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Lessons for topic Adjectives

When bello doesn't mean beautiful

One of the first words we learn in Italian is bello. In fact, it's a very handy word, and one Italians use constantly. The translation we see first in just about any dictionary is "beautiful." It starts with B, and is easy to remember.

Un palazzo rinascimentale molto, molto... molto bello.

A Renaissance building that's very, very... very beautiful.

Caption 6, Antonio racconta Praia a Mare

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But let's look at some other translations for the word bello, translations we might not think of right away. Of course, when we are immersing ourselves in the Italian language, we don't really need to think too hard about the translation. We listen and repeat. The more we participate in or listen to Italian conversation, the more we get a feel for when to use bello and when to use molto bello, bellissimo, or some other adjective, such as carino, as we discuss below. 

 

Bello for both men and women

We can use the adjective bello (with its appropriate endings) to describe either a man or a woman. In English, we might say "a beautiful man," but it's more customary to say "handsome" for a man. In Italian, it's the same word, but the ending has to match the gender and number of the subject described.

un bel uomo (a handsome man)

una bella donna (a beautiful woman)

due belle ragazze (two pretty girls)

due bei ragazzi (two nice-looking boys)

Quei ragazzi sono belli

 

We use the adjective to describe not only people, but also things, experiences, ideas, etc. 

 

We recommend watching Daniela's video lessons about bello, buono and bene if you haven't yet!

 

Superlatives and degrees of "beauty"

In English, "beautiful" is already a kind of superlative relative to "pretty" in many cases. But the absolute superlative of bello is bellissimo. It's like saying "very beautiful" or "gorgeous." Another way to say this is bello bello. We discuss this way of forming an absolute superlative in this lesson

 

So on a qualitative scale, bello might be closer to "pretty" and bellissimo might be equivalent to "beautiful." But much of the time this adjective is subjective, and the meaning depends on how it's expressed, what it's describing, and who is doing the describing. Let's keep in mind another word that can be used to mean "pretty": carino/carina. But carino can also mean "nice" when talking about a person or an action carried out by a person, so sometimes understanding it needs some context or clarification. 

Ah. -Mh mh. -Molto carino da parte tua.

Ah. -Hm. -Very nice/kind on your part.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 12

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Great - enjoyable - nice - wonderful

Bello can also be used to mean "great," "nice," "enjoyable," "lovely," and more. 

Bello stare tranquilli in piscina tutto il giorno, eh?

Nice staying peacefully in the pool all day long, huh?

Caption 56, Acqua in bocca Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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Mi trovo in Polonia, per festeggiare quello che sarà il giorno più bello della mia vita.

I'm in Poland to celebrate what will be the most wonderful day of my life.

Captions 5-6, Adriano Matrimonio con Anita - Part 1

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Taking into account the fact that "nice" can mean lots of things, here is another example of when we say bello and we mean "nice."   

Ma, signora! Che bello vederti. È una vita che non ti vedo.

Oh, Ma'am! How nice to see you. I haven't seen you in a lifetime.

Captions 2-3, Dafne Film - Part 10

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The translation could easily have been "wonderful" or "great," since Dafne says she and the woman hadn't seen each other in a long time. The point is that it had nothing to do with beauty in this context.

 

Bello can reinforce another adjective

Bello can also be used to mean "nice and" or "quite." In other words, it can act as an adverb describing an adjective in order to reinforce the meaning of the adjective.

Il filetto rimarrà bello gustoso e non saprà di affumicato, non saprà di bruciato.

The fillet will remain nice and tasty and won't taste smoked, won't taste burnt.

Caption 37, Cucinare il pesce Filetto di branzino alla griglia

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Bello can also be used as an adjective describing something negative, just as "nice" can in English.

Certo che ci ha fatto prendere un bello spavento, eh!

For sure you gave us a nice scare, huh!

For sure you gave us quite a scare, huh!

Caption 46, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 16

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As you can see, bello is used in lots of ways, and we certainly haven't covered all of them here. One thing is for sure: We can't always translate bello with "beautiful." So keep your eyes and ears open for different nuances of the word bello as you listen to conversations, as you try to speak Italian, and as you watch Yabla videos on the handy player where you can pause, repeat a caption, and look up words, as well as do the exercises to reinforce what you are learning. 

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Being fixated in Italian

There are lots of ways to talk about being obsessed with something or someone, being fixated or having a thing about or for something, or being "into" something. "Obsession" is a pretty strong word, so we often like to use softer, more positive terms. In Italian, too, there are various words we can use. In this lesson, we will explore just one way Italians commonly talk about being intensely interested in something. It uses the verb fissare which, in this context, may be translated as "to fixate," even though that might not be the word we would choose in many cases.

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Past participle as adjective

If you look at the link we have provided, you will see that there are quite a few meanings for the verb fissare. We'll address those in another lesson.

 

Keep in mind that sometimes we translate fissare with "fixate" because it's a cognate that works, making the Italian word easy to understand. But in English, we have lots of other ways to express the same thing. "Fixated" can come across as being a negative thing in English, but Italians use the word pretty casually. Let's also keep in mind that, as in English, we're using the past participle as a sort of adjective.

 

Anche Lei fissato con la cucina italiana?

You're also fixated with Italian cuisine?

Caption 44, La Ladra EP. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 13

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We might not use the term "fixated" but we can understand it well enough. We might sooner say someone obsesses over something, such as "Oh, you obsess over Italian cooking, too?"

 

Papà era fissato.

Dad was obsessed.

Caption 3, La Tempesta film - Part 10

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Sometimes, as in the previous example, we're really talking about an obsession, but sometimes it's about being set in one's ways. We might recognize a character flaw in a light-hearted way. In the example below, Marika and Anna are talking about the Italian tradition of having bread at a meal when there is already a wheat-based carbohydrate in the form of pasta. Italians love to scrape the remaining pasta sauce off their plate with a piece of bread. They call this fare la scarpetta (to make a little shoe). 

Comunque... -Siamo un po' fissati. Quello della scarpetta è... Sì, è un rito, quasi.

Anyway... -We're a little fixated. The "little shoe" thing is... Yes, it's almost a ritual.

Captions 48-50, Anna e Marika Un Ristorante a Trastevere

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So even though we have translated it as "fixated," we'd more likely say that Italians love  to sop up the sauce with a piece of bread. 

 

Reflexive verb

Fissare is also used reflexively. In this case, it's not being used as an adjective but rather as a verb, as if to say, "to become fixated," or "to get obsessed." 

Mio marito si è fissato con Jacques Brel

My husband has become obsessed with Jacques Brel

Caption 55, La Ladra EP. 9 - L'amico sconosciuto - Part 10

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Noun form

We can also use the noun form la fissa, the equivalent of "fixation."

Joy ha sempre avuto la fissa per la cucina.

Joy has always had a thing for cooking.

Caption 60, JAMS S1 EP 1 - Part 1

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Which preposition?

You might ask, "What preposition do I use after fissato, fissata, fissate, or fissati?" Because, as in English, we do use a preposition when there is an object. So in this context, fissare is an intransitive verb.

 

In Italian, there seem to be two main ones: con (with) or per (for). When we use la fissa or una fissa we'll likely choose per (for). Keep your eyes and ears open to see how Italians handle this. Often, as we have seen, there is no object at all. 

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Questo and Quello: How do they work?

Many of us know that questo means "this" and quello means "that." They work similarly to English when they are adjectives. 

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When they function as pronouns, things change somewhat. When it comes to things and ideas, Italian and English can work similarly.

 

È quello che voglio dire (that's what I mean). Literally, "It's that that I mean".

 

But when it comes to certain constructions, English has some usage rules that differ from Italian. Sometimes it helps to look at one's native language to get more insight into the differences. Check out this WordReference article about this and that. But with that in mind, let's focus on how Italian works.

 

When we are choosing something in a shop or at a bancarella at the market, instead of saying, "I'd like that one," we can just use quello or quella. In this case, if there is no noun following them, quello and quella are pronouns.

Vorrei quello (I'd like that one).

Vorrei quello lì (I'd like that one over there).

 

In the same vein, when talking about people, Italians often use questo/a or quello/a to talk about "this guy," that guy," "this lady/girl/gal/woman," "that lady/girl/gal/woman"). Italians don't need to use "that" as an adjective in this case. They can use questo/a or quello/a as a pronoun. We determine the gender of the person or animal referred to by the ending a or o

 

Further, where we might think of using "that" because the person we're talking about is not close by, Italians might use questo (this) anyway, when it is close to them in mind, but not necessarily spatially. 

 

In the example below, the speaker uses both quella and questa to refer to the same person (a girl in a certain class at school). In the first case, it's a pronoun referring to "that girl." In the second case, questa is being used as an adjective describing the same girl. 

Quella di quinta C. 'Sta [questa] stronza.

The one from five C. That bitch.

Caption 29, Provaci ancora prof! S2E3 Dietro la porta - Part 2

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Let's also note that the speaker truncates questa to 'sta, something that is very common, but doesn't really work with quella

 

So in English, you might say, "That idiot!" but in Italian, it might very well be Quest'idiota! It could also be Quell'idiota.

 

To sum up, it's good to keep in mind that Italians don't always have the same parameters English speakers do when it comes to questo/a and quello/a — this and that.

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Using nouns as adjectives in Italian. How does it work?

In English, we can use nouns as adjectives to answer the question, "what kind?" For example, "dog days" are the hottest days of summer. In this case, it's not really comparing the dog to the heat, but comes from the star, Sirius, who was Orion's dog in the constellations. It rises at the same time as the sun on the hottest days in the northern hemisphere. The Romans got this from the Greeks, and called these days, "dies caniculares" (dog days). 

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In terms of grammar, we know "dog" is a noun, but here, we use it as an adjective to describe "days," without giving it a different ending. We don't say, "dogful" days, "doggy days," or even "dog-like days." So this is a phenomenon that is present in many situations in English.

 

Let's remember here  — because we don't have to think about it — that in English, we put the noun-as-adjective before the noun it describes. Sometimes the noun-as-adjective merges with the noun and becomes a compound word and sometimes not: laundry room, dishwasher, picture frame, bicycle rack.

 

We have the same phenomenon in Italian. The big difference is that the order is inverse. First, we have the noun, then we have the noun-as-adjective. To connect with our example of "dog days," we turn to an expression that is very common in Italian, and in fact, it crops up in an episode of Sposami

E poi una notte, che io dormivo sotto il cavalcavia e faceva un freddo cane, quella notte io credevo che sarei morto...

And then, one night, when I was sleeping under an overpass, and it was freezing cold, that night, I believed I would die...

Captions 6-8, Sposami EP 4 - Part 19

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And here is a more mundane example:

Lo abbiamo fatto pure in conferenza stampa l'altro ieri

We even did it at the press conference the day before yesterday

Caption 22, Animalisti Italiani Walter Caporale - Part 2

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The real noun is conferenza (conferenza). What kind of conference? una conferenza stampa (a press conference). 

 

This difference in word order is tricky sometimes, and it is just as tricky for Italians attempting to speak English correctly. 

 

English is a popular language, and Italians use it in publicity and signage. But sometimes the word order difference escapes them. The name of a riding school in Tuscany is "Planet Horse." This is because, in general, for an Italian, the adjective (even if it is a noun-as-adjective, as in this case) comes after the noun. What they were trying to say, even though it sounds bad, is "Horse Planet" — the planet of horses. We might say, "Horse World." They, of course, translated it from Italian: Pianeta cavallo.

 

In some cases, both the noun-as-adjective and the adjective form of a noun can work:

 

Let's take the noun bestia (beast, animal).

 

We can say:  Fa un caldo bestia (it is incredibly hot) or Fa un caldo bestiale (it's beastly hot). Using the noun as an adjective in this case is more colloquial, but they are both acceptable.

 

Of course, in Italian, when answering the question, "What kind?" we often use a preposition, such as di or da, or an "articulated preposition," such as del, della, delle, or degli before the "descriptive" noun. These prepositions usually mean "of."

Il bidone della spazzatura (the garbage can)

Il professore di matematica (the math teacher)

Il forno da pizza (the pizza oven)

 

We can't always use a noun as an adjective, but it is important to know that it exists as a phenomenon, and to recognize it when it occurs.

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Big and small with endings: -one and -ino

Instead of using adjectives to talk about size, Italian has the device of altering the noun itself, thus producing a new word. Different endings are added onto the root word. Let's look at how this works with some nouns with feminine endings.

Pentola

An example of this is pentola. Una pentola is a pot. It's already pretty big, big enough for cooking pasta. Un pentolone is an even bigger pot for if you're cooking lots of pasta or canning tomatoes, as in the second example below. We could also say una pentola grande, (a big pot) but sometimes it's easier to say pentolone. So, when you hear a word that ends in -one, it's likely a large version of something that comes in various sizes. 

Ci serve, naturalmente, anche qualcosa per cuocere la pasta. Una pentola, un'altra pentola per la pasta,

We also need, naturally, something for cooking the pasta. A pot, another pot for the pasta,

Captions 79-81, L'Italia a tavola Tonnarelli cacio e pepe - Part 1

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Here, a woman is describing how to make tomato sauce to can. She's going to make a big batch.

Alcuni, eh, lo fanno appassire un po' dentro i pentoloni sul fuoco...

Some, uh, cook them down a bit in big pots on the burner...

Caption 28, Giovanna spiega La passata di pomodori

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When the item in discussion is the smalller version, the ending -ino is typical: 

E per farlo, prendiamo un pentolino come questo e ci mettiamo un pochino di olio extravergine di oliva.

And to do that we take a saucepan like this and we put a little extra virgin olive oil in it.

Captions 18-19, Marika spiega La Parmigiana di melanzane - Part 1

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Capanna

Una capanna is a shack,  shed, or hut. It's a feminine noun.

...oppure costruivamo una capanna con delle sedie e delle coperte

...or else we'd build a hut out of chairs and bed covers

Caption 8, Anna e Marika ricordi di infanzia

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Un capannone can either be called a "shed," even though it's big, a "hangar," or, in the case of a mechanic's workplace, a "garage." It will have a different name in English depending on its use. It may or may not have 4 walls. It may or may not be makeshift.

 

...che segnalava la presenza di auto truccate in un capannone al Quadraro e trac. Va be', allora vogliamo brindare?

...that reported the presence of souped-up cars in a hangar in Quadraro, and boom. OK, so do we want to make a toast?

Captions 35-37, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 14

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If the shack or hut is tiny, as it would be for a hunter's blind, then il capannino is the word of choice. There might be room for just one person.

 

Macchina

Although una macchina can be any kind of machine, it's also the word for car. The more official Italian word is automobile, just like in English. The stress goes on the second O, however.

Infatti, quando ho compiuto venti anni, mi ha regalato una macchina nuova.

In fact, when I turned twenty, she got me a new car.

Captions 31-32, Adriano Nonna

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Ci porta Giampi, che lui c'ha un macchinone.

Giampi will take us. He has a big car.

Caption 53, Sposami EP 3 - Part 7

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Sometimes the resulting word can retain the gender of the original word, as in the case of macchina

E sotto c'era un altro cartellino bianco con disegnato su un camioncino con un gancettino che si porta via una macchinina.

And below it was another little white sign picturing a little truck with a little hook on it, which is towing a little car away.

Captions 89-91, Provaci ancora prof! S2EP1 - La finestra sulla scuola - Part 1

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As you listen to more videos, you will start noticing the endings -one and -ino. Look for the noun within the noun and you'll often be able to figure out what a word means.

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Making choices in Italian part 2

We talked about making either/or choices in a previous lesson, but in this lesson, we'll talk about when we want to be inclusive. When we use "both" in English, we are talking about 2 things, not more. There are various ways to express this in Italian and we've discussed one of these ways, using tutti (all). Read the lesson here. Here are two more ways, which are perhaps easier to use.

Entrambi

Entrambi is both an adjective and a pronoun, depending on how you use it. 

Avevamo entrambi la febbre e i bambini da accudire.

We both had fevers and kids to take care of.

Captions 20-21, COVID-19 2) I sintomi

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When the nouns are feminine, we use the feminine ending: entrambe.

Per fortuna, avevo entrambe le cose nella mia cassetta degli attrezzi.

Luckily, I had both things in my toolbox.

Caption 13, Marika spiega Gli attrezzi

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Ambedue

This way of saying "both" is considered literary, but people do use it. Think of ambidextrous and you'll get it!

Hanno ambedue smesso, quindi devo superare questo record ed è... sono in caccia del mio sesto mondiale.

They've both quit, so I have to break this record and it's... well, I am chasing my sixth World Cup.

Captions 49-50, Valentina Vezzali Video Intervista

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Just like entrambi, ambedue can be used as both an adjective and a pronoun. The advantage of this word is that it doesn't change. It's invariable. The only thing you have to remember is that when you use it as an adjective, you need a definite article after it and before the (plural) noun, as in the example below.

Ecco, questa, questa arma, ehm... rimane e fa ambedue, ambedue le funzioni, sia... è riconosciuta a livello di Esercito Italiano,

So, this, this force, uh... is still in force and carries out both, both [the] functions, whether... it's recognized on the level of the Italian Army

Captions 35-37, Nicola Agliastro Le Forze dell'Ordine in Italia

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There's more to say about choices, but we'll save it for another lesson. Meanwhile, as you go about your day, try thinking of ways to practice using entrambi and ambedue to mean "both." There are so many choices!

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Noioso: Boring or Annoying?

A Yabla subscriber has asked us to shed some light on the difference between noioso and annoiato. They are both adjectives and can be used to describe a person. There are some intricacies involved with these words, which we'll get to, but let's start out with the noun: la noia.

 

Che noia!

What a bore!

Caption 9, Acqua in bocca - Un amico per Pippo

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What is tricky about this noun (and its related adjectives) is that it can indeed imply boredom, but it can also mean "the bother" or "the nuisance." In fact, in the previous example, we don't know the context, but the meaning could also have been "what a nuisance," or "what a pain." The noun noia rarely refers to a person him- or herself, as "bore" would in English.

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Noia

The following example is from Tuscany where noia is used a great deal to mean "bother." And it's often used with the verb dare (to give) — dare noia (to be a bother, to be annoying, to be in the way).

 

Erano alberi che davano noia e basta,

They were trees that were a bother and nothing more,

Caption 30, Gianni si racconta - L'olivo e i rovi

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So che noia can mean "what boredom" or "what a pain!" And dare noia can be interpreted as bothering, or being a bother, or being in the way.

 

Annoiare

We also have the verb annoiare that does remind one of the verb "to annoy." Indeed, that is one of the meanings and comes from the Latin "inodiare" — avere in odio (to have hateful feelings for).

 

Mi disturba, mi annoia,

You're bothering me, you're annoying me,

Caption 11, L'Italia a tavola - Interrogazione sul Piemonte

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But it is much more common for this verb to be used in its reflexive form annoiarsi. In this case it's always about being bored or possibly fed up.

 

Io non mi annoio mai quando sto con lui, mai.

I never get bored when I am with him, ever.

Caption 34, Provaci ancora prof! - S1E3 - Una piccola bestia ferita

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Noioso

We've seen that noia isn't just about boredom, so likewise, noioso can mean boring, but not necessarily. Let's look at some examples of the different nuances.

Noioso can describe a person who is not very interesting, a dull person:

 

Abbiamo solamente avuto un piccolo flirt.

We just had a little fling.

Genere depresso e noioso, capisci?

Depressed and boring type, you understand?

Captions 9-10, Provaci ancora prof! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale

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It can also describe a movie, for example: 

Il film era noioso, purtroppo (the movie was boring, unfortunately).

 

Here's a perfect example of something that is not boring. It's annoying. And in fact, the N and O sounds can hint at that.

 

Eh, povero Dixi, il singhiozzo è noioso

Oh, poor Dixi, the hiccups are bothersome

Caption 15, Dixiland - Il singhiozzo

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Annoiato

Annoiato can be used as the past participle of annoiare, or more often, as we mentioned above, the past participle of the reflexive verb annoiarsi. In this case, it means "to get or to be bored."

 

Oppure: "No, non andrò alla festa di Marcello.

Or: "No, I won't go to Marcello's party.

Ci sono già stato l'anno scorso e mi sono annoiato".

I already went to it last year and I got bored."

Captions 48-49, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Particella Ci e Ne

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But as often occurs, past participles are also used as adjectives. With annoiato, this can describe one's state of being.

 

Ciao. Sei annoiato o annoiata

Hi. Are you bored (m) or bored (f)

e ti vuoi divertire e rilassare?

and you want to have a good time and relax?

Captions 3-4, Marika spiega - Il cinema

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Just for fun:

Let's try using all these forms in a silly, made-up dialogue.

Lei: Sembri annoiato, è così? (You seem bored. Are you?)

 

Lui: No, ho solo sonno (No, I'm just sleepy.) E inoltre, come posso annoiarmi ad ascoltare i tuoi racconti per l'ennesima volta? (And besides, how can I get bored listening to you tell your stories for the umteenth time?)

 

Lei: Beh, so che posso essere un po' noiosa a volte, scusami (Well, I know I can be a bit boring at times, sorry.) Allora smetto di darti noia, e me ne vado (I'll stop bothering you, then, and I'll leave.)

 

Lui: No, aspetta, se vai via mi annoierò davvero (If you leave, I will get bored for real.) E tra l'altro, ho dei lavori noiosissimi da fare e non ne ho nessuna voglia (And besides, I have some really tedious jobs to do and I have no desire to do them.)

 

Lei: OK, so che sono noiosa, ma non sarebbe meglio fare quei lavori dato che siano anche urgenti (OK, I know I am being a pain, but wouldn't it be better to do those jobs, given that they're urgent?)

 

Lui: OK, ora sei noiosa davvero. Mi sono ampiamente annoiato con questa storia (OK, now you are really being boring/irritating. I'm pretty sick of this thing), quindi forse è meglio se te ne vai... (so maybe it's better if you do leave.)

 

OK, ciao. Non ti voglio annoiare con un'altra delle mie storie noiose. (OK, bye. I don't want to bore you with another of my boring stories.)

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Uno: a Number, an Article, and More

In English, we have the pronoun "one" and the number "one." They both refer to something single but do not mean exactly the same thing. We have a similar phenomenon in Italian, but it goes a step further. This lesson will explore the word uno in various contexts, and since this will take us to the subject of "indefinite articles," we'll take the opportunity to look at those, too!

Number

Uno (one) can be the number "one":

 

Adesso proveremo noi insieme un passo base di Tango.

Now, together, we'll try out the basic steps of the Tango.

Uno, due, tre.

One, two, three.

Captions 38-39, Adriano - balla il Tango Argentino

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We can use uno as an adjective when we are talking about "how many?" One. 

Ho trovato solo uno stivale. L'altro l'ho perso (I found only one boot. I lost the other one).

 

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Indefinite article

Uno is an indefinite article, "a", used only when followed by a Z or by an S + a consonant:*

 

Uno scontrino, perché?

"Uno scontrino." Why?

Perché la parola inizia per s più consonante.

Because the word starts with "s" plus a consonant.

Captions 55-56, Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo

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Uno scolapasta.

A colander.

Caption 27, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara

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Other forms of the indefinite article

When the masculine word following the article begins with a vowel or single consonant (excluding Z) it's un.

 

Quello che è successo è un segnale.

What happened is a sign.

Caption 9, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 21

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This is the most common masculine indefinite article and as we mentioned above, it remains the same even when it comes before a vowel (no apostrophe).

 

Stiamo cercando un aviatore americano.

We're looking for an American pilot.

Caption 6, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 5

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When this article comes before a feminine noun (or the adjective that describes it), it's una.

 

Hai una bellissima voce.

You have a very beautiful voice.

Caption 9, Adriano - Fiaba

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If the feminine indefinite article una comes before a word that starts with a vowel, it becomes un'  so as not to break the flow.

 

Magari sarà per un'altra volta.

Perhaps, another time.

Caption 7, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 12

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A Pronoun 

Here, instead of saying give me una borsa (a bag), Eva just says give me one of them.

 

Dai, dammene una. -No, no, so' [romanesco: sono] abituata.

Come on, give me one of them. -No, no, I'm used to it.

Caption 6, La Ladra Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 5

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Attenzione! In order to speak correctly, you have to know the gender of the noun you are replacing!

 

But uno can also mean the pronoun "someone."

 

Allora, innanzitutto, quando uno studia a uni'... a una università,

So, first of all, when someone studies at a uni... at a university,

eh, per esempio in Italia, eh, a Firenze...

uh, for example, in Italy, uh, in Florence...

Captions 17-18, Arianna e Marika - Il Progetto Erasmus

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Uno quando ha un talento, lo deve coltivare.

When someone has talent, he has to cultivate it.

Caption 73, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 12

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Generally speaking, the masculine form is used to mean "someone," however, if you want to specify that that someone is a female, then una can serve the same purpose.

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For English speakers, getting the article right in Italian can be confusing, especially since in many cases, you have to know the gender of the noun you are using the article with and that can be daunting, too!

 

Translator's pitfall:

When translating, we often have to think twice. Does uno/un/una mean "one" or "a"? Since it's the same word in Italian, it's not always clear!

Tip

Doing the Scribe exercises at the end of the videos you watch can be a great way to learn how to use the articles — You ask yourself, "When do I use the apostrophe? And when not?" You'll make plenty of mistakes, but little by little it will sink in. 

 

If you want more lessons about using articles, let us know at newsletter@yabla.com.

 

*Here are some of the video lessons that might be helpful for learning about using indefinite articles (called articoli indeterminativi).

 

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 1

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 2

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 3

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Minimalist Italian — with Che

One of the hardest things to do in a new language is to construct a sentence. Understanding is one thing, but putting words together can be such a challenge.

 

The good news is that sometimes you don't have to say much to get your idea across. Let's look at some ways to comment on things without actually constructing a sentence. Using che, we can either complain about something: che caldo (how hot it is), or we can be making a compliment: che buono (this is so good).

 

The magic word

The magic word is che (that, what, which). We then add the appropriate adjective.

 

Che bello! Ciao! -Che bello!

How nice! Bye! -How nice!

Captions 75-76, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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Ehm, guardate che carino.

Uh, look how pretty.

Caption 23, Professioni e mestieri - Belle Arti -Tecniche di decorazione

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The speaker could have just said, che carino!

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Oddio che freddo!

Oh my God it's freezing!

Caption 59, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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We could use the same formula to talk about the heat or the humidity. Actually some of these words can be used as nouns or adjectives.

Che caldo! (How hot it is!)

Che umido (How humid it is)

 

Nouns can work too, sometimes

Sometimes we can add a noun instead of an adjective:

 

Che facciamo? Il telefono... Anche il mio. -Che sfiga!

What can we do? The telephone... Mine too. -What a bummer!

Captions 37-39, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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E che cavolo!

Hey what the hell?

Caption 22, La Ladra - Ep. 6 - Nero di rabbia

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A few more examples of che + a noun

Che sole (what [bright] sun)!

Che tramonto (what a sunset)!

Che cena (what a [great] dinner)

Che umidità (what humidity)!

Che afa (how muggy it is)!

Che giornata (what a day)!

 

Sometimes we don't even need che

In some cases, we don't even need to use che.

  

Strano, perché Eva mi ha detto che è laureata.

Strange, because Eva told me she had a degree.

Caption 50, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti

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This sentence could have been:

Che strano. Eva mi ha detto che è laureato.

How strange. Eva told me she had a degree. 

 

Something extra to know:

 

When we are at the extremes of the adjective spectrum, in other words, when using adjectives in their comparative or superlative form we don't use che, because we are already, in effect, making something superlative, with che. If we want to use the superlative, it's better to go for the adjective all by itself.

We wouldn't say che bellissimo. We would just say bellissimo (very beautiful)!

Che bello says pretty much the same thing.

 

To conclude

There are lots of way to talk about things, but it's nice to have an easy, minimalist way, especially if we are beginners, or just having trouble finding the words. Che is a word that is also used with the subjunctive, and therefore might instill a bit of anxiety in learners, but it can also be our friend. 

 

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Let's Look at the Italian Adjective Precario

In the movie Chi m'ha visto being currently offered on Yabla, a curious adjective has cropped up in a newspaper headline: musicista precario. It's used to describe Martino, the guitarist, and it happens that he was quite upset when he read it. 

 

Musicista precario a me?

An occasional musician? Me?

Caption 35, Chi m'ha visto - film - Part 12

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Chitarrista. Precario.

Guitarist. A temp.

Caption 2, Chi m'ha visto - film - Part 13

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Let's delve into this adjective for a moment. The English cognate for precario is "precarious," but it has a specific meaning to Italians in the modern-day world.

 

Primarily, precario is used to describe someone who doesn't have tenure, doesn't have a permanent job. For instance, many public school teachers in Italy find themselves in the position of being precario, and the word is also often used as a noun: un precario. Someone in this position can also be described as un supplente, a substitute teacher, even though they have been teaching in the same school for years. At the end of the school year, un supplente is let go, and has no guarantee of being re-hired for another year. These "substitute" teachers don't get paid during the summer months, but they have to be ready to start work (or not) from one day to the next, come September — definitely a precarious work situation!

 

Precario may also be used to describe a temporary worker or temporary job. 

 

Poi però... con questa crisi ho perso l'ultimo lavoro precario.

Then, however... with this crisis, I lost my last temporary job.

Caption 25, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano

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In Martino's case, the headline implies that he doesn't have a steady band he plays with on a regular basis. He has no guaranteed work and plays concerts only occasionally. In fact, he is just about unemployed. 

Precario can also mean the same as "precarious" in other situations, such as walking a tightrope.

While we are on the subject of precariousness, there is another curious word that means much the same thing (but not in the context of job security): in bilicoEssere in bilico is "to teeter," "to be in a precarious equilibrium." It's also used to mean "undecided."

 

Ero in bilico tra l'essere vittima, essere giudice

I was teetering between being a victim and being a judge

Caption 50, Måneskin - Torna a casa

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Ma sotto questa tua corazza lo so

But underneath this armor of yours I know

C'è una ragazza che sta lì in bilico

There's a girl who is there on the verge of falling

Captions 24-25, Max Gazzè - Ti Sembra Normale

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How Adjectives Work in Italian Part 2

 
As we mentioned in part one, the first thing we need to consider about adjectives is: Which type of adjective is it? Positive or neutral?

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We said that there are two basic types: aggettivi positivi (positive adjectives) that end in o in their masculine singular form, and aggettivi neutri (neutral adjectives) that end in in their masculine (and feminine) singular form. When you look up an adjective in the dictionary you will see the singular, masculine form of the adjective.
 
This lesson will discuss the second type of adjective: the aggettivo neutro (neutral adjective). Neutral adjectives only change according to number (singular or plural). They do not change according to gender. To refresh your memory about positive adjectives, those ending in "o," see the first part of this lesson
 
Adjectives that end in "e" are trickier in one sense, but easier in another. Indeed, with adjectives that end in "e" we don't have to concern ourselves with gender, just number. We have only two types of endings: one for the singular (e), and one for the plural (i).
 
Masculine/feminine + singular = e.
 
Il mare è grande (the sea is big).
La casa è grande (the house is big).

 

Il talento è un dono enorme. Il talento è... è un dovere morale coltivarlo.

Talent is an enormous gift. Talent is... it's a moral duty to cultivate it.

Captions 75-76, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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Piazza del Popolo è una piazza molto importante di Roma.

Piazza del Popolo is a very important square of Rome.

Caption 1, Anna presenta - Piazza del Popolo

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Masculine/feminine + plural = i.
 
I ragazzi sono tristi. (the boys are sad).
Le ragazze sono tristi. (the girls are sad).
 

...e che invece adesso è una delle parti più eleganti,

...and which now though, is one of the most elegant,

più signorili della capitale, dove ci sono le case più belle.

most exclusive parts of the capital, where there are the most beautiful houses.

Captions 4-5, Anna presenta - il ghetto ebraico e piazza mattei

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What are some other common Italian adjectives ending in "e?"
 
forte (strong, loud)
verde (green)
giovane (young)
triste (sad)
intelligente (intelligent)
gentile (nice)
semplice (easy, simple)
facile (easy)
felice (happy)
importante (important)
interessante (interesting)
dolce (sweet)
normale (normal)
pesante (heavy)
naturale (natural)
elegante (elegant)
 
Some learners and non-native speakers have trouble using the common Italian adjectives in this second group, especially when using the plural. These need a bit more practice and consideration. The good news is that some of these common adjectives are similar to their English counterparts and therefore easy to guess the meaning of, for instance, interessanteelegante, normale, and intelligente.
 
Practically speaking:
 
You can now take the common adjectives in the list and apply them to any nouns you can think of. The following examples will get you started. Remember to use both singular and plural nouns, and make sure to say your examples ad alta voce (out loud).
 
Il bambino è felice, triste, dolce, intelligente, forte, etc.
La bambina è felice, triste, dolce, intelligente, etc.
I bambini sono tristi, dolci, intelligenti, etc.
Le bambine sono tristi, dolci, intelligenti, etc.
Il libro (the book) è interessante, facile, elegante, triste, etc.
I libri sono interessanti, facili, eleganti, tristi, etc.
La serata (the evening out) è stata elegante, pesante, interessante, etc.
Le serate sono state eleganti, pesanti, interessanti, etc.
La lezione (the lesson) era interessante, pesante, importante, etc.
Le lezioni erano interessanti, pesanti, importanti, etc.
 
Exceptions: We also come across plenty of exceptions regarding endings and gender. For example, il pane (the bread) is masculine but ends in "e." Feminine nouns, on the other hand, often end in but not always. La mente (the mind) is feminine but ends in e. These kinds of nouns should probably get memorized, but the good news is that there are a great many nouns that are predictable and as a result, their adjectives are predictable, too.
 
Nouns and adjectives go together like salt and pepper, so this might be a great time to review nouns and their genders. Being sure of the gender of a noun will help you make the right decision regarding the adjective ending. Marika gives us some categories that makes gender learning a bit easier.
 
 
Take advantage of Yabla's features:
 
Interactive Subtitles:
By switching the dual subtitles on and off while viewing, you can really make them work for you. In other words, sometimes you need to understand what's happening, so you want to see captions in your own language. However, there will be times when you want to test your limits, to have fun trying to understand the Italian, with no safety net. Still other times, you will want to work on your spelling or adjective endings, and in this case, following along with the original language subtitles will be an invaluable tool.
 
Exercises:
With each video, there are exercises to help reinforce the material in the video itself. In short, by doing the vocabulary reviews and other listening exercises, including the patented dictation exercise called Scribe, you will really nail it.
 
Search:
In the videos tab, you can do a search of a word and see where it appears in the various videos in context, resulting in an immediate idea of how the word is used in everyday speech. As applied to this article about common Italian adjectives, it can be extremely helpful to see those adjectives in context! Subscribers have access to all of the videos as well as the transcripts and all the associated exercises.

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How Adjectives Work in Italian Part 1

 
How do adjectives work in Italian?
 
First off, let's review what an adjective is and what it does. An adjective describes or modifies a noun, as opposed to an adverb, which describes or modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

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The distinction is important because in Italian, adjectives need to agree with the nouns they describe, whereas adverbs don't. This means that the ending of the adjective changes according to the gender and number of the noun it describes. In English, we don't have this problem, so it can be tough to learn in a language where it does matter.
 
 
The first thing we need to consider is: Which type of adjective is it? Positive or neutral?
 
There are two basic types: aggettivi positivi (positive adjectives) that end in o in their masculine singular form, and aggettivi neutri (neutral adjectives) that end in e in their masculine (and feminine) singular form. When you look up an adjective in the dictionary you will see the singular masculine form of the adjective. 
 
If you would like to learn about adjectives in Italian, see Daniela's lessons: Don't forget: you can turn English and Italian captions on and off!
 

In italiano abbiamo due tipi di aggettivi:

In Italian, we have two kinds of adjectives.

noi li chiamiamo aggettivi positivi e aggettivi neutri.

We call them positive adjectives and neutral adjectives.

Captions 23-24, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi positivi e neutri

 Play Caption

 

An example of a positive adjective is caro (expensive).

An example of a neutral adjective is grande (big).

 
The second thing we have to consider is: What's the gender of the noun we are describing? Masculine or feminine?
 
The noun that the adjective describes may be masculine or feminine. Often, a masculine noun will end in o when in the singular, but not always.
 
Il forno (the oven, the bakery) ends in "o" but il pane (the bread) ends in "e." Both are masculine, singular nouns.
 
Tip: It's always a good idea to learn the article that goes with a noun when you learn the noun. It will make using adjectives easier.
 
The third thing we have to consider is: Is the noun we are describing singular or plural?
 
This factor, together with the gender and the type of adjective (o or e / positive or neutral) will determine the ending of the adjective. That's a lot to think about, so let's look at each of the four possible endings one by one in the "positive" adjective category.
 
Adjectives that end in "o":
This is the more common of the two kinds of adjectives, so let's see how these adjective endings work.
There can be 4 different endings for this kind of adjective if the noun it describes has both a masculine and a feminine form (like il ragazzo (boy) / la ragazza (the girl) / i ragazzi (the boys / le ragazze (the girls).
 
 
Masculine + singular = o.
 

È un tipico teatro diciamo shakespeariano, con il palco rotondo al centro.

It's a typical, let's say, Shakespearean theatre, with a round stage in the center.

Caption 18, Anna presenta - Villa Borghese

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Feminine + singular = a.
 

La spiaggia è molto pulita.

The beach is very clean.

Caption 19, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni

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Masculine + plural = i
 

Ci siamo ricordati tutti i momenti belli della nostra storia.

We remembered all the beautiful moments of our romance.

Caption 17, Anna presenta - La Bohème di Puccini

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Feminine + plural = e.
 

Si aggiustano le scarpe rotte, se ne creano nuove su misura.

They repair broken shoes; they custom make new ones.

Caption 5, Marika spiega - Il nome dei negozi

 Play Caption

 

Bambino means "child" or "baby." Piccolo means "small."  Bambino is the type of noun that can change according to gender, so as a consequence, it's quite easy to see the different endings of the adjective piccolo.
 
Il bambino è piccolo (the little boy is small).
La bambina è piccola (the little girl is small).
I bambini sono piccoli (the little boys are small).
Le bambine sono piccole (the little girls are small).
 
This noun - adjective combination is straightforward. In other words, you see a certain letter at the end of the noun, and the adjective ends the same way. But don't be fooled into thinking all nouns and adjectives are like this. They often are, so it may be a good guess, but not all the time.
 
What are some other common positive Italian adjectives (ending in "o")?
 
bello (beautiful or handsome)
brutto (ugly or bad)
buono (good)
cattivo (bad)
duro (hard, difficult)
caro (dear, expensive)
crudo (raw, uncooked)
cotto (cooked)
creativo (creative)
pulito (clean)
sporco (dirty)
rosso (red)
grosso (big)
pieno (full)
vuoto (empty)
bianco (white)
bravo (good)
 
To sum up about adjectives that end in "o," if the noun is masculine and singular, like, for example, il cielo (the sky) which also happens to end in "o," the adjective will end in "o," as well: un cielo nuvoloso, cielo scuro (cloudy sky, dark sky), not because the noun ends in "o" but because it's masculine and singular. Even if the noun ends in "e," such as il pane (the bread), or in "a" such as il sistema (the system), the positive adjective will still end in "o."
 
Il pane duro (the hard bread)
Il pane vecchio (the old bread)
il pesce fresco (the fresh fish)
il vecchio sistema (the old system)
il ponte nuovo (the new bridge)
 
By the same token, if you have a singular feminine noun such as la giornata (the day), the positive adjective will end in "a." La giornata nuvolosa (the cloudy day). Una giornata scura (a dark day), la strada vecchia (the old road), una fine inaspettata (an unexpected ending), la mano ferma (the steady hand).
 
Practically speaking:
You can now take the positive adjectives in the list above and apply them to any appropriate noun. Remember, both gender and number count, but, as you will see, not all nouns are like bambino/bambina. Not all nouns have both masculine and feminine versions.
 
Here's a short list of nouns and adjectives to get you started.
 
La casa (the house) pulita, sporca, vecchia, nuova, rossa, grossa, etc.
Le case (the houses) pulite, sporche, vecchie, nuove, rosse, grosse, etc.
Il lavandino (the sink) pieno, vuoto, sporco, pulito, bianco, etc.
I lavandini (the sinks) pieni, vuoti, sporchi, puliti, bianchi, etc.
Gli spaghetti crudi, buoni, cotti, duri, cattivi, etc.
La pasta cruda, buona, cotta, dura, cattiva, etc.
Il prosciutto crudo, cotto, buono, cattivo, etc.
 
Get the idea? Can you find positive adjectives to go with these nouns?
 
La verdura (the vegetables) (this noun can be used in the plural, but is generally used as a singular collective noun).
Una stanza (a room)
Le mele (the apples)
Gli alberi (the trees)
Un letto (a bed)
Un fiore (a flower)
Una pianta (a plant)

Use the dictionary if you're not sure how to form the plural of a noun.

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Write to us if you have questions!

Stay tuned for the next part of this lesson about adjectives, when will discuss aggettivi neutri (neutral adjectives), or those adjectives that end in "e" and do not change according to gender: they only change according to singular and plural. Thus, they have only 2 possible endings.

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Adverbs Formed from Adjectives: Some Easy Tricks

Let’s talk about adverbs. While adjectives describe nouns, adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Many adverbs are closely connected to adjectives, especially those that answer the question, come (how). In fact, there are a good number of adverbs that can be easily formed if we are familiar with the adjectives. And just remember, while adjectives can have different endings according to number and gender, adverbs stay the same!

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Let's look at how to use adjectives to form Italian adverbs with the suffix -mente. Using -mente is similar to using "-ly" in English, in cases such as "nice — nicely," "loud —loudly," and "forceful — forcefully."

 

Of course, there are many exceptions, but here are some common and useful Italian adverbs that will be easy to remember since they are formed by adding -mente to the root form of the adjective.

 

In order to build Italian adverbs with -mente, you just have to follow this very simple formula:

 

Feminine form of the adjective + mente

 

For example, if we want to form an adverb with the adjective ultimo (last), we just need to take the feminine form of that adjective (ultima) and add the suffix -mente, like this:

ultima (last) + mente = ultimamente (lastly, lately)
chiaro (clear) + mente = chiaramente (clearly)

 

L'ho detto chiaramente ai suoi collaboratori, prima di prendere qualsiasi iniziativa...

I told your colleagues very clearly: before taking any initiative at all...

Caption 19, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

 Play Caption

 

Let’s look at some more examples:

Vero (true)  + mente = veramente (truly, really)

 

Le dimensioni sono veramente compatte. -Sì, sì.

The dimensions are really compact. -Yes, yes.

Caption 29, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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Onesto (honest): onesta + mente = onestamente (honestly)

 

Giacomo, onestamente non ci aspettavamo questa cosa.

Giacomo, honestly, we didn't expect this thing.

Caption 53, Questione di Karma - Rai Cinema

 Play Caption

 

More adverbs like these:

Lento (slow) + mente = lentamente (slowly)
Stupido (stupid) + mente = stupidamente (stupidly)
Ironico (ironic) + mente = ironicamente (ironically)
Serio (serious) + mente = seriamente (seriously)
Raro (rare) + mente = raramente (rarely)

 

You might have noticed that all these adjectives ended in o. This means they have both a masculine and feminine ending, and apart from lento, they also happen to be similar to their English equivalents. Some adjectives, however, end in e, and therefore have the same ending in both the masculine and feminine. When this is the case, the adverb will simply add -mente to the adjective without changing it. 

 

Let's take the adjective semplice (simple).

Semplice (simple) + mente = semplicemente (simply)

 

If, on the other hand, the adjective ends in -le or -re, we drop the final vowel e before adding the suffix -mente:

 

Here are some very common and essential adverbs in this category.

Speciale (special) - e: special + mente = specialmente (especially)
Gentile (kind) -e: gentil + mente = gentilmente (kindly)
Normale (normal) -e: normal + mente = normalmente (normally)

 

Practice:
Can you turn these common and useful Italian adjectives into adverbs, keeping in mind the three ways we talked about in this lesson?

probabile (probable)
tranquillo (calm)
felice (happy)
fortunato (lucky)
sicuro (sure)
musicale (musical)
forte (strong)
rapido (fast, rapid)
veloce (fast)
cortese (courteous)
coraggioso (courageous)
scientifico (scientific)
possibile (possible)
comodo (comfortable)
maggiore (greater)
ulteriore (additional)

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You'll find the solutions here.

Thanks for reading!
Don't forget to send your questions and topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

A presto!

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Adverbs Formed from Adjectives: Answers

Here are the adverbs easily formed from adjectives. 

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probabile (probable) probabilmente (probably)

 

La vittima è, molto probabilmente, un barbone.

The victim is, most probably, a homeless man.

Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

 Play Caption

 

tranquillo (calm, without worries) tranquillamente (calmly, easily)
felice (happy) felicemente (happily)
fortunato (lucky) fortunatamente (luckily, fortunately)
sicuro (sure) sicuramente (surely, of course)
musicale (musical) musicalmente (musically)
forte (strong) fortemente (strongly)
rapido (fast, rapid) rapidamente (rapidly)
veloce (fast) velocemente (rapidly)
cortese (courteous) cortesemente (politely, corteously)
coraggioso (courageous) coraggiosamente (courageously)
scientifico (scientific) scientificamente (scientifically)
possibile (possible) possibilmente (possibly)
comodo (comfortable, convenient) comodamente (comfortably, conveniently)
maggiore (greater) maggiormente (to a greater degree)

 

Queste erano le cose che maggiormente si ricordavano.

These were the things people remembered most.

Caption 48, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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ulteriore (additional) ulteriormente (further)

 

Be', non voglio disturbarLa ulteriormente.

Well, I don't want to disturb you any further.

Caption 9, Trailer ufficiale - Benvenuti al sud

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How did you do? If you had trouble, let us know at newsletter@yabla.com

 

A presto!

 

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Making Sense of Comparatives and Superlatives

Daniela has concluded her lessons on the comparative and the superlative. Let's take a moment and review the series because, coming from English, we might want to put the lessons together in a different way, in a different order.

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As we have seen, the comparative and superlative work a bit differently than in English. In English we have two ways of the comparative and superlative of an adjective: by changing the adjective itself (as in "big," "bigger," "biggest") or by adding "more" or "less" before the adjective, as with the adjective "beautiful." But in Italian, comparatives and superlatives are formed using più (more) or meno (less) plus the adjective. Attenzione! The adjective buono is an exception to this. Learn more here.

 

In the first lesson, Daniela explains the comparativo di maggioranza (majority), which corresponds to “more” plus the adjective in English. If it's meno (less), we call it comparativo di minoranza (minority).

 

Even though we don't use these terms in English, they are fairly self-explanatory. In English, after the comparative adjective, we use the conjunction "than" before the second part of the comparison: This book is bigger than that one.

 

But in Italian, there are two different conjunctions we use when comparing things: di (than, of) or che (than). This is a big deal and somewhat tricky. Daniela starts explaining it in the first video and continues explaining here and here.

 

Daniela then explains all about comparing things that are equalcomparativo di uguaglianza. We discuss this further here. This is tricky in any language, and Italian is no exception. Daniela begins talking about it here and continues herehere and here.

 

Daniela dedicates three segments to the absolute superlative. There is no comparison with anything; it's absolute. We discuss this further here.

 

So if you are interested in getting the scoop on how to say "the best of all," then go straight to this lesson, where Daniela shows us how this — the regular old superlative — works in Italian. It's called the superlativo relativo, since this superlative is relative to a group of elements. As she explains...

"È l'amico più generoso di tutti". Sto paragonando la qualità dell'essere generoso del mio amico all'essere generoso di tutti.
"He is the most generous friend of all." I am comparing the quality of being generous of my friend, to the generosity of all.
Caption 24, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Superlativo relativo

 

 

The superlativo relativo corresponds, roughly, to the superlative in English, in respect to the comparative, as when we add "-est" to an adjective: nice, nicer, nicest.

 

In Italian, we still use the modifiers più (more) and meno (less) but with the addition of the definite article before it, it becomes "the most" or "the least."

 

Let's take the adjective bello whose English equivalent "beautiful" needs "more" or "less" to make it comparative.

Margherita è bella (Margaret is beautiful). [positivo]
Margherita è più bella di Barbara (she is more beautiful than Barbara). [comparativo di maggioranza]
Margherita è la piu bella di tutte le quattro sorelle. She is the most beautiful of all four sisters. [superlativo relativo di maggioranza]

Margherita è intelligente (Margherita is intelligent). [positivo]
Margherita è meno intelligente di Barbara (Margherita is less intelligent than Barbara). [comparativo di minoranza]
Elisabetta è la meno intelligente di tutte le sorelle (Elisabetta is the least intelligent of all the sisters). [superlativo comparativo di minoranza]

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We hope this helps you make sense of the comparative and superlative in Italian. 

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Absolutely Superlative!

 

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

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

 

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

 

Daniela explains how this works:

Ripeto due volte la parola "bravo" e dico: "Lui è bravo bravo".

I repeat the word “brilliant” twice and I say, “He is brilliant brilliant.”

Captions 5-6, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Superlativo assoluto - Part 2

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

 

One is bello (beautiful, nice):

Là, a quelle, in mezzo a quelle canne ci sono due belle fagiani [fagiane] con un maschione bello bello.

There, in those, in the middle of those canes, there are two nice pheasants with a really nice big male.

Captions 70-71, Anna e Marika - Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 3

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Another is piccolo (small):

e aveva soltanto un balcone... per prendere un po' d'aria e un appartamento piccolo piccolo.

and he only had a balcony... for getting a bit of air, and a tiny, tiny apartment.

Captions 22-24, Andromeda - e i gatti 2 - Part 1

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Still another is nuovo (new):

Se si vince, si prende il primo premio. Me lo dici che premio è? Un carro armato vero, nuovo nuovo.

If we win, we'll get the first prize. Will you tell me what the prize is? A real tank, brand new.

Captions 19-21, Trailer - La vita è bella - Roberto Benigni

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

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

Here's a head start.

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

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Meglio or Migliore?

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

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

La moto è il mezzo migliore per superare il traffico.

The motorbike is the best means of transportation for getting past the traffic.

Caption 27, Adriano - Giornata

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

Io voglio solo una vita migliore di questa.

I just want a better life than this.

Caption 70, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 5

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La mia migliore amica.

My best [girl]friend.

Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7

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

Ed è uno dei vini migliori della Basilicata, è chiamato Aglianico.

And it's one of the best wines of Basilicata, it's called Aglianico.

Caption 2, Milena - al supermercato

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No, veramente le cose migliori le abbiamo fatte insieme, no?

No, actually the best things are the ones we've done together, right?

Caption 47, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 7

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

Sei il/la migliore!
You're the best!

 

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

 

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

Facciamo un esempio così capite meglio.

We'll provide an example, that way you'll understand better.

Caption 7, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Approfondimento Verbi Modali - Part 1

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

 

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

Se posso migliorare, perché non farlo?

If I can improve, why not do so?

Caption 4, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni - Part 13

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

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

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

Per esempio:

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

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

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

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

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The "Otherness" of Altrui

We have recently come to the end of the disturbing but fascinating documentary about Italian Fascism and the Italian language. We hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two about Italian history.

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One important concept put forth in this final segment is that language is an equalizer, allowing us to express ourselves and understand others.

Uguale è chi sa esprimersi e intendere l'espressione altrui.

An equal is one who is able to express himself and understand how others express themselves.

Caption 9, Me Ne Frego - Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 15

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There’s a curious little word in that caption: altrui. It’s an odd word, not following the usual rules for adjectives. In earlier times, the three famous fourteenth-century Florentine "authors" of the Italian language (Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio) also used it as a pronoun to mean “others.” It was used with various prepositions: di (of), a (to), or con (with).

 

More commonly, altrui is used as a possessive adjective to mean “of others” or “belonging to others/someone else.” So we might say the preposition is built-in. And once you're in the know, it's also easy to use because it doesn’t change according to number or gender. To translate altrui into English, we would most likely use the possessive form with an apostrophe.

 

In the first episode of Commissario Manara, Toscani is looking at his new boss with a bit of envy. His wife calls him on it. 

Toscani, non essere invidioso del posto altrui.

Toscani, don't be jealous of other people's positions.

Caption 39, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8

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The meaning of altrui is also fairly easy to guess. In Italian, you can think of the noun or adjective altro-altra-altri (other/others) or think of “altruism” or “altruistic” and you’ll get it! Just remember you don’t need a preposition.

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Further learning:
Check out these examples of sentences with altrui.

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