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Lessons for topic Reflexive Verbs

Working Things Out with Sistemare

 

In this week’s segment of Meraviglie, Alberto Angela uses a verb that looks familiar: sistemare. It must have something to do with "system," right?

The noun il sistema certainly exists, and is a true cognate of "the system" in English.

E allora con un ingegnoso sistema di raccolta delle acque, riuscì a riempire ben sette cisterne che sono sparsi [sparse] per tutto il territorio.
And so with an ingenious system for collecting water, he managed to fill a good seven cisterns that are scattered around the whole area.
Caption 36-37, In giro per l'Italia: Asciano - S. Giuliano Terme: Villa Bosniascki - Part 1 

 

A detail to remember is that although it has a typically feminine ending, sistema is a masculine noun. In English, too, “system” has any number of connotations.

 

So the noun sistema is fairly straightforward, but English doesn't really have a corresponding verb to go with sistemare. Sistemare might even fall into the category of untranslatable Italian verbs, although it's an easy-to-figure-out untranslatable verb. Sistemare is a general, catch-all type of verb that can mean any number of things, depending on the context. 

 

When Alberto Angela tells us the fascinating story of a huge underground cistern in the city of Matera, what does he mean by sistemare? Good question.

Quando si è sistemata la piazza nel millenovecentonovantuno…
When the piazza was renovated in nineteen twenty-one…
Caption 12, Alberto Angela: Meraviglie - Ep. 1 - Part 15

 

We see from the translation that the piazza was renovated, and we get this from the context of the documentary itself. But sistemare could also have referred to it being  "neatened up," "cleaned up," "put in order," "put to rights."

 

When you want to fix something up, make improvements, put things right, make minor repairs, put things in a certain place, make preparations, or even get your pet ready for the night, sistemare is a good verb.

 

In the following examples from Yabla videos, sistemare is used to mean "to work out," "to set up," and "to fix up."

 

Note that in the first example, the reflexive form sistemarsi is used. 


Mi dispiace molto, Marika, e spero che tutto si sistemerà al più presto.
I'm really sorry, Marika. And I hope everything will work out as soon as possible.
Caption 41, Italiano commerciale: Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 1 


Valter arrivava sempre prima per sistemare l'attrezzatura per gli allievi.
Valter always came early to set up the equipment for the students.
Caption 52, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso - Part 1 

 

Adesso hai quest'impressione perché lo vedi così tutto in disordine.
Now you have that impression because you're seeing it all in a mess.
Quando sarà sistemato vedrai...
When it's fixed up, you'll see...
Caption 35 - 36, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1: Casa nuova - Part 3 

 

One general way of thinking about the verb sistemare is with "to take care of". 

You took care of an unpaid bill? L'hai sistemato. You took care of it.
Your plumber fixed that leaky faucet? L'ha sistemato. He took care of it. He fixed it.
You wrote a draft of an article? Lo devi ancora sistemare. You still have to fine-tune it.

We can also turn sistemare into a noun: una sistemata. In English, we might use a gerund for this, as in the first example below. 
 

You don't really want to give your kitchen a thorough cleaning at the moment, but you want it to look nice. Ci dai una sistemata (you give it a neatening up).
You ask your hairdresser, Mi dai una sistemata ai capelli (Will you give me a little trim)?

 

With the noun sistemata, we often use the verb dare (to give), which can also be used reflexively.

Dopo il viaggio, mi sono data una sistemata prima di presentarmi agli suoceri (after the trip I freshened up before meeting my inlaws/I gave myself a freshening up).

 

Practice:

As you go through your day, as you take care of one problem after another, try using sistemare when you have succeeded, or when you haven't yet. Maybe you will even have fun taking care of these problems!

L'ho sistemato! Menomale. (I took care of that. Whew!)

Questo lo devo sistemare (I have to take care of this).

 

Ask someone else to help you take care of something — something that needs fixing, or a situation that needs resolving.

Me lo puoi sistemare (can you take care of this for me)?

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Roll up your Sleeves with Rimboccarsi le Maniche

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work learning a new expression.

 

In a recent video, Marika and Anna show us how to make fricos, a local dish from northern Italy. They are made with humble ingredients, but take a bit of slicing and dicing. So Marika rolls up her sleeves. Italians use this expression both literally and figuratively, as we do in English.

 

In this first example, Marika is speaking literally, and uses the verb tirare (to pull). That's one way to describe the action of rolling up one's sleeves, and perhaps the easiest to pronounce.

Mi sono già tirata su le maniche, come vedi.
I've already rolled up my sleeves, as you can see.
Caption 4, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 2 of 2

 

In the next example, however, the rolling up of the sleeves is figurative, and the classic expression is used:

Be', Claudio è un bravissimo ragazzo, prima di tutto, un vero amico e uno che sa rimboccarsi sempre le maniche.
Well, Claudio's a great guy, first of all, a true friend, and one who always knows how to roll up his sleeves [to pitch in and work hard].
Captions 14-15, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 5 of 14 

 

Rimboccare (to tuck in, to turn) refers to the edge of something, like a sleeve, a hem, or a sheet, but it's very commonly used in the above-mentioned expression, especially when acknowledging a long job ahead.

 

Rimbocchiamoci le maniche e cominciamo a studiare (let's roll up our sleeves and start studying)!

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Finding Yourself with Trovarsi

When we look at a video about a place, the speaker often uses the verb trovare in its reflexive form trovarsi. Using trovarsi in this fashion might be hard to wrap our minds around, so let’s back up to the normal verb for a moment. Trovare means “to find” and is transitive, meaning it can take a direct object.

Per suo marito ha trovato una cintura marrone.
For her husband, she found a brown belt.
Caption 39, Corso di italiano con Daniela - I colori - Part 3 of 3  

 

We can use the verb with ourself as an object much as we do in English:

Io non sono affatto sicuro di me, e non mi sono mai trovato in una situazione come questa, va bene?
I'm not sure of myself at all, and I've never found myself in a situation like this, all right?
Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 4 of 12 

 

If Luca Manara spoke English, he’d probably say “I’ve never been in a situation like this before, OK?” He would have simply used the verb “to be.” But Italians often use trovarsi, so it’s a good verb to understand. Of course, if you do use the verb essere, people will understand you anyway menomale (luckily)!

 

But then it gets a bit more peculiar. Here is Arianna telling us where she is: where she finds herself. She wasn’t lost; she’s just giving us her location.

Eccomi. Qui mi trovo vicino alla stazione Santa Maria Novella, in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Here I am. Here I am near the Santa Maria Novella Train Station in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Captions 25-26, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze - Part 3 of 3 

 

 

Instead of just saying: sono vicino alla stazione (I am near the station), she is referring to her geographical or physical position in that moment with trovarsi. It’s a little more specific than simply using the verb essere (to be).

 

In the previous example, trovarsi refers to a person, but trovarsi can also refer to an object, a place. English gets specific in a similar way by using “to be located,” “to be situated.”

 

When Marika plays the professoressa (teacher), she uses trovarsi to interrogate poor Anna. She just wants to know where Sardinia is.

Dove si trova questa regione?
Where is this region located?
Caption 21, Anna e Marika: L’Italiana a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna 

 

Il porto di Maratea è un porto turistico. Si trova vicino alle isole Eolie, alla Sicilia, a Capri, all'i... a Sorrento.
The port of Maratea is a tourist seaport. It's situated near the Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Capri, the... Sorrento,
Captions 23-24, Antonio: Maratea, il porto 

 

It’s also very common to use trovarsi to describe feelings or conditions. This is a bit tricky.

Abito in campagna, e senza macchina, mi trovo in difficoltà.
I live in the country, and without a car, it's hard. I have trouble. 

 

Non mi trovo bene con questo telefonino.
I don’t like this phone. I don’t feel comfortable with this phone.

 

Ma per ora mi trovo bene qua, vediamo.
Well, for now, I'm happy here, we'll see.
Caption 97, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 2 of 12 

 

Ah, a proposito, come ti trovi da Ada?
Ah, by the way, how do you like it over at Ada's?
Caption 90, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Ep. 10 -Un morto di troppo - Part 4 of 12 

 

Trovarsi can also be used reciprocally.

Ci troviamo da Letizia alle otto.
Let’s meet up [with each other] at Letizia’s place at eight.

 

For more on reflexive and reciprocal verbs, see Marika's lesson about reflexive and reciprocal verbs, and the written lesson Understanding the Reciprocal Reflexive Form.

 

The more you watch and listen to Italian, either on Yabla or in real life, the more you will notice trovarsi in all of its shadings. It’s a very popular verb!

 

Come ti trovi con Yabla (how are you managing with Yabla)? Facelo sapere (let us know) at newsletter@yabla.com.

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