Italian Lessons


Lessons for topic Expressions

Ci Siamo (we're there)!

Let's look at a few idiomatic expressions people tend to use when holidays are approaching. They're useful at other times of the year, too.


The title of this lesson is ci siamo (we are there). It literally means "we are there," or "we are here," but often means "this is the moment we've all been waiting for" or "we have succeeded." It can also mean "this is the moment we were dreading!"

Ecco qua, ci siamo quasi.
Here we go, we're almost there.
Caption 73, Anna e Marika: Hostaria Antica Roma - Part 3 of 5


And when we use it in the negative, non ci siamo, it can mean, "this is not a good thing." It's a synonym for non va bene (this is not OK).

No, no, non ci siamo.
No, no, this is no good.
Caption 91, Anna e Marika - L’Italiana a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna


Natale è alle porte [Christmas is at the doors] (Christmas is just around the corner).


Siamo sotto Natale. Sotto usually means "under/underneath/below," but in this case, it means during, or we could construe it to mean under the influence of the holidays. 


Sotto le festei negozi fanno orari straordinari (around/during the holidays, shops keep extended hours).


In Italy, le feste non finiscono più (the holidays never end). 


Christmas starts on the 24th of December with la vigilia (Christmas Eve) and lasts until la Befana (Epiphany). Only after that do kids go back to school and things get back to normal.


The 26th of December is Santo Stefano, (Saint Stephen's Day), a perfect time for visiting relatives you didn't see on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Traditionally, shops are closed, but oggi giorno (these days), anything goes.


And if there is a weekend in the middle of the festivities, there's il ponte (a four or five-day weekend, literally, "the bridge").


Quando una festa viene il giovedì, spesso si fa il ponte (when there's a holiday on Thursday, we often take Friday off for a long weekend).

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Comodo: Comfortable or Handy?

The adjective comodo (comfortable) is easy to find in the dictionary, and is easy to understand, too, in a normal context.

Questo divano è molto comodo (this sofa is very comfortable).


Tu disfa le valigiemettiti comodo.
You unpack your bags. Get comfortable.
Caption 114, Casa Vianello: Natale in Casa Vianello - Part 1 of 2


In this context, we also have the verb accomodare, which means to get comfortable, but it is used in a wide range of expressions about placing someone or something somewhere or even repairing something. 

Se ho degli ospiti a pranzo o a cena,
If I have guests for lunch or for dinner,
li faccio accomodare qui,
I have them sit here,
questo tavolo.
at this table.
Captions 34-36, Marika spiega: Il salone


This verb is very often used in its reflexive form, accomodarsi, especially in formal situations, such as in an office when someone asks you to come in, sit down, or wait somewhere.

Signora Casadio, prego, si accomodi.
Missus Casadio, please have a seat.
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara: S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 4 


Consider this exchange between two young people. Here the ti (the object pronoun "you") is connected to the verb, but the information is the same as in the previous example. And make sure to put the accent on the first in accomodati.

Scusami, è libero?
Pardon me, is this place free?
Sì certo, accomodati. -Posso? -Sì sì... -Grazie.
Yes, sure, have a seat. -May I? -Sure... -Thanks.
Caption 2-3, Milena e Mattia: L'incontro


But there are other contexts in which comodo is used in Italian, and these might be a bit harder to grasp.


Comodo can mean "convenient," as in an easy answer, as in over-simplifying.

Ho cambiato idea, me ne ero dimenticato, non gliel'ho detto?
I changed my mind, I had forgotten, didn't I tell you that?
Troppo comodo, Manara.
Too convenient, Manara.
Ormai le sue dimissioni saranno già protocollate.
At this point, your resignation will have been registered.
Captions 33-35, Il Commissario Manara: S1E12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 4 of 13


In a recent segment of a special Christmas video Casa Vianello, after welcoming their guest and asking him to make himself at home (as in our first example), the Vianellos argue, as they often do. They use a common expression: fare comodo (to be useful, convenient, handy), often paired with the adverb sempre (always) to qualify it. Mrs. Vianello starts in without really thinking through what she is saying:

Comunque, un figlio fa sempre comodo.
Anyway, a child always comes in handy.
Ma come fa sempre comodo? Tu parli di un figlio come se si trattasse di un paio di pantofole di lana.
But what do you mean "One always comes in handy?" You talk about a child as if it were about a pair of woolen house slippers.
Caption 50-51, Casa Vianello: Natale in Casa Vianello - Part 1 of 2


The following example offers a more normal context for fare comodo, this time in the past conditional.

Che caldo!
It's so hot!
Certo, un ombrellone nelle ore centrali del giorno avrebbe fatto veramente comodo.
Of course, an umbrella in the middle of the day would have been really handy.
Captions 1-2, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4


And here's an example closer to home!

Fanno molto comodo i sottotitoli in due lingue, no?
Subtitles in two languages are very handy, aren't they?


For a different sort of expression where comodo is featured, see this lesson

Comodofare comodoaccomodare, and accomodarsi are all closely related, but cover a lot of different kinds of situations and contexts. Little by little, you will get better at untangling them from one another as you continue to listen, read, speak, and write.

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Provare and Provarci

Provare is a verb that has so many meanings and nuances that it merits some attention. In this week's episode of La Ladra, it has a special meaning that is important to be aware of, especially for those who are thinking about dating.


But first, let's go to the basic meanings of this verb. Provare is one of several synonyms meaning "to try." See this lesson about this meaning of provare.

Ora ci provo. Vediamo se ci riesco.
I'm going to try it now.  Let's see if I succeed in it.
Caption 50-51, Francesca: neve - Part 3 of 3


This exact same construction takes on a different meaning when we're talking about people being sentimentally interested in one another.  Every language has different terms that come into general use when talking about relationships, like "going out," "dating," "going steady" in English, and in Italian, stare insieme (to be together, to be a couple, to go steady).


But before that happens, there is usually an approach. We used to call this courting. These days it can be in person, by text, by phone or in person. It can start with a flirtation. But one person has to approach the other. He or she has to try to get the other person's attention. Because there isn't a true equivalent in Italian, flirtare (to flirt) has become a verb we find in the dictionary. 


But generally, this stage of the game, the approach, especialy when it's not very subtle, is described in Italian with provarci.


So if I want to say, "That guy was flirting with me!" I might say: Ci stava provando con me!


Literally, it means "to try it" as in our first example, but, ci, as we know from previous lessons, means many things, and it can mean "to or with something or someone."

Ci vengo anch'io. I'll come with you [there].


In this week's episode of La Ladra, Barbara, an employee, is interested in her boss and she doesn't want any interference, and so she gives Alessia, her co-worker, a rough time and accuses her of flirting with him. In reality, poor, shy Alessia has no such intentions, and is quite shocked to be accused of anything of the sort. In this specific context, provarci means to try to get the sentimental attentions of someone (often by flirting).

Ma questo non significa che io... 

But that doesn't mean that I...
Ho visto come lo guardi, sai?

I've seen how you look at him, you know.
Ma tu, con Aldo, non ci devi neppure provare.
But you with Aldo, you mustn't even try to get his attention.
Io? Ma sei matta?

Me? But are you nuts?
Captions 18-21, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 4 of 14


On a general level, however, provarci just means "to try it," as in our first example. In English we leave out any object: we just say "I tried." In Italian, there is usually ci as a general, even neutral, object. It is often shortened to a "ch" sound in a contraction. C'ho provato (I tried). Provaci is an informal command: "Give it a try!"


The Italian title for an old Woody Allen film is Provaci ancora, Sam.

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Two Oddball Words in Odd Contexts

In one of this week's videos, we find two words in contexts that could use a bit of explaining.  

We're watching the first segment of a new episode of L'Eredità (the inheritance). To start off the show, there's the usual banter between the host and the contestants with some introductions. It just so happens that one of the contestants has a last name prone to getting joked about.

Buonasera. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Good afternoon. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Caption 43, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

The name looks innocent enough, but scarafone (also scarrafonescaraffonescardafone,scordofone) is another word for scarafaggio (cockroach). There's an expression in Italian, and you will see this on the WordReference page for scarafaggioogni scarafaggio sembra bellosua madre (every cockroach is beautiful to its mother). There are other ways to interpret this, from "a face only a mother could love" to "even a homely child is beautiful to his mother." 

Pino Daniele, a famous Neapolitan singer-songwriter made this phrase famous in one of his songs. He used the Neapolitan variant, scarrafone, which is also the title: 'O Scarrafone, so when someone has a last name like that, it's almost impossible not to think of Pino Daniele's song if you've ever heard it. You can listen to the song here.  There is no actual video, just the album cover, but the text in Italian is there, too. 


Another word that is good to be able to recognize in a special context is culo. It is an informal word for buttocks, but Italians (informally only, prego!) use it to mean "luck."

Tirato a indovinare! Il solito culo!
Took a guess! The usual butt [luck]!
Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 2 of 16


But on TV, for example, such words might not be not acceptable, so the contestant's brother says il fattore C and everyone knows what he is talking about. The host then explains jokingly that "C" stands for culturale (cultural) not culo

Be', speriamo che il fattore ci [culo = fortuna] l'aiuta [aiuti] tanto. 
Let's hope that the “C Factor” [butt = luck] helps her out greatly. 
Caption 37-38, L'Eredità: Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1


A common comment about someone with good fortune is:

Che culo!
What luck!

It can also be used sarcastically to mean "bad luck."

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Expressing Relief with Menomale or Meno male

Here's a great little expression of relief. Literally, it means "less bad." It's about the relief you feel when worse didn't come to worst! In English we usually say "good thing" or "it's a good thing." We might even say "luckily" or "thank goodness." In the example below, meno male is used with che in a sentence.


Meno male che non era un lingotto.
Good thing it wasn't a gold ingot.
Caption 23,  La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 8 of 13


It can also be used by itself, and is an easy comment to make in many situations. In the following example, Caterina is worried about Lara, but then Lara finally shows up. Meno male. Thank goodness! 

Ah! Meno malemeno maleecco Lara!
Ah! Thank goodnessthank goodness, here's Lara.
Caption 21,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 9 of 17


Note that sometimes it's used as one word menomale, and sometimes two: meno male. They're both correct, although some dictionaries will say the two-word version is more proper. 



When you feel relief that something went better than expected or when you would say "whew!" having avoided a disaster, try saying menomale all by itself. For pronunciation help, listen to some examples by doing a search in the videos tab


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Roll up your Sleeves with Rimboccarsi le Maniche

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work learning a new expression.


In a recent video, Marika and Anna show us how to make fricos, a local dish from northern Italy. They are made with humble ingredients, but take a bit of slicing and dicing. So Marika rolls up her sleeves. Italians use this expression both literally and figuratively, as we do in English.


In this first example, Marika is speaking literally, and uses the verb tirare (to pull). That's one way to describe the action of rolling up one's sleeves, and perhaps the easiest to pronounce.

Mi sono già tirata su le maniche, come vedi.
I've already rolled up my sleeves, as you can see.
Caption 4, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 2 of 2


In the next example, however, the rolling up of the sleeves is figurative, and the classic expression is used:

Be', Claudio è un bravissimo ragazzo, prima di tutto, un vero amico e uno che sa rimboccarsi sempre le maniche.
Well, Claudio's a great guy, first of all, a true friend, and one who always knows how to roll up his sleeves [to pitch in and work hard].
Captions 14-15, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 5 of 14 


Rimboccare (to tuck in, to turn) refers to the edge of something, like a sleeve, a hem, or a sheet, but it's very commonly used in the above-mentioned expression, especially when acknowledging a long job ahead.


Rimbocchiamoci le maniche e cominciamo a studiare (let's roll up our sleeves and start studying)!

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How to Have Hindsight in Italian

If you want to talk about hindsight in Italian, you can't really use your intuition.


English uses the verb "to see," "to look back." Italian uses the noun senno (wisdom, good judgment, common sense) a not-so-common word outside of expressions such as the present one. It also uses poi, which as an adverb means "then" or "after" and as a noun means "the future," or "the hereafter." So we're talking about wisdom after the fact. 


Consider this dialog between Dante and Eva from a recent episode of La Ladra.


Ma ragiona. Che cosa potevo fare, eh?
But just think. What could I have done, huh?
Sceglierti meglio la fidanzata.
Choose a better girlfriend.
È facile parlare col senno del poi, ma io non avevo...
It's easy to speak [judge] with hindsight, but I hadn't... 
Captions 17-19, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 10 of 13

There's a proverb:

Del senno di poi son piene le fosse 
Graves are full of hindsight.
Hindsight has 20/20 vision.

Note that the Italian expression uses the preposition con (with) plus the article il (the): col = con ilCol senno di/del poi (with the wisdom of what happens afterward). In English, we usually say "in retrospect," and "in hindsight," or "with [the benefit of] hindsight."


Col senno del poi is an expression we hear often in Italian, but it's just quirky enough that it's hard to guess its intuitively. Senno is a noun we rarely hear. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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Being in the Mood with Stato d'Animo

Italian uses two similar words to talk about the soul or the spirit: animo (soul) and anima (soul, spirit). They basically mean the same thing, but if you look at the dictionary entries, each word has further translations that are more specific. 

They may be interchangeable in certain cases, but there are expressions that always use one or the other, such as stato d'animo. (We'll look at expressions with anima in another lesson.)
...e attraversando i pensieri, gli stati d'animo.
...and going over one's thoughts, one's states of mind.
Captions 19-20, Federica Reale: Io e la mia Pupezza  


Stato d'animo does mean "state of mind" but it also means "mood" — where you're at psychologically or emotionally — or "frame of mind." We're talking about the non-physical aspects of how one is feeling.Non ho lo stato d'animo per iniziare un progetto nuovo.

Non sono nello stato d'animo per iniziare un progetto nuovo.
I'm not in the right frame of mind to start a new project.
I'm not in the mood to start on a new project.


Being in the mood is important to be able to communicate, so stato d'animo is a good phrasal noun to have in your vocabulary.


Anima and animo are so similar that we might not notice the difference. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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When Less is More with Un Po'

In the expression un po’,  po’ is short for poco (small quantity). Poco is a very common word that can be an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun, and, depending on the context, can correspond to different degrees of quantity.

This week on Yabla, we take a first look at the city of Florence. Arianna has a map to help her figure out how to get around. As she thinks out loud, she uses a common phrase:

Vediamo un pocome possiamo raggiungere il centro della città.
Let's have a look at how we can reach the center of the city.
Caption 7, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze Part 1 

Another way to translate vediamo un po’ is simply “let’s see.” It is extremely common for Italians to add un po’ to a verb, just to round off the expression:

Sentite un poil congiuntivo imperfetto e trapassato:
Have a listen to the simple past and past perfect subjunctive:
Caption 27, Anna e Marika: Il verbo essere - Part 4 of 4 



Allora ci dice un po' quali sono frutta e verdura tipiche romane?
So could you tell us a moment, which fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Caption 37, Anna e Marika: Fruttivendolo

In the example above, the addition of un po doesn’t really add any meaning to the phrase, but it rounds it out. We might also translate it as:

So could you just tell us what fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?

Sometimes un po’ can mean “pretty much” or “just about.” It loses its actual diminutive significance.

Al nord abbiamo precipitazioni e burrasche, un po' dappertutto.
In the north we have rain and storms, just about everywhere.
Caption 59, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9 of 10 

It can be used to give a vague kind of answer:

Sì. Un poun po'.
Yes, in a way, yesin a way, no [a little bit and a little bit].
Caption 15, Amiche: Filosofie

Ironically, we can also use un po’ to mean a lot, when we insert the adjective bello (nice, beautiful): un bel po’ (a good amount, a good number, plenty).

Non deve essere troppo salata, non... insomma ci sono un bel po' di cose da sapere legate alla mozzarella.
It shouldn't be too salty, not... in other words, there are plenty of things to know in connection with mozzarella.
Captions 30-31, Anna e Marika: La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1 of 3

Un po’ has come to mean so many different amounts, and can also  simply mean “some.”

Mi dai un po’ di pane?
Could you give me some bread?


So, if someone asks you if you speak Italian, you can answer un po’ but if you really want to say you don’t speak much at all, you might use the diminutive of an already “diminutive” word: un pochino. Or you might even diminish the amount further by saying pochissimo.

Practice - verbs in context:

Returning to this week’s video about Florence, here are the infinitive forms of the verbs Arianna uses in the first person plural (with noi/we). Can you recognize their conjugated forms in the video? Attenzione, some of them are used as auxiliaries/helping verbs attached to other verbs. You can use your ears to listen for the verbs while watching the video, or use your eyes with the transcript (you’ll find the pop-up link following the description of the video). Don’t forget, you can choose to see only Italian or Italian and English. A couple of these verbs are irregular, but super common. Why not take the opportunity to review the other conjugations of these verbs? Links are provided to a conjugation chart for each verb.

Essere (to be)

Vedere (to see)

Andare (to go)

Stare (to be/to continue to be)

Potere (to be able to/can)

Attraversare (to cross)

Chiamare (to call)

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Being Miffed in Italian

In this week's segment of La Ladra, Eva is pretty miffed at her son. He lied to her and probably did worse. So when he promises to do something right, she doesn't say thank you, because she expects nothing less. She uses an expression that is very handy and easy to use because it's always in the third person and can stand alone.

Ti prometto che vado a scuola in bici. OK?
I promise I'll go to school by bike. OK?
You had better.
Captions 54 - 55, La Ladra :Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 4 of 13


To use this expression, we use the future tense. As we have already discussed in a previous lesson, the future doesn't always actually mean the future. In this particular case, it may be hard to pin down the correct tense, but the tone is clear. You better get in line. If you don't do as you've promised, you're going to be in big trouble.


Sarà is the third person singular of the verb essere (to be). For more about this verb and this tense, see these video lessons from Daniela.


As a stand-alone expression, sarà meglio (one/you had better) works in many situations, especially if you raise your eyebrows. But it can also be part of a more complicated sentence including the subjunctive.

È da solo? -No, in compagnia del mio telefonino.
Are you alone? -No, in the company of my cell phone.
Allora sarà meglio che Le parli prima che squilli.
So I had better talk to you before it rings.
It would be better for me to talk to you before it rings.
Captions 42 - 44, La Ladra: Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 9 of 17


An even shorter expression uses the verb essere (to be) in the third person singular future on its own, to mean, "that might very well be." You don't have to be miffed to use this expression, but you're probably somewhat skeptical.

Hai visto che non è come sembra, ma molto meglio?
You see that he's not like he seems, but much better?
Sarà, ma quella bionda che abbracciava nella Spider non sembrava un fornitore di tartufi.
That might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
He might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
Captions 41 -43, La Ladra - Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 3 of 13


As you go about your day, try experimenting with sarà meglio (you are the boss and you're not taking any flak) and sarà (you're listening but you are skeptical).

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The Good, the Bad...

When we talk about people and life, we use certain somewhat standard words and expressions to describe the good and the bad.


Rather than using the adjectives “good” and “bad,” and their comparatives (for better or for worse), Italian tends to use the nouns il bene (goodness) and il male (evil) or, ”the good” and “the bad.”


In this week’s episode of L’Eredità quiz show, the host and contestants are talking about someone’s character. Some character traits can be either positive or negative or both, and that’s what they’re talking about here.

Nel bene e nel male. -Nel bene e nel male, per il resto tutti pregi, insomma.
For better and for worse. -For better and for worse, but for the rest, all positives, in short.
Caption 9, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 2 of 3


In wedding vows, Italians traditionally say it a different way.

Vuoi tu, Lara Rubino, prendere il qui presente Luca Manara come tuo legittimo sposo, essergli fedele sempre nella buona e nella cattiva sorte, nella gioia e nel dolore?
Do you Lara Rubino wish to take the here present Luca Manara as your lawful husband, to be ever faithful to him in good times and in bad times [for better or for worse], in joy and in sorrow?
Captions 45-48, Il Commissario Manara 2: Matrimonio con delitto Ep. 1 - Part 1 of 15 


Bene and male are both nouns and adverbs.The adjective forms are buono (good) and malo (bad). See this lesson about malo.


Closely connected to bene and male are pregi e difetti (strengths and weaknesses, strong points and weak points, virtues or qualities and shortcomings or flaws). There are various ways to say this in English but Italians commonly talk about un pregio  or un difetto. Links have been provided to WordReference so you can see how many nuances there are of these nouns.


Note that Adriano uses qualche (some, a few) with a singular noun, but the intention is plural. See this lesson about qualche. He could have said alcuni difetti (a few shortcomings).

La mia ragazza ha molti pregi, ma anche qualche difetto.
My girlfriend has many virtues, but also a few shortcomings.
È molto testarda, è un po' capricciosa...
She's very stubborn, she's a bit unpredictable...
Captions 33-34, Adriano: la sua ragazza  


Back to our quiz show... They talk about excess as being both a quality and a weakness.

È anche il suo pregioL'eccesso è... -È così... è così, insomma... -il suo pregio e il suo difetto.
It's also his strong point. Excess is... -It’s like that... is like that, all in all... -his strong point and his weakness.
Captions 10-12, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 2 of 3



Quali sono i tuoi pregi (what are your strong points)?  i difetti (and your weak points)?
Can you talk about your job or your school, your teachers or your boss, your friends, siblings, or pets using pregi and difetti?

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Come mai?

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

For starters, let’s take it apart.

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Let’s look at some examples from Yabla videos.

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


Come mai never means “because.”


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

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


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

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Colloquial Speech

This lesson looks at some colloquial expressions from the last segment of Stai lontana da me, a comedy. 


When asking for confirmation of what you have said, here’s one way:

Dico bene?
Am I saying it well [am I right/am I telling like it is]?
Caption 27, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17 


The prefix ri is similar to “re” in English: it's used to repeat something:

Hai ridetto Monica.
You re-said “Monica” [you said “Monica” again].
Caption 42, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17


Niente di niente is colloquial but used quite a bit in everyday speech. In fact, there are two instances in this segment. We can translate it colloquially: “no nothing,” or, in correct English: “nothing at all.”

E in due anni zero litigate, niente di niente. È un vero paradiso.
And in two years, no fights, no nothing. It's true paradise.
Caption 49, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

E poi a Sara non è successo più un incidente. -No, no, niente di niente.
And then Sara hasn't had any more accidents. -No, no, nothing at all.
Captions 62-63, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17


Stra is a prefix meaning “extra” or “over.” It’s used quite a bit to mean “super” or “mega” in colloquial speech, although there are more mainstream words with this prefix, such as stravecchio (very mature or old), stracotto (as an adjective, “very well-cooked”; as a noun, “meat stewed a long time”), stravedere (to think the world of), straviziare (to overindulge).


Jacopo’s client used very colloquial speech:

...Cioè perché stra-pesante, cioè una noia totale.
...That is, because super heavy duty, that is, a total bore.
Caption 51, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17


His use of cioè (that is) is very close in meaning to "I mean," in English, which some people sprinkle throughout their speech. Ciò is one of those words that in the beginning was two separate ones:  ciò (this that) and è (is).


Quasi quasi literally means “almost almost.”

Quasi quasi non ci lasciavamo. -Ciccì, cicciò due palle dottore, a noi ci piaceva litigare.
We were seriously considering not breaking up. -Yatter, yatter what a downer, Doctor. We liked fighting.
Caption 52,  Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

Some alternative translations:

We were seriously thinking of not breaking up.
We were of a mind not to break up.


Here’s an expression to justify asking someone a question. Most Italians know this expression or saying, and some use it automatically. In English, we might say, “There’s no harm in asking.”

Poi, domandare è lecito, rispondere è cortesia.
Besides, asking is permissible; answering is good manners.
Caption 57, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 17 of 17

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Meglio Tardi che Mai: Better Late than Never

We can’t always be on time, so let’s look at some of the words you need when you or someone else is late. It’s not as simple as using the Italian word tardi (late).


In a recent episode of Stai Lontana da Me there has been a little car accident. This time nobody got hurt, but Sara is going to be late for work if she’s not careful.

Però è tardi. Senti, mi dispiace, io prendo la metropolitana. Ho fatto tardi.
But it’s late. Listen, I’m sorry, I’ll take the metro. I’m running late [or “I’ve gotten delayed,” “It got late,” “I’m late.”]
Captions 10-11, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 11 

When she says, “È tardi,” she’s talking about the hour. She has to be at work, say, at nine, and it’s already ten to nine, and she is still far from her office. Objectively speaking, it is late!

When she says “Ho fatto tardi,” she is talking about herself and the fact that she got delayed. She is late.


Telling someone not to be late is important sometimes. Here’s one way to do this:

Ciao, mamma. Io vado da Flavia. -Ciao, amore. -Non fare tardi.
Hi, Mom. I'm going to Flavia's. -Bye, love. -Don't be late.
Capton 28, Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 7 


Another way to say you’re late is to use the phrasal adverb, in ritardo (late). Ritardo is a noun meaning “delay.”

In an episode of Commissario Manara, Manara’s boss is not happy with him per niente (at all).

Lei è in ritardo di ventiquattro ore. Si può sapere che cosa aveva da fare di così urgente?
You're twenty-four hours late. Can you let me in on what you had to do that was so urgent?
Caption 13, Il Commissario Manara 1: Sogni di Vetro - Ep 7 - Part 14


The noun il ritardo is commonly used when we apologize for being late.

Buonsera a tutti. Scusate il ritardo, ragazzi. Ma aspettavate solo me?
Good evening everyone. Sorry I'm late, guys. Were you just waiting for me?
Caption 6, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio: A corto di idee - Part 1  


Both the adverb tardi and the noun ritardo also have verb forms: tardare and ritardare.

Non dovrebbe tardare ad arrivare.
It won’t be long before he arrives.

This doesn’t refer to a precise amount of time, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone or something is late. It just means they haven’t arrived yet.


The following is a bit more urgent and refers, most likely, to an agreed-upon hour.

Non ritardareperché il film comincia puntuale.
Don’t be late, because the film starts punctually.


Here’s how we use comparatives and superlatives with tardi (late).

Vado a letto tardi il sabato sera.
I go to bed late on Saturday nights.

Più tardi means "later."

Ci vediamo più tardi.
We’ll see each other later.

Al più tardi means "at the latest."

Devi spedire questa lettera domani al più tardi.
You have to send this letter by tomorrow at the latest.


The opposite of in ritardo is in anticipo (ahead of schedule, early, in advance).
We can also use the verb form anticipare (to be early, to expect).

La consegna era prevista per domani, ma il pacco è arrivato in anticipo.
Delivery was scheduled for tomorrow, but the package arrived early.

Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno anticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they came back early.


Just to add a little twist, another opposite of anticipare is posticipare (postpone, to delay).

Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno posticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they postponed their return.


Attenzione! Italians do not use anticipare in the sense of “looking forward to something.” See this definition of the verb to anticipate. Definition number 2 doesn’t conform to the Italian. In fact, “looking forward to something” is difficult to say in Italian, and there is no precise translation. We will tackle this conundrum in another lesson.


To sum up

Tardi (late): With the adverb tardi, we use the verb fare when talking about someone being late. When talking about the hour, we use essere (to be).
Tardare (to be late, to run late)
Il Ritardo (the delay)
Essere, arrivare in ritardo (to be late or behind schedule)
Ritardare (to run behind schedule, to be late)

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Two Expressions: nel senso and la volta buona

In the new film on Yabla, La Tempesta, a conversation takes place down on the street. Paolo has had his car towed and doesn’t quite know how to get to work. His neighbor comments:

Nel senso, magari è la volta buona che ti fai una bicicletta pure tu. 
I mean, maybe this is the time that you get yourself a bicycle, too.
Caption 4-5, Rai Fiction: La Tempesta - Part 2 of 27

Without spoiling the story, let’s talk about two different expressions occurring in the same sentence. Actually there are three if you count the fact that instead of using the verb prendere (to take, to get) or comprare (to buy), the girl uses the verb fare (to make, to do), which is wrong unless she built her own bicycle and thinks Paolo might, too (extremely unlikely). Fare is a catch-all verb like "to do” in English.


Nel senso literally means “in the sense,” but Italians use it these days much as we use “I mean” in English. Lots of times they don’t even finish the sentence. Nel senso just stands alone, and you have to guess the rest. Nel senso can be likened to cioè (that is, meaning), but technically, nel senso in this context should be followed by che (that) as in the following example.


Conoscendolo in che senso...? -Nel senso che in paese le voci girano.
Knowing him in what sense...? -In the sense that in town, word gets around.
Caption 32, Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 2 of 17

Without a che (or any other conjunction) following it, it's decidedly less grammatically correct.


La volta buona literally means “the good time.” But volta means several things, as does buono. “Time” also has several connotations. So let's take a closer look.

Here are some examples of how volta is commonly used:

Sarà la volta buona (this time you’ll make it)!

Ancora una volta (one more time, or “once again).

Un'altra volta (one more time, or “once again”).


But, the protagonist of La Tempesta, thinking only of himself, offers this comment in a meeting:

Va bene, delle disavventure tropicali di mio fratello ne parliamo un altra volta.
All right, about the tropical misadventures of my brother we'll talk about it another time.
Captions 30-31, Rai Fiction: La Tempesta - Part 2 of 27

So, sometimes un altra volta means “one more time,” but sometimes it means “another time: not now.”


From a lesson of Daniela's, there’s an expression with the plural of volta—volte:

A volte tengono la loro “a.
Sometimes they keep their “a.”
Caption 42,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il futuro - Part 4 of 4

A volte is another way of saying qualche volta. They both mean “sometimes.”  A volte can be also translated as “at times.”


We can use una volta in thinking about the future:

Una volta mi piacerebbe andare a Londra. 
Sometime I’d like to go to London.


But it can also mean “once.”

Io ci sono stata una volta.
I went there once.


And we can use it to refer to the past:

C'era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) is a famous film from 1968 by Sergio Leone.

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What's the Difference Between infatti and in effetti ?

A Yabla subscriber has asked about the difference between infatti and in effetti. The question is an excellent one.

The short answer is that infatti may be translated as “in fact,” while in effetti can be translated as “actually,” or “admittedly.” You can get this kind of information from any dictionary. But the question merits a closer look.

Infatti has, over time, become a single word but like many Italian words of this type, started out being two words: in + fatti. It’s extremely similar to the English “in fact,” and, not surprisingly, it means the very same thing. 

È quasi una sorella, anzi è una sorella.
She's almost a sister, or rather, she is a sister.
Infatti, parliamo allo stesso modo e facciamo le stesse cose.
In fact, we talk the same way and do the same things.
Captions 3-5, Amiche: sulla spiaggia 

Another way to say infatti is difatti. It’s less common, but used often enough, and is interchangeable with infatti. Note that these two terms use the plural ending.

The fact is, both infatti and difatti come from the Latin de facto (from the fact) which is also used in English to mean that something exists in fact, although perhaps not in an intentional, legal, or accepted way: de facto. The direct Italian translation of the Latinde facto is di fatto—two words, like the Latin. Note that this term uses the singular ending, as in the Latin.

When we go to a meeting, and it doesn’t actually take place for some reason, we can say it was nulla di fatto (nothing actually happened).

In the following example from the very first episode of Commissario Manara, introductions are being made at police headquarters. Pio, meaning pious, is an old-fashioned but common enough name in Italian. Buttafuoco’s co-worker is making a pun, saying Pio Buttafuoco is a good and maybe even religious person. 

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

Unlike infattiin effetti is made up of two words, and though, like infatti and difatti, it comes from the Latin de facto, it’s a bit more subjective, and has to do with taking something into consideration and admitting that, “yes, that is actually so.”

In the following example, in effetti is used because one couple realizes that they have actually been absent for a good while, and so the question is more than justified. 

Ma è un po' che non vi si vede. Dove siete stati?
Well, it's been awhile since we've seen you. Where have you been?
Beh sì, in effetti siamo appena rientrati dall'India.
Well yes, actually we've just gotten back from India.
Captions 5-6,  Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 4 

In this case, they could just as easily have said:

Beh si, infatti, siamo appena rientrati dall’India.
Well yes, in fact, we just got back from India.

It’s just a different slant, like saying “in fact” instead of “actually” or “as a matter of fact.”

In effetti can be used when you’re forced to agree with someone, but not all that willingly, or when they have convinced you of something.

You might say:

In effetti... hai ragione.
Admittedly... you’re right.

The other person who knew he was right all along, and was waiting for you to realize it, might say:

Infatti, ho ragione!
In fact, I am right!

He might also just say:

In fact.

Infatti can be used by itself to confirm what someone has said. You’re agreeing wholeheartedly. It may not actually have to do with facts, but is used in the same circumstances in which we use “in fact,” “as a matter of fact,” “that’s a fact,” or “that’s true” in English. It’s usually expressed with an affirmative tone.

In effetti is more like a consideration. It’s more like “admittedly” or “actually.” The tone may well be one of realizing something you hadn’t considered before. You might raise your eyebrows. The adverb form of in effetti is effettivamente and can be used interchangeably for the most part.

To sum up, there are definite differences in the words discussed in this lesson, but the differences are, in effetti, fairly subtle, and so you have to pay close attention to really grasp them. For the most part, if you stick to infatti to be emphatic, and in effetti to be a bit more thoughtful, you’ll probably do fine! Listen to the tone and context in the Yabla videos to get more insight into these words.

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Fregarsene : To Not Care

The following Italian expression paints a picture of an outside force, either making us do something, or preventing us from doing something. It’s out of our hands.

È più forte di me, non ce la faccio, non ce la faccio.
It's stronger than me [I can't help it], I can't do it, I can't do it.
Caption 80, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte in paradiso Ep 9 - Part 13

The expression is used when you know that what you’re doing is a bit overboard, but you still do it. You can’t help it, there's a stronger force at work!


In the expression below, you are throwing your cares to the wind. You might be able to do something about the situation, but you choose not to worry about it!

E se entrano, chi se ne frega?
And if they come in, who cares?
Caption 70, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte in paradiso Ep 9 - Part 13


Fregare (to rub, to scrub, to steal, to rip off) is a widely used word, acceptable in casual speech, but should be avoided in formal situations or in writing to anyone but close friends. Originally it meant “to rub” or “scrub” but now, sfregare is more common for those meanings. Nowadays fregare has various colloquial meanings, and has become part of a very popular expression, fregarsene (to not care about something). This long verb with pronouns attached is called a verbo pronominale (pronominal verb). See this lesson to learn more about pronominal verbs.


Grammatically speaking, fregare is used reflexively in this expression, with an indirect object included that means “of it” or “about it.”


fregar(e) + se (oneself) + ne (of it)


This tiny ne is quite important, but a bit tricky to use. When the expression crops up in a video, listen carefully and read the captions to assimilate it, as it goes by rather quickly. You won’t hear Daniela and Marika using this expression in their lessons, but you will often hear it in Commissario ManaraL’oro di ScampiaMa che ci faccio qui? and others.


Since the expression is tricky, let’s look at some examples in different conjugations and constructions.


Indicative first person singular/third person singular:

Me ne frego (I don’t care about it).
Se ne frega (he/she/it doesn’t care about it).

Imperative informal:

Fregatene (don’t be concerned about it, ignore it)! [Attenzione, the accent is on the first syllable!]


Che mi frega (what do I care?)
Che ti frega (what do you care?)

Passato prossimo (past tense):

Se n’è fregato (he didn’t care about it, didn’t do anything about it). [Here the accent is on the second syllable.]


Non me ne può fregar di meno (it can’t affect me any less, I don't give a hoot about it).

Note: In English we often use the conditional to say the same thing: "I couldn't care less."

Note the troncamento or shortening, from fregare to fregar. See Marika’s lessons on troncamento!


Avere la puzza sotto al naso or avere la puzza sotto il naso (to have a stink under their noses): These are both ways of saying “to have one’s nose in the air” (to avoid smelling the stink below). It’s a way of calling someone stuck up, or a snob.

The difference between sotto il naso and sotto al naso is a bit like the difference between “under” and “underneath.”  We can use either one.

Va be' però c'hanno la puzza sotto al naso.
OK, but they have the stink underneath their noses [they're stuck up].
Caption 43, Rai Fiction: L'oro di Scampia - Part 21 of 25


So, now you have a few more expressions to use when the situation calls for it.

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Committed and Busy with Impegno, Impegnato, and Impegnarsi

In a recent episode of Stai lontana da me, some form of the word impegno orimpegnarsi appears three times in a row, each time with different connotations. Let's have a look.


The noun form impegno can refer to a commitment at work, an errand, an appointment.

Comunque abbiamo un sacco di cose in comune,
gli impegni di lavoro, l'intimo.

Anyway, we have a lot of things in common,
work obligations, underwear.
Caption 20-21, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me: Part 6 of 17  

It's a convenient way to be vague: 

Ho un impegno (I have a [prior] commitment).

We can use the adjective form impegnato to mean "busy":

Sono impegnato al momento (I'm busy just now).


The reflexive verb form impegnarsi means "to commit" or "to make a commitment." In the video, the two people are talking about a commitment in matters of the heart:

Il terrore di impegnarsi.
The terror of commitment.
Caption 22, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me: Part 6 of 17  

But it can also mean "to try very hard," "to make an effort":

Mi sto impegnando molto ma i risultati sono scarsi.
I'm really trying hard, but the results are poor.


The expression senza impegno (literally "with no obligation") sometimes means, "don't feel you have to." It can also make it clear that we're talking about something very casual, which may be the case in the breakfast invitation below.

Colazione insieme? Senza impegno, eh.
Breakfast together? No obligation, huh.
Caption 23, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me: Part 6 of 17  

 In more commercial settings senza impegno can mean "you don't have to sign anything and there's no charge."

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