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Is it worth It?: valere

When you're playing a game, you have to follow the rules. When you don't, someone might say:

Non vale (it doesn't count).

 

This comes from the verb valere (to have value, to be worth, to be valid).

 

Devi chiudere gli occhi però,

You have to close your eyes, though,

se no non vale. Vai.

otherwise it doesn't count. Go.

Captions 10-11, Sposami - EP 2 - Part 20

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So in this case, the verb valere is used to mean something isn't valid, it doesn't count.

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But we also use it when we talk about something being worth it. In English, we can say something is worth the trouble or simply "worth it." In Italian, we need to say the whole phrase:

Vale la pena (it's worth the trouble, it's worth it).

 

Insomma, la vita è una cosa meravigliosa

So, life is a marvelous thing

e vale la pena viverla.

and it is well worth living.

Captions 41-42, Amiche - Filosofie

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In the previous example, we have a subject: life. "Life is worth living." But we can also just say, "It's worth it." In this case, we use a sort of prop word, the particle ne.

We use ne when we comment on something being worth it or not. We know what we're talking about, but we don't need to repeat it. So we use ne.

 

Here's the negative version:

[Qualcosa] non vale la pena ([something] is not worth it).

Non ne vale la pena (it's not worth it).

 

We can say the same exact thing as a question: Here too, we'll use the particle ne if we don't include the subject (the thing that isn't worth it).

Vale la pena (is [something] worth it/worth the trouble)?

Ne vale la pena (is it worth it)?

 

The third way we use valere is to say something is applicable.

 

Questa regola vale soltanto per il singolare,

This rule applies only to the singular,

quando io parlo della mia famiglia in singolare.

when I talk about my family in the singular.

Captions 14-15, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi

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Vale la pena studiare l'italiano? Speriamo di sì!

Vocabulary

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La storia: History or Story?

In this lesson, we'll take a look at a noun, a cognate in fact, that easy as it is to guess, can also create confusion sometimes, because it means a couple of different things. In English we distinguish among history, story, experience, and love affair. Italian relies on this one noun, la storia, to tell plenty of different stories! 

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We mention, for those interested, that in literature, we might also find istoria as a version of the word, and that la storia comes from the Greek "istoria" and the Latin "historia."

But let's talk about how people use la storia practically, in conversation. It's hard to get through a day without using this word in one way or another. 

History

In the following example, it's clear we're talking about history.

 

Nella storia si sono usate le diverse chiavi per fare in modo

Historically, different clefs were used to make it so

che tutte le note si trovassero il più possibile dentro al pentagramma.

that all the notes would be, as much as possible, inside the staff.

Captions 18-19, A scuola di musica - con Alessio

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1) Can you say the same thing turning storia into an adverb, as in the translation? 

 

Here, too, it's clear. It's also clear because storia is used with no article, and it's singular.

 

Io quando sono in questi posti pieni di storia,

When I'm in these places so full of history,

faccio dei pensieri profondi.

I have profound thoughts.

Captions 2-3, Amiche - Filosofie

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2) What if Anna (the speaker) was just talking about one specific place? What would she say?

 

Sometimes it's hard to know whether we're talking about history or stories, but it doesn't always matter. A translator has to make a choice, but the learner, reader, or listener doesn't. We're talking about past events, and if they are true, then we could also say, "history."

 

Voglio raccontarvi qualcosa di me,

I want to tell you something about myself,

della mia vita, della mia storia.

about my life, about my story.

Captions 13-14, Volare - La grande storia di Domenico Modugno

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Romance

When it comes to romance, there are different ways to talk about a relationship. The most common way, and this doesn't really have an equivalent in English, is with the noun storia. Of course we can say "love story" in English, (and we can say storia d'amore in Italian) but we don't so much these days, and it is usually an important relationship in one's life. In fact, translators can have a hard time finding the right word for translating storia. The following clip is from the story of an opera, so an old-fashioned word like "romance" seemed appropriate.

 

Abbiamo riso, abbiamo parlato.

We laughed, we talked.

Ci siamo ricordati tutti i momenti belli della nostra storia.

We remembered all the beautiful moments of our romance.

Captions 16-17, Anna presenta - La Bohème di Puccini

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Ho avuto anch'io una storia con una collega.

I also had a relationship with a colleague.

Caption 51, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP5 - Mondo sommerso

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In the previous example, we might have said "affair" instead of relationship, or possibly "fling." But not knowing the details, it's hard to know what the appropriate word might be.

 

In the next example, however, Luca Manara calls the relationship una relazione, another common term for a romantic relationship, close in meaning to storia, but una storia is often short-term with a beginning and an end, whereas una relazione can give the idea of something ongoing. But as we can see, here the two terms seem to be fairly equivalent.

 

Prima le bugie sul tuo trasferimento qua,

First, the lies about your getting transferred here,

poi sulla tua relazione con Raimondi.

then about your relationship with Raimondi.

-La mia storia con Fabrizio non ti riguarda.

-My relationship with Fabrizio doesn't concern you.

Captions 15-17, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP8 - Fuori servizio

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When a relationship is short or not very serious, we can use a suffix to modify the word storia.

 

Una storiella con un vigile urbano.

A fling with a traffic cop.

Caption 9, La Ladra - Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo

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We can also use storiella or even storia to mean "fib" or "lie."

Situation or "thing"

We can always count on the Luca Manara TV series to give us great examples of everyday conversation. Something to memorize is what you see in boldface below: Cos'è questa storia?

 

Allora, Manara, che cos'è questa storia del contadino fratello del Conte?

So, Manara, what's this story about the farmer-brother of the Count's?

Caption 15, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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When you say it by itself, you can think: "What's going on?" "What is this?"

 

Storia can often just be translated with "thing." It's a word we use to cover a lot of ground: storia in Italian and "thing" in English.

 

Che c'hai?

What's the matter with you?

No, niente, 'sta [questa] storia di Lara che è nervosa per il matrimonio...

No, nothing. This thing with Lara who's anxious about the wedding...

Captions 2-3, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto

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You will likely have noticed that questa is often shortened to 'sta.

Another expression to memorize, and this is used in English too, so it should be pretty straightforward.

 

Ne mangiasse almeno una di queste mele,

If he would only eat at least one of these apples,

tutti i giorni la stessa storia.

every day, it's the same story.

Captions 4-5, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP9 - Morte in paradiso

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È sempre la stessa storia (It's always the same old story)!

 

Bed-time story

Let's not forget that storia can just mean story as in telling a story, a fairy-tale, a fable, or reading a bed-time story.

 

La morale di questa storia ci dice che l'unione fa la forza.

The moral of this story tells us that unity is what gives strength [united we stand, divided we fall].

Caption 33, Adriano - Fiaba - Part 1

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As usual, there is more to this story than we have mentioned in this lesson. As Gualtiero Marchesi said at the end of his episodes about gastronomia (gourmet cooking and food in general):

 

Ah, ma questa è un'altra storia.

Ah, but that's another story.

Quella della prossima puntata.

The one in the next episode.

Captions 43-44, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua

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So stay tuned!

1) Storicamente si sono usate le diverse chiavi per fare in modo che tutte le note si trovassero il più possibile dentro al pentagramma.

2)  Io quando sono in questo posto pieno di storia, faccio dei pensieri profondi.

Vocabulary

When Less is More with Un Po'

In the expression un po’,  po’ is short for poco (small quantity). Poco is a very common word that can be an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun, and, depending on the context, can correspond to different degrees of quantity.

This week on Yabla, we take a first look at the city of Florence. Arianna has a map to help her figure out how to get around. As she thinks out loud, she uses a common phrase:

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Vediamo un po' come possiamo raggiungere il centro della città.

Let's have a look at how we can reach the center of the city.

Caption 7, In giro per l'Italia - Firenze - Part 1

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Another way to translate vediamo un po’ is simply “let’s see.” It is extremely common for Italians to add un po’ to a verb, just to round off the expression:

 

Sentite un po' il congiuntivo imperfetto e trapassato:

Have a listen to the simple past and past perfect subjunctive:

Caption 27, Anna e Marika - Il verbo essere - Part 4

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Allora ci dice un po' quali sono frutta e verdura tipiche romane?

So could you tell us a little which fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?

Caption 37, Anna e Marika - Fruttivendolo

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In the example above, the addition of un po doesn’t really add any meaning to the phrase, but it rounds it out. We might also translate it as:

So could you just tell us what fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?

Sometimes un po’ can mean “pretty much” or “just about.” It loses its actual diminutive significance.

 

Al nord abbiamo precipitazioni e burrasche, un po' dappertutto.

In the north we have rain and storms, just about everywhere.

Caption 59, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9

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It can be used to give a vague kind of answer:

 

Sì. Un po' e un po'.

Yes, in a way, yesin a way, no [a little bit and a little bit].

Caption 15, Amiche - Filosofie

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Ironically, we can also use un po’ to mean a lot, when we insert the adjective bello (nice, beautiful): un bel po’ (a good amount, a good number, plenty).

 

Non deve essere troppo salata, non... insomma ci sono un bel po' di cose da sapere legate alla mozzarella.

It shouldn't be too salty, not... in other words, there are plenty of things to know in connection with mozzarella.

Captions 37-38, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1

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Un po’ has come to mean so many different amounts, and can also  simply mean “some.”

Mi dai un po’ di pane?
Could you give me some bread?

 

So, if someone asks you if you speak Italian, you can answer un po’ but if you really want to say you don’t speak much at all, you might use the diminutive of an already “diminutive” word: un pochino. Or you might even diminish the amount further by saying pochissimo.

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Practice - verbs in context:

Returning to this week’s video about Florence, here are the infinitive forms of the verbs Arianna uses in the first person plural (with noi/we). Can you recognize their conjugated forms in the video? Attenzione, some of them are used as auxiliaries/helping verbs attached to other verbs. You can use your ears to listen for the verbs while watching the video, or use your eyes with the transcript (you’ll find the pop-up link following the description of the video). Don’t forget, you can choose to see only Italian or Italian and English. A couple of these verbs are irregular, but super common. Why not take the opportunity to review the other conjugations of these verbs? Links are provided to a conjugation chart for each verb.

Essere (to be)

Vedere (to see)

Andare (to go)

Stare (to be/to continue to be)

Potere (to be able to/can)

Attraversare (to cross)

Chiamare (to call)

Words That Trigger the Subjunctive: qualora and affinché

Some of us have been following Daniela’s lessons about the subjunctive. It can be tricky for English speakers to grasp because we use the subjunctive so rarely.

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Italian gives us a rich variety of connecting words — words that connect the main clause in a sentence to a subordinate clause. Some of them are interchangeable and some are very unique. Some are used in formal situations and instructions, for the most part, like qualora (in the event that), and some are used in everyday speech. Sometimes there are ways to get around using these words if they don’t feel comfortable yet. On the other hand, they can be fun to learn, too.

 

As with other words we’ve looked at, many of these fancy conjunctions and adverbs are the result of two or more words having merged. Let’s take qualora. It’s made up of quale (which) and ora (hour). So it means “in whichever hour,” or “if at any time,” or something to that effect.

 

Daniela uses this example:

 

"Qualora non ci siano abbastanza partecipanti,

In the event there aren't enough participants,

il corso non ci sarà".

the class won't take place.”

Captions 2-3, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Il congiuntivo

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Note that siano is the third person plural subjunctive of essere (to be). The indicative would be sono.

 

But we could also say, in a simpler way, with se (if):

Se non ci sono abbastanza partecipanti, Il corso non ci sarà.
If there aren’t enough participants the course won’t happen.

 

Here’s another example.

 

E qualora si presentassero cattivi odori,

And if at any time a bad smell presents itself,

la soluzione migliore è l'aggiunta di foglie, cenere e lo stesso terriccio.

the best solution is adding leaves, ashes, and some soil itself.

Captions 35-36, Raccolta differenziata - Campagna di sensibilizzazione del Comune di Alliste (LE)

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We’re pretty direct in English, but if we wanted to get fancy, we could say,

“And in the event a bad smell should present itself...” and it would mean pretty much the same thing.

 

******

 

Affinché is a wonderful conjunction. We can take this apart too, and we get a (“to” or “at”) fine (“scope,” “end”), and che (that). So, we’re talking about a result we are looking for. In informal speech, we might say, “in order for,” “so that.” But the Italian word really gives the specific idea of an objective or goal.

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In the following example, we can see that Marika’s use of affinché points to the result she would like to have: a life that’s a marvelous dream.

 

E quindi dipende da te, fare le scelte giuste,

So it depends on you, to make the right choices,

impegnarti affinché la vita sia sempre un sogno meraviglioso.

to work hard so that your life is always a marvelous dream.

Captions 18-19, Amiche - Filosofie

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Attenzione! It’s easy to mix up affinché (in order that) with finché (as long as) and finché non (until), so check out this lesson, and check this lesson out, too. It discusses fine,  a noun that means a few different things.
 

Ways to Say “About” in Italian

"About" is a very common word in English. It is a preposition, but also an adjective and adverb. For now, we'll focus on the prepositional meaning "on the subject of" or "concerning." As in English, Italian provides a few different options. So let's take a look.

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The first way: the preposition di (of/about).

 

If you think back to stories you have heard, even English uses “of” sometimes to mean “about.”

I will speak to you of love.

 

It may seem a bit antiquated, but it does exist. In Italian, it’s very common. In fact, Adriano speaks a very everyday kind of Italian, and normally uses the preposition di (about, of) to mean “about.”

 

Vi parlo della colazione, di una colazione italiana.

I'm going to talk to you about breakfast, about an Italian breakfast.

Caption 2, Adriano - fa colazione

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Oggi vi parlerò delle stagioni.

Today I'm going to talk to you about the seasons.

Caption 2, Adriano - Le stagioni dell'anno

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The second way: a (to, at).

The preposition a is used with the verb pensare (to think). We could also say “to reflect.” Then the preposition “on” could make sense. “To reflect on life.”

 

Sì, mi metto a pensare alla vita in generale. A...

Yes, I get to thinking about life in general. About...

a tutto.

about everything.

Captions 6-7, Amiche - Filosofie

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But the preposition di can also be used with the verb pensare.

Cosa pensi di questo vestito?
What do you think about/of this dress?

 

You might have run across the pronoun ne in videos and lessons about particelle (particles).

Cosa ne pensi?
What do you think about it?

 

The third way: su (on).

 

Allora Rossana, ti faccio qualche domanda sul tuo mestiere, insomma.

So Rossana, I'm going to ask you a few questions about your profession, in short.

Caption 54, Anna e Marika - Il pane

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The fourth way: proposito.

 

In a recent Yabla video on business Italian, Arianna is settling into her new job, but already has a problem she needs to discuss with her boss. She uses a more formal, longer way to say “about.” It’s a bit more precise, and, well, businesslike, and gives the topic a bit more importance.

 

Sì, certo. Ho anche bisogno di parlarti

Yes, of course. I also need to talk to you

a proposito del nostro contatto della stampa estera.

about our foreign press contact.

Caption 11, Italiano commerciale - Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti

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In the above example, we might also translate proposito as “regarding,” since it’s a moderately formal situation. In actual fact, these days, “regarding” would more likely be found in a letter than in a normal office conversation. The meaning is pretty much the same.

 

In the following example, too, proposito could be translated as “regarding.” We would need some extra context to determine which would work better. If either Lara or Luca were talking to their boss, then “regarding” might be more appropriate.

 

proposito del caso del cimitero...

Speaking of the cemetery case...

Regarding the cemetery case...

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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It all depends on who is talking to whom, and whether they want to be formal or informal, or if the question is a bit off the cuff, or planned out.

 

Note: One important, and very common way proposito is used, is all by itself, without a specified object: proposito... In this case, it can mean “speaking of which” or “by the way.” It’s a rather non-aggressive means of getting a word in edgewise, changing the subject, or bringing up a topic out of the blue.

 

Ne parliamo stasera, OK?

We'll talk about it tonight, OK?

-A proposito, hai comprato il vino?

-Speaking of which, did you buy wine?/By the way, did you buy wine?

Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto

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Sometimes these different ways of saying "about" are interchangeable, and sometimes one works better than the other. Experience will help you determine the best one for any given situation. Keep your ears open!

Vocabulary

Are Accents Important?

Some of you may already have begun experimenting with the new Scribe game. Although Italian is relatively easy to pronounce and spell, there are a few typical stumbling blocks. Let's talk about one in particular.

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Let's say you are playing Scribe. You feel like you've have written all the words correctly but the game doesn't let you go on to the next caption. It can be quite frustrating.

 

This often happens because you have neglected to insert an accent.

 

In English, we are not used to writing accents, but in Italian, it’s something we have to pay attention to whether we're playing Scribe or not. Be patient with yourselves. It's just something you have to learn little by little.

 

So where do we usually find these accents? If we know a bit more about them, we can be prepared for them in the Scribe game and elsewhere, so let's have a look.

 

Perhaps the most frequent error is the accent on the i of  (yes). It certainly sounds about the same with or without the accent, and it’s not always easy to see. But if we omit the accent when writing, we can mean any number of other things, from the note si (B), to the personal pronoun si (himself/herself/itself). In the following example, the si with no accent is part of the reflexive verb allontanarsi (to leave).

 

, non era la prima volta che

Yes, it wasn't the first time that

Giada si allontanava di casa senza avvertirmi.

Giada left home without letting me know.

Caption 49, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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In two-syllable words, the accent usually falls on the first syllable, so when that is not the case, there will generally be an accent on the second syllable to let us know.

 

Let’s take the word però (however, but). The accent is there to signal that the accent falls on the second syllable, a departure from the basic rule about accenting the first syllable. The accented version of the word però is the one you’ll usually see because it’s such a common word.

 

Sembra banale, però mi aiuta.

It seems banal, but it helps me.

Caption 35, Amiche - Filosofie

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Però is one word you’ll use often in casual conversation. And with that long ò at the end, you can buy yourself some time while thinking of what to say next.

 

Without the accent, we’re talking about un pero (a pear tree)! Note that names of fruit trees frequently end in o (with no accent) whereas the fruit itself ends in a, like la pera (the pear), la mela (the apple), la ciliegia' (the cherry). proposito (speaking of which), Marika explains this here and here.

 

We also have to pay attention to which way an accent is facing, but fortunately, this applies primarily to accents on “e.” On “o,” “ a,” “i,” and “u,”  the accent is almost always “grave,” meaning down-facing from left to right. One of the most basic accents to remember is the grave accent on è, the third person conjugation of the basic verb essere (to be). This particular conjugation is extremely commonbut for foreign ears, can easily be confused with e with no accent. Hearing and pronouncing the difference between e (and) and è (to be) is one thing, but writing it is another, so Scribe is a great chance to assimilate this aspect of Italian spelling.

 

Another important word that has an accent is perché (because, why). This is an acute or upward facing accent from left to right, which indicates a closed e. However you pronounce the é in perché, people will usually understand you, but if you’re writing, you need to get it right. Think of perché in its question form: why. The accent goes up (to the right), just like the inflection of a question.

 

The other place accents crop up is in the future tense. There will usually be an accent on the last vowel of the word in the first and third person singular. Let’s look at the irregular but very common verb venire (to come).

lui/lei verrà (he/she/it will come)
io verrò (I will come)

the verb andare (to go):

io andrò  (I will go)
lui/lei andrà (he/she/it will go)

And essere (to be):

io sarò (I will be)
lui/lei sarà (he/she/it will be)

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Be on the lookout for these accents when playing Scribe and when watching videos in general. You'll start to recognize them and become more comfortable with them sooner than you think. 

See part 2 of this lesson here.

 

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