Italian Lessons

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Uno: a Number, an Article, and More

In English, we have the pronoun "one" and the number "one." They both refer to something single but do not mean exactly the same thing. We have a similar phenomenon in Italian, but it goes a step further. This lesson will explore the word uno in various contexts, and since this will take us to the subject of "indefinite articles," we'll take the opportunity to look at those, too!

Number

Uno (one) can be the number "one":

 

Adesso proveremo noi insieme un passo base di Tango.

Now, together, we'll try out the basic steps of the Tango.

Uno, due, tre.

One, two, three.

Captions 38-39, Adriano - balla il Tango Argentino

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We can use uno as an adjective when we are talking about "how many?" One. 

Ho trovato solo uno stivale. L'altro l'ho perso (I found only one boot. I lost the other one).

 

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Indefinite article

Uno is an indefinite article, "a", used only when followed by a Z or by an S + a consonant:*

 

Uno scontrino, perché?

"Uno scontrino." Why?

Perché la parola inizia per s più consonante.

Because the word starts with "s" plus a consonant.

Captions 55-56, Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo

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Uno scolapasta.

A colander.

Caption 27, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara

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Other forms of the indefinite article

When the masculine word following the article begins with a vowel or single consonant (excluding Z) it's un.

 

Quello che è successo è un segnale.

What happened is a sign.

Caption 9, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 21

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This is the most common masculine indefinite article and as we mentioned above, it remains the same even when it comes before a vowel (no apostrophe).

 

Stiamo cercando un aviatore americano.

We're looking for an American pilot.

Caption 6, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 5

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When this article comes before a feminine noun (or the adjective that describes it), it's una.

 

Hai una bellissima voce.

You have a very beautiful voice.

Caption 9, Adriano - Fiaba

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If the feminine indefinite article una comes before a word that starts with a vowel, it becomes un'  so as not to break the flow.

 

Magari sarà per un'altra volta.

Perhaps, another time.

Caption 7, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 12

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A Pronoun 

Here, instead of saying give me una borsa (a bag), Eva just says give me one of them.

 

Dai, dammene una. -No, no, so' [romanesco: sono] abituata.

Come on, give me one of them. -No, no, I'm used to it.

Caption 6, La Ladra Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 5

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Attenzione! In order to speak correctly, you have to know the gender of the noun you are replacing!

 

But uno can also mean the pronoun "someone."

 

Allora, innanzitutto, quando uno studia a uni'... a una università,

So, first of all, when someone studies at a uni... at a university,

eh, per esempio in Italia, eh, a Firenze...

uh, for example, in Italy, uh, in Florence...

Captions 17-18, Arianna e Marika - Il Progetto Erasmus

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Uno quando ha un talento, lo deve coltivare.

When someone has talent, he has to cultivate it.

Caption 73, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 12

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Generally speaking, the masculine form is used to mean "someone," however, if you want to specify that that someone is a female, then una can serve the same purpose.

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For English speakers, getting the article right in Italian can be confusing, especially since in many cases, you have to know the gender of the noun you are using the article with and that can be daunting, too!

 

Translator's pitfall:

When translating, we often have to think twice. Does uno/un/una mean "one" or "a"? Since it's the same word in Italian, it's not always clear!

Tip

Doing the Scribe exercises at the end of the videos you watch can be a great way to learn how to use the articles — You ask yourself, "When do I use the apostrophe? And when not?" You'll make plenty of mistakes, but little by little it will sink in. 

 

If you want more lessons about using articles, let us know at newsletter@yabla.com.

 

*Here are some of the video lessons that might be helpful for learning about using indefinite articles (called articoli indeterminativi).

 

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 1

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 2

Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 3

Torto o Ragione (Wrong or Right)

We looked at the noun torto in a previous lesson. We can say hai torto (you're wrong). But what about when you're right? Being right uses the noun ragione, but let's first take a closer look at this versatile noun and related forms.

 

The reason, the motive

In Italian, la ragione is a partial true cognate. When used to mean "the reason," it makes sense to us because it's a true cognate:

 

E c'è una ragione molto precisa.

And there is a very precise reason.

Caption 21, Meraviglie - EP. 2 - Part 2

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The verb form:

We also have a verb form: ragionare (to reason, to think, to reflect):

 

Cerchiamo di ragionare con calma.

Let's try to think about this calmly.

Caption 28, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 - EP1 - Casa nuova

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The adjective form:

We have an adjective, too: ragionevole (reasonable):

 

Siccome mi sembra anche una persona piuttosto ragionevole,

Since you also seem like a rather reasonable person,

io spero non ci saranno problemi, ecco.

I hope there won't be any problems, that's it.

Captions 55-56, Sei mai stata sulla luna? - film

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Being right:

But we also use the noun ragione (without the article) together with the verb avere (to have) to mean "to be right."

avere ragione (to be right) -- literally, it would be "to have right."

 

In Italian, aver ragione has come to mean "to be right." And people use this expression countless times every day, so it's great to have it in your toolbox. The verb you need to conjugate is avere (to have), which is probably one of the first verbs to learn in Italian. Here's the conjugation chart for avere. But you don't need an article for ragione in this case, so it couldn't get much easier than that. Abbiamo ragione (are we right)?

 

Avevi ragione tu. Gabriele s'era messo nei guai.

You were right. Gabriele got into trouble.

Gare di cross illegali.

Illegal dirt bike racing.

Captions 18-19, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 8

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Il cliente ha sempre ragione?

The customer is always right?

Caption 70, La Ladra - Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 2

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Sono stufa delle tue promesse.

I'm sick of your promises.

Sono anni che aspetto che lasci tua moglie...

I've been waiting for you to leave your wife for years...

-Hai ragione. -e io non...

-You're right. -and I won't...

Hai ragione, hai ragione. Va bene.

You're right, you're right. All right.

Captions 68-71, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata - Part 5

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"To prove someone right" can be dare ragione

 

Non ti interessa il parere di nessuno.

You're not interested in anyone's opinion.

-Ma poi i risultati mi danno ragione.

-But afterwards, the results prove me right.

Captions 21-22, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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But we can also use dare ragione when we admit or agree that someone else is right. It's just an additional nuance to saying "you're right."

Su questo, ti dò ragione.

About that, I agree you're right

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Tip:

Do a search of ragione on the videos page and you will get plenty of examples in various conjugations and contexts, where ragione might mean "right" and where it might mean "reason." It's a great way to get lots of different examples all at once. Try repeating some of them out loud.

And remember: The trickiest thing to remember is that the verb to use is avere (to have), not essere (to be).

 

We will close with a little expression that's also the title of this lesson:

a torto o a ragione (wrong or right), rimango della mia idea (I'm not changing my mind). 

 

In English, we would start with "right," but you get the idea! 

 

That's it for this lesson, and we hope that when someone else is right, you will be able to tell them so in Italian! If you have questions about this, just write to us at newsletter@yabla.com.

How to Address Your Teacher in Italian

In a foreign country, knowing how to address people can be a challenge. In English, we have to know whether to be on a first name basis or not, but Italians works a bit differently.

 

Formal or Informal?

First of all, you need to know whether to be formal or informal. Italians may refer to this as dare del lei (to give the formal "you") or dare del tu (to give the informal "you"). Check out this lesson about the ins and outs of this. 

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Some History: Fascism and Italian language

During the period of Italian Fascism, there were strict rules about how to address other people. It's a fascinating story and Yabla has featured a documentary about Fascism and Italian language. Check out the relative lesson: What's the Story on Voi in the Singular?

 

Signora and Signore

It's interesting that Italians very often use the equivalent of "ma'am" and "sir" instead of using someone's name: signora and signore.

 

Sì, signora, dica.

Yes, ma'am, what is it?

E mio marito non è rientrato stanotte e non ha nemmeno avvertito...

My husband didn't come home last night and he didn't even let me know...

e... non è mai successo.

and... it's never happened before.

Sono molto preoccupata.

I'm very worried.

Venga nel mio ufficio, signora.

Come into my office, ma'am.

Captions 15-19, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Keep in mind that often, signora and signor are commonly used before a first name. It's midway between formal and informal.

 

Signora Caterina, non si preoccupi per Brigadiere,

Miss Caterina, don't worry about Brigadiere,

perché l'ho portato alla pensione Abbaio Giocoso e starà benissimo.

because I took him to the kennel "Playful Barking" and he'll be just fine.

Captions 39-40, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro

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He's no doctor!

We've also talked about the fact that Italians use the term dottore (doctor) when wishing to treat someone with respect, regardless of whether the person is an actual doctor, or whether he has a PhD. The Dottore is In.

 

And, like dottore, they will use a title without the name of the person. For instance, in the story of Adriano Olivetti, he was an engineer, so people — especially people who worked with him — would just call him Ingegnere (engineer), without his name.

 

Ingegnere, Lei mi sta facendo una proposta incredibile.

Sir, you are making me an incredible offer.

Caption 46, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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At school

Lastly, at school, the actual name of the teacher seems to be of relatively minor importance when addressing him or her directly. You simply call your teacher Prof, short for professore (professor, teacher) if you are allowed to by the teacher. When speaking more formally, students will use professore or professoressa, once they leave primary school. If they are still in primary or elementary school, they will use maestra (schoolmistress) to refer to a female teacher. On the subject of the schoolroom, Yabla offers an original content series about the regions of Italy. It's set in a classroom with Anna as the student and Marika playing the (often mean) teacher. How does Anna handle this? It might depend on the mood of the professoressa.  Check out the videos here.

 

Guardi, Lei ha studiato, perché Lei ha studiato,

Look, you've studied, because [and I see] you've studied,

ma mi sta antipatica oggi e quindi Le metto sette.

but I find you disagreeable today and so I'll put down a seven.

Ma prof, ma sono venuta volontaria. -E ho capito,

But teacher, I volunteered. -Uh, I get it,

però mi gira così.

but that's how it's hitting me today.

Captions 88-91, L'Italia a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Liguria

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Yabla offers the TV series, Provaci ancora Prof as part of its growing library. The title is a takeoff on Woody Allen's Play it Again, Sam.

 

A student is speaking to his teacher:

 

Prof, si unisca a noi.

Teach, join us.

Caption 57, Provaci Ancora Prof! - S1E2 - Un amore pericoloso

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Of course in American English, we would use Mr., Mrs., Ms, or Miss and the last name of the teacher. The translation we have given is very informal, and calling a teacher "teach" would likely be frowned upon in most schools. But in Italy, it's the norm in many school situations. Good to know!

 

More about meeting and greeting formally and informally here: I say hello; you say goodbye

 

How Adjectives Work in Italian Part 2

 
As we mentioned in part one, the first thing we need to consider about adjectives is: Which type of adjective is it? Positive or neutral?

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We said that there are two basic types: aggettivi positivi (positive adjectives) that end in o in their masculine singular form, and aggettivi neutri (neutral adjectives) that end in in their masculine (and feminine) singular form. When you look up an adjective in the dictionary you will see the singular, masculine form of the adjective.
 
This lesson will discuss the second type of adjective: the aggettivo neutro (neutral adjective). Neutral adjectives only change according to number (singular or plural). They do not change according to gender. To refresh your memory about positive adjectives, those ending in "o," see the first part of this lesson
 
Adjectives that end in "e" are trickier in one sense, but easier in another. Indeed, with adjectives that end in "e" we don't have to concern ourselves with gender, just number. We have only two types of endings: one for the singular (e), and one for the plural (i).
 
Masculine/feminine + singular = e.
 
Il mare è grande (the sea is big).
La casa è grande (the house is big).

 

Il talento è un dono enorme. Il talento è... è un dovere morale coltivarlo.

Talent is an enormous gift. Talent is... it's a moral duty to cultivate it.

Captions 75-76, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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Piazza del Popolo è una piazza molto importante di Roma.

Piazza del Popolo is a very important square of Rome.

Caption 1, Anna presenta - Piazza del Popolo

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Masculine/feminine + plural = i.
 
I ragazzi sono tristi. (the boys are sad).
Le ragazze sono tristi. (the girls are sad).
 

...e che invece adesso è una delle parti più eleganti,

...and which now though, is one of the most elegant,

più signorili della capitale, dove ci sono le case più belle.

most exclusive parts of the capital, where there are the most beautiful houses.

Captions 4-5, Anna presenta - il ghetto ebraico e piazza mattei

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What are some other common Italian adjectives ending in "e?"
 
forte (strong, loud)
verde (green)
giovane (young)
triste (sad)
intelligente (intelligent)
gentile (nice)
semplice (easy, simple)
facile (easy)
felice (happy)
importante (important)
interessante (interesting)
dolce (sweet)
normale (normal)
pesante (heavy)
naturale (natural)
elegante (elegant)
 
Some learners and non-native speakers have trouble using the common Italian adjectives in this second group, especially when using the plural. These need a bit more practice and consideration. The good news is that some of these common adjectives are similar to their English counterparts and therefore easy to guess the meaning of, for instance, interessanteelegante, normale, and intelligente.
 
Practically speaking:
 
You can now take the common adjectives in the list and apply them to any nouns you can think of. The following examples will get you started. Remember to use both singular and plural nouns, and make sure to say your examples ad alta voce (out loud).
 
Il bambino è felice, triste, dolce, intelligente, forte, etc.
La bambina è felice, triste, dolce, intelligente, etc.
I bambini sono tristi, dolci, intelligenti, etc.
Le bambine sono tristi, dolci, intelligenti, etc.
Il libro (the book) è interessante, facile, elegante, triste, etc.
I libri sono interessanti, facili, eleganti, tristi, etc.
La serata (the evening out) è stata elegante, pesante, interessante, etc.
Le serate sono state eleganti, pesanti, interessanti, etc.
La lezione (the lesson) era interessante, pesante, importante, etc.
Le lezioni erano interessanti, pesanti, importanti, etc.
 
Exceptions: We also come across plenty of exceptions regarding endings and gender. For example, il pane (the bread) is masculine but ends in "e." Feminine nouns, on the other hand, often end in but not always. La mente (the mind) is feminine but ends in e. These kinds of nouns should probably get memorized, but the good news is that there are a great many nouns that are predictable and as a result, their adjectives are predictable, too.
 
Nouns and adjectives go together like salt and pepper, so this might be a great time to review nouns and their genders. Being sure of the gender of a noun will help you make the right decision regarding the adjective ending. Marika gives us some categories that makes gender learning a bit easier.
 

Marika spiega - Il genere maschile

Marika spiega - Il genere femminile

 
Take advantage of Yabla's features:
 
Interactive Subtitles:
By switching the dual subtitles on and off while viewing, you can really make them work for you. In other words, sometimes you need to understand what's happening, so you want to see captions in your own language. However, there will be times when you want to test your limits, to have fun trying to understand the Italian, with no safety net. Still other times, you will want to work on your spelling or adjective endings, and in this case, following along with the original language subtitles will be an invaluable tool.
 
Exercises:
With each video, there are exercises to help reinforce the material in the video itself. In short, by doing the vocabulary reviews and other listening exercises, including the patented dictation exercise called Scribe, you will really nail it.
 
Search:
In the videos tab, you can do a search of a word and see where it appears in the various videos in context, resulting in an immediate idea of how the word is used in everyday speech. As applied to this article about common Italian adjectives, it can be extremely helpful to see those adjectives in context! Subscribers have access to all of the videos as well as the transcripts and all the associated exercises.

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The Dottore Is In

You might have noticed, from watching TV shows and movies on Yabla, or elsewhere, that in Italy, the term dottore (doctor) is used loosely, or rather, differently than in other countries. In fact, addressing someone with a particular role often means using their title (or guessing at it). Sometimes signor (Mr.) and signora (Mrs.) just don't seem respectful enough.

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One example of this usanza (use, custom) occurs in a recent episode about Adriano Olivetti.

 

Io e la mia famiglia dobbiamo tutto al Dottor Dalmasso.

My family and I owe everything to Doctor Dalmasso.

Caption 61, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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Dalmasso is just an executive in a company, not necessarily a doctor (even in terms we go on to describe below), but he is one of the most important people there. People treat him with respect by using dottore instead of his name or they shorten it to dottor when it's followed directly by the person's name: Dottor Dalmasso, in this case.

 

In some cases dottor is used, but with a person's first name. Many people follow the reasoning that it's better to be too respectful than not respectful enough. In the following example, Giacomo could be a physician or someone's boss. We would need context to determine this.

 

Dottore! -Gina! -Dottore! Dottor Giacomo.

Doctor! -Gina! - DoctorDoctor Giacomo.

Che succede? -Signora, Giacomo non risponde. -Giacomo!

What's going on? -Ma'am, Giacomo isn't responding. -Giacomo!

Captions 3-4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne

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If the person is a woman, then it's dottoressa by itself, or followed by the name (first name or last name depending on the relationship). In the following example, the dottoressa in question works at city hall. Her position of importance gives her the title, more than any degree she might (or might not) have.

 

Dottoressa, scusate, ma perché ci volete fare questo regalo?

Doctor, excuse me, but why do you want to give us this gift?

Caption 24, L'oro di Scampia - film

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Lawyers also fall into the "important person" category and are often addressed by their professional status. We might liken this to the use of "Esquire," or "Esq." for short, used primarily in written correspondence with attorneys. 

 

Sì, avvocato De Santis.

Yes, Attorney De Santis.

Caption 50, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti

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The other way dottore is used is for someone with a college or university degree. Graduates earning the title dottore have often completed a Laurea triennale (three-year bachelor's degree equivalent) plus a Laurea Magistrale (two-year master's degree equivalent). It has nothing to do with being a medical doctor. Learn more here about higher learning in Italy.

 

As well as being an industrialist, Adriano Olivetti designed machinery, so it makes sense for him to have the title of ingegnere (engineer.) And so in the film about Olivetti, that's how many people address him. It so happens that he did, indeed, have a degree in engineering.

 

Ingegnere, Lei mi sta facendo una proposta incredibile.

Sir, you are making me an incredible offer.

Caption 46, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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Other titles commonly used in Italian before a name, or in place of a name, are Architetto (architect), Commissario, (commissioner, chief) Notaio (notary). 

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We hope this little article has shed some light on this curious usanza (custom). Finding a suitable translation for these titles can be tough. Sometimes there's no good alternative, so we use a word we feel can fill the bill, even if it isn't a word-for-word translation. 

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