you are paid or not, and it can be momentary or recurring. This can either be translated as un compito (a job to do), or un lavoro (a job) that needs doing.


Compito, used as a noun, actually comes from the past participle of the verb compire (to carry out, to finish), so it makes a certain amount of sense. Two other verbs, compiere andcompetere sound similar and are also relevant. We'll look at these in an upcoming lesson.


In Europe, there is a tradition of final exams being oral rather than written, or in addition to written ones, and this carries over into the schoolroom as well. Oral quizzes are the norm, butthey’re not always surprise quizzes, they’re often announced, so that the students can prepare (or plan to be absent). They don’t always know whom the teacher will call on.


The Italian verb for this oral quiz is interrogare, which sounds a bit like a police station or torture room, but is just a normal everyday classroom happening. In the following example, it's a girl student who is asking the question.

Professoressa, potrei essere interrogata domani?
Professor, could I be quizzed tomorrow?
Caption 40, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 6 of 20 

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Anche se and Persino in Context

A Yabla Italian subscriber has asked about how to use anche se (even if) and perfino se (even if). These word combinations have to do with connecting two ideas in a sentence.


Let’s examine anche se (although, even if). The individual words themselves are easy enough — anche means “also” or “even,” and se means “if” — but let’s see how these words fit into sentences, and more importantly, which contexts translate with which English equivalents.


In the following example, we use se (if) in Italian but it doesn’t make sense to use “if” in English, so we need “although,” or the more emphatic “even though.”

Dopo mezzogiorno, cominciamo a dire "Buonasera", anche se, in realtà, non è proprio sera, è pomeriggio.
After noon, we start saying "good evening," even though, actually, it's not really evening; it's the afternoon.
Captions 17-18, Marika spiega: L'orologio  


In the next example, we use anche se to connect a subjunctive clause with a conditional one. Remember that where we see se (if) there might be a verb in the subjunctive lurking nearby. See this lesson about the subjunctive and conditional.

Anche se mi pagasse cento euro, non gli farei quel lavoro.
Even if he paid me a hundred euros, I wouldn’t do the job for him.


In the above example, we could also use the other word our subscriber asked about:  persino se.

Persino se mi pagasse trecento euro...

Persino is stronger, with more extreme limits, than anche se


Let’s look at this adverb persino. The first part is per which means “for” or sometimes “to.”
Sino is another way of saying fino (and in fact perfino also exists). Fino means “until,” among other things. So we can think of perfino as meaning “[up] to the degree.”


The following examples give us an idea of the difference between fino and perfino.

Lavorerò fino a mezzogiorno, poi smetto.
I’ll work until noon, then I’ll quit.

Potrei lavorare persino fino a mezzanotte, ma non finirei mai.
I could even work until midnight, but I would never finish.


Perfino and persino may be used interchangeably to mean “even” or “to the point of.” We choose one over the other for reasons of eufonia (euphony), that is, harmonious sound, in other words, because it sounds better.  When speaking properly, Italians try to avoid cacofonia (cacophony), which is what happens when there are too many instances of one particular consonant all together. A good example is: tra fratelli  (between or among brothers). We don’t say fra fratelli  because to Italian ears, the two F’s sound bad together, even though they both are equally correct in meaning.


The above example, which uses both perfino and fino, sounds much clearer with persino. You might very well be thinking perfino would have worked better than persino in the first example above, since the next word starts with an s. You might be right!

Perfino se mi pagasse trecento euro...
Even if he paid me three hundred euros...


In the following example, persino was used. This is perhaps because fu (was) starts with “F.”

Persino la regina cattiva fu invitata,
Even the wicked queen had been invited,
Caption 46, Ti racconto una fiaba: Biancaneve - Part 2 of 2 


In the following example, Marika could have used anche (also, even) in place of perfino, but perfino gives a better idea of something pushed to its limit.

Cerchi sempre il pelo nell'uovo e sei perfino capace di trovarlo, attenta e scrupolosa come sei.
You always look for the hair in the egg (you split hairs), and you're even capable of finding it, careful and conscientious as you are.
Captions 26-28, Marika spiega: I segni dello Zodiaco - Part 2 of 4 


A common synonym for perfino is addirittura.

Qui accanto a me c'è un albero che ha addirittura quattrocento anni di vita.
Here next to me, there's a tree that is no less than four hundred years old.
Caption 20, Anna presenta: Villa Borghese - Part 1 of 2 

We hope this has helped in understanding anche se and perfino.

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A Word About the Congiuntivo (the Subjunctive)

As Daniela finishes up talking about the conditional, she sneaks in a word in the subjunctive, which she hasn’t covered in her lessons yet.

Io, fossi in te, partirei domani.
If I were you, I would leave tomorrow.
Caption 4,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il condizionale - Part 7 of 7 


And in the previous segment of the lessons on the conditional, she also uses it.

Il condizionale in italiano si usa per esprimere la possibilità che possa succedere qualcosa.
The conditional is used in Italian to express the possibility that something can happen.
Caption 21-22,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il condizionale - Part 6 of 7


The conditional often goes hand in hand with the subjunctive, so it's not easy to avoid using the subjunctive sometimes.


For those who are curious, there have been some written lessons about the subjunctive, called the congiuntivo in Italian, and we provide some links here so that you can peruse them.  


Hypothesis Versus Reality - the subjunctive and the conditional

Verbs of Uncertainty and the Subjunctive


The subjunctive is necessary in several different kinds of scenarios, and they need to be treated one by one, but in very general terms, most of the time, the subjunctive has to do with uncertainty in some way, and that is why it goes hand in hand with the conditional, since the conditional also deals in uncertainty. Be on the lookout for the conjunction che (that, which) that often necessitates the use of the subjunctive following it. 


Another way the subjunctive is used is in polite commands, such as:

mi scusi  (excuse me)


It also gets used with impersonal verbs:

Bisogna che vada via entro mezzogiorno (it’s necessary for me to leave by noon), and other impersonal constructions such as:

Sarà difficile che tu vada via entro mezzogiorno (it will be unlikely that you leave by noon).


For the most part, the subjunctive has become a rarity in English but we still do use it, especially when we are speaking formally, or just correctly. And we especially find it in proximity to the conditional.

If I were you I would go right now.

It is incorrect to say “if I was you,” even though lots of people do say it.


A good rule of thumb is to learn the subjunctive conjugation for the verbs you will be using often, like essere (to be), avere (to have), and andare (to go) and even more importantly, to learn some frasi fatte (set phrases), like:

Cosa vuoi che faccia (what do you want me to do)?
Cosa vuoi che sia (how serious could it be)?
Dove vuoi che vada (where do you want me to go)?

The verb volere (to want) is used idiomatically here, as a somewhat rhetorical question.


Let's look at some alternative translations of these phrases to get the idea.

Cosa vuoi che faccia (what can I do about it)?
Cosa vuoi che sia (how big a deal could it be)?
Dove vuoi che vada (where could I possibly go? — I'll be right here).


Little by little you'll put all the pieces together and know when to use it and when not to use it.

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Taking Apart a Long Word: Stendibiancheria Part 1

When Marika showed us her balcony, she used a couple of long words that may have seemed a bit daunting. There are certainly plenty of long words in Italian that are just plain difficult, like farmaceutico (pharmaceutical). The meaning is clear, but pronouncing it takes some practice (don’t snub any of the vowels). Other words, though, have common abbreviations that make life easier. And some long words can be broken down into their parts, making them easily comprehensible as well as pronounceable.


One of the words Marika used in her video was stendibiancheria. It’s long but there’s help.


First of all, most people just say lo stendino (the drying rack).


Second of all, if we start breaking down stendibiancheria into manageable parts, the next time it comes up, you’ll know what it means from the inside out, and you will probably be able to pronounce it as well.


We start out with the verb stendere. It’s a very useful verb that means to spread, to lay out, to stretch out, to extend over space. Thinking of  “extend” can help recall this verb.


An interesting extra fact is this:

In the eighteenth century, in Tuscany at least, the (transitive) verb was tendere, that is, to stretch out, to unfold (after washing and wringing out) so that the laundry would dry faster.


As we have learned in a video, and a written lesson, adding an s at the beginning of a word can give it an opposite meaning. So, stendere used to be the opposite of tendere, and meant taking in the now dry laundry, or rather taking it off the clothesline.

Later on, stendere and tendere lost their distinction (dictionaries indicate that in many contexts, stendere and tendere mean the same thing).

Stendere survived as the most common term for hanging up the laundry. Let’s also remember that lacking a clothesline, some people would also have spread their clean laundry on bushes or rocks to catch the sun, so stendere—“spreading it out” makes a certain amount of sense.


Another important context for stendere is cooking.

In the following example, we start out with little balls of pizza dough, but then we spreadthem out to cover a larger area. So when you are following a recipe in Italian for making fresh pasta or pizza, stendere la sfoglia is when you roll out the dough, spread it out by hand, or use a pasta machine to make wide, flat strips.

Queste pallette [palline]  poi vanno fatte lievitare circa due ore e si stende la pizza.
Then these little balls are left to rise about two hours and you roll out the pizza.
Captions 12-13, Anna e Marika: Pizza al taglio romana - Part 2 of 2 


The past participle of stenderesteso, which can also pass for an adjective, is useful for when you are talking about positions in space.

Stavo, mi ricordo, guardando le olimpiadi, stesa sul divano come una balena spiaggiata.
I was, I remember, watching the Olympics, lying on the couch like a beached whale.
Captions 12-13, Anna presenta: Il mio parto 


In the above example, “stretched out” could have worked just as well to translate Anna’s position.


When referring to muscles or just how someone feels, we can use teso (tense), the past participle of tendere, also used as an adjective.

Ha notato qualcosa di strano? Se era teso, preoccupato?
Did you notice anything strange? If he was tense, worried?
Caption 19, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte in paradiso Ep 9 - Part 3 of 13 


The prefix dis is also used to give a word the opposite meaning. In fact, disteso, the past participle of distendere and adjective, can mean either “relaxed,”  “unwound,” or “out,” as in the following example.

Per dire: "ci sentiamo per telefono", si porta la mano all'altezza dell'orecchio e si simula la cornetta, tenendo pollice e mignolo distesi.
To say, "we'll talk by phone," you bring your hand up to the height of your ear and imitate a receiver, holding your thumb and little finger out.
Captions 9-11, Arianna spiega: I gesti degli Italiani - Part 2 of 2 


Tendere also means “to tend” as in tendenza (tendency). That’s a nice cognate, isn’t it?

Le piante tendono, quando si inselvatichiscono, a fare i frutti molto più piccoli.
Plants tend, when they become wild, to produce much smaller fruit.
Captions 17-18, Gianni si racconta: L'olivo e i rovi 


It’s easy to be confused by all these words that are so close in meaning. Context is key, so just keep watching, listening, and reading, and piano piano ce la farai (little by little you’ll make it), one word at a time!

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It’s almost funny how many times the verb capire (to understand) was used in last week’s episode of Commissario Manara. It’s not really funny because it was about Iolanda Sorge’s tragic murder. But it’s an excellent example of how often capire is used in everyday speech. And since in casual conversation, this past participle can stand alone, it’s very handy and easy to use. It can fill up the time between one phrase and the next. It’s almost as common as “you know” in English.


As mentioned in previous lessonscapire is most often used in the past participle, capito, even when English would call for the present tense, as in the following example.

La gente si fida di me, capito?
People trust me, you understand?
Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 7  


In the following example, the speaker is getting more specific (and angrier), and uses the verb with its subject and auxiliary verb.

Te [tu] mi usi per ricattarli, hai capito?
You're using me to blackmail them, do you understand?
Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 7  


Later on in the episode, Manara is in a meeting with his chief. Here, they use the present indicative of capire. In this case, we’re talking about understanding something or someone on a deeper level. It’s used transitively, and means something like, “Do you understand where I’m coming from?” or “Do you understand what I’m really trying to tell you?”

Ci sono i segreti di mezzo paese in quelle registrazioni, mi capisce?
There are secrets from half the town in those recordings, do you understand me?
La capisco perfettamente.
I understand you perfectly.
Caption 44-45, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 7  


When arguing with her husband, Iolanda could have used the second person indicative present tense capisci (do you understand), and it would have been correct and maybe equally as effective, but using the past participle of this verb is just how people usually talk.


In the following example, the speaker could have used va bene (all right) or even the loan word “OK” in place of capito.

Ma non ti devi preoccupare, capito?
But you're not to worry, understand?
Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 12 of 14 


But capito is a great and user-friendly alternative.


When listening to someone tell you something, instead of just nodding your head and sayingsì sì (yes, yes), it’s very natural to say ho capito (literally, “I have understood/I understood,” or “I get it”). People will say it to you when you are speaking, even if they don’t quite get what you’re saying. It’s basically another way of saying “I’m listening.”


As you go through your day, try mentally using capire in its past participle to ask the question “do you get it?” (capito?) or to replace “you know?” (capito?), or to say, “I heard you, I’m listening” (ho capito).

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Il Fine and La Fine

One of our subscribers has asked about the difference between il fine and la fine.
It’s an excellent question, and one many of us surely wonder about from time to time.
Both il fine and la fine refer to “the end,” more or less.


Italian has its origins in Latin. Finis is both masculine and feminine in Latin, depending on the meaning. These meanings have, for the most part, been carried over into Italian.


When referring to periods, ranges, and intervals of time, the masculine is used. A good example of this is il fine settimana. Here we’re not talking about “the end of the week,” by which we often mean Friday or Saturday, a specific moment in time, but rather “the weekend,” a period that lasts from, say, Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. That’s why Italian uses the masculine il fine settimana. It’s an interval of time. Of course, oggi come oggi (today, literally “today as today”), “weekend” has been adopted into Italian and lots of people just say buon weekend rather than buon fine settimana.

Questo è proprio un lungo weekendUn fine settimana lunghissimo.
This is really a long weekendA very long weekend.
Captions 19-20, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Orari di apertura e sistema scolastico 


One useful expression that uses the masculine form of fine is andare a buon fine (literally: to go to a good ending, to be successful).

Bene, la prenotazione è andata a buon fine.
Good, the reservation was successful.
Caption 24, Marika spiega: Fare lo spelling 


Another popular expression with the masculine form of fine is il lieto fine (the happy ending) when talking about stories. Note that the English translation, in this case, is “ending,” not “end.” When we are talking about the final phase of something, we generally use the masculine.

In genere, questi film romantici hanno un lieto fine.
In general, these romantic films have a happy ending.


Il fine can also correspond to the goal or the purpose. In this case, we use the masculine.

Al fine di permettere un'accelerazione del processo di compostaggio, si cercherà di ridurre il materiale di grosse dimensioni da collocare nella compostiera.
In order to enable the speeding up of the process of composting, one will try to break down the larger pieces of material to place in the composter.
Captions 22-23, Raccolta differenziata: Campagna di sensibilizzazione del Comune di Alliste (LE)

In English, we also use this sense of fine meaning “goal” sometimes: “to what end?” meaning “for what purpose?” or, “the end justifies the means.”


When referring to the end or conclusion of something, or the moment in which something ends, then the feminine is used. With the exception of the above-mentioned cases, most of the time, fine is feminine: la fine. You’ll find a great many examples if you do a Yabla search.

Le fettine così sottili com'è successo a me, faranno un po' una brutta fine.
The really thin little slices, like what happened to me, will come to a bad end.
Caption 42-43, Marika spiega: La Parmigiana di melanzane - Part 2 of 4 


In the Yabla search you will also see fine with no article at all. This is used when two nouns stand next to each other to express one idea, but are not attached, rather like fine settimana. In fact, many compound but detached words imitate “weekend” or fine settimana and are masculine, even when their actual meaning may also be interpreted as referring to completion, such as:

Fine corso (the end of a course, end of the line, as for a bus or train)
Fine anno (the last part of the year)
Fine stagione (end of season)


A fine pranzo and alla fine del pranzo are both correct. They mean almost the same thing (at the end of the midday meal), but fine pranzo, for all intents and purposes, is a compound word (or concept) whereas alla fine del pranzo uses prepositions and articles. They’re set up differently.

This detail can be handy, especially when you’re not sure whether to use la or il.

Quando ti devo pagare? -Fine mese. 
When do I have to pay you? -End of month.

No need to say alla fine del mese (at the end of the month).


There is more to say about fine, especially since it has some ambiguities both as an adjective and as a preposition, so stay tuned!

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More on Accents

Let’s talk about some other common Italian words containing written accents. In case you missed last week's lesson, where we started talking about accents, read it here.


The accent on the u at the end of più (more) tells us that the accent of the word doesn’t fall on the iwhich is where it would naturally fall. 

Più gli ingredienti sono freschi e più è buono.
The fresher the ingredients, the better it is.
Caption 14, Andromeda: in - Storia del gelato - Part 2 of 2


A similar-looking word is pio (pious) where the accent does fall on the i, and indeed there is no accent on any letter.

È pio, eh di, di nome e di fatto.
He's Pio [pious], uh in, in name and in fact.
Caption 40, Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 1


In the same manner, ciò  (that, what) has an accent on the to tell us the accent is not on the i where it would normally fall.

È uno che di fronte a una bella donna si dimentica di ciò che è giusto e ciò che è sbagliato.
He's someone who, faced with a beautiful woman, forgets what's right and what's wrong.
Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 10 


All the days of the week except il sabato (Saturday) and la domenica (Sunday) have an accent on the i at the end: lunedì (Monday), martedì (Tuesday), mercoledì (Wednesday),giovedì (Thursday), venerdì (Friday). In fact,  is another word for "day" (normally giorno).

Un bel dì vedremo.
One beautiful day we'll see.
Caption 12, Anna presenta: Madama butterfly di Giacomo Puccini 


Without the accent on the i, it's di (of).

Eppure io non ho mai smesso né di aspettarlo né di amarlo.
Nonetheless, I never ceased to wait for him or to love him.
Caption 10, Anna presenta: Madama butterfly di Giacomo Puccini


Similarly, da (of, from, to, at) has no accent, but when we conjugate the third person singular of the verb dare (to give), we use an accent to distinguish it from da.

Invito una mia studentessa a farvelo sentire in modo da mettere in evidenza ogni sillaba che il nome alle note.
I invite a student of mine to let you hear it such a way as to highlight each syllable that 
gives its name to the notes.
Caption 37-39, scuola di musica: con Alessio - Part 1 of 3


Remember that except for e, where the accent may be either grave (è) or acute (é) to distinguish between an open (è) or closed (ée, all the accents will be “grave,” that is, going down from left to right (àìòù). 


Try learning these words one by one, making the accent part of the word as you learn it. Needless to say, taking advantage of the Yabla games, from multiple choice to Scribe, will help you nail it.

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La vita quotidiana (daily life)

In a recent video, Marika shows us the balcony of her apartment in Rome, so let’s talk about a couple of details concerning Italian life that come to the fore as she takes us around.


Il bucato (the laundry):

In the United States, there are laundry rooms in the basement of a house or apartment building, but this is rare in Italy. People have their own washing machines, usually in the kitchen, bathroom, or on the balcony.

Quando ho finito di usare la lavatrice e devo stendere i miei panni, userò lo stendibiancheria, che è questo.
When I've finished using my washing machine and I need to hang out my laundry, I'll use the drying rack, which is this one.
Captions 39-40, Marika spiega: Il balcone

Some people have dryers but most ordinary people don’t. That’s why Marika talks about the drying racks. You buy the one that suits the space you have. The weather is usually such that you can dry your clothes outside. Occasionally, you do need to put the drying racks inside because of inclement weather, or you can place a plastic tarp over the rack to keep the rain out. There are laundromats in town, so if the weather is too bad, you can dry your clothes at the laundromat. Laundry in Italy is something that takes a little thought and planning. Electricity costs less at night, on weekends, and on holidays, so people who want to save do their laundry on the weekend, or at night. Newer washing machines have timers so you can schedule the wash to start at an appropriate time.  A load of wash takes a lot longer to finish than you may be used to. It’s not unusual for a cycle to take an hour and a half.


La raccolta differenziata (recycling):

We say “recycling” but actually, what raccolta differenziata (differentiated collection) actually means is separating our garbage into different types to be collected, thus the term “differentiated.” It’s  a bit tricky for people who live in apartments.

Per fortuna anche qui, come in tanti posti del mondo, si fa la raccolta differenziata.
Luckily, here too, as in many places in the world, we do recycling.
Caption 16, Marika spiegaIl balcone

All the wrappers for food and other materials, usually made of plastic, but also including Tetra Paks and cans, go in one bin. Paper and cardboard go in another, glass in another, and most importantly, the wet stuff, usually food waste, goes in a separate container. What cannot be recycled in any way goes into the general, mixed garbage, or indifferenziata. We are encouraged to keep this type of waste to a bare minimum. Separating the different kinds of waste makes it much easier for the sanitation department workers to go through it and sort it further. Appropriate material will then be actually recycled. People who live outside the city, and have enough space, can get a bio-composter (usually free of charge) so they can recycle their own food and gardening refuse

The European Parliament has set goals for reducing waste as far as possible. The method that has had the most success is what is called porta a porta (door to door) collection. Every day, a different kind of waste is picked up. At the outset, it costs more, but as it takes hold, people can actually save money.


Zanzariere (mosquito screens):

In the United States, most houses have screen doors and screens on the windows, but in Italy, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. There are all kinds of solutions, from screen curtains with magnets or velcro, to mosquito nets, to proper screens fitted into the windows and doors. They are usually the type that can be easily raised and lowered so people can air their bedspreads and pillows, and shake out their rugs, rags and dust mops from the windows.

Questa alle mie spalle si chiama zanzariera e serve per proteggermi dagli insetti.
This, behind me, is called mosquito netting [screen] and serves to protect me from insects.
Captions 5-6, Marika spiega: Il balcone

If you travel to Italy in the summer, it can be wise to make sure the hotel or Bed and Breakfast you are staying in has screens on the windows and French doors. It may not be a given.

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Custodire and Its Relatives

Most of us have dealt with custodians at one time or another. They’re the ones who take care of a place, like a school, church, or museum. And while custode is a good bet for the equivalent of any kind of “guardian,” there are other words that are more specific.


When referring to someone as a “custodian,” Italians often do use il custode, especially in the realm of museums and such places, and may even use custode to refer to the more prestigious role of “curator.” The curator of a museum is often called il direttore. In the following example, it’s impossible to know the professional level of the custode in question.

Il custode del museo mi mostra due carrozze restaurate di recente...
The curator of the museum shows me two carriages, recently restored...
Caption 27, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 1 of 15


In referring to custodians, Italian also uses il guardiano (the guardian), or in schools, ilbidello or la bidella (the janitor) in addition to custode. In a Catholic church, on the other hand, a word similar to “sexton” or “sacristan” is used: il sagrestano or il sacrestano.


“Custody” in English often refers to divorce settlements. But when a parent is given custody of a child, then Italian employs l’affidamento, from the verb affidare (to entrust).


Suspects or criminals can be “taken into custody.” In this case, detenere is the verb meaning “to take into custody.” Once taken into custody they’re in detenzione. A prisoner is also known as un detenuto. “Detention” at school, after all, is a form of punishment, and “imprisons” the student after school hours.


So, we need only stretch our imagination very slightly to understand what custodire means.


In this week’s episode about Giuseppe Pitrè and Sicilian traditions, a couple of variations of custodire are used. Custodire is often used to refer to conserving or taking care of something. In Pitrè’s case, we’re talking about stories and traditions.


Il modo migliore di custodire la tradizione è quello di saperla adattare continuamente.
The best way to preserve tradition is to know how to adapt it, continually.
Caption 26, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 1 of 15 


Il dato positivo di Pitrè è che, in fondo, ama questo popolo a cui dà voce,
da cui raccoglie racconti, testimonianze e in qualche modo le vuole custodire, le vuole salvaguardare.
The positive fact about Pitrè is that, deep down, he loves this populace to which he gives a voice, whose stories and remembrances he gathers, and he somehow wants to conserve them, he wants to safeguard them.
Captions 30-32, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 6 of 15 


The person who does the conserving can be called il custode (the custodian), as in the following example.

Ora, credo che Pitrè sia uno dei custodi della tradizione.
No, I believe that Pitrè is one of the custodians of the tradition.
Caption 23, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 6 of 15 


We can talk about conserving physical objects, too. Custodire is a verb often used in conjunction with works of art in museums, castles, and churches.

Nell'Auditorium comunale di Norcia, è custodita, invece, una bellissima pala d'altare.
In the Municipal Auditorium of Norcia, is housed, instead, a very beautiful altarpiece.
Captions 12-14, Itinerari Della Bellezza: Umbria - Part 3 of 6 


Someone who owns a musical instrument, or some other kind of precious or fragile object, will usually keep it in una custodia (a case).


Custodire and “custody,” with their various derivatives, stem from the Latin custos, meaning “the guard.” So it all makes a certain amount of sense, doesn’t it?


It’s interesting how a word in Latin or other ancient language evolves to mean different things in different languages. Finding the connections can be fun, all the time remembering that there may be a few false friends waiting around the corner.

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Some of you may already have begun experimenting with the new Scribe game. Although Italian is relatively easy to pronounce and spell, there are a few typical stumbling blocks. Let's talk about one in particular.


Let's say you are playing Scribe. You feel like you've have written all the words correctly but the game doesn't let you go on to the next caption. It can be quite frustrating.


This often happens because you have neglected to insert an accent.


In English, we are not used to writing accents, but in Italian, it’s something we have to pay attention to whether we're playing Scribe or not. Be patient with yourselves. It's just something you have to learn little by little.


So where do we usually find these accents? If we know a bit more about them, we can be prepared for them in the Scribe game and elsewhere, so let's have a look.


Perhaps the most frequent error is the accent on the i of  (yes). It certainly sounds about the same with or without the accent, and it’s not always easy to see. But if we omit the accent when writing, we can mean any number of other things, from the note si (B), to the personal pronoun si (himself/herself/itself). In the following example, the si with no accent is part of the reflexive verb allontanarsi (to leave).

, non era la prima volta che Giada si allontanava di casa senza avvertirmi.
Yes, it wasn't the first time Giada left home without letting me know.
Caption 49, Il Commissario Manara 1: Un morto di troppo Ep. 10 - Part 3 


In two-syllable words, the accent usually falls on the first syllable, so when that is not the case, there will generally be an accent on the second syllable to let us know.


Let’s take the word però (however, but). The accent is there to signal that the accent falls on the second syllable, a departure from the basic rule about accenting the first syllable. The accented version of the word però is the one you’ll usually see because it’s such a common word.

Sembra banale, però mi aiuta.
It seems banal, but it helps me.
Caption 25, Amiche: Filosofie

Però is one word you’ll use often in casual conversation. And with that long ò at the end, you can buy yourself some time while thinking of what to say next.


Without the accent, we’re talking about un pero (a pear tree)! Note that names of fruit trees frequently end in o (with no accent) whereas the fruit itself ends in a, like la pera (the pear), la mela (the apple), la ciliegia' (the cherry). proposito (speaking of which), Marika explains this here and here.


We also have to pay attention to which way an accent is facing, but fortunately, this applies primarily to accents on “e.” On “o,” “ a,” “i,” and “u,”  the accent is almost always “grave,” meaning down-facing from left to right. One of the most basic accents to remember is the grave accent on è, the third person conjugation of the basic verb essere (to be). This particular conjugation is extremely commonbut for foreign ears, can easily be confused with e with no accent. Hearing and pronouncing the difference between e (and) and è (to be) is one thing, but writing it is another, so Scribe is a great chance to assimilate this aspect of Italian spelling.


Another important word that has an accent is perché (because, why). This is an acute or upward facing accent from left to right, which indicates a closed e. However you pronounce the é in perché, people will usually understand you, but if you’re writing, you need to get it right. Think of perché in its question form: why. The accent goes up (to the right), just like the inflection of a question.


The other place accents crop up is in the future tense. There will usually be an accent on the last vowel of the word in the first and third person singular. Let’s look at the irregular but very common verb venire (to come).

lui/lei verrà (he/she/it will come)
io verrò (I will come)

the verb andare (to go):

io andrò  (I will go)
lui/lei andrà (he/she/it will go)

And essere (to be):

io sarò (I will be)
lui/lei sarà (he/she/it will be)


Be on the lookout for these accents when playing Scribe and when watching videos in general. You'll start to recognize them and become more comfortable with them sooner than you think. 

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Particles ne and ci in context

Even though Marika has talked about the particles ne and ci in her recent video lessons, using them takes some practice. Let’s have a quick look at a few examples in this week’s episode of Commissario Manara.


We often don’t even hear these particles, because we aren’t looking for them. In English, equivalents for them are often superfluous.


This one little word ne represents a preposition plus an indirect object. In the following example, Lara could have said much the same thing leaving out the ne, but using it is more precise. It’s the difference between “I’m sure” and “I’m sure of it.” But in Italian, the particle goes before the verb, as if it were “of it I’m sure.”

Comunque ne sono sicura, non si è uccisa.
Anyway, I'm sure of it. She didn't kill herself.
Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 2 of 13 


In the following example, we have ci in the first part, which represents “onto the furniture” and then, ce neCe represents “there (on the furniture)” and ne represents “of them” (the prints). Remember that when we have a direct object together with the indirect object ci, theci changes to ce!

Se lei ci fosse salita sopra, sarebbero rimaste le impronte, e invece non ce ne sono.
If she had climbed up on it, the prints would have remained, but there aren't any [of them].
Caption 8-9, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 2 of 13 


In the following example, ci represents noi (to us).

Senti, prima ho trovato il diario di Iolanda, forse può esserci utile.
Listen, earlier I found Iolanda's diary. Maybe it could be useful to us.
Caption 16, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 2 of 13  


Ci is complicated. It means different things in different contexts. So we will keep on talking about ci.


See more lessons about ci.



The new Yabla feature, Scribe, is not just a game, even though you'll find it in the "Games" tab (blue button) in the lower right-hand corner of the Player video window. Playing Scribe can be a big help in getting accustomed to particles like ne and ci/ce, because in Scribe we have to try to write down what we hear. And once we start hearing these particles, it will be easier to start using them and putting them in the right place. Stay on the lookout for further information about how to make the most of Scribe to boost your Italian comprehension and spelling skills. Meanwhile, perché non farci un giro (why not give it a whirl)? 

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Future and Conditional in the First Person Plural

Daniela’s lesson this week explains how to form the conditional with verbs ending in “-are.” But endings notwithstanding, the first person plural of verbs will always have a single “m” in the future, and a double “m” in the conditional. So, aside from learning the conjugations, it’s important, as Daniela mentions, to be able to distinguish between -emo, and -emmo. Let’s focus for a moment on the first person plural of the future and the conditional. It’s a good chance to practice double “m’s.”


Here’s the future tense of potere (to be able to) and riuscire (to manage to), with one “m.” The narrator is about to show us some film clips, so it’s a sure thing.

In una serie di filmati, eh, nella [sic] nel tempo di una pausa caffè,
potremo vedere alcuni eh castelli, alcuni anfiteatri, alcuni templi, della regione della Campania.
In questo modo appunto riusciremo a parlare di tutte [sic] questi siti archeologici
e di quello che hanno significato su questo territorio.
In a series of film segments, uh, in the time of a coffee break,
we'll be able to see some, uh, castles, some amphitheaters, some temples, of the region of Campania.
That way, we'll be able to talk about all of these archaeological sites
and about what they represented in this territory.
Captions 9-12, Escursioni Campane: Castello Normanno - Part 1 of 2 


In the following example, we find the conditional, so in this case there are two “m’s.” Can you hear them? Try practicing the difference between potremo and potremmo!

Se ti invito a cena questa sera potremmo leggerli tutti.
If I invite you for supper tonight we could read all of them.
Caption 54,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 2  


Let’s look at some more examples. Try rolling them around on your tongue, making sure that the double “m” sits there a moment before pronouncing the “o.”


In the next examples, the meaning is clear. The autopsy is going to take place, so they will find out what they need to know. They use the future.

Se ci sono altre cose lo scopriremo dopo l'autopsia. -Qualcosa la sappiamo già adesso.
If there are other things, we'll find that out after the autopsy. -We already know something right now.
Caption 13, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Ep 4 - Part 2  


In the following example, chef Gualtiero Marchesi uses se (if) plus the subjunctive in one clause, and the conditional in the other. This is a classic combination.

Noi finiamo sempre con l'aggiungere delle cose che saranno anche buone,
ma se provassimo a [sic: ad] approcciare il prodotto per il prodotto,
credo che scopriremmo un mondo nuovo.
We always end up adding things that may well be good,
but if we tried approaching a product for the product itself,
I think we'd discover a new world.
Captions 18-20, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 2  


For more about the conditional and subjunctive together see this lesson.


To hear more words in the future and conditional, look them up on a conjugation chart, at WordReference, for example, and then do a Yabla search of the conjugation you want to examine, so you can hear the verbs in context pronounced by Italians.

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Education and Educazione: Friends or Not?

English speakers think of school when they hear the word “education.” But educazione in Italian usually means something a bit different. Check out what Italian words correspond to the English “education.” Istruzione is a common one. This sounds like “instruction,” so we can understand it well enough, although we usually think of instruction as in “instructions” for how to do something. Titolo di studio is another one. This is about what diplomas or degrees you have. Formazione is another. This refers to what one has been trained in. Gli studi corresponds to “studies,” and refers to the schools one has attended, and what someone has majored in, but English speakers can easily forget that educazione is more about upbringing, and teaching one’s children (or pets) to behave, than about going to school.


Here are some reminders from Yabla videos.


If you’ve been following La Tempesta, you know that Paolo, a Venetian unemployed wealthy factory-owner’s son has suddenly taken on, against his will, responsibility for his brother’s adopted son, an orphan from Russia. They are both having a rough time of it. The following comment (from this week’s new video) is from a meeting with the school principal after the kid got in a fight. They are not talking about book learning here.

Ma prima di metterlo in classe con i bambini normali,
bisognerebbe educarlo.
But before putting him in a class with normal children,
one should teach him some manners.
Caption 10, La Tempesta: film - Part 11 of 26 


In the following example, we’re talking about a dog. For Caterina, the dog is part of the family so she talks about him as if he were a person (with bad manners).

Sempre in giro a ficcanasare questo cagnazzo... Lo devi scusare Malvina, è un gran maleducato...
Always snooping around this old dog... You have to excuse him, Malvina, he's really bad-mannered...
Captions 42 - 43, Il Commissario Manara 1: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep. 2 - Part 6 of 17  


In the following example, Manara has called his boss in the middle of the night for something he thought was molto importante and urgente. His boss didn’t appreciate it per niente (at all)!

Non si azzardi più a chiamarmi a quest'ora, maleducato!
Don't you dare call me again at this hour, how rude!
Caption 55, Il Commissario Manara 1: Il Raggio Verde - Ep 5 - Part 12 of 14 


In actual fact, his boss uses maleducato as a noun, as is common in Italian. Indeed, it’s a common insult to somebody who is not being polite. It implies that the person was brought up badly—maleducato—and therefore has no manners. The adjective “rude” in English gives the idea. “Disrespectful” could have worked, too.



Male (evil, badly) is often used as a prefix, lending its "badness" to other words. It’s often truncated to mal. Male is both a noun and an adverb. Technically the adjective form is malo, as in: ha reagito in malo modo (he reacted in a bad way). But colloquially, people do say non è male to mean something’s not bad, even though male isn’t an adjective. A correct way to describe something as "not bad," would be with malvagio (wicked). These days, malvagio is usually used in the negative, to say “not bad,” in talking about something you’re eating or drinking, for example:

Non è malvagio questo vino (this wine isn't bad = it's drinkable).


Or a movie you’ve seen: 

Quel film non era malvagio (that movie wasn't so bad).

Maledire (to curse someone, to wish someone ill)
Maldestro (maladroit, clumsy)


There are plenty more words with mal where these come from. Take out your dizionario!

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When O's Become U's - Welcome to Sicily

One of Yabla’s current offerings is about Sicily. The Giuseppe Pitrè videos are peppered with phrases in the Sicilian dialect. As a matter of fact, although we call it a dialect, it’s actually a language all its own.


The Italian State was born only in 1861. Textbooks began being uniformly published in the Italian language as late as 1928.  Before that, different regions in what later became Italy had wildly different ways of expressing themselves, and in many cases still do.


Even now there are still plenty of people, mostly pensionati (retirees) by now, who have had only minimal schooling and never learned Italian, let alone to read and write. If they had children, the children became bilingual in order to both go to school and be able to communicate with their parents. So these languages are still alive, thanks also to folk traditions of theater and poetry, such as the ones described in the above-mentioned videos.


When you’re learning the language, it's hard enough to follow someone speaking Italian, let alone someone speaking in dialect, as in the Pitrè videos. Remember, though: You don’t need to actually learn Sicilian or any other regional language. But being in the know about some of a dialect's characteristics can enable you to enjoy the differences (and understand something) rather than being overwhelmed by them. Italy's linguistic diversity is part of what makes the country so interesting.


From these Pitrè videos, you’ll notice for example, that the “o” in Italian often becomes “u” in Sicilian. The “e” often  becomes “ie.”

Signuri mei, vi cuntu di Giufà [Signori miei, vi racconto di Giufà],
ca una ni pienza e milli ni fa [che una ne pensa e mille ne fa].

My gentlemen, I'll tell you about Giufà,
who thinks of one thing and does a thousand of them.

Vai Giuseppe, curri [corri]Curri [corri], fratello!
Go, Giuseppe, runHurry up, brother!
Caption 51, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 2 of 15

In the examples above, the pronunciation is decidedly different, but the words are the same as or similar to Italian.


Sometimes, though, vocabulary changes completely, or almost completely. One Sicilian word that comes to mind is picciotto (young man or boy). Just picking out that one word (and variants of it) can allow you to feel like you're in the know.

E ddu picciotto, un avennu né piccioli pi manciari, ci rissi [E quel ragazzo, non avendo nemmeno soldi per mangiare, gli disse]:
And that boy, not even having money for food, told him,
Se, cietto ca mi vogghiu mettiri in 'sta scummissa [Sì, certo che voglio fare questa scommessa]!
“Yes, of course, I want to make a bet!”
Captions 39-41, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 4 of 15

When the boy speaks, you’ll notice that, as mentioned above, the “e” in certo (of course) becomes “ie.” In addition, the “r” disappears altogether and it becomes cietto.

The more you listen to Italians speaking, the more you'll notice regional differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax, as well as in general inflection. It can be fun to guess where someone is from!

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