Italian Lessons


Lessons for topic Cognates

Cognates Featuring à in Italian and "y" in English

Luckily, many words are similar in English and Italian. Sometimes they mean different things so we call them "false friends," and some of them look and sound similar and also mean similar things. They are our true friends. If they were born of the same original word, etymologically speaking, they are true cognates.


Language nerds throw around the word "cognate" a lot, so it might be nice to look at the origins of this word. Here's what the dictionary says about the word "cognate."

Etymology: 17th Century: from Latin cognātus, from co- same + gnātus born, a variant of nātus, past participle of nāscī to be born. So in plain English, we're talking about words that have the same origin. 


But let's get down to the words themselves.



Some words are easy to guess, whether you are translating from Italian into English, or struggling to find a word in Italian.


Here's a partial list of some nouns you don't have to think about too much. These end in à, an A with an accent. In all these cases, that accented à is replaced by a Y in English. Of course, there are other letters in the words that change between the two languages, but they are similar enough that you can probably guess them fairly easily, primarily when you are reading them. You can listen to them in context when you hit "play caption."


l'intensità (the intensity)


Raramente lo schermo ha raccontato

Rarely has the screen told,

con tanta intensità e tanta efficacia

with so much intensity and so much potency

una storia più nuova e più coraggiosa.

a fresher and more courageous story.

Captions 4-5, Trailer ufficiale - La Strada

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la generosità (the generosity)


La generosità di questa terra

The generosity of this land

è celebrata anche nelle specialità della cucina.

is celebrated in culinary specialities as well.

Caption 41, Marche - Opera Unica

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la velocità (the velocity)


Ma lo sai che c'è il limite di velocità qua, ah?

But don't you know there's a speed limit here, huh?

Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro

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la città (the city)


Il fiume Tevere attraversa tutta la città di Roma...

The Tiber river crosses the entire city of Rome...

Caption 12, Anna e Marika - Il fiume Tevere

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la stupidità (the stupidity)


Non mi sembra che la stupidità sia un reato.

I don't think that stupidity is a crime.

Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP10 -La verità nascosta

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la libertà (the liberty)


Gestiva il suo tempo in assoluta libertà.

She managed her time in complete liberty.

Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola

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la crudeltà (the cruelty)


Quindi senza derivati animali, senza crudeltà.

So, without ingredients derived from animals, without cruelty.

Caption 39, Dolcetti vegan - al cocco e cioccolato

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la familiarità (the familiarity)


Silenzi, che familiarità

Silences, what familiarity

Caption 28, Fiorella Mannoia - Quello che le donne non dicono

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la qualità (the quality)


Al momento dobbiamo privilegiare la quantità alla qualità.

At the moment we have to favor quantity over quality.

Caption 12, La Ladra - EP. 3 - L'oro dello squalo

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la possibilità (the possibility)


E poi, oltre a questo,

And then, beyond this,

ho anche avuto la possibilità di conoscere tantissime persone.

I also had the possibility of meeting huge number of people.

Caption 23, Arianna e Marika - Il Progetto Erasmus

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la probabilità (the probability)


E sappiamo che, con ogni probabilità, c'erano dei riti legati al fuoco.

And we know that, in all probability, there were rituals involving fire.

Caption 56, Meraviglie - EP. 2 - Part 3

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This isn't the only way that Italian words ending in à have cognates. Also, we don't always choose the cognate in English. Instead of "velocity" we say "speed" most of the time in colloquial speech, but you understand the noun "velocity," so you can guess what velocità means. That's the idea anyway. Let us know if this lesson was helpful or not, and thanks for reading.

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When the Letter X Seems to Be Missing in an Italian Word

In a previous lesson we looked at words that look similar in Italian and English, and which have an N in English, but not Italian. Now it's time for the letter X. In many cases, the X in English is "replaced" by an S. Sometimes it's "replaced" by a double S. In fact, X is used very infrequently in Italian.



Esatto (exact)


Cioè, dopo quattro anni, Voi vi ricordate il giorno esatto

That is to say, after four years, you remember the exact day

in cui abbiamo aperto il Lido delle Sirene?

I opened the Mermaids' Beach?

Captions 56-57, Imma Tataranni Sostituto procuratore - S1EP1 L'estate del dito

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Tossico (toxic)


La mattina mi aveva detto che

That morning he had told me that

voleva far mettere questi rifiuti tossici nella mia terra.

he wanted to let them put this toxic waste in my lands.

Captions 16-17, Imma Tataranni Sostituto procuratore - S1 EP2 Come piante fra sassi

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Esplorare (to explore)


Stiamo continuando a esplorare quest'oasi verde...

We are continuing to explore this green oasis...

Caption 2, Meraviglie - EP. 1 - Part 7

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Esempio (example)


Qui abbiamo un esempio di scrittura di note sul pentagramma.

Here we have an example of notes written on a staff.

Caption 3, A scuola di musica - con Alessio

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Ausiliare (auxiliary)


Nei tempi composti,

In perfect tenses,

il verbo "piacere" è sempre coniugato

the verb "to delight" is always conjugated

con il verbo ausiliare "essere".

with the auxiliary verb "to be."

Captions 18-19, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Piacere

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Testo (text)


Quali sono le parole nuove che vediamo in questo testo?

What are the new words we see in this text?

Caption 25, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Primi incontri

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We can include contesto (context), pretesto (pretext), and perhaps other words that include testo/text.


Ossigeno (oxygen)


Il fiume ha un'acqua ricca di ossigeno.

The river has oxygen-rich water.

Caption 20, Meraviglie - S2EP1 - Part 6

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Tasse (taxes)


io non sono per niente brava a compilare

I'm not at all good at filling out

il modulo per pagare le tasse.

the form for paying my taxes.

Caption 55, Marika spiega - I verbi cavare e togliere

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We hope this gives you the idea, and that it can facilitate remembering certain words. There are undoubtedly others in addition to these, so don't hesitate to write to us and we'll add them to this lesson. For the N lesson, we received some good feedback.


Thanks for reading!


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When the Letter N Seems to Be Missing in an Italian Word

Some words are very similar between Italian and English, and are often cognates, but sometimes there is a letter that seems to be missing and so if we follow our instincts, we might very well get it wrong. Let's look at some of the words that look like they are missing an N, or at least, if we follow our instincts, we might add it by mistake.



There is an example of this tricky phenomenon in a recent episode of Provaci ancora prof. In fact, little Livietta is still learning and she gets it wrong, so her father corrects her. He clearly understood what she was trying to say, but the word she used actually meant "to inspire."


Dai papà, alza la testa e fai resistenza

Come on Daddy, lift your head and press

mentre io ti spingo giù, ispirando forte.

while I push you down, inspiring deeply.

-Inspirando, con la enne, inspirando, ecco.

-Inhaling with an N, inhaling, that's it.

Captions 18-20, Provaci ancora prof! - S2E3 - Dietro la porta

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It's easy to get mixed up. In English the verb is "to inspire," but in Italian, it's ispirare. No N! To complicate matters, the verb inspirare does exist, as we see in the clip, but it means "to breathe in," "to inhale."




Another word that sounds like the English word — almost — is istruzione (instruction, education). There's no N in the Italian word.


È arrivata oggi dal Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione.

It came today from the Ministry of Public Education.

Caption 23, Non è mai troppo tardi - EP 2

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This one is easy to understand, as it sounds kind of like "instant " but there's no N.


oppure qualcosa di sgradevole

or something unpleasant

da cui stiamo scappando all'ultimo istante.

from which we escape at the last moment.

Captions 38-39, Marika spiega - Espressioni con i capelli

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Or we have the adjective istantaneo. Plenty of N's there, but not at the beginning between the I and the S.


È un effetto chimico istantaneo, temporaneo,

It's an instant chemical effect, temporary.

Caption 24, Andromeda - Marmellata anti spreco

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Però il mio istinto mi dice che non è così.

But my instinct tells me that's not how it is.

Caption 13, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso

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Let's not forget the adjective form istintivo (instinctive) and the adverb istintivamente (instinctively).



Yet another one, not exactly the same word as in English, but close enough, is iscriversi (to register). We might expect there to be an N (inscriversi), but that would be wrong. Also, if we think of the word "inscription" we get a closer match. Your name is "inscribed" in the register.


Olga ha deciso di iscriversi all'università

Olga has decided to enroll at the university

Caption 64, Provaci ancora prof! - S1E1 - Il regalo di Babbo Natale

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"Registration" or "enrollment" can be called l'iscrizione.




Dopo la morte della mi' moglie, avrei dovuto metterlo in un istituto.

After the death of my wife, I should have put him in an institution.

Caption 52, Marika commenta - L'ispettore Manara - Espressioni toscane

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Note that istituto can mean either "institute" or "institution." Also, istituzione exists, as well as adjectives such as istituzionale.

There may be other words we haven't covered here. Feel free to write to us with suggestions, and we will add them to this lesson.

Here's another word, sent in by a Yabla subscriber.




Poi settemila di materiale edile:

Then seven thousand in construction materials,

vernici, cemento, tegole... -Voleva costruire una casa, no?

paints, cement, roof tiles... -He wanted to build a house, right?

Captions 13-14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

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We also have the noun form costruzione.


Questa è una delle più importanti chiese della zona di Pisa,

This is one of the most important churches of the Pisa area,

la cui prima costruzione risale al decimo [sic: nono] secolo.

whose first construction dates to the tenth century [sic: ninth].

Captions 7-8, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni

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Lo Stato Italiano ha una costituzione,

The Italian State has a constitution,

Caption 17, Nicola Agliastro - Le Forze dell'Ordine in Italia

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The verb costituire (to constitute) also exists:


Ma anche delle ville che potessero

But also villas that could

costituire un vero e proprio rifugio...

constitute a real refuge...

Captions 16-17, Meraviglie - EP. 5 - Part 13

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Something to look forward to and think about:

As soon as we start thinking of words that have unexpected spellings and pronunciations, we think of words that start with E. 


One common one that comes to mind is, of course, espresso, where we want to use an X instead of an S. In fact, there are numerous words like this one, so in a future lesson, we'll take a look at those. 


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3 faces of realtà

Let's look at 3 ways the cognate realtà is used in Italian. Two of these are relatively easy to grasp.


La realtà

The most common way to use the noun la realtà is when it means "[the] reality." 


E poi, con il blocco totale in casa, lì è stata [sic: stato] il vero confronto con la realtà, della serie "noi dobbiamo organizzarci qui, in questo spazio che abbiamo".

And then, with the total lockdown at home, in that case, it was about really facing reality, like, "We have to get organized here, in this space we have."

Captions 45-48, Fuori era primavera Viaggio nell'Italia del lockdown - Part 5

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Giada aveva completamente perso il senso della realtà, non erano solo i barbiturici il problema.

Giada had completely lost her sense of reality, the barbiturates were not the only problem.

Captions 68-69, Il Commissario Manara S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 3

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In English, we often leave out the article, but in Italian, we leave it in. With or without the article, the meaning is clear.



In realtà

The other very common way to use realtà is when we say in realtà, which we can translate literally as "in reality" but in English, we'd more likely say, "actually."

Massimo, senti, io in realtà sono venuta per un altro motivo.

Massimo, listen, I actually  came for another reason.

Caption 54, Il Commissario Manara S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 8

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Here too, we can easily understand what in realtà  means.


Una realtà

But there is another way Italians use realtà, and it is to indicate something that exists. It's a bit trickier to translate because it is a very wide-ranging word and doesn't have a single English equivalent. We've listed some possible translations, but there may be more. The important thing is to understand the sense of it when you hear or see it being used. 


In a recent episode of La linea verticale, a patient is thinking about the hierarchy of the hospital personnel, as he is being wheeled through the halls to the operating room.

Come in quasi tutte le realtà professionali di questo Paese, anche in un ospedale la rabbia viene scaricata sempre verticalmente...

As in almost all the professional organizations of this country, in a hospital, too, anger is always unloaded vertically...

Captions 1-3, La linea verticale EP 2 - Part 3

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We could also use other nouns, such as "the entities," "the institutions," "the situations,"  or even "environments." This use might be difficult to wrap our heads around, but we can recognize it because of the context and also what words it is or isn't surrounded by. We won't find the preposition in before it, and we might likely see an indefinite article or a plural article or adjective as in our example above, and in the following ones. 

Si andava dall'Alemagna o dal Motta, due realtà che oggi non esistono più.

One would go to Alemagna or to Motta, two enterprises which today no longer exist.

Captions 10-11, L'arte della cucina La Prima Identitá - Part 14

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La cucina contadina, eh, è una realtà culturale molto forte, nella tradizione del nostro Paese.

Country cooking, uh, is a very strong cultural presence in the tradition of our country.

Captions 1-2, L'arte della cucina Terre d'Acqua - Part 13

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We hope that, even though it's hard to grasp, you have been able to learn a new meaning for the noun realtà


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