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).
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)?
Dare is an extremely common verb. It basically means "to give." But it also gets used as a sort of catch-all.
We've seen it many times in its informal, imperative form, all by itself:
Dai, dai, dai, dai che ti ho preparato una cosa buonissima che ti piace moltissimo.
Come on, come on, come on, come on, because I made you something very good, that you like a lot.
Caption 74, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 3 of 15
As we see, it doesn't mean "to give" in this case. It means something like "come on." As "come on," it has plenty of nuances.
Dai is often used as a filler, as part of an innocuous and fairly positive comment, and can mean something as generic as "OK." Let's keep in mind that va be' also means "OK!" Va be' is short for vabene (all right).
Mi dispiace, Massimo, ma dobbiamo rimandare il pranzo.
I'm sorry, Massimo, but we have to postpone our lunch.
Va be', dai, se devi andare... facciamo un'altra volta.
OK, then, if you have to go... we'll do it some other time.
Captions 65-66, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 2 of 14
Dai is also used to express surprise and/or skepticism. In this case, it is often preceded by ma (but). We see this in last week's segment of Commissario Manara, when Luca figures out that Marta might be the target of a shooting. She feigns skepticism.
E se per caso il bersaglio non fosse stata la Martini, ma fossi stata tu?
And if by chance the target hadn't been Martini, but had been you?
Yeah, right! / Oh, come on!
Captions 5-7, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro - Part 13 of 15
In English we use the verb "to have" when giving commands: "Have a seat," "Have a drink," "Have a look." In Italian, though, the verb avere (to have) is rarely used in these situations. And there isn't just one Italian verb that is used, so it may be practical to learn some of these expressions one by one.
We use the verb dare when asking someone to do something like check (dare una controllata), or have a look (dare un'occhiata).
Dai un'occhiata, dai un'occhiata...
Have a look around, have a look around...
Caption 43, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 1 of 18
Let's not forget the literal meaning of dare, which can easily end up in the informal imperative.
E che fai, non me lo dai un bacetto, Bubbù?
And what are you doing? Won't you give me a little kiss, Bubbù?
Caption 41, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1 of 12
And to echo last week's lesson, and give another example of a verbo pronominale (a phrasal verb using particelle or short pronoun-related particles) — this time with dare — we have darsela. We have the root verb dare (to give) plus se (to oneself, to themselves, to each other) and la (it). It's hard to come up with a generic translation, as it depends on the other words in the expression, but here are two different ones from Yabla videos. Maybe you can come up with other examples, and we will be glad to dare un'occhiata. The phrasal verb here is darsela a gambe (to beat it, or run away on one's legs).
È che è molto difficile trovare la donna giusta.
It's just that it's very difficult to find the right woman.
Secondo me, se la trovi, te la dai a gambe.
In my opinion, if you find her, you'll high-tail it out of there.
Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9 of 18
Here's an example from this week's episode of La Ladra:
Aldo Piacentini e la, la, la Barbara Ricci, insomma, i presunti amanti,
che se le davano di santa ragione.
Aldo Piacentini and, uh, uh, uh Barbara Ricci, anyway, the presumed lovers,
who were really beating the crap out of each other.
Captions 29-30, La Ladra: Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - finale
The meaning of se le davano isn't very obvious, so let's try taking it apart. Se is a reciprocal indirect pronoun, "to each other"; le is the plural generic direct object pronoun, "them"; and dare, in this case, can stand for "to deliver". In English it might not mean much, but for Italians the meaning is quite clear.
We could say they are giving each other black eyes, if we want to use the original meaning of dare.
Di santa ragione adds emphasis or strength, and might be translated as "the holy crap," "the hell," or "really."
In this week's episode of Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno, at the very end, there is an expression that's used just about every day, especially at the end of a conversation, email, a phone call, or text message, so let's have a look.
In this particular case, one person is talking to a few people, so he uses the imperative plural, which happens to be the same as the indicative in the second person plural.
Let me know.
Caption 62, Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8 of 26
Let's take the phrase apart. The verb fare (to make) has been combined with the object pronoun mi which stands for a me (to me). To that is added the verb sapere (to know), in the infinitive.
So, first of all, we might have been tempted to use the verb lasciare (to let, to leave). It would be a good guess, but instead, we use the ubiquitous verb fare: "to make me know." Sounds strange in English, right? But in Italian, it sounds just right. You'll get used to it the more you say and hear it.
Let's look at this expression in the singular, which is how you will use it most often.
The most generic version is this: fammi sapere (let me know).
Va be', quando scopri qualcosa fammi sapere.
OK, when you discover something, let me know.
Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 3 of 18
This use of "to make" plus a verb in the infinitive is also used a lot with verbs besides sapere (to know).
Do a Yabla search of fammi and you will see for yourself. There are lots of examples with all kinds of verbs.
Chi c'è alle mie spalle? Fammi vedere. -Francesca.
Who's behind me? Let me see. -Francesca.
Caption 13, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1 of 15
Sometimes we need to add a direct object to our sentence: "Let me see it."
In this case, all those little words get combined into one word. Fammelo vedere (literally "let me itsee" or Let me see it).
Using fare means we conjugate fare, but not the other verb, which can make life easier!
One of our readers has expressed interest in knowing more about a certain kind of verb: the kind that has a special idiomatic meaning when it has particelle (particles) attached to it. In Italian these are called verbi pronominali. See this lesson about verbi pronominali. The particular verb he mentioned is pensarci, so that's where we are going to start.
The root verb is pensare, so we assume it has to do with "thinking." The particle is ci. Ci is one of those particles that mean a lot of things, so check out these lessons about ci. In the following example, pensare is literal: "to think," and ci stands for "of it."
Ma certo! Come ho fatto a non pensarci prima?
But of course! Why didn't I think of it before!
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 10
Sometimes, when used as a kind of accusation, it's basically the same but it has a different feeling.
È un anno che organizziamo questo viaggio. -Potevi pensarci prima.
We've been organizing this trip for a year. -You could have thought of that before.
Caption 32, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 2
In the two previous examples, pensarci stays in the infinitive, because we have another helping or modal verb in the sentence. But we can conjugate it, too. In the following example, it is conjugated in the second person singular informal imperative.
Pensarci can mean "to think of it," but it can also mean "to think about it."
Noi non potremmo mai mandare avanti la fabbrica da soli, lo sai bene.
We could never run the factory on our own. You know that well.
Adriano, think about it.
Captions 37-38, Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8
But sometimes, pensare doesn't exactly mean to think. It means something more along the lines of "to take care," "to handle," and here, pensare is really tied to the little particle ci as far as meaning goes. Ci still means "of it" or "for it." But we're talking about responsibility. Ci pensi tu (will you take responsibility for getting this done)? For this meaning, it's important to repeat the pronoun, in this case, tu. It helps make the meaning crystal clear, and is part of the idiom. What a huge difference adding the pronoun makes!
Barbagallo, pensaci tu.
Barbagallo, you take care of it.
Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 16
Toscani, io c'ho un appuntamento, pensaci tu.
Toscani, I have an appointment, you take care of it.
Caption 57, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 7
Even though in meaning, ci is connected to pensare, we can still separate the two words.
Ci penso io!
I'll take care of it!
Ci pensa lei!
She'll take care of it.
Pensarci is a very widely used verb in all of its meanings. When you want someone else to do something, it's a very common way of asking. Here are some examples to think about.
Ci pensi tu a lavare i piatti (will you take care of washing the dishes)?
Ci pensi tu a mettere benzina (will you take care of getting gas)?
Ci pensi tu al bucato (will you take care of the laundry)?
Ci pensi tu a preparare la cena (will you take care of getting dinner ready)?
Ci pensate voi a mettere a posto dopo cena? Io vado a dormire (will you [plural] clean up after dinner? I'm going to bed)!
Vuoi veramente comprare una macchina nuova? Pensaci bene (do you really want to buy a new car? Think twice about it).
È il momento per andare in vacanza? Pensiamoci bene (is it the right time to go on vacation? Let's think about it a moment).
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the expression un po’, po’ is short for poco (small quantity). Poco is a very common word that can be an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun, and, depending on the context, can correspond to different degrees of quantity.
This week on Yabla, we take a first look at the city of Florence. Arianna has a map to help her figure out how to get around. As she thinks out loud, she uses a common phrase:
Vediamo un po' come possiamo raggiungere il centro della città.
Let's have a look at how we can reach the center of the city.
Caption 7, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze Part 1
Another way to translate vediamo un po’ is simply “let’s see.” It is extremely common for Italians to add un po’ to a verb, just to round off the expression:
Allora ci dice un po' quali sono frutta e verdura tipiche romane?
So could you tell us a moment, which fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Caption 37, Anna e Marika: Fruttivendolo
In the example above, the addition of un po’ doesn’t really add any meaning to the phrase, but it rounds it out. We might also translate it as:
So could you just tell us what fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Sometimes un po’ can mean “pretty much” or “just about.” It loses its actual diminutive significance.
Al nord abbiamo precipitazioni e burrasche, un po' dappertutto.
In the north we have rain and storms, just about everywhere.
Caption 59, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9 of 10
It can be used to give a vague kind of answer:
Sì. Un po' e un po'.
Yes, in a way, yes, in a way, no [a little bit and a little bit].
Caption 15, Amiche: Filosofie
Ironically, we can also use un po’ to mean a lot, when we insert the adjective bello (nice, beautiful): un bel po’ (a good amount, a good number, plenty).
Non deve essere troppo salata, non... insomma ci sono un bel po' di cose da sapere legate alla mozzarella.
It shouldn't be too salty, not... in other words, there are plenty of things to know in connection with mozzarella.
Captions 30-31, Anna e Marika: La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1 of 3
Un po’ has come to mean so many different amounts, and can also simply mean “some.”
Mi dai un po’ di pane?
Could you give me some bread?
So, if someone asks you if you speak Italian, you can answer un po’ but if you really want to say you don’t speak much at all, you might use the diminutive of an already “diminutive” word: un pochino. Or you might even diminish the amount further by saying pochissimo.
Practice - verbs in context:
Returning to this week’s video about Florence, here are the infinitive forms of the verbs Arianna uses in the first person plural (with noi/we). Can you recognize their conjugated forms in the video? Attenzione, some of them are used as auxiliaries/helping verbs attached to other verbs. You can use your ears to listen for the verbs while watching the video, or use your eyes with the transcript (you’ll find the pop-up link following the description of the video). Don’t forget, you can choose to see only Italian or Italian and English. A couple of these verbs are irregular, but super common. Why not take the opportunity to review the other conjugations of these verbs? Links are provided to a conjugation chart for each verb.
In this week's segment of La Ladra, Eva is pretty miffed at her son. He lied to her and probably did worse. So when he promises to do something right, she doesn't say thank you, because she expects nothing less. She uses an expression that is very handy and easy to use because it's always in the third person and can stand alone.
Ti prometto che vado a scuola in bici. OK?
I promise I'll go to school by bike. OK?
You had better.
Captions 54 - 55, La Ladra :Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 4 of 13
To use this expression, we use the future tense. As we have already discussed in a previous lesson, the future doesn't always actually mean the future. In this particular case, it may be hard to pin down the correct tense, but the tone is clear. You better get in line. If you don't do as you've promised, you're going to be in big trouble.
As a stand-alone expression, sarà meglio (one/you had better) works in many situations, especially if you raise your eyebrows. But it can also be part of a more complicated sentence including the subjunctive.
È da solo? -No, in compagnia del mio telefonino.
Are you alone? -No, in the company of my cell phone.
Allora sarà meglio che Le parli prima che squilli.
So I had better talk to you before it rings.
It would be better for me to talk to you before it rings.
Captions 42 - 44, La Ladra: Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 9 of 17
An even shorter expression uses the verb essere (to be) in the third person singular future on its own, to mean, "that might very well be." You don't have to be miffed to use this expression, but you're probably somewhat skeptical.
Hai visto che non è come sembra, ma molto meglio?
You see that he's not like he seems, but much better?
Sarà, ma quella bionda che abbracciava nella Spider non sembrava un fornitore di tartufi.
That might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
He might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
Captions 41 -43, La Ladra - Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 3 of 13
As you go about your day, try experimenting with sarà meglio (you are the boss and you're not taking any flak) and sarà (you're listening but you are skeptical).
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.
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.
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.
In a recent lesson, Daniela talks about using the noun il bisogno (the need) to express need.
Ho bisogno di fare ginnastica.
I need to do some gym (literally, “I have need of doing some gym”).
Caption 31, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Concetto di "bisogno" - Part 1 of 2
Per cominciare, abbiamo bisogno di due melanzane lunghe.
To start with, we need two long eggplants.
Caption 10, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1 of 2
Hai bisogno di qualcosa?
Do you need something?
Of course, bisogno looks like the first person singular of the verb bisognare, but it’s not. It’s a noun.
But, since we have already discussed bisogno in another online lesson, let's look at a different way to express need, this time with a verb.
We might agree that there’s sometimes a fine line between something that's necessary and something that is useful. Italian has an interesting verb that covers both bases much of the time. In Italian, we can express need with the verb servire (to serve). It’s used with an indirect object, as if it were “it serves to me.” Remember that ci in the following example means a noi (to us).
Allora, mamma, quali sono gli ingredienti che ci servono per preparare una granita al limone?
So, Mom, what are the ingredients we need to make the lemon ice?
Caption 13, Adriano: La granita al limone
The verb servire is conjugated according to what is needed, what is necessary, or what is useful. In the above example, the noun that determines the conjugation is ingredienti (ingredients) so we use the third person plural of servire: servono.
Servire works similarly to the verb piacere. Remember mi piace (I like it)? Here’s a lesson on it to refresh your memory.
If you are helping someone in the kitchen you might ask:
Cosa ti serve (what do you need/what is necessary for you)?
You could also ask, as Daniela explains in this week's lesson:
Di che cosa hai bisogno (what do you need/what do you have need of)?
However, when followed by the preposition a (to), servire can also mean “is used.”
C'è una corda che è almeno il doppio di questa qui, che serve a far muovere il cavallo prima di montarci sopra.
There's a rope that's at least twice as long as this one, that is used to warm up the horse before mounting him.
Captions 25-26, Francesca: Cavalli - Part 2
So a dialogue in the kitchen could go something like this:
Cosa ti serve (what do you need)?
Mi serve un mestolo (I need a ladle).
A che cosa serve un mestolo (what is a ladle used for)?
Serve a servire il brodo (it’s used to serve the soup).
And now you have seen that servire also means “to serve.” It’s a true cognate in this case.
There’s also a reflexive version of this verb, but we’ll talk about that in another lesson.
Conoscere il verbo servire serve (knowing the verb servire is useful)!
A recent segment about Italian Fascism and language focuses on dubbing.
What's doppiaggio (dubbing)? After receiving a translation of a script, an actor, in a special recording booth with a monitor, has to watch a movie, adapting what he or she reads to whatthe actor on the screen is saying. The meaning and intention have to be there, and at the same time, there must be the same number of syllables, more or less, so that it can look convincing. It’s a huge, creative, and painstaking job. Historically, Italians have been champions at this. Dubbing provides a way for people to enjoy foreign movies. When dubbing started out in Italy, lots of people all over the country had never learned to read. They were analfabeti (illiterate).
Nel millenovecentotrentatré viene inventato il doppiaggio, uno dei più complessi e magici trucchi cinematografici.
In nineteen thirty-three dubbing is invented, one of the most complex and magical tricks in cinema.
Captions 11 and 13, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 9
Even today, although many Italians read a lot, there are still those who aren't comfortable or just don’t enjoy reading. When given the choice of a dubbed movie or one with subtitles, dubbing wins most of the time. This is certainly a generalization, but the fact that you need to go to a special art movie theater to find a movie in its original language with subtitles bears witness to this.
There are arguments for both dubbing and using subtitles, each having vantaggi (advantages) and svantaggi (disadvantages). Luckily, in this digital age, you can often choose your language when watching at home on DVD, streaming, or even on commercial TV. It comes down to personal preference as well as familiarity with the original language of the movie. Culture, tradition, and economics determine what happens in the movie theater.
There was a time when it was popular to dub Italian films in post-production, rather than record the sound live. At the outset, it may have been for technical reasons, as recording live sound is complicated, but for some directors, like Fellini, it was part of their art. And ofcourse, in many filmmaking situations, there comes a time when dubbing is needed to fix mistakes made by actors or for technical reasons. So the dubbing booth is part of making movies.
Italians, having had a lot of practice over the years, happen to be extremely good at dubbing.
Here at Yabla, of course, we promote watching a video in the original language. It’s hard to learn a foreign language if you never hear it spoken. And being able to turn the subtitles on and off with a click is pretty handy.
Speaking of Yabla, two people on our talent force have worked in the field of dubbing.
Eh, all'inizio sì, lo facevo come [sic], doppiavo grandi artisti e attori.
Yeah, at the beginning, yes; I did that like I dubbed famous artists and actors.
Poi, eh, mi sono concentrata molto sui documentari.
Then, ah, I started concentrating a lot on documentaries.
Captions 14-15, Marika e Daniela: Intervista a Daniela Bruni
Inoltre, questo... in questo corso si impara a interpretare: interpretare un personaggio, interpretare un testo.
In addition, this... in this course one learns to act: to play a role, to interpret a script.
Questo è fondamentale quando ci si trova appunto nello studio di doppiaggio a dover affrontare un, un testo oppure un personaggio.
This is fundamental when you find yourself, in fact, in the dubbing studio and need to deal with a script or a character.
Captions 14-17, Arianna e Marika: Il lavoro di doppiatrice
The verb doppiare comes from the noun doppio. Its cognate is “double” in English. And sometimes it means just that, as in the following example, where it functions as an adjective. Note how the ending of the adjective changes according to the gender of the noun it modifies.
Ecco qua, doppia senape e doppio ketchup. -Bella schifezza.
Here you are, double mustard and double ketchup. -Nice bit of junk food.
Caption 7, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 12 of 12
But more often than not, it means “twice,” as in the following example.
E per metterci magari anche il doppio del tempo.
And maybe it takes even twice as much time.
Caption 7, Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2
Italians use sdoppiare to mean “to duplicate, to copy” when referring to CDs or cassettes. It is the negation of doppiare, and means “to split” but it also means “to make something into two.”
Mi potresti sdoppiare questo CD?
Could you copy this CD for me?
Interestingly enough, the verb “to dub” comes from “double” and came into use in the nineteen twenties. We use the verb “to dub” to refer to replacing speech in a movie, but also to copy from one tape to another (sdoppiare).
As Arianna tells us, you can go to school to get professional training in dubbing. Apart from dubbing actual movies, producers need dubbers for corporate videos, voice-overs for documentaries, and voices for cartoon characters. It’s a career choice that doesn’t immediately come to mind, but one that will never become obsolete.
See this fascinating article in English about the practice of dubbing in Italian cinema.
There’s an interesting word that is used a lot in the workplace, but not only. Originally, it’s a verb: impiegare (to use, to employ, to spend time), to invest.
But as often happens, the past participle of a verb becomes an adjective and/or noun, in this case: impiegato.
We might use the past participle when we refer to time or energy spent or used for something.
In the following example, Francesca has made a big snowball. Admittedly, it has nothing to do with the workplace, but it has to do with spending time doing something.
Ah, che fatica, amici! Ho veramente impiegato molto tempo e molta energia per creare questa enorme palla di neve, che somiglia quasi a una slavina.
Oh, what a job, friends! I truly spent a lot of time, and lots of energy creating this enormous snowball, which almost resembles an avalanche.
Captions 23 -24, Francesca: neve - Part 3 of 3
Just as we can use the verb “to employ” to mean “to use” or “to hire” in English, Italian uses impiegare in much the same way.
Ho impiegato questo coltello come cacciavite.
I employed this knife as a screwdriver.
When referring to an office situation, we often use impiegato (the past participle of the verb impiegare) as a noun. Un impiegato is an employee or clerk in some kind of office, whereas “employee” in English is a bit more general.
Susanna lavora come impiegata nell’azienda di suo padre.
Susanna works as a clerk/office worker in her father’s company.
Suo fratello invece è operaio.
Her brother is a worker, on the other hand.
The following example is from a Totò comedy film.
Ma un giorno mi farete vostra sposa?
But one day will you make me your bride?
Mia sposa? No, non posso. Come oso sposare voi, un umile impiegato morto di fame e sempre squattrinato.
My bride? No, I can't. How dare I marry you, [me] a humble, starving employee/office worker and always penniless.
Captions 19-21 Totò e Lia Zoppelli: Romeo e Giulietta
We can also use the noun un impiego (a job, a post, employment). Il Centro per l’impiego is a center for finding employment when you are unemployed. To collect unemployment, you have to go there to prove you are looking for a job.
When we use the term operaio, it usually implies manual labor, in a factory or on a site, but not in an office, not at a desk.
Questi pettini vengono utilizzati dagli operai per scuotere le foglie e le olive stesse.
These combs are used by workers to shake down the leaves and the olives themselves.
Captions 9-10, Olio Extra Vergine Pugliese: Come avviene la raccolta delle olive
Another word commonly used to mean “employee” is dipendente. It looks like “dependent,” and in fact, it implies that someone works for someone else and is dependent on them for his or her monthly or weekly paycheck. A business may have ten employees: dieci dipendenti. They may have different roles. Some may be operai, some may be impiegati, but they all work for il capo (the boss) and are called dipendenti.
Nel mese di dicembre, chi è lavoratore dipendente, riceve la cosiddetta tredicesima, quindi uno stipendio ulteriore a quegli [sic] presi precedentemente.
In the month of December, those that are hired employees, receive the so-called thirteenth, that is, a paycheck in addition to the one already received.
Captions 15-16, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 5 of 10
In the above example, dipendente is used as an adjective, but it is very often used as a noun: un dipendente, più dipendenti.
Some people have the security of a regular paycheck and a Christmas bonus: la tredicesima, an “extra, thirteenth” paycheck at Christmastime. They are lavoratori dipendenti ordipendenti. Others are lavoratori autonomi (self-employed workers). They have to drum up work, make out invoices, and get paid by their clients.
We’ll talk about the paycheck itself in a future lesson. There is more to a paycheck than just the money you take home.
A subscriber has asked a good question: why Adriano used stare instead of essere in caption 6 in Adriano: Adriano e Anita.
In fact, knowing when to use stare isn’t always easy because like essere, it mostly translates as “to be.” Sometimes the choice is clear cut, and other times it’s a matter of taste or regional usage.
Sicuramente vi starete chiedendo chi è questa bella ragazza che sta alla mia destra.
Surely you have been asking yourselves, “Who’s the pretty girl who is on my right?”
Caption 5-6, Adriano: Adriano e Anita
Perhaps the best answer, in this case, is that stare has more to do with a position in a place or situation than essere, which is generic “to be,” and so using stare is a bit more specific. Adriano is not going so far as to say she is sitting or standing on his right, but she is there, placed at his right, in a position, so stare works.
Adriano also happens to be from Sicily. In southern Italy, people use the verb stare to replaceessere in many cases.
There can be multiple reasons for using stare instead of essere, and they can be interchangeable in some cases, but there are some situations in which stare works and essere doesn’t.
Come stai (how are you)? We’re talking about a condition here.
"Come stai?" rispondo "sto bene!"
"How are you?" I answer, "I'm fine."
Caption 37, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Chiedere "Come va?"
On the other hand, in the (unlikely) case where I ask you come sei? (using essere), I am asking how tall, how fat or thin you are, or how good looking you are, but not how you are feeling, or how you are.
For more on stare, have a look at the WordReference entry for stare and see this Yabla lesson. In addition, it’s always handy to do a Yabla search of stare or its conjugations and look at the examples to get even more of a sense of when to use it.
It’s almost funny how many times the verb capire (to understand) was used in last week’s episode of Commissario Manara. It’s not really funny because it was about Iolanda Sorge’s tragic murder. But it’s an excellent example of how often capire is used in everyday speech. And since in casual conversation, this past participle can stand alone, it’s very handy and easy to use. It can fill up the time between one phrase and the next. It’s almost as common as “you know” in English.
As mentioned in previous lessons, capire is most often used in the past participle, capito, even when English would call for the present tense, as in the following example.
La gente si fida di me, capito?
People trust me, you understand?
Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 7
In the following example, the speaker is getting more specific (and angrier), and uses the verb with its subject and auxiliary verb.
Te [tu] mi usi per ricattarli, hai capito?
You're using me to blackmail them, do you understand?
Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 7
Later on in the episode, Manara is in a meeting with his chief. Here, they use the present indicative of capire. In this case, we’re talking about understanding something or someone on a deeper level. It’s used transitively, and means something like, “Do you understand where I’m coming from?” or “Do you understand what I’m really trying to tell you?”
Ci sono i segreti di mezzo paese in quelle registrazioni, mi capisce?
There are secrets from half the town in those recordings, do you understand me?
La capisco perfettamente.
I understand you perfectly.
Caption 44-45, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 7
When arguing with her husband, Iolanda could have used the second person indicative present tense capisci (do you understand), and it would have been correct and maybe equally as effective, but using the past participle of this verb is just how people usually talk.
In the following example, the speaker could have used va bene (all right) or even the loan word “OK” in place of capito.
Ma non ti devi preoccupare, capito?
But you're not to worry, understand?
Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara 1: Un delitto perfetto - Ep. 1 - Part 12 of 14
But capito is a great and user-friendly alternative.
When listening to someone tell you something, instead of just nodding your head and sayingsì sì (yes, yes), it’s very natural to say ho capito (literally, “I have understood/I understood,” or “I get it”). People will say it to you when you are speaking, even if they don’t quite get what you’re saying. It’s basically another way of saying “I’m listening.”
As you go through your day, try mentally using capire in its past participle to ask the question “do you get it?” (capito?) or to replace “you know?” (capito?), or to say, “I heard you, I’m listening” (ho capito).
Conjugated verbs have different endings depending on the type of verb, the tense, and the person carrying out the action. Daniela has given lessons on the different conjugations of Italian verbs. Un verbo all’infinito (a verb in the infinitive), on the other hand, is the basic verb, with nothing done to it. It always ends in “e.”
Conjugated verbs combine with verbs in the infinitive in different ways. Sometimes a preposition (to, at, of) is needed and sometimes not. In her last three segments, Daniela discusses those cases where no preposition is needed.
In some cases we have the formula:
conjugated verb + verb in the infinitive
In the following example the conjugated verb is the modal verb volere (to want). Let’s review what modal verbs are. They generally combine with verbs in the infinitive, and normally don’t stand alone. Another word for verbo modale is verbo servile (servant verb), because these verbs serve another verb. The modal verbs are potere (to be able to), volere (to want to), sapere (to know how to), and dovere (to have to). See this video lesson about modal verbs.
Voleva entrare dalla finestra all'alba.
He wanted to come through my window at sunup.
Caption 15, La Tempesta: film - Part 3 of 27
But here is a non-modal verb that works the same way. The verb lasciare (to leave, to let) is conjugated, and it's followed by a verb in the infinitive entrare (to enter), with no preposition between the two verbs.
Non ti lasciamo entrare in casa.
We won't let you come in the house.
Caption 4, Ti racconto una fiaba: I tre porcellini - Part 2 of 2
The second formula Daniela talks about is:
conjugated verb essere (to be) + adjective + verb in the infinitive
E per lei non è stato difficile conoscere tanti nuovi amici.
And it has not been hard for her to get to know a lot of new friends.
Caption 18, Adriano: la sua ragazza
The following are some examples of the two different formulas Daniela has explained. They don’t correspond in meaning exactly, but are close enough to give you a visual idea of how these two combinations of verbs work.
verbo essere + aggettivo + verbo all'infinito (verb “to be” + adjective + verb in the infinite)
verbo coniugato + verbo all’ infinito (conjugated verb + verb in the infinitive)
È bello parlare con te (it’s nice talking to you).
Mi piace parlare con te (I like talking with you).
È noioso fare i compiti a casa (it’s boring to do homework).
Non mi piace fare i compiti a casa (I don’t like doing homework).
Non è sano mangiare troppo (it is not healthy to eat too much).
Non si dovrebbe mangiare troppo (one shouldn’t eat too much).
Sarebbe preferibile prendere un'altra strada (it would be preferable to take another road).
Preferirei prendere un'altra strada (I would prefer to take another road).
Per me è stato molto faticoso camminare fin qua (it was very tiring for me to walk here).
Non ho potuto camminare fin qui senza stancarmi. (I couldn’t walk here without getting tired).
È brutto parlare male degli altri (it is bad to speak badly about other people).
Non dobbiamo parlare male degli altri (we shouldn’t speak badly about other people).
È facile parlare italiano (Italian is easy to speak).
So parlare italiano (I know how to speak Italian).
Sarà importante andare a letto presto stasera (it will be important to go to bed early tonight).
Devo andare a letto presto stasera (I must go to bed early this evening).