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Uno schiaffo: What's that?

When we try to speak Italian, but our thoughts are in English, it's hard sometimes to find the right word as well as remembering or learning how to use it. This is often because in one language we'd use a verb and in the other, we'd use a noun plus a different verb. 


An example that comes to mind is when you talk about someone hitting someone else. If we look up the verb "to hit," there are various choices, but the main one is perhaps colpire. If we look up colpire, there is a wide range of meanings, including figurative ones.



One word Italians use a lot is the noun uno schiaffo. The sound of it kind of fits the action. But how do we turn that into a verb? We don't say schiaffare for this. The verb schiaffare does exist but it's about flinging something somewhere. When we really need a verb that means "to slap," we can use schiaffeggiare. That's good to know, but knowing how to use schiaffo is perhaps more important, given its popularity. For example, out of thousands of videos on Yabla, there are quite a few with schiaffo and none with schiaffeggiare


We turn to the verb dare (to give). You give someone a slap — dare uno schiaffo. A slap can be of various degrees, sometimes pretty mild. A woman might slap a man who tries to kiss her. It does the job but isn't necessarily violent. But lots of times uno schiaffo is much more serious and "giving a slap" doesn't really render the meaning. It's not always forceful enough. For Yabla videos, we usually translate dare uno schiaffo with "to give someone a slap," but it doesn't always fill the bill. Technically, uno schiaffo is understood to be given to someone's face, with one's open hand.


Let's look at a few examples from Yabla videos. 


Ci voleva [calabrese: gli volevo] dare tanti schiaffi, se li meritava tutti li [calabrese: gli] schiaffi.

I wanted to give him a lot of slaps. He [would have] deserved all those slaps.

Captions 34-35, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP4 Gelo - Part 15

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In English we might have said, I wanted to hit him. He deserved to be beaten up, to be smacked around.


Se mi facevi cadere ti davo uno schiaffo, ti davo.

If you had made me fall, I'd have given you a smack, I would have.

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 13

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What would we say in English? Maybe "I'd have hit you." "I'd have smacked you."


Dare isn't the only verb available for coupling with schiaffo.


We can also use the verb tirare  (to throw, to pull, etc) to give it more emphasis:

Le hai fatto una scenata al pub, le hai anche tirato uno schiaffo.

You made a scene over her at the pub, you also slapped her.

Captions 8-9, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP4 Gelo - Part 5

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Prendere a schiaffi (to slap around) is another variation, with the verb prendere (to take).

Senti un po', ma tu prendi a schiaffi tutti i tuoi ex compagni di corso, oppure è un trattamento speciale?

Listen up, do you slap all your former classmates around, or is it some special treatment?

Captions 4-5, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 5

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We can also add a modifier to make uno schiaffo into something more serious, with schiaffone

L'altra mattina stavo in cucina mangiandomi un panino, è entrata, mi ha dato uno schiaffone,

The other morning, I was in the kitchen eating a sandwich. She came in, she gave me a hard slap,

Captions 53-54, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 EP3 Un cugino in fuga - Part 7

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As we know, Italians love to use the number 2 to mean "some." And with schiaffo, too, it can be very effective.

Ce vorrebbero du sganassoni, ce vorrebbero [romanesco: ci vorrebbero due schiaffi]. -Cattivo.

He needs two smacks, he does. -Mean.

Caption 52, Un Figlio a tutti i costi film - Part 1

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So the upshot is to remember that in Italian, when slaps, smacks, or cuffs are called for, we give them by way of the verb dare (to give). As we can see, dare is a very powerful verb. Schiaffo does translate with slap, but it can be a bit more general. It's a great word to know!


A good remedy for assimilating phrases like dare uno schiaffo and its variations on it is to watch movies and TV shows (for example, on Yabla) where there's plenty of dialogue. Watch, listen, repeat, and then converse in Italian, even if it means talking to yourself in the mirror! Reading comic books in Italian is a good idea, too. 


In future lessons, we'll look at other ways of hitting someone (or rather, talking about it), just because sometimes we need to understand these things, not because we are in favor of violence in any form. We are not!


Adverbs of time with multiple meanings

Let's talk about some adverbs of time and how Italians use them. Some adverbs of time have multiple meanings and need context to be understood and used precisely.



We can detect the noun notte (night) as part of the time adverb stanotte. The beginning, on the other hand, is sta, a short form of questa (this). 


Non ti dispiace se rimango qui stanotte, vero?

You don't mind if I stay here tonight, do you?

Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9

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But sometimes, the same adverb stanotte refers to "last night."

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

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

Caption 16, Il Commissario Manara S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 2

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We can use the same form to talk about the evening: stasera. Normally, we'd say that stasera means "this evening" but in English, we often use "tonight" when referring to the dinner hour, so sometimes "tonight" is the best translation.

La lista della spesa per la cena di stasera.

The shopping list for tonight's dinner.

Caption 2, Anna e Marika La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1

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While we say things like "I'm going out tonight," Italians will choose stasera over stanotte, unless we are talking about something happening in the middle of the night. But let's remember that sera generally means "evening." 


Ma', stasera esco. -Dove vai?

Mom, tonight I'm going out. -Where are you going?

Caption 53, Acqua in bocca Un amico per Pippo - Ep 1

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Also, let's take the opportunity to remind ourselves that buonasera is a greeting upon arrival, whereas buonanotte is when you're leaving (and perhaps headed for bed).



You may already be familiar with the word for "yesterday." It's ieri. Just in case stanotte might not be clear enough, we have the choice of using ieri notte to mean "last night." If you are just getting up in the morning, you'll probably use stanotte to talk about the night before, but if it is later in the day, ieri notte makes sense. 

Ieri notte tre ladri hanno pensato bene di svaligiare un atelier di abiti da sposa.

Last night, three thieves had the bright idea of cleaning out a wedding gown studio.

Caption 40, La Ladra EP. 2 - Viva le spose - Part 13

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If we say ieri sera, we can translate it with either "last night" or "yesterday evening," depending on how we think of it. But sera is generally used until late, let's say, until bedtime, whenever that is. 

E voi due ieri sera eravate in casa? Sì, stavamo guardando la televisione.

And you two last night were at home? Yes, we were watching television.

Captions 47-48, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP4 Gelo - Part 2

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The day before yesterday

We have said that ieri means "yesterday," but what about the day before yesterday? 


One way to say this is l'altro ieri (the other yesterday). 

Quando l'hai vista l'ultima volta? -L'altro ieri.

When did you last see her? -The day before yesterday.

Captions 5-6, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP4 Gelo - Part 5

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Some people invert the words and say ieri l'altro.


Of course, we can also say due giorni fa (2 days ago). 

E quando l'hai vista l'ultima volta? -Due giorni fa.

And when did you see her last? -Two days ago.

Captions 50-51, I Bastardi di Pizzofalcone EP4 Gelo - Part 4

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If we don't need to be precise, we can say "the other day."

No, scusa l'altro giorno non t'ho potuto richiamare, ma dovevi dirmi qualcosa di lavoro?

No, sorry, the other day I couldn't call you back, but did you have something about work to tell me?

Captions 29-30, Imma Tataranni Sostituto procuratore S1 EP1 L'estate del dito - Part 16

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When we're referring to the past with these adverbs of time, we'll want to use the passato prossimo (which works like the present perfect) tense. The exception is when we use the verb essere (to be). In this case, we might also use the imperfetto


Note that we don't say il giorno prima di ieri to correspond to "the day before yesterday!" But if that's all you can think of, people will understand. They'll probably say, "Oh, sì, l'altro ieri."