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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."
Caption 23-28, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il comparativo - Part 3 of 6

 

 

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.
Captions 44, I Love Roma: guida della città - Part 8 of 9

 

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 of 3

 

 

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 of 17

 

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

 

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.
Captions 56, Adriano: Giornata

 

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 of 6

 

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 

 

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 of 25 

 

La mia migliore amica.
My best [girl]friend.
Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7  

 

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 53, Milena: al supermercato

 

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 of 12

 

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.
Let's make up an example, that way you'll understand better.
Caption 7, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Approfondimento Verbi Modali - Part 1 of 2

 

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 of 16

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 3, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Salutare - Part 1 of 2

 

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 piccantemeno piccante.
You can personalize: sharper or milder.
Caption 3, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 1 of 2

 

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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Those pesky particelle (particles)

In English we might imagine a dialogue such as this in a group of housemates:

Who will go to the store to buy milk? -I’ll go.

We have a very brief answer.  It includes the person who will carry out the task, and the verb “to go.” Anything else is easily inferred.

 

But in Italian, it’s common to include the place as well, or some other information, as a pronoun. So, the initial question is the same.

Chi va al supermercato per comprare il latte (who will go to the store to buy milk?)

 

But the answer will probably be:

Ci vado io (I’ll go there). We would not likely say “I’ll go there” in English, but it’s implied.

 

So, there’s this extra element in Italian, with respect to English: the place. Ci corresponds to “there,” “to that place,” “to the store.”

 

Here’s an example from Marika’s video about all these particles.

Cominciamo con "ci" più "mi". "Devo tornare a casa, mi ci porti?"
Let's begin with “ci” plus “mi.” "I need to go back home. Will you bring me there?”
Captions 17-19, Marika spiega: I pronomi combinati - Part 3 of 3 

 

Another example, not about a place but about a situation.

Who will take care of this problem? -I will.
Chi si occuperà di questo problema? -Ci penso io.

 

Ci corresponds to “of this problem,” or “about this problem.”

Italian has these little pronoun particles that say a lot, and they can often be construed to stand for something in English. But more often than not, they stand for some element of a sentence that generally gets left out in English. This makes learning the little words difficult. They don’t seem to correspond to anything.

 

If you leave them out, and say, for example, vado io, instead of ci vado io, people will understand you anyway, most likely, but little by little, as you use your Italian in real life, you will get the hang of these particles, and include them more and more often in your speech, and your Italian will become more fluent, more "Italian."

 

There are two parallel paths to becoming more fluent. The first is to listen and repeat, even if you are merely repeating in your mind as someone is speaking. Speaking, even though you know you will make mistakes, is also important. You can’t very well start out speaking perfectly, and communication certainly comes first. Having someone understand you despite all your mistakes is already a win.

 

The other path is to study and read. Studying can give you those “ah ha” moments when you figure something out, and it can give you some ground rules so you're not completely lost. But studying won’t help you too much in conversation if you don’t follow the listening path. Once you have a rudimentary knowledge of Italian and can communicate, then studying can help you refine your knowledge and skill.

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Using Sotto (Under) and Dietro (Behind)

Marika is offering a video series explaining the different kinds of adverbs used in Italian. In many cases, however, these adverbs can also be used as prepositions, or even as conjunctions in other contexts.

 

Besides knowing what adverb or preposition to use in a given instance, it can be tricky knowing whether you need an extra preposition or not. In fact, when Italians speak English, they often add prepositions where it isn’t necessary. Instead of saying “behind me” they’ll say “behind of me.” It makes a certain amount of sense because we say “in front of me.” And it makes sense to them because that’s how they often do it in Italian. What's even trickier in learning Italian, is that in some cases you can add a preposition or not, and it will still be correct.

 

Let’s look at a couple of adverbs/prepositions on Marika’s list that can cause confusion. As you can see in the example below, she uses sotto (under, underneath) and dietro (behind) plus another preposition a (to, at).

"Sotto": conservo il pigiama sempre sotto al cuscino.
"Dietro": la mia aspirapolvere non arriva dietro al divano. 
Under.” I always keep the pyjamas under the pillow.
Behind.“ My vacuum cleaner doesn't reach behind the sofa.
Captions 21 - 22, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi - Avverbi di luogo 

The example below is about putting a halter on a horse.

Qui ci andrà il muso. Si chiude sotto alla mandibola questo, -OK. -e questo passa dietro alleorecchie.
Here's where the muzzle goes. You fasten this under the lower jaw, - OK. -and this goesbehind the ears.
Captions 18 - 19, Francesca: Cavalli - Part 2 of 9 

 

In the previous examples, there is a preposition added to the adverb/preposition. But you will also hear plenty of Italians leaving the second preposition out. Sotto il cuscino is pretty much as common as sotto al cuscino and both are correct. Al combines the preposition a and the article il.

 

The examples above could be expressed just as correctly without the addition of a before the object. In this case, the article would be written out: sotto il cuscinodietro il divanosotto lamandiboladietro le orecchie.

 

Here are some examples where there is no additional preposition.

Ed eravamo un... un mucchio di ragazzini e lavoravamo sotto questi camion senza tanta sicurezza.
And we were a... a bunch of kids and we worked underneath these trucks with very few safety measures.
Captions 22 and 26, Gianni si racconta: Chi sono 

Si nascose dietro uno scoglio per osservare cosa gli stesse accadendo.
She hid behind a rock to see what was happening to him.
Captions 50 - 51, Ti racconto una fiaba: La sirenetta - Part 1 of 2 

 

There is an important exception connected with these adverb/prepositions. If the object is a personal pronoun, then you do need the (second) preposition.

Dietro di me, c’è una finestra.
Behind me, there’s a window.

 

Vieni dietro a me.
Come on behind me (follow me).

The more you listen, the more often you will catch the short words. They can easily get lost, especially since they are so often combined with the article.

There is more to say about sotto and dietro, as they are used in lots of different contexts. And there are plenty of adverbs to talk about. But we’ll save them for future lessons. Until then, we look forward, as always, to your comments and questions.

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More on Riprendere

We talked about the verbs prendere and riprendere in this lesson.
But in a popular Kimbo commercial for coffee featured on Italian TV, there is a play on words using precisely the verb riprendere, so let’s take a closer look, in order to better appreciate the double meaning. 

Ti riprendi? -Sì. Me [dialetto romanesco: miriprendo un altro caffè.
Are you getting a hold of yourself [feeling better]? -Yes. I'll get a hold of another coffeefor myself [I’ll have another coffee].
Captions 8-9, Gigi Proietti: Caffè Kimbo - Spot - Mi riprendo un altro caffè

Prendere (to take) is the basic verb. The prefix ri- generally means “again,” so it's logical forriprendere to mean “to retake,” and it often does.

 

Gigi Proietti has lost his memory, and the doctor is trying to hypnotize him into remembering something. When we faint, or we feel bad in some way, hopefully, we then “come to,” we get a hold of ourselves, we start feeling better. This is another meaning of riprendere, but this time it's the reflexive form, riprendersi. In a reflexive verb, the direct object and the subject are the same. Mi riprendo (I get myself back).

 

So when Gigi Proietti says, mi riprendo un altro caffè, the direct object in this sentence iscaffè (coffee), not Proietti himself. He uses riprendersi, and conjugates it, mi riprendo. Onfirst glance, it looks just like a reflexive verb, but it's not reflexive, because caffè is the direct object. It does, however, use the same attached particles as reflexive and other pronominal verbs, so it's also called un verbo pronominale (pronominal verb). In this case, though, it is specifically un verbo con uso intensivo, o verbo di affetto (an intensified or personalized verb). Apart from its purpose — to personalize or intensify — we can distinguish it from the reflexive verb because, if omitted, the sentence is still complete. 

 

This extra personalization is commonly used in Italian speech, as in “I’ll have for myself another cup of coffee.” We could omit "for myself" and simply say "I’ll have another cup of coffee.” In Italian too, instead of mi riprendo un altro caffè, Proietti could have said, riprendo un altro caffè, without intensifying it, but of course, then there would have been no play on words.

So, here, mi stands for a me stesso (for myself). 

 

Here's another example. Riprendere, like prendere, is a transitive verb, so we need an object, even if the object is oneself.

 

Let's say I'm out running. After a sprint...

Riprendo fiato (I catch my breath). Fiato (breath) is the direct object.

If, during a long run, I run out of energy, then maybe I’ll need to rest and drink some water.

Mi prendo una pausa (I take a break for myself). Pausa (break) is the direct object.

Then I start feeling better again and continue the run.

Mi riprendo (I get my energy back). Mi (myself) is the direct object.

Riprendo la corsa  ( I take up running again). La corsa (running) is the direct object).

 

In a nutshell:

Verbo transitivo (transitive verb):
Prendere (to take)
Riprendere (to take another, to take again, to continue after an interruption)

Verbo riflessivo (reflexive verb), also verbo pronominale (pronominal verb):
Riprendersi (to start feeling better again)

Verbo intensificato (intensified, personalized verb) also verbo pronominale (pronominal verb): 
Prendersi qualcosa (to take something for oneself)
Riprendersi qualcosa (to take something again for oneself)

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What's the Story on Voi in the Singular?

English doesn’t make the distinction — as far as pronouns go — between familiar and polite forms, but many languages do.

 

In this week’s segment about how the Italian language was influenced by Italian fascism, we learn that Lei, the polite form of “you” (singular), was actually banned from the language by Mussolini, and that the form Voi was imposed. But what’s this all about?

 

Let’s clarify, right away, that voi with a lowercase “v” is the second person plural personal pronoun, that is, “you” plural. We use it all the time. What we’re discussing here, however, is the use of Voi — with a capital letter — as a second person singular, polite form. It uses the same conjugation as voi (you plural).

 

The story is a long, complicated, and fascinating one, but here are the basics.

 

In ancient Rome, people used only the familiar form, “tu” (which later became the Italian tu (you, singular).

 

At a certain point, around the year 300, the Latin “Vos” ("you" plural used as a singular) began to be used with important figures such as emperors, much the same way as the pluralismajestatis was used.

 

“Vos” then became Voi in Italian, and was commonly used from the 1200’s to the 1400’s for addressing artists, nobility, etc. Dante used tu and Voi. Later, in the Renaissance, with the return to studying the Greek and Roman classics, there was a tendency to go back to the “Roman” tu.

 

Also in the Renaissance, Lei began to be used in offices and courts as a polite form of address. Lei corresponds to the third person feminine singular (she/her). The words used for prominent figures, like Eccellenza (Excellence) and Maestà (Majesty) are feminine nouns, and so, this led to a feminine pronoun: LeiLei was used alongside Voi for centuries as a deferential form of address, with tu as a familiar and intimate one. Many consider that the use of Lei came into use following the model of the Spanish, whose presence was felt in Italy during the 16th Century.

 

So, though not actually foreign (but believed to be, at least, partially), Lei was banned by Mussolini as being a non-Italian word:

Imposizione del Voi.
The imposition of “Voi” ["you" singular, formal]
Parole straniere bandite e sostituite per legge.
Foreign words banned and replaced by law.
Captions 6 and 9, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 2 of 15 

 

Thus, Voi was revived and/or imposed all over Italy. After the fall of fascism, Voi fell into disuse in many parts of Italy, where it had not really had time to be assimilated.

 

In much of southern Italy, however, Voi, as a deferential form of address, had never gone out of fashion, as it had in the north. So, it simply remained, and to this day it’s still used as a sign of respect, especially in families: a nipotino (grandson) in speaking to his nonno (grandfather), for example.

 

If you are an adult and go on a trip to Naples, Sicily or other southern Italian destination, you may very well be addressed as Voi. This is a sign of respect.

 

Lei has entered Italian vocabulary and grammar books as the official personal pronoun for addressing someone formally. But since language is fluid and ever-changing — not by law and imposition, but by common use — this could change.

 

Thanks for reading, keep up the good work, and feel free to write to us at 
newsletter@yabla.com with your comments and questions.

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Indietro Non si Torna (You Can’t go Back)

In a new video from Yabla, Adriano tells us about a book he wrote. He uses the verb importare (to matter, to be important) a few times. Importare sounds much like the English adjective “important,” but it’s a verb, and needs to be handled accordingly. If you’re not familiar with importare, take a look at this lesson about it. Adriano adds the indirect object pronoun a me/mi to importare, to mean that something does or doesn't matter to him. It’s a little stronger and more personal than non importa (it doesn’t matter). 

Ma questo a me non importa.
But this doesn't matter to me.
Caption 5, Adriano: Indietro non si torna 

 

He could also have said, ma questo non m'importa.

 

Another verb he uses is vivere. It means “to live” but also “to experience,” so see this lesson about how Italians use vivere.

Bisogna vivere il presente in maniera intensa,
One needs to experience the present in an intense way,
Caption 47, Adriano: Indietro non si torna 

 

Let’s talk for a moment about the title of Adriano’s book, Indietro non si torna (One can’t go back). First of all, he turns the phrase around to put the emphasis on indietro (back, backwards). He could have entitled it Non si torna indietro and it would mean the same thing, but it would have less impact. The emphasis would have been on non (not).

 

He uses the impersonal form of the verb tornare (to return, to go back). The impersonal form is peculiar to Latin-based languages and is used quite a bit in Italian, but can be difficult for learners to grasp. See these lessons about the impersonale. To express the same idea in English we often use the passive voice, or, especially in the negative, a general “you” that means anyone and everyone. Although not used much in conversation, English also employs the neutral "one" in the third person singular for the same purpose. In the negative impersonal, the implication is that you shouldn’t or can’t do something. So, we might freely translate Adriano's title as "You can't go back," or "There's no going back."

"A me mi" non si dice.
"To me, I" isn't said [you shouldn’t say, you can’t say, you don’t say, one doesn't say].
Caption 12, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 9 of 28 

 

Note how Italians change the word order where in English, it's less common. If we turn the Italian sentence around, it's clearer.

Non si dice "a me mi".
One doesn't say "to me, I."

 

In an impersonal positive statement, we often use “they” or the passive voice in English.

Si dice che qui il sole spacca le pietre.
It's said [They say] that here, the sun splits rocks.  
Caption 41, Adriano: Le stagioni dell'anno 

 

Hopefully, these words about Adriano's video have helped you understand some of the contents a bit better, or have reinforced what you already knew. Keep up the good work, and thanks for reading.

 

To watch other videos featuring Adriano, just do a search with his name. His videos are generally easy to understand, by way of his clearly articulated and well-paced way of speaking.

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Making Mistakes with Gusto and Feeling

A recent segment of Provaci ancora Prof brings up a grammatical mistake many Italians and non-Italians make, often aware they’re making it, but which they make anyway to add color and emphasis.

When we talk about liking something, we use the verb piacere. See this lesson about mi piace (I like it).

When we say mi piacemi is actually short for a me (to me), as Daniela tells us in her lesson.

Mi.... piace. Mi significa "a me", piace è la terza persona singolare del verbo "piacere".
"Mi...piace." "Mi" means "to me." "Piace" is the third person singular of the verb "piacere" (to please).
Caption 2, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Mi piace 

Instead of mi piace we may say a me piace. It means the same thing, and might be used when we want to emphasize that someone else might not like something, but the person speaking does. It puts the accent on the person speaking, not on the fact of liking it, or on what it is that’s being liked.

Almeno, a me piace questa, proprio questa radicalità del territorio.
At least, I like this, precisely this rootedness in the territory.
Caption 15, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 12 of 15

However, it is not correct at all to use both figures at the same time. It’s an unacceptable redundancy. A me mi piace is wrong.

 

In this week's episode of Provaci ancora, Prof, Camilla's young daughter uses another expression incorrectly in the same way:

A me mi [sic] sa che la mamma ha detto una bugia.
To me, I have a feeling that Mom told a lie.
Caption 11, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 9 of 28 

She should have said:

Mi sa che la mamma ha detto una bugia (I have a feeling that Mom told a lie).

Parents find themselves correcting this very frequent error all the time with their kids.

"A me mi" non si dice.
"To me, I" isn't said.
Caption 12, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1: Ep1 - fiction - Part 9 of 28 

Mi sa (it smells/seems to me) is a very common and useful way to say “I have a feeling” or “I think,” and what’s more, you don’t have to worry, in this particular case, about using the subjunctive after che (that).

See this lesson about mi sa.

 

Now, let’s take this error one step further.

 

Romans have the tendency to pronounce indirect pronouns ending in i, with a final e instead. This results in me piace. It has to do with local pronunciation, not (necessarily) ignorance, and is a regional characteristic.

For other aspects of the Roman dialect, or Romanesco, see this article.

 

One of Italy’s most beloved (Roman) actors, Gigi Proietti, made the aforementioned error famous in a series of TV commercials for Kimbo coffee. You can see one of them here on YouTube. He also makes other errors his travelling companion tries to correct him on.

 

But what interests us right now is that he says, “A me me piace (to me, I like it).” He uses the incorrect, above-mentioned redundant form, plus which he uses me instead of mi, which many would consider an error. So, it’s totally wrong, but it became extremely popular all overItaly in those years, because he would say it at the end of every commercial, while holding up his little cup of espresso.

 

Previous to Gigi Proietti’s arrival on the scene, Caffè Kimbo had already produced a series of comical commercials taking place on a cruise ship. The captain was played by Massimo Dapporto, another popular Italian actor. Then a new “season” started up with Gigi Proietti playing a man lost at sea on a little raft. He gets rescued by the cruise ship, but has lost his memory. In the first installment of this new series, there is a wonderful play on the double meaning of sentire (to hear, to smell). View it here.

 

Gigi Proietti’s character takes great pleasure in making his mistakes, almost as much pleasure as he apparently takes in drinking his Caffè Kimbo. As foreigners trying to speak Italian as well as possible, we should probably stay away from trying to imitate him. People might think we don’t know any better.

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A Word About the Congiuntivo (the Subjunctive)

As Daniela finishes up talking about the conditional, she sneaks in a word in the subjunctive, which she hasn’t covered in her lessons yet.

Io, fossi in te, partirei domani.
If I were you, I would leave tomorrow.
Caption 4,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il condizionale - Part 7 of 7 

 

And in the previous segment of the lessons on the conditional, she also uses it.

Il condizionale in italiano si usa per esprimere la possibilità che possa succedere qualcosa.
The conditional is used in Italian to express the possibility that something can happen.
Caption 21-22,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il condizionale - Part 6 of 7

 

The conditional often goes hand in hand with the subjunctive, so it's not easy to avoid using the subjunctive sometimes.

 

For those who are curious, there have been some written lessons about the subjunctive, called the congiuntivo in Italian, and we provide some links here so that you can peruse them.  

 

Hypothesis Versus Reality - the subjunctive and the conditional

Verbs of Uncertainty and the Subjunctive

 

The subjunctive is necessary in several different kinds of scenarios, and they need to be treated one by one, but in very general terms, most of the time, the subjunctive has to do with uncertainty in some way, and that is why it goes hand in hand with the conditional, since the conditional also deals in uncertainty. Be on the lookout for the conjunction che (that, which) that often necessitates the use of the subjunctive following it. 

 

Another way the subjunctive is used is in polite commands, such as:

mi scusi  (excuse me)

 

It also gets used with impersonal verbs:

Bisogna che vada via entro mezzogiorno (it’s necessary for me to leave by noon), and other impersonal constructions such as:

Sarà difficile che tu vada via entro mezzogiorno (it will be unlikely that you leave by noon).

 

For the most part, the subjunctive has become a rarity in English but we still do use it, especially when we are speaking formally, or just correctly. And we especially find it in proximity to the conditional.

If I were you I would go right now.

It is incorrect to say “if I was you,” even though lots of people do say it.

 

A good rule of thumb is to learn the subjunctive conjugation for the verbs you will be using often, like essere (to be), avere (to have), and andare (to go) and even more importantly, to learn some frasi fatte (set phrases), like:

Cosa vuoi che faccia (what do you want me to do)?
Cosa vuoi che sia (how serious could it be)?
Dove vuoi che vada (where do you want me to go)?

The verb volere (to want) is used idiomatically here, as a somewhat rhetorical question.

 

Let's look at some alternative translations of these phrases to get the idea.

Cosa vuoi che faccia (what can I do about it)?
Cosa vuoi che sia (how big a deal could it be)?
Dove vuoi che vada (where could I possibly go? — I'll be right here).

 

Little by little you'll put all the pieces together and know when to use it and when not to use it.

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When Accents Make a Difference

Let’s talk about some other common Italian words containing written accents. In case you missed the lesson in which we started talking about accents, read it here.

 

The accent on the u at the end of più (more) tells us that the accent of the word doesn’t fall on the iwhich is where it would naturally fall. 

Più gli ingredienti sono freschi e più è buono.
The fresher the ingredients, the better it is.
Caption 14, Andromeda: in - Storia del gelato - Part 2 of 2

 

A similar-looking word is pio (pious) where the accent does fall on the i, and indeed there is no accent on any letter.

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

 

In the same manner, ciò  (that, what) has an accent on the to tell us the accent is not on the i where it would normally fall.

È uno che di fronte a una bella donna si dimentica di ciò che è giusto e ciò che è sbagliato.
He's someone who, faced with a beautiful woman, forgets what's right and what's wrong.
Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 10 

 

All the days of the week except il sabato (Saturday) and la domenica (Sunday) have an accent on the i at the end: lunedì (Monday), martedì (Tuesday), mercoledì (Wednesday),giovedì (Thursday), venerdì (Friday). In fact,  is another word for "day" (normally giorno).

Un bel dì vedremo.
One beautiful day we'll see.
Caption 12, Anna presenta: Madama butterfly di Giacomo Puccini 

 

Without the accent on the i, it's di (of).

Eppure io non ho mai smesso né di aspettarlo né di amarlo.
Nonetheless, I never ceased to wait for him or to love him.
Caption 10, Anna presenta: Madama butterfly di Giacomo Puccini

 

Similarly, da (of, from, to, at) has no accent, but when we conjugate the third person singular of the verb dare (to give), we use an accent to distinguish it from da.

Invito una mia studentessa a farvelo sentire in modo da mettere in evidenza ogni sillaba che  il nome alle note.
I invite a student of mine to let you hear it such a way as to highlight each syllable that 
gives its name to the notes.
Caption 37-39, scuola di musica: con Alessio - Part 1 of 3

 

Remember that except for e, where the accent may be either grave (è) or acute (é) to distinguish between an open (è) or closed (ée, all the accents will be “grave,” that is, going down from left to right (àìòù). 

 

Try learning these words one by one, making the accent part of the word as you learn it. Needless to say, taking advantage of the Yabla games, from multiple choice to Scribe, will help you nail it.
 

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