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Lessons for topic Negation

Different ways to use the word no in Italian

The word "no" is pretty clear. It means the same thing in both English and Italian. But there are a few things to remember when using this word. When you want to say, "No" just say, "No." It will be absolutely clear. No (No)!

 

But when you are asking someone to give you a yes or no answer about something, or talking about someone saying "yes," or "no," then you usually add the preposition: di (of). At that point, it is no longer directly reported speech and therefore no quotation marks are necessary. Keep in mind that leaving out the preposition is not wrong, it's just much more common to use it.

 

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Instead of just using the word "no," we say: 

 

Per fortuna Manrico non ce l'ha fatta a dire di no a Melody.

Luckily, Manrico didn't succeed in saying no to Melody.

Caption 38, Sposami EP 2 - Part 13

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E quindi dissi di no. Quando mi mandarono le foto di Ulisse, non so perché, è scattato qualcosa dentro di me e... ho detto di sì.

And so I said no. When they sent me the photo of Ulisse, I don't know why, something clicked inside me and... I said yes.

Captions 21-24, Andromeda La storia di Ulisse

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Although we are primarily talking about the word no in this lesson, the same goes for sì (yes). And if we replace dire (to say) with another verb, such as sperare (to hope), we do the same thing. In the following example, actress Alessandra Mastronardi says the same thing in two different ways:

Ma, io spe' [sic], mi auguro di sì. Alla fine è stato coronato il sogno che tante persone volevano, quello che si ritor' [sic], si riformasse la famiglia e che Eva e Marco... fortunatamente... e così è andata, quindi spero di sì.

Well, I ho' [sic], I hope so. In the end the dream many people wanted was crowned, the one in which the family retur [sic], re-forms and in which Eva and Marco... fortunately... and that's how it went, so I hope so.

Captions 40-43, Alessandra Mastronardi: Non smettere di sognare

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As we have seen, she uses two different ways to say "I hope so." Mi auguro di sì and spero di sìMi auguro di sì is a bit stronger, a little bit more personal (your eyes open wider). Maybe you are worried that things are not going to go as you hoped, or else, the end result is really crucial. It might also be that you are fully expecting something to happen in a certain way: It had better! It's kind of the difference between "I hope so" and "I certainly hope so." When using augurare or sperare, we can't leave out the di (of).

 

1) We can put this in the negative in the exact same way: Is your landlord going to kick you out? Can you give a couple of answers?

2) What if you are talking about when you asked someone out on a date. How did he or she answer you? M'ha...

 

When no means yes (in a way)

 

One very common expression, as a retort, uses the word "no" to mean "yes" or rather, "for sure!" "of course!" It's a way to confirm something, and literally means, "how not?" Or we could say, "How could that not be?" "How could you doubt it?"

Anche se la politica non ci ha aiutati, ce l'abbiamo fatta, no? Come no!

Even if politics didn't help us, we did it, didn't we? For sure!

Captions 31-32, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 18

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The important thing here is, first of all, to understand that when someone says, "Come no!" they are saying something positive, like "of course!". Then, once you have heard it many, many times, you might be ready to use it yourself. 

 

Question tags

 

In English we have the dreaded question tags... dreaded by people trying to learn English, that is. In Italian, however, it is way easier. All you have to do is add no and a question mark to the end of your statement. That's all the question tag you need.

Be', non dovrebbe essere difficile far entrare il carrello, no? -Io...

Well, it shouldn't be so hard to put the carriage back in, should it? -I...

Caption 9, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 23

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3) Can you say this in a more positive way?

 

È carino, no? Ti piace?

It's cute, isn't it? Do you like it?

Caption 19, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 15

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4) What if you put a question tag after ti piace (you like it)?

 

Using no as a question tag should come as a relief to Italian learners. You didn't know there was such an easy way to insert one, did you?

 

Another way to get the same result is to use the adjective vero (true) with a question mark. It's short for non è vero (isn't it true)? So I might say the same thing with the question tag, vero? 

Be', non dovrebbe essere difficile far entrare il carrello, vero? -Io...

 

5) In reference to the previous example with carino, what if you think something is nice but you don't think the other person likes something?

 

Answers to "extra credit"

 

1) Mi auguro di no! Spero di no! 

2) M'ha detto di sì. Mi ha detto di no.

3) Be', dovrebbe essere facile far entrare il carrello, no? -Io...​

4) È carino, no? Ti piace, no?

5) È carino, no?  Non ti piace, vero?

 

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There is more to say about saying no in Italian and using the word no... so stay tuned!

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Everyday Negatives

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Caption 24, Adriano - Pizzeria Pinocchio - Part 2

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

 

Nessun problema (no problem [at all]).

 

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

 

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

 

or even:

 

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

 

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


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


and a possible comment to that:

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

 

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Finché (as long as) and Finché non (until)

In a recent lesson we talked about the conjunction affinché (in order that) and how it prompts the subjunctive.

 

We also mentioned how it can easily be confused with finché (as long as) or finché non (until) because it sounds very similar. We looked briefly at these two conjunctions in a previous lesson. In Italian, they differ only in the addition of the negation non. This is a bit tricky since in English we use two different terms: “as long as” and “until.”

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Sometimes, even when Italians mean to say “until,” they will leave out the non after finché. This is partly because they don’t need to be any clearer than that in a given situation, or because it’s quicker and easier, and for Italians, in some situations, it just doesn’t matter. 

 

Let’s take the very recent video featuring Marika and Anna who are busy in the kitchen making panzerotti, a kind of deep fried dumpling, filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce.

 

It’s a casual situation, they’re very busy, and wouldn't you know it, they use finché without non even though they mean "until." However, what they mean to say is very clear, so they don’t pay much attention, and it's not even considered "wrong."

OK, quindi possiamo andare avanti ad oltranza, finché [sic: finché non] finisce il nostro impasto. -Sì.

OK, we'll go ahead until done, until we've finished up with the dough. -Yes.

Caption 34, L'Italia a tavola - Panzerotti Pugliesi - Part 2

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Sì, finché [sic: finché non] abbiamo, appunto, terminato l'impasto e [abbiamo] un certo numero di panzerotti da friggere.

Yes, up until the point, right, that we've finished the dough and we have a certain number of “panzerotti” to fry.

Captions 35-36, L'Italia a tavola - Panzerotti Pugliesi - Part 2

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The meaning is clear because they use finisce (is gone, is finished, is used up), so they understand each other: They’ll keep making panzerotti until all the dough has been used up.

 

Of course, there are plenty of instances where Anna and Marika do use finché with non, so it’s not a question of not knowing.

La cosa importante, con i bambini piccoli, è cambiare spesso posizione della schiena finché, naturalmente, non sono in grado di stare in piedi da soli.

The important thing with little children is to often change the position of their backs, until, naturally, they are able to stand up by themselves.

Captions 9-11, Anna presenta - Attrezzature per un neonato

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We could also say, to better follow the Italian:

The important thing with little babies is to often change the position of their backs, as long as they are unable to stand up by themselves.

 

We could think of it this way: Non is a negation, and in a way, so is “until,” when used as a conjunction. “Un” is also a prefix meaning “not.”

 

Here is another example, where we can take finché non apart, to better understand it.

E poi, finché... si lavorava finché il padrone non diceva "basta",

And then, until... we worked until the boss said, "that's enough,"

Caption 27, Gianni si racconta - Chi sono

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Another way to say this in English would be:

We kept working as long as the boss had not yet said, “that’s enough.”

 

It’s a bit awkward in English, which is why we use the word “until.”

 

Here is another very informal example:

Ti devo dire una cosa, non mi interrompere finché non ho finito.
I have to tell you something. Don’t interrupt me until I have finished.

 

It could also be:

Ti devo dire una cosa, non mi interrompere finché sto parlando.
I have to tel you something. Don’t interrupt me as long as I am still speaking.

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Further learning: 
Do a Yabla search of finché and look at all the examples. Some will be correct without non, to mean “as long as,” some will use non, to mean “until,” and some will be "wrong." Hint: Federico Fellini uses this conjunction the "wrong" way.

 

Can you understand the difference between finché and finché non? Feel free to let us know, or to make a comment in the comment section of the video in question.

 

We’ve mentioned that in different parts of Italy, or based on personal styles, the subjunctive gets skipped, the remote past is rarely used, and finché non might be abbreviated, too. But for those who are learning Italian, it’s good to be able to use finchéfinché non, and affinché correctly.

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