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Making do with accontentarsi

A single verb that expresses the idea of "making do" is accontentarsi (to be content with something/to make oneself be content). The adjective it stems from is contento (happy, content). The non-reflexive verb accontentare can be translated as "to satisfy." 

Me lo avete chiesto voi, eh, quindi io vi accontento.

You asked me for it, huh, so I will satisfy you.

Caption 6, Marika spiega I verbi cavare e togliere

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You are giving someone what they want. You are making them happy.

 

Making do

The reflexive verb accontentarsi implies that something may not be up to our highest expectations or greatest desires, but it will do, because we decide to accept it. We settle for it. 

 

Quando ho molto tempo, preferisco mangiare frutta, latte e cereali; quando ho poco tempo, mi accontento del classico caffè e del cornetto o brioche.

When I have lots of time, I prefer to eat fruit, milk and cereal; when I have little time, I make do with a classic espresso and croissant or brioche.

Captions 20-23, Adriano Giornata

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Adding some color

The verb accontentarsi has a lot of information in it, but Italians have an expression that enhances it even further. Italy, being a Roman Catholic country historically, is not lacking in monasteries and convents. While in English, "convent" tends to be understood as a convent of nuns, in Italian, un convento implies a religious community and may be either di suore (of nuns  = convent) or di frati (of monks = monastery). Many conventi around Italy offer hospitality to travelers, but the food that is served is the humble and simple fare the monks or nuns are served. And of course, they don't complain about it. 

 

So let's say someone asks you to stay for dinner on the spur of the moment and doesn't have anything special to offer. 

Se ti accontenti di quel che passa il convento, sei il benvenuto (if you make do with what the convent is serving [what we have on hand], you are welcome to stay for dinner).

 

But the expression is used outside of the realm of food, too. In this clip, we're talking about what kind of work one can get.

Guardi che Gigi c'ha pure due lauree. -E fa il deejay? -E questo passa il convento.

Look, Gigi even has two degrees. -And he is deejaying? -Well, that's what the convent offers [beggars can't be choosers].

Captions 13-15, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 7

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In an episode of Volare, the expression is used rather vulgarly, referring to a woman. But now, when you watch the video, you'll understand what's behind this expression.

Me so' [romanesco: mi sono] accontentato di quel che passava il convento.

I made do with what the convent was serving.

Caption 40, Volare - La grande storia di Domenico Modugno Ep. 1 - Part 13

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A couple of additional examples:

 

-I'm talking to my husband about lunch:

Vuoi anche un secondo o ti accontenti di un piatto di pasta e un'insalata? (do you want a second course or are you happy with pasta and salad)?

 

-My boss asks me:

Mi puoi fare una bozza per domani (can you give me a rough draft by tomorrow)?

I answer:

Non so se ce la faccio, ma farò del mio meglio per accontentarti (I don't know if I'll be able to, but I'll do my best to satisfy you).

Getting by with Cavarsela

You may know that we can ask someone how things are going with come va (how's it going)? It's the simplest and least personal way to ask that. More personal is come stai (how are you)?

 

"Ciao, come va?"

"Hi, how's it going?"

Si può anche dire "come stai?"

You can also say, "how are you?"

Come stai.

How are you?

Captions 5-7, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Chiedere "Come va?"

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Here's yet another way to talk about how things are going for someone. We use it in both questions and answers when the situation or outcome is uncertain, like, for example, the one we are experiencing at the moment all over the world. 

And the verb is.... cavarsela. It's a pronominal verb — a verb that has pronouns attached to it — so let's take it apart.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

The main verb inside this pronominal verb is cavare (to remove, to extract). If you think of a cavity, something has been removed to create it. 

 

As a matter of fact, Marika has done a video about 2 similar verbs: cavare and togliere, which can both mean to remove.

 

Cavare vuol dire estrarre,

"Cavare" means to extract,

tirare fuori qualcosa da qualche parte.

to pull something out from somewhere.

Captions 7-8, Marika spiega - I verbi cavare e togliere

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As with many pronominal verbs, cavare can also be reflexive, becoming cavarsi. There are two ways to look at this. One is as a typical reflexive verb like levarsi, togliersi, when talking about taking one's shoes off, for example. 

 

Mi tolgo le scarpe... indosso una vestaglia,

I take off my shoes... I put on a robe,

mi distendo sul divano,

I stretch out on the couch,

guardo un po' di televisione.

I watch a little TV.

Captions 40-42, Adriano - Giornata

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If you are familiar with the verbs togliere and levare, you don't need to remember cavarsi in this context, as it is not the most common word people use.

 

There is, however another context, where we commonly do use the reflexive cavarsi, when it means to get out of a dicey situation, but we add la which in this case means "it." "It" in turn, represents a situation, often a difficult one.

 

As we mentioned above, the pronominal verb is cavarsela:

cavare + si + la.

 

When putting the verb into its infinitive form, we remove the "e" ending of the original verb in its infinitive, so cavare becomes cavar. Then, since we are going to have a direct object pronoun in there, too, si (usually an indirect object pronoun meaning "to oneself") becomes se. And then we add, at the end, la, which is a direct object pronoun (meaning a generic "it") — cavarsela.

 

Cavarsela can mean "getting [oneself] out of a situation," like an exam you hadn't studied for, but you got through anyway.

Me la sono cavata, menomale (I got through it, thank goodness).

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

But it often means "managing," "getting by."

 

Insomma, neanche in sogno riesco a cavarmela da solo.

Anyway, not even in a dream can I get by on my own.

Caption 58, Psicovip - I Minivips - Ep 13

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Practically speaking

OK, but how do we use cavarsela when we're talking, and when we need to conjugate the verb rather than using it in the infinitive? Great question! Ottima domanda!

 

Questions

 

Let's start with how we use cavarsela in a question. A woman who has horses is thinking of hiring some help. She asks:

 

Come te la cavi con i cavalli?

How do you manage with horses?

How good are you with horses?

Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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An answer to this question might be:

Me la cavo (I do all right).

 

In a different context, you might ask someone how they are getting on in a certain situation, say, during lockdown.

 

The present tense can work:

Come te la cavi (how are you getting on)?

 

or you can use the present continuous:

Come te la stai cavando (how are you getting on, how are you managing)?

 

When lockdown is over, you might ask:

Come te la sei cavato/a (how did you do, how did you manage, how did you hold up)?

 

If you are talking to two or more people:

Come ve la siete cavati(how did you do, how did you manage, how did you hold up)?

 

Answering the question

Ce la caviamo bene (we'll manage), we're managing).

Ce la stiamo cavando (we're managing).

Me la sono cavata/o bene (I did fine).

 

and in the plural:

Ce la siamo cavati così così (We did just OK).

 

E tu? Come te la stai cavando con l'italiano?

 

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