English doesn’t make the distinction — as far as pronouns go — between familiar and polite forms, but many languages do.
In this week’s segment about how the Italian language was influenced by Italian fascism, we learn that Lei, the polite form of “you” (singular), was actually banned from the language by Mussolini, and that the form Voi was imposed. But what’s this all about?
Let’s clarify, right away, that voi with a lowercase “v” is the second person plural personal pronoun, that is, “you” plural. We use it all the time. What we’re discussing here, however, is the use of Voi — with a capital letter — as a second person singular, polite form. It uses the same conjugation as voi (you plural).
The story is a long, complicated, and fascinating one, but here are the basics.
In ancient Rome, people used only the familiar form, “tu” (which later became the Italian tu (you, singular).
At a certain point, around the year 300, the Latin “Vos” ("you" plural used as a singular) began to be used with important figures such as emperors, much the same way as the pluralismajestatis was used.
“Vos” then became Voi in Italian, and was commonly used from the 1200’s to the 1400’s for addressing artists, nobility, etc. Dante used tu and Voi. Later, in the Renaissance, with the return to studying the Greek and Roman classics, there was a tendency to go back to the “Roman” tu.
Also in the Renaissance, Lei began to be used in offices and courts as a polite form of address. Lei corresponds to the third person feminine singular (she/her). The words used for prominent figures, like Eccellenza (Excellence) and Maestà (Majesty) are feminine nouns, and so, this led to a feminine pronoun: Lei. Lei was used alongside Voi for centuries as a deferential form of address, with tu as a familiar and intimate one. Many consider that the use of Lei came into use following the model of the Spanish, whose presence was felt in Italy during the 16th Century.
So, though not actually foreign (but believed to be, at least, partially), Lei was banned by Mussolini as being a non-Italian word:
Imposizione del Voi.
The imposition of “Voi” ["you" singular, formal]
Parole straniere bandite e sostituite per legge.
Foreign words banned and replaced by law.
Captions 6 and 9, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 2 of 15
Thus, Voi was revived and/or imposed all over Italy. After the fall of fascism, Voi fell into disuse in many parts of Italy, where it had not really had time to be assimilated.
In much of southern Italy, however, Voi, as a deferential form of address, had never gone out of fashion, as it had in the north. So, it simply remained, and to this day it’s still used as a sign of respect, especially in families: a nipotino (grandson) in speaking to his nonno (grandfather), for example.
If you are an adult and go on a trip to Naples, Sicily or other southern Italian destination, you may very well be addressed as Voi. This is a sign of respect.
Lei has entered Italian vocabulary and grammar books as the official personal pronoun for addressing someone formally. But since language is fluid and ever-changing — not by law and imposition, but by common use — this could change.
Thanks for reading, keep up the good work, and feel free to write to us at
firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments and questions.
This week, Arianna has her job interview for a marketing position. It turns out that her potential employer thinks she would be very suitable for the job. Ottime notizie (great news)! But the Italian word for “suitable” isn’t so easy to guess.
Be' Arianna, Lei mi sembra che sia proprio adatta a questo posto.
Well, Arianna. You seem very suitable for this position.
Caption 48, Italiano commerciale: Colloquio di lavoro - Part 2 of 2
So the adjective is adatto. We use it to say “suitable” as above, “fitting,” “appropriate,” “ideal,” or “right,” also when speaking in the negative as in the following example.
Anche se, certo, non è il momento adatto.
Even though, naturally, it's not the ideal moment.
Caption 8, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte in paradiso Ep 9 - Part 3 of 13
When you’re looking for the right word in Italian, you can say,
Non trovo la parola adatta.
I can’t find the right word.
Non è proprio la parola adatta, ma forse si capisce.
It’s not really the right/appropriate word, but maybe you get my meaning.
There is a verb that is a close relative: adattare. The basic meaning of this verb is “to make something become suitable.” So you can adapt something, with the transitive form ofadattare, and that something becomes adatto (suitable).
Per cui ho sempre visto fare grandi cose adattate poi alla cucina del mercato.
So I've always seen them do great things, adapted, subsequently, to the cuisine of the marketplace.
Caption 40, L'arte della cucina: La Prima Identitá - Part 12 of 17
The reflexive form takes a preposition, much like the English.
Mi sono adattata fin da subito alla cucina italiana.
I adapted to Italian cuisine right away.
A verb often becomes an adjective by way of its past participle. Let's take, for example, the verb pulire (to clean). The past participle is pulito (cleaned). We can say ho pulito il bagno (Icleaned the bathroom/I've cleaned the bathroom), il bagno è stato pulito (the bathroom was cleaned), or il bagno è pulito (the bathroom is clean). In Italian, the adjective pulito (clean) is identical to the past participle pulito (cleaned), and comes from the verb.
But with adatto and adattare, it's different. It's just something to remember.
In a nutshell:
Adjective: adatto (suitable)
Verb: adattare-adattarsi (to adapt), with its regular past participle, adattato (adapted).
Just for fun:
To set the scene: You arrive in your new apartment with all your furniture from the old apartment, especially one of your favorite pieces, a bookcase.
Non è lo spazio più adatto a questa libreria. Bisognerebbe fare adattare la libreria da un falegname. Io l’avevo già adattato una volta ad uno spazio molto più irregolare di questo, ed ora, temo che non si adatterà più. Sarà meglio comprare una libreria componibile che si adatti a qualsiasi spazio.
It’s not an ideal space for this bookcase. We would have to have the bookcase adapted by a carpenter. I had already adapted it once to a much more irregular space, and now, I’m afraid I won’t be able to adapt it ever again. It might be better to buy a modular set of shelves that adapts to any space.
In a new video from Yabla, Adriano tells us about a book he wrote. He uses the verb importare (to matter, to be important) a few times. Importare sounds much like the English adjective “important,” but it’s a verb, and needs to be handled accordingly. If you’re not familiar with importare, take a look at this lesson about it. Adriano adds the indirect object pronoun a me/mi to importare, to mean that something does or doesn't matter to him. It’s a little stronger and more personal than non importa (it doesn’t matter).
Ma questo a me non importa.
But this doesn't matter to me.
Caption 5, Adriano: Indietro non si torna
He could also have said, ma questo non m'importa.
Another verb he uses is vivere. It means “to live” but also “to experience,” so see this lesson about how Italians use vivere.
Let’s talk for a moment about the title of Adriano’s book, Indietro non si torna (One can’t go back). First of all, he turns the phrase around to put the emphasis on indietro (back, backwards). He could have entitled it Non si torna indietro and it would mean the same thing, but it would have less impact. The emphasis would have been on non (not).
He uses the impersonal form of the verb tornare (to return, to go back). The impersonal form is peculiar to Latin-based languages and is used quite a bit in Italian, but can be difficult for learners to grasp. See these lessons about the impersonale. To express the same idea in English we often use the passive voice, or, especially in the negative, a general “you” that means anyone and everyone. Although not used much in conversation, English also employs the neutral "one" in the third person singular for the same purpose. In the negative impersonal, the implication is that you shouldn’t or can’t do something. So, we might freely translate Adriano's title as "You can't go back," or "There's no going back."
"A me mi" non si dice.
"To me, I" isn't said [you shouldn’t say, you can’t say, you don’t say, one doesn't say].
Caption 12, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 9 of 28
Note how Italians change the word order where in English, it's less common. If we turn the Italian sentence around, it's clearer.
Non si dice "a me mi".
One doesn't say "to me, I."
In an impersonal positive statement, we often use “they” or the passive voice in English.
Si dice che qui il sole spacca le pietre.
It's said [They say] that here, the sun splits rocks.
Caption 41, Adriano: Le stagioni dell'anno
Hopefully, these words about Adriano's video have helped you understand some of the contents a bit better, or have reinforced what you already knew. Keep up the good work, and thanks for reading.
To watch other videos featuring Adriano, just do a search with his name. His videos are generally easy to understand, by way of his clearly articulated and well-paced way of speaking.
In a previous lesson we talked about sedie (chairs), panche (benches), and panchine (park benches). But now let’s examine some more comfortable places to sit.
Normally, if there are arms on a chair, as in “armchair,” it’s una poltrona, for Italians, especially if it’s got padding and is comfortable. A smaller armchair, that is, a chair with braccioli (arms or armrests), may be called una poltroncina. It’s not necessarily comfortable. Il bracciolo (arm, armrest) comes from il braccio (the arm).
If we want to seat two people, we can talk about un divanetto. It is usually smaller in size and importance than a proper divano (sofa, couch) where you can usually lie down, put your feet up, and take up space.
Mi distendo sul divano, guardo un po' di televisione.
I stretch out on the couch, I watch a little TV.
Captions 41-42, Adriano: Giornata
Sometimes people have a divano letto (a sofa bed) for guests, or even for themselves, if they lack space.
What you sit on in a car, train or plane, or other means of transport is un sedile (a seat). They are often called posti a sedere (places to sit).
In prima classe, i sedili sono più comodi.
In first class, the seats are more comfortable.
Babies and young children need special seats in a car.
È passeggino per i bambini molto piccoli, oppure seggiolino auto.
It’s a stroller for very small babies, or else a little car seat.
Caption 42, Anna presenta: Attrezzature per un neonato
Babies eat in special chairs called seggioloni (highchairs).
If you go skiing in Italy, you may want to travel up the slopes on a seggiovia (chairlift).
And if you really want to get comfortable, you can stretch out on un letto matrimoniale (a double or king-size bed) or un lettino (usually a single bed), or if you go to the doctor’s or to see a massage therapist, or even a psychoanalyst, you might also find yourself lying on un lettino.
Si metta sul lettino e mi parli del Suo rapporto con i piedi.
Get on the couch and tell me about your relationship with your feet.
Caption 4, Psicovip: Cappuccetto Rosso - Ep 7
Un lettino may also be seen at the edge of pools or at the beach.
E quanto costa affittare un lettino?
And how much does it cost to rent a cot?
Caption 5, Una gita: al lago - Part 2 of 4
Another comfortable seat is uno sdraio (a deck chair, a recliner).
Sdraio comes from the verb sdraiare (to lay down) or its reflexive version, sdraiarsi (to lie down, to recline). The plural is the same as the singular as we see in the following example.
Vengono messi ombrelloni, sdraio.
Beach umbrellas, beach chairs will be installed.
Caption 5, Antonio: e il Lido Costa Blu
The verb mancare (to miss, to be missing, to lack) is important to learn, to be able to tell someone you miss him or her, but mancare also has some other contexts, and learning these might help to understand this tricky verb.
In the following example, there's a piece of information we don't have. We're lacking something. It's absent.
Manca un'informazione importante.
An important piece of information is missing.
Caption 33, A scuola di musica: con Alessio - Part 3 of 3
Here's a typical thing to say at the dinner table:
Manca il sale nella pasta.
The pasta lacks salt [salt is lacking in the pasta].
Let's transpose this to talking about people. Let's say there's a meeting, but not everyone is there. Someone says:
Chi manca (who's missing)? Chi non c'è (who's not here)?
Manca Alice (Alice is missing). Non c'è Alice (Alice isn't here).
That has no sentimental value. Alice should be there and she's not. But when we add a personal pronoun, in this case, an indirect object pronoun like mi (to me), ti (to you), gli (to him), le (to her), ci (to us), vi (to you plural), a loro (to them), we make it about us, we make it personal. We personally feel the fact of that person's absence. That's how Italians miss someone.
Un altro significato è "sentire la mancanza".
Another meaning is "to feel the absence."
Caption 18, Marika spiega: Il verbo mancare
She uses mancare in this context:
Mia sorella è appena partita e già mi manca!
My sister just left, and I already miss her!
Caption 19, Marika spiega: Il verbo mancare
In the following example, Luca Manara is feeling nostalgic about the past, and feels the absence of certain moments. Using the indirect object pronoun mi makes it about him, about how he feels.
Mi mancano quei momenti in cui non conoscevo la risoluzione dei problemi e tu mi passavi le risposte sotto al banco.
I miss those times when I didn't know the answers to the questions and you passed me the answers under the desk.
Captions: 64, 65 Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 8 of 14
Mantenere (to maintain, to keep)
The primary meaning of mantenere is “to maintain” (a true cognate) or “to keep.”
But it doesn’t mean “keep” as in keeping a lock of someone’s hair. For that, we can use tenere(which is also part of mantenere) or conservare. It’s more about keeping a promise, as in the following example, where the subjunctive of mantenere is used. Affinché (so that, in order for) is the conjunction that requires the subjunctive in this sentence.
Il ranocchio le gridò dietro affinché lei mantenesse la sua promessa.
The frog shouted after her, in order for her to keep her promise.
Caption 32, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 1
Mantenere can also imply keeping or maintaining something in a certain condition or position.
Fermo restando che insieme al, alla tintura vengono richiesti spesso, i pigmenti colorati cheservono per mantenere anche il colore,
Taking for granted that together with the dye, often we get a request for color revitalizers that are also used to maintain the color,
Captions 46-47, Happy Hair - Rivenditore per parrucchieri: Prodotti di bellezza - Part 1
È un ballo molto veloce, ritmato, in quattro quarti, dove la caratteristica è mantenere le ginocchia sempre in movimento e alte.
It's a very fast dance, rhythmic, in four four, whose characteristic is to always keep the knees moving and up high.
Captions 10-11, Adriano: Jive
We use mantenere to mean “to support,” too. We use the reflexive form, mantenersi, to refer to making a living, to supporting oneself.
Si era messo a lavora' da un fornaio per mantenersi, di notte.
He started working at a bakery at night to support himself.
Caption 19, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 11 of 28
Un mantenuto is someone who is “kept” or supported by someone else.
Giorgio non ha un lavoro, fa il mantenuto a casa di sua mamma.
Giorgio doesn’t have a job, he is supported by his mother.
Or we could say:
Si fa mantenere dalla sua fidanzata.
He gets supported by his girlfriend.
See also these other nouns that come from mantenere:
Mantenimento, which is more about financial support of people or animals.
Manutenzione which is more about maintenance and upkeep.
The following example uses both mantenere and manutenzione in a single sentence.
E fornisce molto lavoro, soprattutto per i ragazzi più giovani che possono lavorare con le barche, possono affittarle, possono mantenerne la manutenzione, possono venderle.
And it provides a lot of work, above all for the younger people who can work with the boats, they can rent them, keep up with their maintenance, they can sell them.
Captions 8-10, Milena: al porto di Maratea
Just for fun:
Ho mantenuto lo stesso giardiniere per vent’anni, perché era molto bravo nellamanutenzione degli atrezzi da giardino, e nel mantenere pulito e rigoglioso il giardino stesso. Inoltre, doveva mantenere cinque figli. Si manteneva con il giardinaggio.
I kept on the same gardener for twenty years because he was very good with the upkeep of the gardening utensils and in keeping the garden itself neat and flourishing. Besides, he had to support five children. He supported himself by doing gardening.
A note about Adriano and his Dublin videos. You may notice that in a recent installment, he uses the noun locali to mean “the locals.” It’s incorrect.
Questa scuola di cucina serve appunto per far conoscere a locali [sic: persone del posto] e a stranieri le tecniche, i segreti della cucina italiana.
This school serves, in fact, to acquaint locals and foreigners with the techniques, the secrets of Italian cooking.
Caption 22, Adriano: Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1 of 2
In Italian, un locale is a place. Adriano is using a “false friend” that made its way into his brain without his even realizing it, perhaps. This can happen very easily when we spend time in a foreign country. We make a huge effort to learn the language of the place, we even start thinking in that language, and then all of a sudden we have to speak our native language there in the foreign country. It’s easy to get a little mixed up sometimes. Living in a foreign country encourages us to become somewhat multilingual, using the word that seems the most appropriate at the moment, in whichever language. Since there is no good, single Italian word for “the locals,” Adriano just grabbed the first word that sounded right, treating it as an Italianword, making the plural with an i. If you speak English, you understand it. Just remember: it’s not correct Italian.
Adriano provides us with a useful Italian word: legare (to tie). In talking about his favorite restaurant in Dublin, he uses the verb form, legare (to tie):
Sono molti i fattori che mi legano a questo ristorante.
There are many factors that tie me to this restaurant.
Caption 24, Adriano: Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1 of 2
He’s speaking metaphorically, just as in the following example, where he uses the adjective/past participle legato.
Quando ero piccolo, ero molto legato alla figura di Pinocchio
When I was little, I was very tied to the figure of Pinocchio.
Caption 24, Adriano: Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 1 of 2
In Italian, the verb legare can imply feeling connected to something or someone as in the above examples, or it can be about simply tying or fastening something.
We’re talking about a kind of seat belt here.
And in the following example, we’re talking about a leash for a dog and tying an animal to a secure post.
Va be', sì, insomma, l'avevo legato qui fuori a un vaso, ma evidentemente...
OK, yes, in other words, I'd tied him to a flower pot out here, but evidently...
Caption 24, La ladra: Le cose cambiano - Part 11 of 17
Things can be tied in a non-physical way, by association.
Comunque qualcosa legato all'incendio, no?
In any case, something tied to the fire, right?
Caption 48, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Beato tra le donne Ep. 11 - Part 9 of 12
There's more to say about legare so stay tuned.
A subscriber has asked a good question: why Adriano used stare instead of essere in caption 6 in Adriano: Adriano e Anita.
In fact, knowing when to use stare isn’t always easy because like essere, it mostly translates as “to be.” Sometimes the choice is clear cut, and other times it’s a matter of taste or regional usage.
Sicuramente vi starete chiedendo chi è questa bella ragazza che sta alla mia destra.
Surely you have been asking yourselves, “Who’s the pretty girl who is on my right?”
Caption 5-6, Adriano: Adriano e Anita
Perhaps the best answer, in this case, is that stare has more to do with a position in a place or situation than essere, which is generic “to be,” and so using stare is a bit more specific. Adriano is not going so far as to say she is sitting or standing on his right, but she is there, placed at his right, in a position, so stare works.
Adriano also happens to be from Sicily. In southern Italy, people use the verb stare to replaceessere in many cases.
There can be multiple reasons for using stare instead of essere, and they can be interchangeable in some cases, but there are some situations in which stare works and essere doesn’t.
Come stai (how are you)? We’re talking about a condition here.
"Come stai?" rispondo "sto bene!"
"How are you?" I answer, "I'm fine."
Caption 37, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Chiedere "Come va?"
On the other hand, in the (unlikely) case where I ask you come sei? (using essere), I am asking how tall, how fat or thin you are, or how good looking you are, but not how you are feeling, or how you are.
For more on stare, have a look at the WordReference entry for stare and see this Yabla lesson. In addition, it’s always handy to do a Yabla search of stare or its conjugations and look at the examples to get even more of a sense of when to use it.
There’s an old but beloved pop song on Yabla this week: Berta filava (Bertha Spun) and its subject merits a bit of attention. The songwriter uses the verb filare. The main translation for this verb is “to spin,” as in a spinning wheel. But just as in English where the verb “to spin” also has to do with spinning around, or spinning a tall tale, in Italian, too, it has different meanings, more or less colloquial.
As we mentioned above, the traditional meaning is “to spin” as in yarn. In fact, filare appears in a fairy tale.
Lì incontrò una vecchia signora che era seduta a un vecchio arcolaio.
There she encountered an old woman who was sitting at an old spinning wheel.
La principessa era curiosa e chiede [sic. chiese] se poteva provarlo.
The princess was curious and asked if she could try it out.
Alla vecchia signora gentile non risultava che fosse vietato filare nel regno,
The kindly old woman was not aware that it was forbidden to spin in the kingdom,
e diede il fuso alla principessa.
and gave the spindle over to the princess.
Captions 32 - 35, Ti racconto una fiaba: La Bella Addormentata nel Bosco - Part 1
In the featured song this week, the lyrics are about a certain Berta (the equivalent of Bertha) and when she used to spin. Quando Berta filava (when Bertha used to spin) has become another way of saying “in the good old days,” because the song is so well known. But each verse of the song uses a slightly different meaning of filare.
Let's look at some of the connotations for filare.
Filare dritto or filare a diritto (to toe the line, to behave oneself properly, to stay on the straight and narrow).
Quella mamma fa filare i figli (that mom makes her children behave).
Filare (to move quickly):
Fila in macchina. Dai... Forza, gambe, braccia.
Scoot into the car. Come on... Go on, legs, arms.
Captions 26-27, Un medico in famiglia: Casa nuova - Part 2 of 16
La tartaruga un tempo fu un animale che correva a testa in giù
At one time, the turtle was an animal that ran with her head down
come un siluro filava via.
like a torpedo it would speed away.
Captions 5-7, Giuditta: canta La tartaruga
Scendi al pratone e lo saprai, concluse Tribo, filando via misterioso.
"Go down to the large meadow and you'll find out," concluded Tribo, taking offmysteriously.
Captions 16 - 17, Dixieland: Festa delle sorpresine
Which brings us to the other meanings of filare, that have to do with interpersonal relations.
It can be about flirting, going out with someone, or going even further into intimate relations. You just need to check out the context. In Rino Gaetano’s song, he keeps repeating filava,filava, but at any time, it could mean different things to different people. That’s what makes it fun. And this repetition is a sort of spinning all its own. The refrain just keeps spinning and spinning.
E filava di lato
And she misbehaved
Captions 18 - 19, Rino Gaetano: Berta filava
Filare is a verb, but there are nouns and other verbs that “spin” around this verb. We’ll look at them in future lessons.
It’s always handy to know what you are sitting on, so here are some of the basics.
A seat for a single person may be una sedia (a chair). It has four legs, a seat, and a back.
Per favore, sollevami sulla sedia e fammi sedere accanto a te.
Please, lift me onto the chair and let me sit next to you.
Caption 1, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 2 of 2
The noun la sedia comes from the verb sedere (to sit). The following example is from a movie scene that’s a take-off on the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, so the Italian is archaic, and some of the words are truncated or modified. The reflexive form of sedere — sedersi — the form generally used to mean “to sit,” is omitted here, and the normal verb sedere is used.
Siedi [siediti] piuttosto e non avere fretta.
Sit down instead and don't be in a hurry.
Captions 5 - 6, Totò e Lia Zoppelli: Romeo e Giulietta
And here we have another seat for one person: lo sgabello (the stool). Lo sgabello can be low or high, made of wood or another material. It can be used to sit on or to stand on, to reach a high cupboard for example.
Ma dove seder degg'io, se qui sgabel [sgabello] non v'è?
But where do I sit down, when there is no stool here?
Caption 6, Totò e Lia Zoppelli - Romeo e Giulietta
These days, pianists usually use uno sgabello regolabile (a piano stool that can be raised or lowered), but traditionally, and in homes, the piano has una panca per pianoforte (a piano bench) made of wood to match the piano. As opposed to a sgabello, una panca per pianofortecan fit two people nicely.
Whether we know the definition of a word or not, logic would tell us that panchina is a small panca, because there is a diminutive suffix: ino/ina. In this case, however, we can throw logic out the window because size doesn’t play a role. In fact, panca and panchina basically mean the same thing — a (wooden) seat, often backless, for two or more people — but they’re used in different situations.
In church, we talk about le panche, the pews. Traditionally, these pews would have been backless, but in modern times, church pews usually have backs to them. In some regions, people use the word banco for a church pew.
La panca is usually found indoors, and is generally made of wood. It seats several people around a table. This kind of panca doesn’t usually have a back to it, and is thought of as being rustic.
Una panca can be found in a gym, for doing crunches and weights.
La panca can used to seat people at a performance, usually in a makeshift theater. This may be indoors or outdoors.
Ah, questa parola non l'hai scandita bene, perché l'ultimo spettatore del, dell'ultima panca deve sentire bene quello che dici.
Ah, you didn't articulate this word well, because the last spectator on the, on the last bench has to hear what you're saying clearly.
Captions 49 - 51, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 11 of 15
If we go out of doors, we start talking about la panchina.
A "park bench," whether it has a back to it or not, is una panchina. The diminutive suffix -inahas become part of the word, so as mentioned above, size doesn’t matter.
In sports, an inactive player sitting in the dugout or on the sidelines is in panchina.
Un panchetto or una panchetta, on the other hand, is a low stool, often, more elegant than a sgabello, and usually used to rest one’s feet upon. Using the masculine or feminine form depends on the region.
In Part Two, we’ll talk about more comfortable places to sit.
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.
I 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 sensi: the five senses
For even more about senso, see this lesson.
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.
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 a 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!
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, a (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:
I 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.
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