Italian Lessons

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Lessons for topic Grammar

What are virgolette? How to use punctuation terms in speech

How do we refer to punctuation or use punctuation terms when speaking Italian?

When we start a new paragraph, we say punto e a capo (period, new paragraph). This can happen if we are dictating.

Punto is how we say "full stop" or "period" in Italian.

Capo means "head," and so we are at the head of a new paragraph.

But we also use punto e a capo and similar terms metaphorically in everyday speech. Here's a lesson about that!

 

A comma, on the other hand, is una virgola. While a comma works somewhat similarly between English and Italian, there is an important peculiarity to note, as we see in the following example. Instead of a decimal point, Italian employs the virgola (comma). If we look at it numerically, it's like this: English: 5.2 km, Italian: 5,2 km. 

 

Con i suoi cinque virgola due chilometri quadrati, Alicudi è una delle più piccole isole delle Eolie,

With its five point two square kilometers, Alicudi is one of the smallest islands of the Aeolians,

Captions 9-10, Linea Blu Le Eolie - Part 18

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By the same token, Italian employs the comma in currency: $5.50, but €5,50.

In English we use a comma in writing "one thousand": $1,000.00, but in Italian, a point or period is used. €1.000,00.

It can also be omitted. 1000,00.

 

Virgolette, on the other hand are little commas, and when we turn them upside down, they become quotation marks, or inverted commas.

So, in conversation, we might make air quotes if people can see us talking, but in Italian it's common to say tra virgolette (in quotes, or literally, "between quotation marks"). We can translate this with "quote unquote," or we can sometimes say "so-called" (cosìdetto).

 

...cioè delle costruzioni, tra virgolette temporanee

in other words, quote unquote temporary buildings —

Caption 38, Alberto Angela - Meraviglie EP.2 - Part 12

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e perché poi erano facili da smontare, tra virgolette,

uh, because they were in any case easy to quote unquote dismantle,

Caption 45, Alberto Angela - Meraviglie EP.2 - Part 12

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Versace è nata da un ritorno alla tradizione, tra virgolette,

Versace was created as a, quote unquote, return to tradition,

Caption 13, That's Italy Episode 2 - Part 1

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One more important thing about virgolette: In American English, most punctuation marks go inside quotation marks, but in Italian, they go on the outside. If you pay attention to the captions in Yabla videos, you will see this regularly.

 

Thanks for reading and a presto!

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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?
 
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 - Part 12

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

...and which now though, is one of the most elegant, 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.
 
 
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: noi li chiamiamo aggettivi positivi e aggettivi neutri.

In Italian, we have two kinds of adjectives. We call them positive adjectives and neutral adjectives.

Captions 23-24, Corso di italiano con Daniela Aggettivi positivi e neutri - Part 1

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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 - Part 2

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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 - Part 3

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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 - Part 2

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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 - Part 1

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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.

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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How to Get Mad in Italian

Did you watch last Wednesday's episode of Commissario Manara? You might have noticed that there's an excellent example of a pronominal verb.

 

Review pronominal verbs here.

 

Ce l'hai ancora con me. E perché mai dovrei avercela con te, scusa? Sono in vacanza.

You're still mad at me. And why on earth should I be mad at you, pardon me? I'm on vacation.

Captions 6-7, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP8 - Fuori servizio - Part 1

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There are plenty of pronominal verbs Italians use constantly, and avercela is one that has a few different nuanced meanings. The verb avere (to have) combines with the direct object la (it) and the indirect object ci which can mean so many things, such as "to it/him/, for it/him/us" and it still doesn't make sense to an English ear, but it can mean to get angry, to feel resentment and more.

 

The meaning can be aggressive, as in "to have it in for someone." Avercela con qualcuno (to have it in for someone) happens to fit fairly well into a grammatically reasonable English translation, but avercela can also have a milder connotation, as in the example above, "to be mad at someone." And in this case, grammar pretty much goes out the window.

 

When you sense that something is not right with a friend, that they are not their usual talkative self, you wonder if you had done or said something wrong. This is the time to ask:

Ce l'hai con me? (Are you mad at me?)

 

Using the pronominal verb avercela, it becomes very personal and often implies resentment or placing blame. The feeling of anger or resentment has to be directed at someone, even oneself. 

Non ce l'ho con te. So che non era colpa tua. Ce l'ho con me stesso.
I'm not blaming you. I'm not holding it against you. I know it wasn't your fault. I have only myself to blame. I'm mad at myself.

 

There's a more official word for feeling resentful, too, risentirebut as you see from the dictionary, this verb has several meanings, so it isn't used all that often in everyday conversation. When you're mad, you want to be clear!

 

Let's look at the classic word for getting or being angry: fare arrabbiare (to make someone angry, to anger), arrabbiarsi (to get angry), arrabbiato (angry, mad), la rabbia (the anger).

 

If a parent, teacher, or boss is angry with a child, student, employee who did something wrong, then the word arrabbiarsi is the more suitable and direct term. It doesn't normally make sense to be actually resentful in these cases. In the following example, a colleague is talking to her co-worker about the boss. 

 

Alleluia! -Guarda che questa volta l'hai fatta grossa. Era veramente arrabbiato.

Halleluja! -Look. This time you really blew it, big time. He was really mad.

Captions 20-21, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP7 - Alta società - Part 14

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Closely related to avercela con qualcuno is prendersela, another pronominal verb! We've discussed this here, and as you will see, in some cases, both avercela and prendersela are used in similar situations.

 

But prendersela contains the verb prendere (to take). It might be helpful to think of "taking something badly." 

Non te la prendere (don't feel bad, don't take this badly).

 

Unlikle avercela,which is direct towards someone, prendersela is reflexive, with se (oneself), as in prendersi (to take for oneself)— You're more on the receiving end of an emotion, which you then transfer to someone else.

Me la sono presa con Giuseppe (I took it out on Giuseppe, [but I shouldn't have]. I lost it).

 

One last expression bears mentioning. Arrabbiare is the correct word to use for getting angry, but lots of people just say it as in the following example. We are replacing the more vulgar term with the polite version: incavolarsi (to get angry), fare incavolare (to get someone angry).

 

E questo l'ha fatto incazzare tantissimo,

And this made him extremely angry.

Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 12

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Now you have various ways to get angry in Italian, but we hope you won't need to resort to them too often.

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Everyday Negatives

 

Let’s look at turning positive sentences into negative ones in Italian. We might have to switch gears a bit because the word order for negatives is different from what we have in English. We have to think negative. The negative word, in this case non (not), generally comes before the verb, and that means it is frequently the first word in a sentence.

Let’s consider some simple negative expressions we use every day.

 

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Problems: We all have problemi (problems), but sometimes we have to say "no problem." We certainly use it to mean "You're welcome" after someone says "Thank you." In English, it's so easy! But in Italian we say, "there's no problem." It's part of the expression. Non c'è problema is an important phrase to have ready for any situation. 

 

Sì, non c'è problema. -Grazie. -Prego.

Yes, no problem. -Thanks. -You're welcome.

Caption 24, Adriano - Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 2

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Actually, there is another way to say this, more similar to English.

 

Nessun problema (no problem [at all]).

 

Or we can put both expressions together and say, with the wonderful double negative we can use in Italian:

 

Non c'è nessun problema (there's really no problem).

 

or even:

 

Non c'è nessunissimo problema. (There is absolutely no problem at all)!

 

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Time: Nobody has any time anymore! So negative sentences about time can come in handy.


Non c’è tempo (there isn’t time).
Non ho tempo (I don’t have time).
Il tempo non ce l’ho (I don’t have time for that).
Non c’è più tempo da perdere (there’s no more time to waste).
Non ho avuto il tempo per farmi i capelli (I didn’t have time to get my hair done).


and a possible comment to that:

Non stanno male, però (your hair looks pretty good, though/it doesn't look bad,though).

 

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Knowing stuff: There are plenty of things we know and understand but plenty we don’t know or understand! Let’s remember that whereas in English we just say "I don’t know," Italians usually add the object pronoun lo (it), so they are literally saying "I don't know it."


Non lo so (I don’t know).
Non so a che ora devo venire (I don’t know what time I should come).
Non ho capito! Puoi ripetere (I didn't get it. Can you repeat)?

Remember, Italians often put this phrase in the past tense even though they are saying "I don’t get it."

 

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Forgetting stuff, or rather, not remembering things: The verb ricordare is often but not always in its reflexive form ricordarsi when it means "to remember" and in its regular form when it means "to remind." See these lessons.

 

Adesso non mi ricordo se era proprio a forma di carciofo.

Right now, I can't remember if it was exactly artichoke shaped.

Caption 24, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato - Part 4

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And if you need an object pronoun instead of a noun, don't forget to change mi (to me) to me (me):

 

Adesso non me lo ricordo.
Right now, I can't remember [it].

 

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Doing stuff, or rather, not doing stuff: We procrastinate.

 

Dovevo scrivere un articolo, ma non l'ho fatto (I was supposed to write an article but I didn't do it).
Non l’ho ancora fatto (I haven't done it yet).

 

Here we have the object pronoun lo (it) but it is partially buried in the contraction. So you have to listen carefully!

 

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Speaking of listening, a great way to hone your listening skills is to use Scribe (in the games menu in the Yabla player). It will definitely help you start recognizing and hearing these short words and little but important details. And although some Italian you hear is rapid-fire (like Luca Manara, to name one example), most of the time, all the syllables are pronounced. You can slow down the speech to be able to hear better. Have you tried Scribe? What did you like? What didn't you like? Let us know!

 

As we learn to speak Italian with disinvoltura (nonchalance), it’s easy to forget to add these little words. Don’t worry, you will most likely be understood anyway! Foreigners spend years speaking Italian leaving out the little words, and they get by just fine. (It takes one to know one.)

 

If you get your word order wrong, people will understand anyway, but now you have a chance to get it right!

 

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A Relative Pronoun Shortcut

 

After telling us about the different relative pronouns, which in some cases are interchangeable, Daniela finishes up by telling us that in certain cases, when we are talking about a place or situation, we can use dove (where) instead of in cui (in which)To back up a moment, we're talking about object relative pronouns, indeed, indirect object pronouns, because in the case of cui (which), we often need a preposition right before it. Here's how she summarizes cui. If you can watch the lesson it might be helpful!

 

Indipendentemente dal genere o dal numero, io uso sempre "cui", che è invariabile, sempre preceduto da una preposizione semplice, quindi da "di", da "da", o da "a".

Regardless of the gender or the number, I always use "which," which is invariable, always preceded by a simple preposition, so by "of," by "from," or by "to."

Captions 43-46, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Pronomi relativi - Part 3

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The good news here is that we don't have to consider gender when we use cui.  Getting stuck mid-sentence looking for the right article can hamper the telling of a good story. So cui is a good relative pronoun to be familiar with. But many of us might not feel so comfortable using cui. Indeed, you don't need to think about gender, but you do have to think about which preposition to use: There is an alternative that you might like.

 

Using dove (where) can simplify life, actually. Certainly, Italians use dove (where) as a relative pronoun, even when we're not strictly talking about places and situations. And we do this in English, too, so it won’t seem too odd!

 

Following are some examples from Yabla videos. Let's remember that dove (where) is not always a relative pronoun, and it is not always a relative pronoun taking the place of in cui, but the following examples have been selected because they do fit into this category.

 

E, invece, oggi, come potete vedere, è una giornata molto tranquilla dove si può prendere il sole in santa pace.

And, on the other hand, today, as you can see, it's a very quiet day in which one can get some sun in blessed peace.

Captions 39-40, Francesca - sulla spiaggia - Part 1

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Vengo qui da lei, perché so di poter trovare un ambiente tranquillo, calmo, dove potermi riposare.

I come here to her place, because I know I'll find a peaceful, calm atmosphere, where I can rest.

Captions 36-37, Adriano - Nonna

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Noi ora stiamo entrando nel cuore della Reggia di Caserta, il luogo dove si gestiva il potere.

We're now entering into the heart of the Caserta Royal Palace, the place where power was administered.

Captions 36-38, Alberto Angela - Meraviglie - Ep. 1 - Part 3

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Sono due posti qui vicino Roma, dove si producono questi tipi di pane casareccio [casereccio].

They're two places near Rome, where they produce these types of home-style bread.

Captions 49-50, Anna e Marika - Il pane

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Mi piacciono anche i libri antropologici, per esempio, dove ci sono scoperte...

I also like books on anthropology, for example, where there are discoveries...

Captions 44-45, Arianna e Marika - L'importanza di leggere

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Poi c'è un giorno a settimana dove i negozi sono chiusi.

Then, there's one day a week when the shops are closed.

Caption 7, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Orari di apertura e sistema scolastico

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Un altro caso dove uso il congiuntivo è quando abbiamo dei verbi impersonali...

Another case in which I use the subjunctive is when we have impersonal verbs...

Captions 40-41, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Il congiuntivo - Part 11

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Now that you have looked at all these examples, why not try transforming them into sentences with in cui? If that is too easy, try the same thing with nel quale, nella quale, nei quale, or nelle quale. For this, you will need to consider gender and number! Here’s the link to suggested solutions. Non barare (don't cheat) — unless you have to! 

 

Let us know if you like this system of exercises and their solutions! Write to us at newsletter@yabla.com

 

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How Do Relative Pronouns Work in Italian

Relative pronouns allow us to combine two shorter sentences that are related to each other into a longer one made up of two clauses. Similarly to English, we distinguish between main or independent clauses and subordinate dependent clauses. And when there is a relative pronoun present, it is part of what's called "a relative clause."

 

The first relative pronoun that Daniela describes is che (that/which).

In questo esempio, quindi, il pronome relativo fa vece di pronome perché sostituisce la parola "casa" ma fa anche vece di congiunzione perché unisce le due frasi [sic: proposizioni].

In this example, therefore, the relative pronoun stands in for the pronoun because it replaces the word "house," but it also

takes on the role of a conjunction, because it joins two clauses.

Captions 44-48, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Pronomi relativi - Part 1

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After watching the video, let's look at some further examples of what Daniela is talking about.

Ci troviamo sulla spiaggia di Mondello, che è la spiaggia dei palermitani.

We're on the beach at Mondello, which is the beach used by Palermo's inhabitants.

Caption 3, Adriano - a Mondello

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Let's take this sentence apart and put it back together again.

 

The first sentence could be:

Ci troviamo sulla spiaggia di Mondello.
We're here on the beach at Mondello.

 

The second sentence could be:

La spiaggia di Mondello è la spiaggia dei palermitani.
The Mondello beach is the beach of the inhabitants of Palermo.

 

In order to combine these two short sentences, we use a relative pronoun to connect the clauses. We replace la spiaggia di Mondello with che (which), so it's both a pronoun that replaces a noun, and a conjunction that connects two parts of the [new] sentence.

Ci troviamo sulla spiaggia di Mondello, che è la spiaggia dei palermitani. 

 

Let's look at an example in which che translates nicely with "that," but can work fine with "which," too. In English, "that" and "which" are often interchangeable, but we need to keep in mind that "which" needs a comma before it, and "that" doesn't (most of the time). 

C'è un ballo tradizionale che si chiama il "salterello" [saltarello].

There's a traditional dance that is called the "saltarello" [literally, little jump].
There's a traditional dance, which is called the "saltarello" [literally, little jump].

Caption 38, L'Italia a tavola - Interrogazione sulle Marche

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Gli alpeggi sono le attività agricole zoologiche che si svolgono in estate in montagna.

Alpine grazing is an agricultural, zoological activity that take place in summer in the mountains.

Caption 27, L'Italia a tavola - Penne alla Toma Piemontese - Part 1

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In Italian, the relative pronoun che can refer to things or people. So in the following example, we can translate che as "who."

C'è sempre tantissima gente che aspetta di salire su.

There are always plenty of people who are waiting to go up.

Caption 17, In giro per l'Italia - Firenze - Part 5

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Making Sense of Comparatives and Superlatives

This week, Daniela concludes 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.

 

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 week's lesson, where Daniela shows us how this — the regular old superlative — works in Italian. It 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]

 

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

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Comparatives of Equality

We have seen that comparatives work a bit differently in Italian as compared to English. Read more here. For most adjectives and adverbs in Italian, there is no specific comparative form. We use the adverbs più (more) or meno  (less) to form the comparative. Notable exceptions are buono (good) and bene (well), which have their own comparative forms. We have discussed them here

 

But things get tricky when we compare things that are equal. For the most part, in English, we use the same adverb or conjunction "as" in both parts of the comparison. 

 

You are as tall as I am. We are both the same height.

 

In Italian, there are basically two pairs of words that are sometimes interchangeable and sometimes not. Tanto (lots, as much) pairs with quanto (how much), and così (like, so) pairs with come (how, as).

Il comparativo di uguaglianza si forma facendo precedere l'aggettivo dall'avverbio "tanto", o "così", seguito dall'aggettivo, più "come" o "quanto".

The comparative of equality is formed by placing the adverb "tanto" [as much] or "cosi" [like, as], followed by the adjective, plus "as" or "as much."

Captions 23-28, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Comparativo - Part 3

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And sometimes we can omit one of the two words in a pair. Tutto sommato (all in all), it can be a bit confusing.

 

Here are some examples of complete sentences from Yabla that feature comparatives of equality, so you can become more familiar with them. 

Insomma, i ponti sono tanto frequentati quanto sconosciuti ai romani di oggi.

In other words, the bridges are as traveled as they are unknown to the Romans of today.

Caption 44, I Love Roma - guida della città - Part 8

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Ed è stata tanto colpa nostra quanto colpa sua.

And it was as much our fault as his fault.

Caption 55, Italiano commerciale - Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 3

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The following example uses che, another ingredient of comparatives, as described by Daniela, but here, it's used incorrectly. This just goes to show that comparatives of equality can be tricky for Italians, too.

Disarmonie e contrasti sono ingredienti indispensabili tanto della vita che della cucina.

Disharmonies and contrasts are indispensable ingredients, as much in life as in cuisine.

Caption 18, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá - Part 10

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Here is what the speaker should have said.

Disarmonie e contrasti sono ingredienti indispensabili tanto nella vita quanto nella cucina.
Disharmonies and contrasts are indispensable ingredients, in life as well as in the kitchen.

 

This next example compares two comparatives on equal terms (more=more). Can you wrap your head around it

Quanto più l'impasto è durotanto meglio viene la pasta.

The stiffer the dough, the better the pasta will be.

Caption 45, Marino - La maccaronara

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In the following example, Adriano is using così come to compare the adjective intenso (intense) on an equal basis between one day and other days.  

Spero che anche voi possiate avere delle giornate così intense come questa.

I hope that you too can have days that are as intense as this one.

Caption 56, Adriano - Giornata

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We often find così and come together in a sentence and it can often be translated as "just as" or "just like."

Al verso è docile e al contro è duro, così come la vita.

Along the grain it's soft and against the grain it's hard, just like life.

Captions 11-12, Claudio Capotondi - Scultore - Part 1

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Here are examples of the two types of pairings, along with versions where the first adverb is omitted, as described by Daniela.

Non conosco nessuno così bravo come te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.
Non conosco nessuno bravo come te.
I don't know anyone smart like you.
Non conosco nessuno tanto bravo quanto te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.
Non conosco nessuno bravo quanto te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.

 

Practice: 
Try looking around your home and comparing things. 

Questa stanza è più grande di quella (this room is bigger than that one).
Quella stanza è meno grande di questa (That room is smaller than this one).
Questo tavolo è tanto grande quanto quel tavolo lì (this table is as big as that one there).
Questo tavolo è grande quanto quello lì (this table is as big as that one there).
La mia poltrona è tanto comoda quanto la tua (my armchair is as comfortable as yours).
La mia poltrona è comoda quanto la tua (my armchair is as comfortable as yours).

 

Start simple and get comfortable. Hint: In comparisons of equality, it's more common to omit the first adverb than to include it, at least in everyday speech. Whew! 

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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?

 

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.

 

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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Good News About Comparatives in Italian

Daniela is back with some more Italian lessons, classroom-style. This time she will be teaching us how to compare things. And the good news is that apart from a few exceptions like buono (good),  migliore (better), il/la migliore (the best), you won't have to learn the comparative forms of an adjective. Basically, you just have to use the adverb più (more) or meno (less). 

 

Sometimes this corresponds to the English, because in English, not all adjectives have a comparative form.

"Arrivederci" [quando vado via] è una forma di saluto più elegante, formale.

"Arrivederci" [when I leave] is a more elegant, formal form of saying "goodbye."

Caption 27, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Salutare - Part 1

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But in many cases, there is a specific comparative form in English.

 

In the following example, a recipe is being described.

Si può personalizzare: più piccante, meno piccante.

You can personalize: sharper or milder.

Caption 38, L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 1

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So, if you are translating, you have to find the "right" word in English. But as you become more familiar with Italian, you will start thinking in Italian, and the English equivalent won't really come into play.

 

One tricky thing is that you have to take into account whether you are comparing things or actions. The preposition you use, di (than) as opposed to che (than), will change accordingly. 

Lucca è una città più piccola di Firenze (Lucca is a smaller city than Florence). Lucca è meno grande di Firenze (Lucca is smaller than Florence).

 

A Lucca, è più comodo girare in bici che girare in macchina (in Lucca, it's easier to get around by bike, than to get around by car).

 

Practice:

Watch Daniela's video, first of all. Then go around your house, or wherever you happen to be, and compare things. 

Questo libro è più grande di quel libro (this book is bigger than that book).

Gain confidence in comparing things using di (than). Then move on to comparing actions. It's a little trickier, with che (than).

Comprare online sarà più veloce che andare al negozio (purchasing online will be quicker than going to the store).

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Asking Questions in Italian

In English we use "do," "did" or other question words to form questions. This is hard for Italians learning English because in Italian, to ask a question, all you have to do is change your tone of voice.

 

Here's an example from last week's lesson. Marika is telling us something.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

But, with a little change of inflection, she could use the exact same words and ask a question.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato?
Does "pesto" mean that it has been crushed?

 

The voice is raised at the end of the phrase, or, the voice stays the same, but "no" (with a raised voice) gets added on to make it a question:

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato, no?
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed, right?
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed, doesn't it?

 

With modal verbs, too, inflection is everything.

Posso offrirle uno "Spritz".
I can offer you a "Spritz".
Caption 10, Una pasticceria: al Lido di Venezia 

 

To turn this into a question, it remains the same in Italian. Only the inflection changes, and in writing it, we use a question mark rather than a period. 

Posso offrirle uno "Spritz"?
Can I offer you a "Spritz?" 

 

Try making statements into questions by changing your inflection, or adding "no?" at the end, to make it into a question. Pay special attention to how questions happen in videos with plenty of dialogue, such as La Ladra or Commissario Manara

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Becoming Familiar with the Passato Remoto

The passato remoto (remote past) tense in Italian may not be necessary to know in order to converse in the language, but we find it often enough in writing when the subject is history, so it's good to be familiar with it.

 

Daniela has recently finished talking about this tense in her Corso di Italiano, and in the final segment, she talks about when it is used.

 

Si usa, per esempio, per azioni che sono avvenute una sola volta nel passato.
You use it, for example, for actions that occurred once, in the past.
Captions 4-5, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il passato remoto - Part 4 of 4

 

In this week's video about Pisa, we see it in action. Arianna is talking about medieval times.

 

Già dall'inizio ebbe dei problemi, perché fu costruita su un terreno instabile e per questo pende.
From the start, it had problems because it was built
on unstable terrain and because of this, it leans.
Captions 17 -18, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni - Part 1 of 3

Another place we find the passato remoto being employed is in stories and fairy tales. In fact, reading fairy tales is an excellent way to gain familiarity with the passato remoto. The stories are usually repetitive and predictable with the verbs in the third person singular and plural.Yabla has quite a few animated fairy tales to choose from. 

 

Quindi aprì la porta e il ranocchio saltellò dentro.
So she opened the door and the frog hopped in.
Caption 52, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 1 of 2

 

Further practice:
To make friends with the passato remoto, pick out a fairy tale and watch the video, paying extra attention to the verbs. Then open the transcript, pick the printer-friendly version so you can just see the Italian, and then read the story out loud (in Italian), as if you were reading it to a child. You will, of course, see verbs in other tenses like the passato prossimo and theimperfetto, too. As in English, a mixture of tenses renders the story more fluid and more interesting.

 

If you're not sure which tense you are looking at, click on the word, even when you are in theprinter-friendly version, and a dictionary will pop up to help you. Some verbs occur only occasionally, and don't really need to be assimilated, but other verbs like avere (to have) essere (to be), andare (to go), venire (to come), guardare (to look), and vedere (to see) will occur more often, and you can start adding them to the verbs you recognize, even in thepassato remoto. Reading out loud will make the verbs start feeling right on the tongue.

 

Hopefully, when you watch the video again, the verbs in the passato remoto won't seem so strange anymore.

 

WordReference has conjugation charts for most verbs. Try keeping the tab open so you can get to it easily when you need it.

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Conjugating Verbs in the Subjunctive

In previous lessons, we’ve mentioned that the subjunctive is often used after the conjunction che (that). The congiuntivo (subjunctive) can be tricky for Italians, not only for non-native speakers, so it’s fitting that conjugating a verb in the subjunctive be used as a challenge in a quiz show such as the one featured this week on Yabla.

 

Allora, io dirò l'infinito, tu mi devi dire il congiuntivo presente.
Mostrare. -Che io mostri.
So, I'll tell you the infinitive, you have to tell me the present subjunctive.
To show. -That I show.
Captions 3-5,  L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 - Part 5  

 

The contestant has to conjugate a verb in the present subjunctive, first person. Note that when Italians conjugate the subjunctive mood, they add che (that), the person, and then the subjunctive conjugation. That way, the subjunctive is distinguished from the indicative.

 

In the above-mentioned episode, we have the infinitive and the first person present subjunctive of several verbs. Can you provide the present indicative of the verbs mentioned? You can look up a verb’s conjugation here.

 

Some people are adept at memorizing lists of verb conjugations. Others might prefer to learn verbs in the subjunctive on a need-to-know basis, one by one. You will discover that certain verbs are used more often than others in the subjunctive, verbs such as:

andare (to go) - che io vada (that I go)
È meglio che vada a letto presto stasera (I should really go to bed early tonight).

 

fare (to make, to do) - che io faccia (that I do)
Cosa vuoi che faccia (what do you want me to do)?

 

essere (to be) - che io sia (that I am)
Pensi che io sia stupida (do you think I'm stupid)?

 

stare (to stay, to be) - che io stia (that I am, that I remain)
Non pretendere che io stia zitta (don't expect me to be quiet).

 

venire (to come) - che io venga (that I come)
È fondamentale che io venga alla riunione (is it necessary for me to come to the meeting)?

 

These are the verbs to learn early on. What verbs would you like to add to this list?

 

After practicing the first person subjunctive, move on to the other persons, one by one, and get the hang of them. In many cases, the third person is the same as the first person in the subjunctive. Using them in sentences will help you remember them.

To brush up or learn about the subjunctive, see Daniela’s lessons about the subjunctive here.

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How to Tell a Story in Italian, Part 2

In this week’s lesson with Daniela, we learn another way to set the scene of a story. We talked about using the presente (present simple) and passato prossimo (present perfect) in a previous lesson. Now we’ll talk about using the imperfetto (imperfect tense) to set the scene in the past without specifying the duration or pinpointing the moment in time of an action. We use theimperfetto to describe the characteristics of something in the past.

Allora, l'imperfetto viene usato per fare descrizioni di paesaggi, del tempo, delle qualità di una persona o di una cosa, al passato.
So, the imperfect tense is used to describe landscapes, weather, features of a person or a thing in the past.
Captions 30-32, Corso di italiano con Daniela - L'imperfetto - Part 2 of 4

 

In the following example, Lara, from the popular Commissario Manara TV series, is talking to an old classmate whom she met up with by chance. They are telling each other about their past feelings.

 

This is how she felt when she was younger:

Mi sentivo un brutto anatroccolo.
I felt like an ugly duckling.
Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 14 of 14

And this is how her friend Massimo felt about her!

Io ero innamorato pazzo di te!
I was crazy in love with you!
Caption 2, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 14 of 14 

The following example describes an ongoing condition in the past.

A scuola avevo sempre problemi con la matematica.
At school, I always had problems with math.
Caption 13, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Aggettivi positivi e neutri - Part 3 of 3

The following example is interesting, because we see the passato prossimo (siamo visti/we saw other) used when pinpointing the moment (l’ultima volta/the last time), but the imperfetto(eravamo/were) sets the scene.

Ma lo sa l'ultima volta che ci siamo visti dove eravamo?
But you know where we were the last time we saw each other?
Eravamo al porto di Istanbul.
We were at the port of Istanbul.
Captions 23-24, La Ladra - Ep. 2: Viva le spose - Part 6 of 13

 

For how to form the imperfetto, please see Daniela’s previous lesson.

 

Practice: Try setting the scene in the past using the verbs Daniela talks about in the lesson,and other verbs you know. If you’re not sure how to form the imperfetto of the verb you wish to use, look it up in an online dictionary such as WordReference. Think about the place, how old the person was, what the person looked like, what the person was wearing. How did the person feel?

 

Here’s something to get you started.

Quando ero giovane e andavo a scuola, suonavo il flauto nell’orchestra della scuola. Mi piaceva molto. Andavo a scuola in autobus tutte le mattine. Ci mettevo circa venticinque minuti per arrivare a scuola. Non era un’epoca molto felice per me. Non studiavoabbastanza, e quindi mi sentivo sempre a disagio in classe e avevo sempre paura delle interrogazioni. Preferivo stare nella sala di musica a studiare flauto. Cantavo anche nel coro. La maestra del coro era bravissima e tutti l’amavano.

 

When I was young and was going to school, I played flute in the school orchestra. I liked it a lot. I went to school by bus every morning. It took me about twenty-five minutes to get to school. It wasn’t a very happy time for me. I didn’t study enough so I was always afraid of being called on to answer the teacher’s questions. I much preferred hanging out in the music room to study flute. I also sang in the choir. The director was excellent and everyone loved her.

 

Of course, when we tell a story, we like to mix the tenses up to create interest and tension, but for now, let’s try to get to where we feel comfortable using the imperfetto and know more or less when and how to use it.

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How to Tell a Story in Italian, Part 1

Using tenses correctly in a new language is usually somewhat of a challenge. Let's talk about two tenses — presente indicativo (present simple) and passato prossimo (present perfect) — that we can use to set the scene in a story, or to establish a timeframe, and the signpost words that can help us figure out which tense to use. 

 

Here's what causes some confusion. Italian commonly uses the passato prossimo (present perfect), that is, the tense using the auxialiary verb "to have" plus the past participle, to refer to things that happened at a particular moment in the past, for which in English we use the simple past tense. This is hard to assimilate, because English uses the present perfect for events that are still going on, or still true. In addition to that, in cases where English does use the present perfect, Italian often uses the present simple. It's easy to get mixed up, but it should become clearer as we go along. 

 

In a new video this week, Erica and Martina speak very simply about their friendship and how it developed. This is an excellent opportunity to zoom in on the passato prossimo, since they use it a lot, and to get a feel for how it’s employed in everyday storytelling. Maybe you can tell a story of your own, using the same outline.  

 

But let's zoom out for a moment. Before telling a story, we often need to set the scene and establish a timeframe. Erica first uses the present simple, and adds da (from, since). This formula takes some getting used to, so it's a good idea to practice. Notice that the translation employs the present perfect. 

Siamo amiche da sei anni.
We've been friends for six years.
Caption 3, Erica e Martina: La nostra amicizia 

 

Here's another example of how the present tense is used to establish a timeframe that includes the past.

Questa statua è qui da almeno cinquanta anni.
This statue has been here for at least fifty years.
Caption 19, Antonio: Maratea, Madonna del Porto Salvo 

 

We can use this setup with verbs like conoscere (to be acquainted with), frequentare (to hang out with, to frequent), essere colleghi (to be co-workers), lavorare insieme (to work together),essere sposato (to be married), vivere in un posto (to live in a place).

Ci conosciamo da tre anni (we've known each other for three years).
Sono sposati da sei mesi (they've been married for six months).

 

Practice: Set the scene for a story. Establish the timeframe including the past up to the present with the simple present tense plus da (from, since), using the above-mentioned verbs, or other verbs you think of. You'll be answering the question: da quanto tempo (for how long)?

 

Another way to set the scene is to find the starting point in the past. We use the passatoprossimo for that, plus the short adverb fa (ago) that signals the past.

So in the featured video, Erica continues setting the scene, telling us when the two friends met. Here she uses the passato prossimo. In English, we’d use the past simple, of course. Erica is essentially saying the same thing she said in caption 3, but she’s pinpointing the moment, not a period of time. Note: Since the friends are female in this case, the ending of the past participle conosciuto is feminine and plural. If it were two guys, or a guy and a girl, what do you think the ending would be?

Ci siamo conosciute, appunto, sei anni fa.
We met, in fact, six years ago.
Caption 4, Erica e Martina: La nostra amicizia 


When you meet someone for the first time, it’s unique: one instant. So you use the passato prossimo.

Learn more about the verb conoscere (to be acquainted with, to make the acquaintance of) in this lesson.

Il figlio, diciassettenne, ha pubblicato il suo primo articolo su un quotidiano americano pochi giorni fa.
His son, seventeen years old, published his first article in an American newspaper a few daysago.
Captions 15 - 16, Tiziano Terzani: Cartabianca - Part 1 of 3

 

Practice: Experiment establishing a timeframe using the presente plus da (from, since) as you did in the first exercise, and then saying much the same thing in a different way, pinpointing a moment in time with the passato prossimo and fa (ago). You'll be answering the question: quando (when)? or quanto tempo fa (how long ago)?.

Here’s a quick example to get started:

Vivo in Italia da più di venticinque anni (I’ve been living in Italy for over twenty-five years).
Sono venuta in Italia per la prima volta più di trent’anni fa (I came to Italy for the first time, over thirty years ago).
Lavoro in questo posto da otto anni (I’ve been working in this place for eight years).
Ho 
cominciato otto anni fa a lavorare qui (I started working here eight years ago).

 

As Erica and Martina continue their story, they use the passato prossimo to describe events in the past. You can do this too!

 

Hint: Why not use the transcript of this video? Just click on "transcript" underneath the video thumbnail (or in the pop-up menu "more" in the new layout). You can view it in just Italian, just English, or both. You can copy and paste it into a blank document. You can make it printer friendly. In somma (in short), it's pretty handy!

There are other ways to set the scene, and other tenses to use, but we’ll get to those in another lesson.

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Ammettere: a Fickle Friend

Ammettere (to admit) is somewhat of a true cognate when used in the indicative.
We can use it when referring to gaining access, say, to a course or school.

Non è facile essere ammesso alla facoltà di medicina.
It’s not easy to get admitted to the pre-med program.

It also refers to acknowledging something, like an opinion or an error. Here, too, ammettere is a true cognate.

Ammetto di aver reagito troppo in fretta.
I admit I reacted too hastily.

But, when we find ammettere with che (that), and it’s often in the past participle ammesso, it calls for the subjunctive, as Daniela mentions in a recent lesson on the subjunctive. But be careful because the meaning changes. Here it means “to assume” or “to suppose.” We are not confirming something, we are assuming. We're talking about something unsure, which is why the subjunctive is used.

Allora, un amico mi dice una cosa,
io non sono sicura se è vero o no,
e dico: "Ammesso che sia vero, è interessante".
So, a friend tells me something,
I'm not sure whether it's true or not,
and I say: “Assuming it's true, it is interesting.”
Captions 39 - 41,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il congiuntivo - Part 14 of 17

 

Ammettiamo che lui l'abbia uccisa.
Let's assume that he killed her.
Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 9 of 12 

A common expression in Italian uses this form: Ammesso e non concesso (assuming, for the sake of argument).

Ammesso e non concesso che quest’uomo sia innocente, lui non avrà problemi a dire la verità.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this man is innocent, he won't have any trouble telling the truth.

or, more literally:

Assuming, but not granting, that this man is innocent, he won't have any trouble telling the truth.

The verb assumere exists as well in Italian. But that’s another story, which we'll get to in a future lesson.

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The Historical Present Tense in Italian

In the English language, with some exceptions, history is told in the past. The historical present does exist, however. In English grammar, the historical present is the use of a verb phrase in the present tense to refer to an event that took place in the past. In narratives, the historical present may be used to create an effect of immediacy. It’s also called the historic present, dramatic present, and narrative present.

 

But in Italian and other romance languages the historical present is commonly used to recount events in the past, especially when referring to history.

 

Context is very important, and translating can present some challenges.

 

Here’s an example of how Italian uses the historical present for something that clearly happened in the past. In English, it would sound a bit strange in the present tense, and the first phrase would be well nigh impossible to express in the present tense.

Pitrè nasce nel milleottocentoquarantuno a Palermo, in una famiglia di pescatori.
Pitrè was born in eighteen hundred forty-one in Palermo, in a family of fishermen.
Il padre, un povero marinaio del rione di Santa Lucia, è costretto, come tanti, ad emigrare in America, dove muore di febbre gialla.
The father, a poor sailor from the Santa Lucia district, was forced, like many, to emigrate to America, where he died of yellow fever.
Captions 28-32, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 2 of 15 

 

In the documentary about Fascism currently available on Yabla, the historical present is used in several instances. Sometimes it makes sense to use it in English, too, as in the following example. By using the historical present, we set the scene. We seem to observe the events from close up, as they happen.

Sono gli anni delle campagne di stampa contro le parole straniere.
Parole straniere e borghesia sono mali da estirpare.

These are the years of the publishing campaigns against foreign words.
Foreign words and the bourgeoisie are evils to be rooted out.
Captions 5 - 6, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5 of 15

 

La "Gazzetta del Popolo" di Torino inaugura la rubrica "Una parola al giorno".
Turin's “Gazzetta del Popolo” [The People's Gazette] launches the feature “Una Parola al Giorno” [A Word a Day].
Captions 14 - 15, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5 of 15 

 

The use of the historical or narrative present in Italian is just something to be aware of. Deciding whether or not to maintain the same tense in translation is a subjective one, based on the tone to be set, or based on clarity. Much of the time, using the past tense in English will be preferred, but not always.

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