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Rispondere: to answer or to respond?

Rispondere, with its English cognate "to respond" seems like it would be a very easy verb to use, and sometimes it is, indeed, easy. The verb rispondere translates as both "to respond" (its cognate) and "to answer" (a verb English inherited from the Old Norse "andsvar").

 

As with many verbs, by using a modal verb, we can keep the main verb in the infinitive, thereby avoiding the need to remember how to conjugate it. 

Senti... Posso parlare con Luca? No, Luca non può rispondere, ha avuto un problema.

Listen... Can I speak with Luca? No, Luca can't answer, he had a problem.

Captions 49-50, Il Commissario Manara S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9

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If we don't include an object in the sentence, there are no complications. In the following example, we could also have translated rispondere with "to respond."

Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima di rispondere chiamo il mio avvocato.

All right, then I will also follow normal procedure and before I answer, I'll call my lawyer.

Captions 25-26, Il Commissario Manara S2EP8 - Fuori servizio - Part 6

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1) What if the speaker used the conjunction che (after prima) as an alternate way to say the same thing?

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An important detail

Once we start involving an object in our sentence (such as "the question"), we have to keep in mind that rispondere is an intransitive verb (meaning it doesn't take a direct object), so if I want to say, "I answer the question" in Italian, I have to use a preposition after the verb followed by an indirect object (in this case, la domanda (the question). Think: "I respond to the question."

 

Rispondo alla domanda (I answer the question/I respond to the question).

 

Se la sente di rispondere a qualche domanda? -Sì.

Do you feel you can answer a few questions? -Yes.

Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 2

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2) Can you ask this same question to someone you are on familiar terms with?

Non ha risposto alla mia domanda. Che cosa vuole?

You haven't answered my question. What do you want?

Caption 40, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 13

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3) Can you say the same thing informally?

 

2 Ways in English, 1 way in Italian

In English, "to respond" is intransitive and "to answer" is transitive, so we use them two different ways and we rarely have to think about it. We might think of using "to respond" in more formal situations.

I can respond to your letter or I can answer your letter. 

 

But when we are translating from English to Italian, we have to remember that we need a preposition after rispondere.

 

Rispondere with an indirect object personal pronoun

We can also use rispondere where the indirect object is a person, perhaps expressed with a personal pronoun, as in the following example. In this case, we use "to answer" in our translation. "To respond" wouldn't work.

 

Toscani, per favore rispondimi. È importante, dai.

Toscani, please answer me. It's important. Come on.

Caption 56, Il Commissario Manara S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata - Part 9

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Memorizing rispondimi is a good idea. You never know when someone is going to faint and it's also handy to have when arguing with someone. Above all, remember that mi stands for a me (to me) so we do have a preposition (in this case a (to).

 

4) How would you say the same thing to a person you don't know very well? And for the record, you wouldn't say dai. Can you think of an alternative?

 

Cases of Incongruence between Italian and English

In the following clip, we have an indirect object pronoun in the Italian, but none in the English. These days, we might say "I didn't pick up,"  "I didn't answer the phone," I didn't answer your call," "I didn't return your call." But we probably wouldn't say "I didn't answer you" unless it were an email or a letter. In this context, we think of answering the phone, not the person.

Sì, lo so, mi hai chiamato cento volte, però io non ti ho risposto perché ho avuto un sacco di cose da fare, Teresa.

Yes, I know, you called me a hundred times, but I didn't answer because I had a bunch of things to do, Teresa.

Captions 23-24, Il Commissario Manara S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1

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5) The above clip is very informal, between brother and sister, but he could have said he hadn't answered the phone. How could he have phrased it?

 

There are plenty of instances in which Italians insert an indirect object pronoun, where in English, none is called for. It's just something to be aware of.

 

We hope this lesson has provided some clarity about using the verb rispondere. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to write to us at newsletter@yabla.com

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Risposte Answers

1) Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima che risponda, chiamo il mio avvocato.

1b) Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima che risponda io, chiamo il mio avvocato.​

2) Te la senti di rispondere a qualche domanda? -Sì.

3) Non hai risposto alla mia domanda. Che cosa vuoi?

4) Agente Toscani, mi risponda, per favore. È importante, la prego.

5) Sì, lo so, mi hai chiamato cento volte, però io non ho risposto al telefono/alla tua chiamata perché ho avuto un sacco di cose da fare, Teresa.

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