Italian Lessons

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Lessons for topic Grammar

The Future is Now (Probably)!

In this lesson, we're going to talk about the future tense in Italian, and how it's used, not just for the future, but also for probability.

In our first example, Federico Fellini is talking about a future meeting with Ingmar Bergman, and as you can see from the translation, he uses the verb essere in its future tense in a straightforward way. He has no doubts about the outcome: It’s going to be stimulating!

 

Io penso che l'incontro fra lui e me sarà veramente molto stimolante.

I think that the encounter between him and me will be really very stimulating.

Caption 37, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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In this next example, however, the verb essere is again used in the future tense, but here it means something completely different! In fact, one of the uses of the future tense in Italian is to express a supposition, probability, uncertainty, or doubt. In this case, the element of time is no longer taken into consideration and is replaced by a kind of conditional mood (appunto, the future is now—probably).

 

Guarda, stamattina ho appetito. Sarà l'aria di campagna...

Look, this morning I have an appetite. It must be the country air...

Captions 21-22, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Although this special use can be applied to any verb, it’s most common with essere and avere. In Un medico in famiglia, Lele is reassuring his daughter, Maria, about the future. He’s sure!

 

Sono sicuro che ti piacerà la nuova scuola e avrai un sacco di nuovi amichetti.

I am sure you will like the new school and you will have a lot of new playmates.

Captions 11-12, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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But here, the signora is just making a good guess as to how hungry her passenger Alessio is.

 

Avrai fame immagino, sì? Andiamo?

You must be hungry, I'd imagine, right? Shall we go?

Captions 14-15, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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In her Yabla newscast, Marika is giving us some very suspicious news from another planet, and she expresses her consternation:

 

Sarà vero?

Could it be true?

Caption 47, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo

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Another way to ask the above question would be: potrebbe essere vero? (could it be true?) or even può essere vero? (can it be true?). But more often than not, the future tense will be used when talking about probability in the present, or even in the past (together with a participle), as in the following example, where there’s uncertainty in retrospect.

 

Non lo so. Sarà stata una buona idea farlo venire qua?

I don't know. Was it such a good idea to have him come here?

Captions 30-31, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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Here are a couple more examples to give you an idea.  

In an episode of Un medico in famiglia, the family members are wondering what Cetinka is about to take out of her suitcase:

 

Che è, che sarà? -Non lo so!

What is it, what could it be? -I don't know!

Caption 54, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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In a lively discussion between Lara and her zia about Ginevra, the attractive medical examiner, the aunt defends Commissario Manara, which infuriates Lara even more.

 

E Luca la sta coprendo! -Avrà le sue buone ragioni, eh!

And Luca is covering for her! -He must have a good reason, huh!

Captions 40-41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Learning suggestion:

As you watch and listen to Yabla videos, notice how the future tense is used. You may be surprised at how often it is used to express probability, supposition, or uncertainty. And as you go about your day, maybe talking to yourself in Italian, use the future tense of essere or avere to wonder about things and their probability. Sometimes you may really be wondering about the future, as in:

Sarà una bella giornata?

Will it be a nice day?

But other times you may just be conjecturing:

Sarà una brava persona, ma dal suo comportamento non sembra proprio.

He may be a good person, but from his behavior it certainly doesn’t seem like it.

Sento bussare alla porta. Sarà il postino.

I hear someone knocking at the door. It’s probably the postman.

Perché non è ancora arrivato? Avrà avuto un contrattempo!

Why hasn’t he come yet? He must have had a setback.

So as you can see, in Italian, the future can be right now!

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A Grammatical Look at Giving Gifts

The bellissimo music video Il regalo più grande (the greatest gift) is a reminder that some of the best gifts can’t be bought with money. If you check out the previous lesson, Gifts and Giving, you’ll be all set to understand what Tiziano Ferro is singing about.

Per cominciare (to start with), remember that in Italian, gifts (regali) are “made,” not "given," so we use the verb fare (to make):

 

Voglio farti un regalo

I want to give you a gift

Caption 1, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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And let's not forget that other word for "gift," dono, along with its verb form donare, used in special, often more formal situations:

 

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna

I'd like to give your smile to the moon

Caption 9, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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Let’s look at these lyrics from a grammatical punto di vista (point of view). Tiziano sings in the present tense at the beginning of the song: voglio farti un regalo (I want to give you a gift). He goes on to use the conditional vorrei donare (I would like to give). But further on in the song, he would like to receive a gift, and the grammar gets a bit more complex:

 

Vorrei mi facessi un regalo

I would like you to give me a gift

Un sogno inespresso

An unexpressed dream

Donarmelo adesso

To give it to me now

Captions 18-20, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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He again uses the first person conditional of volere (to want), "vorrei" (I would like), but turns the phrase around, which calls for the subjunctive of fare (to make) in the second person imperfect, facessi. Translating it a bit more loosely may help it make more sense: “I would like [it if] you gave me a gift.”

And finally, he uses the infinitive donare (minus the final e), the indirect object/personal pronoun me, and the direct object lo all in one single word, donarmelo.

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Learning suggestion:

Take a look at the conjugations of fare (to make, to do) and volere (to want). You might even be surprised to see that you know more conditional forms of these verbs than you thought, just from hearing them. Go one step further and take any of those conjugations, for example, faresti (second person conditional of fare), and do a Yabla search to find out how it’s used in the videos.

Learn more about Tiziano Ferro as he talks about his approach to writing songs, and about ecological awareness.

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A Few Words About “Some” (Qualche and Alcuni)

Let's talk about two different ways to say "some" in Italian. While they can mean the same thing, they are used in different ways, so let's dig in.

 

Qualche

Master chef Gualtiero Marchesi is talking about one of the most famous northern Italian recipes, risotto alla milanese, and the symbolic meaning of the saffron that gives it a special color and taste:

 

Il giallo dello zafferano era, in qualche modo, il giallo dell'oro.

The yellow of saffron was, in some way, the yellow of gold.

Caption 21, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua

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In qualche modo (in some way) could also have been translated as “in a way” or “in some ways.” Qualche is purposely ambiguous and implies a small, unspecified quantity that could even be just one.

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Despite its often plural meaning, qualche must always be followed by a noun in the singular. Let’s see this word in context as we put the finishing touches on a fancy dish. Goccia (drop) is singular but the meaning is plural, by just a little bit.

 

Condiremo con un pochino di sale fino, del pepe nero, qualche goccia di succo di limone, dell'olio di oliva extravergine delicato.

We'll season with a little fine salt, some black pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, some delicate extra virgin olive oil.

Captions 12-15, Battuta di Fassone - in Insalata Chef

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Qualche is very user friendly.

You don’t need to know the plural or even the gender of the word you are modifying. You just need to remember to use a singular noun following it!

 

Alcuni/Alcune

Now let’s look at another way to say “some” or “a few”: alcuni and alcune. Unlike qualche, which is quite close to a singular quantity, alcuni and alcune, although not specific, are clearly plural. In fact, the nouns they modify appear in the plural, and, like articles and other adjectives, these modifiers change their endings according to the gender. Alcuni modifies masculine nouns and alcune modifies feminine nouns. 

 

Alessio Berti has a few dishes to show us: 

 

Adesso vi farò vedere alcuni piatti di semplice realizzazione eh de'... della nostra carta.

Now I'm going to show you some dishes that are simple to make, um from... from our menu.

Captions 3-4, Ricette dolci - Crème brûlée alla banana

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And where can we find the milk for this delicious crème brûlée? 

 

Spesso, in alcune fattorie, puoi trovare dei prodotti caseari.

Often, on some farms, you can find dairy products.

Caption 18, Marika spiega - Gli animali della fattoria

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Note that while qualche is always followed by the word it modifies, alcuni/alcune can stand alone as a kind of pronoun, much like its English counterparts (some, a few). To determine which ending to employ, we refer to the gender of the modified noun, even if it's absent. We see this in the following example, where sculptor Claudio Capotondi is talking about his studio full of marble, drawings, models, and whatnot.

 

Ci sono vari bozzetti, progetti, che sono sedimentati nel tempo, alcuni realizzati, altri...

There are many small-scale models, projects, that have been accumulated over time, some completed, others...

Captions 9-11, Claudio Capotondi - Scultore

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Qualche and alcuni/alcune can only be used with countable nouns in Italian. We’ll work with uncountable nouns in a future lesson. For now, follow these rules: To be vague, use qualche, which always goes with a singular noun even when its meaning is plural. To be more clearly plural, use alcuni or alcune alone or with a plural noun whose gender tells us which to use. 

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Learning suggestion:

To practice using these modifiers, try swapping qualche and alcuni/alcune wherever they occur. There are situations where one is more common than the other, and you’ll gradually get a feel for it. Visit wordreference.com to get some input on phrases with qualche, and don’t forget to have a look at the long list of forum threads about this word. See this blog about alcuni and qualche.

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Reflections on the Reflexive

We talked a little about reflexive personal pronouns in Ci Gets Around. They are: mi (myself), ti (yourself), ci (ourselves), si (himself/herself/itself/themselves), and vi (yourselves). 

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The reflexive is necessary in Italian when someone (or something) is both the doer and the receiver of an action. Reflexive pronouns will be found lurking somewhere in the sentence, or attached either to the main verb or helping verb (like fare). The reflexive is worth paying attention to because it’s used a lot more than we might think, and its presence will often change the meaning of the verb it refers to in a subtle but important way. We saw this in the lesson Making It Happen with the verb prestare

So, for instance, if you hide something, the verb you are looking for is nascondere.

 

E poi, ho pensato di nascondere il corpo e... l'ho caricato in macchina e... non ri', non ricordo più niente.

And then, I thought of hiding the body and... I loaded it into the car and... I can't re', can't remember anything else.

Captions 57-59, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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Oneself

But if you are the one hiding, you’ll need the reflexive form, nascondersi (literally, to hide oneself). A marine biologist dives down to the bottom of the sea surrounding the Aeolian Islands to show us the beautiful creatures there.

 

Probabilmente, sta cercando una tana per nascondersi da me.

She's probably looking for a hole in order to hide from me.

Caption 23, Linea Blu - Le Eolie

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The same holds here, where avvicinare, by itself, means to move something closer. But if you add the reflexive, it’s something or someone that is getting closer. 

 

Il prossimo che si avvicina all'acquario... m'ingoio voi [sic] e tutta la famiglia, hm.

The next one who comes near the aquarium... I'll swallow you and the whole family, hmm.

Captions 57-58, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino

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When it’s all about you, you’ll use the reflexive with many of the verbs you use to talk about your daily routines.

 

Di solito, io mi sveglio alle sette in punto.

Usually, I wake up at seven on the dot.

Caption 5, Marika spiega - L'orologio

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Fare (to make, to do) is a frequent intruder

Sometimes fare (in its reflexive form) gets called in for an assist: instead of docciarsi (to shower), we can say farsi la doccia (to take a shower):

 

Mi faccio la doccia alle sette e mezza.

I take a shower at half past seven [seven and a half].

Caption 7, Marika spiega - L'orologio

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Now you should be ready to reflect on the reflexive! Get the whole picture on reflexive verbs here. For the scoop on reflexive pronouns, you can get help here. For even more on the reflexive, see this online resource.

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Learning suggestion:

Try to put your daily routine into words, using the dictionary (and the above-mentioned online resources) if necessary. Maybe your routine goes something like this:

 

Ti svegli alle 6 di mattina ma ti addormenti di nuovo e quindi ti alzi alle sei e mezza. Ti fai un buon caffè e poi ti fai la doccia, ti lavi i denti, e ti vesti. Se fa freddo ti metti una giacca prima di uscire.* Nascondi la chiave sotto lo zerbino. Ti fai prestare un biglietto per l’autobus.

You wake up at 6 in the morning, but you fall asleep again so you get up at 6:30. You make yourself a nice cup of coffee and then you take a shower, you brush your teeth and you get dressed. If it’s cold, you put on a jacket before going out. You hide the key under the doormat. You borrow a ticket for the bus.

 

*More about what to wear in Marika spiega: L'abbigliamento - Part 1 of 2.

Tocca a te! (It’s your turn!)

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Ci Gets Around - Part 2

Ci Gets Around - Part 1

We saw in the previous lesson that the short word ci fits into (c’entra in) many situations.

But not only can ci mean “there,” ci can represent an object pronoun like “it,” “this,” or “that” plus a preposition (to, into, of, from, about, etc.) all in one, as we see below.

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On the job, Manara finds himself in the wine cellar of an important estate and has questioned Count Lapo’s housekeeper about some rifle shots. She answers evasively:

 

Colpi di fucile qui se ne sentono spesso, è zona di caccia. Sinceramente non c'ho badato.

We hear gun shots often here, it's a hunting area. Honestly I didn't pay attention to that.

Captions 13-14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 5

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And things get more mysterious when Manara discovers Count Lapo’s cryptic parting words about his estate:

 

Ma ci penserà qualcun altro...

Well, someone else will take care of that...

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 5

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Ci can even get into the kitchen! Two kids are putting the finishing touches on a recipe they have demonstrated:

 

La nostra pasta è pronta. Ci aggiungiamo un cucchiaino di parmigiano.

Our pasta is ready. We'll add a teaspoon of Parmesan to it.

Captions 21-22, Ricette bimbi - Gli spaghetti con zucchine e uova

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But what happens when there are two object pronouns in the same sentence (indirect and direct)? Non c’è problema! Ci transforms itself into ce. The most important question when it’s time to buttare la pasta (throw the pasta in) is:

Ci hai messo il sale? (Did you put the salt in?)

Sì, ce l’ho già messo. (Yes, I already put it in.)

Even when it means “us” (see previous lesson), ci is transformed into ce when a direct object pronoun is also present, like “it” or “that.”

 

Morto come? Eh, non ce l'hanno detto.

How did he die? Uh, they didn't tell us that.

Captions 45-46, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 1

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Ci (often in the form of ce) can easily sneak into a sentence where there is technically no need for it, just to give it some weight.

 

Io son contadino mica grullo [stupido], ce l'avete il mandato?

I'm a farmer, not an idiot, do you have a warrant?

Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 8

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While it’s nice to know what all these little words mean, it can be frustrating trying to account for all of them or to string them together in a logical order, so learning some common frasi fatte (idiomatic expressions) can get you off to a great start.

Lara’s aunt is being pulled by her little dog:

 

Non ce la faccio, mi fai cadere.

I can't keep up, you'll make me fall.

Caption 2, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 1

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And the Commissario has no clue why Lara is mad at him:

 

Lara! Io non l'ho capito perché ce l'hai con me.

Lara! I don't get what it is that you have against me.

Captions 61-62, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 5

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A good way to get a realistic sense of ci and ce in context is to watch Yabla series like Commissionario Manara, Un Medico in Famiglia, or even Pippo e Palla. Listen for these words, and when you hear them, press pause and repeat the sentence out loud. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll discover these little words all over the place, sprouting like wildflowers.

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Learning suggestion:

You will get a good helping of phrases using ci here. Get to know the ones that resonate with you. Enjoy a comprehensive and entertaining introduction to the word ci here.

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Ci Gets Around - Part 1

Ci Gets Around - Part 2

Most of us know what arrivederci means: “goodbye,” or literally, “until we see each other again.” Ci in this case means “us” or “to us” or “each other.” Take a look at how ci works in this evocative hymn to one of our most precious resources, water:

 

Ci ricorda qualcosa che abbiamo dimenticato.

It reminds us of something that we have forgotten.

Caption 22, Inno all'acqua - un bene prezioso da difendere

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When we like something, it gets "turned around" in Italian:

Ci piace molto questo posto! 

We like this place a lot! [Literally: This place pleases us a lot!]

Sometimes ci gets attached to a verb, like here, where Commissioner Manara has just arrived at the crime scene and is dispatching his team to question a cyclist:

 

Perché non vai a sentire cos'ha da dirci? [Another way to say this would be: Perché non vai a sentire cosa ci ha da dire?]

Why don't you go and listen to what he has to tell us?

Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 2

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Ci is often used in reflexive constructions, which are more common in Italian than in English.

 

Noi ci troviamo in Campania...

We are [we find ourselves] in Campania...

Caption 16, Giovanna spiega - La passata di pomodori

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In all the above examples, ci is the plural of mi (me, to me, myself). But the word ci can also mean “there,” expressing place, presence, or existence. It’s frequently hidden in a contraction, thus not alway easy to recognize. On his first day of work, Commissioner Manara checks into a pensione (small, family-run hotel) and asks the receptionist:

 

Il televisore c'è in camera? -Eh, certo che c'è.

Is there a TV in the room? -Eh, of course there is.

Captions 30-31, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6

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He walks in on his colleagues who are gossiping about him:

 

Che c'è, assemblea c'è?

What's up, is there an assembly?

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8

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In the above examples, c’è stands for ci è (there is), just like ci sono means “there are.” But, as we can see, it also means “is there?”—it’s the inflection (or punctuation if it’s written) that tells you whether it’s a question or a statement. (Learn more here and here.)

If I care whether you understand something or not, I will ask:

Ci sei?

Do you get it? Are you with me? [Literally: Are you there?]

If I don’t care so much, I might say:

Chi c’è c’è, chi non c’è non c’è.

If you're with me you're with me; if you're not, you’re not. [Literally, “whoever is there is there; whoever isn’t there, isn’t there.”]

There! Ci is pretty easy when you get the hang of it! (Tip: Do a search for ci in the Yabla videos to instantly see lots of different examples in context.) Stay tuned for Part 2 of this lesson, where we’ll find out how ci worms its way into all sorts of other situations!  

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Learning tip:

Make a shopping list, even just mentally, and as you do, ask yourself if you have those items in the fridge or in the cupboard. For singular things, or collective nouns, you will use c’è and for countable items in the plural, you will use ci sono. To get started:

C’è del formaggio? No, non c’è. (Is there any cheese? No, there isn’t.)

Ci sono delle uova? Si, ci sono. (Are there any eggs? Yes, there are.)

Ci sei? 

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The Simple Things in Life

It’s easy to get information on how to conjugate Italian verbs in all the tenses (for example, here), but it’s not so easy to know when to use one tense or another. Consider this conversation between two fish in an aquarium:

 

Che hai? Perché ti lamenti?

What's the matter? Why are you complaining?

Captions 6-7, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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E ora che succede? Shsh, è proprio arrabbiata. Senti come singhiozza.

And now what's happening? Shhh, she's really angry. Listen to how she's sobbing.

Captions 34-36, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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In English we have two types of present tense: present continuous, as in “I am talking on the phone at the moment," and the simple present, as in “I talk to my Mom every evening.” The first has to do with the moment, and the second with regularity or facts (learn more here). As you can see in the above dialogue, Italian speakers will use the present tense for both, unless there is some ambiguity about meaning or unless they want to emphasize the time element, such as in the following:

Non ti posso parlare ora perché sto mangiando.

I can’t talk to you right now because I am eating.

This progressive tense, which doesn’t really have an official name in Italian, is formed with the verb stare ("to stay" or "to be") plus the verb in its gerundio (gerund) form. Learn more here.

Now we are in Commissioner Manara’s office but he’s not there. As soon as he walks in, Sardi, who has been trying to pry information out of Lara regarding the Commissioner, feels she should get out of there. She says:

 

E infatti vado e tolgo il disturbo e vi lascio lavorare.

And, in fact, I'll go and I'll stop bothering you and I'll let you work.

Caption 61, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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(N.b.: Literally, tolgo il disturbo means “I’ll remove the disturbance.”)

Sardi says it all in the present tense, but this time to refer to the (near) future! When the context does not require a specific reference to time, the most “neutral” version of a verb (i.e., the present tense) is preferred.

And il presente (the present) can also express English’s simple future tense (“going to” + verb), like at the beginning of Marika’s lesson about numbers:

 

Ciao. Oggi parliamo di numeri.

Hi. Today, we're going to talk about numbers.

Caption 1, Marika spiega - Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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So the good news is that in Italian, with one tense, il presente, we can cover three different tenses in English. This may simplify things as you practice your Italian speaking skills, but don’t forget to pay attention to the context!

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Learning suggestion: 

In addition to listening to the videos and paying attention to how the present tense is used, try putting these sentences into Italian using il presente

 

You’re asking a friend what she intends to wear to school. The verb is mettere (“to put” or “to put on”).

     What are you wearing today? 

You're talking to your boss about when you will hand in your work. The verb is finire (to finish).

     I’m going to finish the project after lunch.  

You're talking about your eating habits. The verb is mangiare (to eat).

     I eat a sandwich every day for lunch. 

You're at a restaurant talking to the waiter. The verb is prendere (to take).

     I’ll have the fish. 

You have a flat tire and don’t know how to fix it. The verb is fare (to make or do).

     What am I going to do now? 

You're talking about the new person in your English class. The verb is parlare (to speak).

     He speaks English very well.

Answers:

Cosa ti metti oggi?  

Finisco il progetto dopo pranzo. 

Mangio un panino tutti i giorni a pranzo. 

Prendo il pesce. 

E ora che faccio?

Lui parla molto bene inglese. 

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Essere o non essere? To be or not to be?

Essere (to be), is conjugated as follows:

Io sono (I am)

Tu sei (you are)

Lei è (you are - polite form)

Lui è (he/it is)

Lei è (she/it is)

Noi siamo (we are)

Voi siete (you are plural)

Loro sono (they are)

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Simple enough! But it can be tricky knowing exactly who "is."  That's because of a convention in Italian that's not used in English. Often, the pronoun that's the subject of essere is assumed or implied:  

 

Sono Minivip.

I'm Minivip.

Caption 3, Psicovip - Il treno - Ep 3

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È pieno di posti liberi.

It's full of free seats.

Caption 55, Psicovip - Il treno - Ep 3

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Context is very important in understanding these constructions. Consider the answers to the next two questions – they look the same, but their meaning is quite different:

Dove sei? (Where are you?)

Sono a casa. (I am at home.)

Dove sono i bambini? (Where are the children?)

Sono a casa. (They’re at home.)

In fact, if the context of "the children" has already been established, the question can be:

Dove sono? (Where are they?)

Feeling lost? You may be tempted to ask yourself Dove sono? right now. That's because it also means "Where am I?" How do you find your way through these abbreviated, pronoun-less constructions? Pay attention to the context! Sometimes the ambiguity can be a source of humor.  At the end of one of the Psicoivip episodes, Minivip is talking to his doctor about his dream and trying to understand something about himself:

 

E questo cosa significa? Che, che sono... -Sono ottanta euro, prego.

And what does this mean? That, that I'm... -That's eighty euros, please.

Captions 63-64, Psicovip - Il treno - Ep 3

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The doctor finishes his sentence with a completely different subject in mind, using the seemingly identical form of esseresono. In this case he is speaking in the third person plural to refer to the euros, which though expressed in the singular (euro always remains the same), are plural in this case, since there are eighty of them: 

 

Che, che sono... -Sono ottanta euro, prego.

That, that I'm... -That's eighty euros, please.

Caption 64, Psicovip - Il treno - Ep 3

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Learning Tip:

While watching new videos, make sure to click on any word whose meaning you aren't totally sure of. You'll see the definition appear to the right of the caption, and the word will be added to your own personalized flashcard list for later review. It's a great way to watch yourself improve!

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