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When the noun pezzo (piece) is used to mean "time"

In one of Yabla's offerings this week, there is a curious little modo di dire we'd like to take a look at here. The expression da un pezzo involves the noun pezzo (piece), a word we don't necessarily think of when thinking of time.  So it's worth having a closer look.

 

Un pezzo has a cognate in "a piece," and in many contexts, that's the translation. But if you look in a dictionary, we find that pezzo also means "a while," "a long time." Who knew?

Io voglio un figlio mio, Orazio. Semmai nostro. -È ovvio. Altrimenti sarei già mamma da un pezzo.

I want my own child, Orazio. If anything, ours. -It's obvious. Otherwise I'd already have been a mom for a while.

Captions 28-30, Un Figlio a tutti i costi film - Part 2

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So when someone asks you,

Da quanto tempo vivi in Italia? (How long have you been living in Italy?)

 

You can reply using a period of time:

Vivo in Italia da dieci anni (I've lived here for ten years).

 

Or you can just be vague:

da molto tempo (for a long time).

 

But you can also say,

da un pezzo (for a long time, for a good while).

 

And another way we can translate this into English is with "for some time."

 

È per i piccoli spostamenti nella tenuta, però è ferma da un pezzo.

It's for small trips on the property. But it's been idle for some time.

Captions 6-7, Il Commissario Manara S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 7

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We don't necessarily need to use da (from, since).  We can use the verb essere in the present tense (third person singular), which in this case corresponds to the past continuous in English.

Sì. Ho pagato la protezione. È un pezzo che la pago.

Yes. I paid for protection. I've been paying for a while now.

Captions 21-22, L'oro di Scampia film - Part 16

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So let's say two friends get together after a long time. There are various ways we can comment. Note that we use the present tense in Italian, but we use the present perfect in English.

Non ci vediamo da un pezzo (we haven't seen each other in a while/in a long time).

È un pezzo che non ci vediamo (It's been a while/ a long time since we last saw each other).

Non ci vediamo da un sacco di tempo (we haven't seen each other in a really long time).

È un sacco di tempo che non ci vediamo (we haven't seen each other in a really long time).

Non ci vediamo da una vita (we haven't seen each other in ages [in a lifetime]).

È una vita che non ci vediamo (it's been ages [a lifetime] since we last saw each other).

 

We hope you can add this to your Italian conversational toolbox. It might save you trying to figure out how to say a year, or use some other complicated construction. Need more info? Write to us at newsletter@yabla.com

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Unico: What Does It Really Mean?

Now that we have talked about uno, here's another related word that's handy to know. It's a word you can guess one meaning of because it looks similar to an English word you know.

 

Oggi Matera è un sito unico al mondo...

Today, Matera is a site that's unique in the world...

Caption 46, Meraviglie - EP. 1 - Part 11

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UNIQUE

So when you want to say something is unique, now you know how. Don't forget that the adjective unico has to agree with its noun. You have four possible endings to choose from: unico, unica, unici, uniche.

 

One way Italians like to use unico is to give someone a certain kind of compliment (which can be ironic, too). 

 

Augusto, sei unico.

Augusto, you're one of a kind.

Caption 34, La Ladra - Ep. 6 - Nero di rabbia

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Again, if you are saying this to a girl or woman, you will want to use unica

Maria, sei unica!

Maria, you're special!

 

MOST COMMON

But the main way Italians use the word unico is to mean "only."

 

È l'unico modo che ho per sdebitarmi.

It's the only way I have to settle my debt.

Caption 25, La Ladra - EP. 8 - Il momento giusto

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Questa scuola è l'unica cosa che ho.

This school is the only thing I have.

Caption 5, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso

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E saremo gli unici al mondo ad avere qualcosa di simile.

And we'll be the only ones in the world to have something like this.

Caption 18, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2

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Tutte le volte che veniva a pregare per le uniche persone che amava.

Every time she came to pray for the only people she loved.

Caption 17, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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SPECIAL MEANINGS

If you travel to Italy and go clothes shopping, here's something you will definitely see on the racks or on a label.

taglia unica (one size fits all).

The noun La taglia comes from the verb tagliare (to cut).  

 

The other very important expression with unico is what you might see while driving your macchina a noleggio (rental car).

una strada a senso unico (a one way street)

 

People also just call a one way street: 

un senso unico (a one way street)

 

In these last two examples, we could say that unico stands for "one." The important thing is to understand what it means in the situation. You don't want to drive the wrong way down a road!

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Getting someone’s attention in Italian: ascoltare and sentire

One way to get someone’s attention is to use the imperative command form of a verb. Two useful verbs for this purpose are ascoltare (to listen) and sentire (to hear). In Italian it’s important to know to whom you are giving the command; this will determine both the word choice and its conjugation.

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Commissioner Manara has a familiar relationship with Lara and uses the informal form of address: He’s getting her attention by saying ascolta (listen). There’s a slight urgency with ascolta.

 

Ascolta Lara, a volte bisogna prendere delle scorciatoie, no?

Listen Lara, sometimes you have to take shortcuts, right?

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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In the next example, there’s a bit of urgency, but this is Manara’s boss talking to him. They use the polite or formal form of address:

 

Manara, mi ascolti bene.

Manara, listen to me carefully.

Caption 23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Note that the imperative verb can stand alone, or be paired with an object personal pronoun as in the above example. It adds to the urgency, and makes it more personal. Manara’s boss could have added mi raccomando (make sure) for extra urgency:

Manara, mi ascolti bene, mi raccomando!

 

This next example is between two people who really don’t know each other at all. It’s a formal situation, so the Lei form of “you” is used. Senta is more passive and less intrusive than ascolti. In fact, it means “hear” or “listen,” but is actually a way of saying “excuse me.”

 

Senta Signora, oltre a Lei, chi lo sapeva di queste lettere?

Excuse me ma'am, other than you, who knew about these letters?

Caption 64, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi

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Senta (listen, excuse me, or hear me) is a command you’ll use in a restaurant when wishing to get the attention of the cameriere (waiter).

Senta, possiamo ordinare?
Excuse me, may we order?

 

Often, senta (listen) goes hand in hand with scusi (excuse me), to be extra polite.

 

Buonasera. Senta scusi, Lei conosceva il dottor Lenni, giusto?

Good evening. Listen, excuse me.  You knew Doctor Lenni, right?

Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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And in a familiar situation, such as between Marika and the mozzarella vendor in Rome, there’s no urgency but Marika wants to get the vendor’s attention before asking her a question.

 

Senti, ma quante mozzarelle dobbiamo comprare per la nostra cena?

Listen, but how many mozzarellas should we buy for our dinner?

Caption 50, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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Without necessarily studying all the conjugations of sentire and scusare, it’s a good idea to just remember that in polite speech, the imperative has an “a” at the end of senta, but an “i” at the end of scusi. The familiar command form would be senti, scusa. These endings can be tricky for beginners because they seem wrong, being the opposite of the indicative endings. It’s quite easy to get mixed up. The command form originally comes from the subjunctive, which is why it has a different, special conjugation.

 

Learning suggestion:

Getting someone’s attention is part of the basic toolkit you need to communicate in Italian, so why not practice a bit, in your mind? Look at someone and get their attention using the correct verb and correct form.

If you don’t know the person, or you address them formally for some other reason, you use:

Senta! Senta, scusi.
Senta, mi scusi.
[Mi] ascolti. (Not so common, and a bit aggressive, useful if you’re a boss.)

 

If you’re trying to get the attention of a friend, you’ll use:

Senti... (It’s almost like saying, “Hey...”)
Ascolta...

Ascoltami... (This can be aggressive or intimate depending on the tone and the context.)

 

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Learn more about the imperative in Italian here.

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