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Solo: What Does It Really Mean?

Most folks know that when someone plays a solo, he or she is the main player, also called the soloist. Sometimes a musician plays alone (this is a hint).


Solo is an Italian word

You may or may not have realized that solo is an Italian word, 100%.  Let's take a look at how it's used in Italian. Because when someone plays a solo in the middle of a song, strangely enough, it's called something else entirely: un assolo (a solo).


Sì. -In un... -Io sono, sono un tenore leggero.

Yes. -In a... -I'm a, I'm a light tenor.

E fai anche dei duetti... -Sì, a volte duetti buffi,

And you also do duets... -Yes, sometimes comic opera duets,

a volte, invece, dei, degli assoli. -Ecco! Ah, no.

sometimes, on the other hand, some, some solos. -There! Ah, no.

Posso sentire prima un assolo e poi, magari, vedo, facciamo un duetto.

Can I first hear a solo, and then, maybe let's see, we'll do a duet.

Captions 101-104, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 1

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Solo has to do with being alone. It can mean "on one's own."


Ulisse era un cane anziano, un cane solo.

Ulisse was an old dog, a lone dog.

Caption 12, Andromeda - La storia di Ulisse

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Solo is often preceded by the preposition da (by), making it function sort of like an adverb, answering the question "how," or "in what way,"  in which case we can translate it with "by oneself," "on one's own," "by itself," or "alone."


Guarda che al cinema ci posso pure andare da sola.

Look, I can perfectly well go to the movies by myself.

Caption 49, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 19

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Guardi, sta arrivando Olivetti.

Look, here comes Olivetti.

Pensava di venire qui con tanti dei suoi

He thought he'd come here with many of his own,

e invece è da solo.

and instead, he's by himself.

Captions 59-60, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 21

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Vuoi un antidolorifico? Ce l'ho.

Do you want a painkiller? I have some.

-No, no, no. Preferisco che mi passi da solo.

-No, no, no. I prefer for it to go away on its own.

-Come vuoi.

-As you like.

Captions 38-40, La Ladra - Ep. 7 - Il piccolo ladro

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Io, la mia strada, me la sono fatta da solo.

I, I've paved my own way [I did it all on my own].

Caption 43, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 9

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"Solo" da solo

But solo is not always preceded by da.


Io... lo... lo conoscevo poco, però,

I... I... I didn't know him very well

nonostante tutte le donne che si vantava di avere,

but despite all the women he bragged about having,

a me sembrava un uomo molto solo.

he seemed like a very lonely man to me.

Captions 40-41, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso

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In this case, it means "lonely." It's not always clear if someone is lonely or alone. But if we ad da — da solo, then it is clear it means "alone," not "lonely." We can also say "to feel alone" or "to feel lonely." Sentirsi solo.


Solo also means "only"

Solo can be an adjective meaning "only" — which rhymes with "lonely," and in Italian it's the same word.


Non è il solo motivo per cui mi oppongo.

It's not the only reason I object.

Caption 41, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 1

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Vedi, Alessio, quando mio padre venne qui e fondò questa fabbrica,

You see, Alessio, when my father came here and founded this plant,

qui intorno c'erano solo campi di grano.

there were only wheat fields around here.

Captions 17-18, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 13

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Cioè, penso solo al fatto che tu non ci sia più, Martino.

I mean, I can only think about the fact that you're no longer here, Martino.

Caption 3, Chi m'ha visto - film

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In English, we often say "just" to mean the same thing.


Magari! Ma quanto mi costa? Adesso spara la cifra.

If only! But how much will it cost me? Now he'll name the price.

-Io non voglio parlare di danaro, io voglio solo aiutarla.

-I don't want to talk about money. I just want to help you.

Captions 37-38, La Ladra - Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda

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Typical expressions with solo

It's typical for someone to say, è solo che... (it's just that...) to minimize something, or to say "but."


Eh, è solo che ho bisogno di un prestito.

Huh, it's just that I need a loan.

Caption 10, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano

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Another context in which we hear solo is when we want to say, "And that's not all!"


E non solo. Nella salina Moranella,

And not only that [and that's not all]. In the Moranella salt pan,

un momento magico, veramente, è la raccolta del fior di sale.

a magical moment, really, is the harvesting of "fleur de sel."

Captions 52-53, La rotta delle spezie di Franco Calafatti - Il sale

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When you need to keep someone waiting for a moment, or you are passing the phone to someone else, you can say:

Un momento solo (just a moment).

Un instante solo (just a moment). 


We hope this lesson has given you some insight into the very common and important word solo. Don't forget that you can do a search of this word (and any other one) and see all the contexts right there on the video page. Look at where solo falls in the sentence and read the sentence to yourself. Get a feel for this word.