Italian Lessons


Pronunciation tips for the letter E

In a previous lesson, we looked at the vowel, A. In this lesson, we'll focus on the vowel, E. 


We'll talk a little bit about this vowel from an English speaker's point of view, but the truth is that the best way to start pronouncing this vowel like a native is to listen carefully to the videos and then do each exercise except multiple choice. Each has its way of aiding you. Make it your mission to focus on E. 

Fill-in-the-blank. You hear a word and have to write it. Connecting the sound of E with the written E will set you on your way to getting it. 

The vocabulary review always provides you with the pronunciation of each word on your list. Listen for the E. So many words will contain one! One part of the vocabulary review entails writing the Italian word. 

Then we have Speak. This is an exercise you can do at any stage, and sometimes it's best to do it first. After all, you don't have to write anything. All you have to do is repeat what you hear. Then you will see it and be able to make the connections. And the best part is that you can play back what you've said and see how close it comes to the version you hear. This is good for any level!

Finally, there is Scribe. You listen and then write down what you hear, a dictation exercise, in short. 


As you might have heard, there are two different pronunciations of E's in Italian. One with no diacritical accent and one with an accent: è. The one with the accent is considered open and the plain e is considered closed. This is not always easy for English speakers to discern, so be patient with yourself, but try to listen and repeat. 


One of the shortest words in the Italian language is the word for "and." It's e, all by itself, no accent. Pick just about any video and you'll hear it (sometimes it goes by quickly). 

Sì, e noi facciamo su e giù da Roma a Pomezia con la moto,

Yes, and we go back and forth from Rome to Pomezia on the motorcycle,

Caption 26, Amiche Anna e Marika raccontano...

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When we see or hear two items, they are often connected by either e (and) or o (or). So this is a good way to practice this e. Find two things that go together, like fruits and vegetables. 

Qui, di solito, tutti i giorni si vendono frutta e verdura e anche altre cose.

Here, usually, every day, fruits and vegetables are sold, and other things, too.

Captions 27-28, In giro per l'Italia Firenze - Part 2

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What other things go together? Prosciutto e melone or prosciutto e mozzarella.

Prosciutto e mozzarella! -Prosciutto e mozzarella, giusto, un altro antipasto classico. Come prosciutto e melone poi del resto, però la mozzarella...

Cured ham and mozzarella! -Cured ham and mozzarella, right, another classic appetizer. Like cured ham and melon, for that matter, but mozzarella...

Captions 22-23, Anna e Marika La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1

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Marito e moglie...

E poi tra moglie e marito è quasi impossibile sapere come vanno le cose.

And besides, between wife and husband, it's almost impossible to know how things go.

Caption 18, Il Commissario Manara S2EP11 - Uno strano incidente di caccia - Part 10

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 Destra e sinistra

Ci sono le botteghe a destra e a sinistra... C'è una macchina dietro!

There are shops on the right and on the left... There's a car back there!

Caption 39, In giro per l'Italia Firenze - Part 5

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When we see è, that is, e with a grave accent (descending from left to right), then the meaning changes to "is," "it is," "he is," or "she is." In other words, it's the third person singular of the verb essere (to be).


You'll need this verb when asking and answering questions, such as "Who is that?" "What's that?"


"Chi è quella ragazza?"

"Who is that girl?"

Caption 41, Marika risponde Risposta 1 Pronomi e aggettivi interrogativi

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Sì, è vero, è una ricetta segreta,

Yes, it's true. It's a secret recipe,

Caption 6, Adriano L'arancello di Marina

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If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear that pronouncing è is a little different from e, but it's more important to understand the context and meaning than to get the pronunciation exactly right. It will come with time.  


Sometimes we need an acute accent on an e (rising from left to right) to show which part of the word is stressed. The most common example of this is perhaps the word for "why" and "because": perché. Keep in mind that the pronunciation is not the same as è. It's more like e, but above all, it's stressed. To hear multiple examples of how it's pronounced, see the Yabla dictionary and type in the word you want to hear. Anywhere you see the audio icon, you'll hear the word spoken, either by itself, or in context by clicking on it. 

Perché ti lamenti?

Why are you complaining?

Caption 7, Acqua in bocca Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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Ah, a proposito c'è un pane che proprio non mi piace che è quello Toscano perché è senza sale.

Ah, by the way there's a bread that I really don't like which is the Tuscan kind because it's without salt.

Captions 23-24, Anna e Marika Il pane

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In the previous example, you will also hear different e's. Note the very slight difference between the è in c'è and the e in che. But don't worry if you don't hear the difference. 


More about the double-duty word perché here.


Keep in mind that not all Italians pronounce their vowels exactly the same way. This happens in English too. Once you start hearing the differences, you'll see that it's kind of fun to guess where someone is from. 


See you in the next lesson!


When bello doesn't mean beautiful

One of the first words we learn in Italian is bello. In fact, it's a very handy word, and one Italians use constantly. The translation we see first in just about any dictionary is "beautiful." It starts with B, and is easy to remember.

Un palazzo rinascimentale molto, molto... molto bello.

A Renaissance building that's very, very... very beautiful.

Caption 6, Antonio racconta Praia a Mare

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But let's look at some other translations for the word bello, translations we might not think of right away. Of course, when we are immersing ourselves in the Italian language, we don't really need to think too hard about the translation. We listen and repeat. The more we participate in or listen to Italian conversation, the more we get a feel for when to use bello and when to use molto bello, bellissimo, or some other adjective, such as carino, as we discuss below. 


Bello for both men and women

We can use the adjective bello (with its appropriate endings) to describe either a man or a woman. In English, we might say "a beautiful man," but it's more customary to say "handsome" for a man. In Italian, it's the same word, but the ending has to match the gender and number of the subject described.

un bel uomo (a handsome man)

una bella donna (a beautiful woman)

due belle ragazze (two pretty girls)

due bei ragazzi (two nice-looking boys)

Quei ragazzi sono belli


We use the adjective to describe not only people, but also things, experiences, ideas, etc. 


We recommend watching Daniela's video lessons about bello, buono and bene if you haven't yet!


Superlatives and degrees of "beauty"

In English, "beautiful" is already a kind of superlative relative to "pretty" in many cases. But the absolute superlative of bello is bellissimo. It's like saying "very beautiful" or "gorgeous." Another way to say this is bello bello. We discuss this way of forming an absolute superlative in this lesson


So on a qualitative scale, bello might be closer to "pretty" and bellissimo might be equivalent to "beautiful." But much of the time this adjective is subjective, and the meaning depends on how it's expressed, what it's describing, and who is doing the describing. Let's keep in mind another word that can be used to mean "pretty": carino/carina. But carino can also mean "nice" when talking about a person or an action carried out by a person, so sometimes understanding it needs some context or clarification. 

Ah. -Mh mh. -Molto carino da parte tua.

Ah. -Hm. -Very nice/kind on your part.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 12

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Great - enjoyable - nice - wonderful

Bello can also be used to mean "great," "nice," "enjoyable," "lovely," and more. 

Bello stare tranquilli in piscina tutto il giorno, eh?

Nice staying peacefully in the pool all day long, huh?

Caption 56, Acqua in bocca Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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Mi trovo in Polonia, per festeggiare quello che sarà il giorno più bello della mia vita.

I'm in Poland to celebrate what will be the most wonderful day of my life.

Captions 5-6, Adriano Matrimonio con Anita - Part 1

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Taking into account the fact that "nice" can mean lots of things, here is another example of when we say bello and we mean "nice."   

Ma, signora! Che bello vederti. È una vita che non ti vedo.

Oh, Ma'am! How nice to see you. I haven't seen you in a lifetime.

Captions 2-3, Dafne Film - Part 10

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The translation could easily have been "wonderful" or "great," since Dafne says she and the woman hadn't seen each other in a long time. The point is that it had nothing to do with beauty in this context.


Bello can reinforce another adjective

Bello can also be used to mean "nice and" or "quite." In other words, it can act as an adverb describing an adjective in order to reinforce the meaning of the adjective.

Il filetto rimarrà bello gustoso e non saprà di affumicato, non saprà di bruciato.

The fillet will remain nice and tasty and won't taste smoked, won't taste burnt.

Caption 37, Cucinare il pesce Filetto di branzino alla griglia

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Bello can also be used as an adjective describing something negative, just as "nice" can in English.

Certo che ci ha fatto prendere un bello spavento, eh!

For sure you gave us a nice scare, huh!

For sure you gave us quite a scare, huh!

Caption 46, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 16

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As you can see, bello is used in lots of ways, and we certainly haven't covered all of them here. One thing is for sure: We can't always translate bello with "beautiful." So keep your eyes and ears open for different nuances of the word bello as you listen to conversations, as you try to speak Italian, and as you watch Yabla videos on the handy player where you can pause, repeat a caption, and look up words, as well as do the exercises to reinforce what you are learning. 


Pronunciation Tips for Beginners: the letter A

For English speakers, Italian can be difficult to pronounce, especially when reading. Watching, listening, and doing the exercises Yabla provides can all help reinforce correct pronunciation, but let’s zoom in on one of the basic sounds.


We’re not looking for the nuances here, of which there are plenty, but just the very basics.


In Italian, the vowels, in particular, sound so different from what they look like to an English speaker, so let’s start there.


Let’s have a look at pronouncing the letter "A."


To hear the Italian “A” click on the audio icon here, and you can hear the correct pronunciation and repeat it. Maybe you can find a word in English that you pronounce with this sound. The Italian "A" sound has no diphthong in it and never sounds like a long "A," as in April.


Let’s take the word naso (nose). If you pronounce the "A" as you do in "ah!," you will come pretty close! And here is a tip. Go to the Dictionary tab and type in the word naso. Apart from information about the word, you will see an audio icon you can click on to hear the word pronounced. At the bottom of the page, you will be able to click on some bite-sized video clips containing the word in context. 



Quindi ho bisogno di soffiare il naso tantissime volte.

So I have to blow my nose many times.

Caption 13, Marika spiega - Il raffreddore

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What are some other words with this sound?


How about casa (house)? There are 2 A's. 

È Sara che è tornata a casa.

It's Sara who just got home.

Caption 26, Acqua in bocca Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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Maybe you noticed there are plenty of words with the A sound in the previous example. Try repeating the caption after hearing it. 


How about pasta?


La pasta alla Norma è una pasta semplicissima da cucinare.

Pasta alla Norma is a very simple pasta dish to make.

Caption 5, L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1

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In fact, if we listen look carefully,  there are plenty of words containing the letter "A" in this one sentence. Listen to the video, and you will hear that they are all pronounced the same way. 


Try pronouncing the title. Italia a tavola (Italy at the Table).


In a segment of La Ladra (try pronouncing the title), there’s a very similar word to its English counterpart (the one in parentheses), but the "A" sounds a bit different.



Murderer (assassin)!

Caption 9, La Ladra Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 13

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For more on the alphabet, see Marika's videos about the alphabet and about pronunciation.


Let us know if this was helpful, and we’ll talk about another vowel, soon. 

Reflections on the Reflexive

We talked a little about reflexive personal pronouns in Ci Gets Around. They are: mi (myself), ti (yourself), ci (ourselves), si (himself/herself/itself/themselves), and vi (yourselves). 



The reflexive is necessary in Italian when someone (or something) is both the doer and the receiver of an action. In the dictionary, a reflexive verb is presented with si joined to the end of the infinitive (and the final e is omitted). For example, we have the transitive form of the verb alzare (to raise) but when it's reflexive, we have alzarsi (to get up, to rise).


When we conjugate a reflexive verb, the si will change into a different reflexive pronoun according to the person, and it will be detached from the verb (but close by). 


mi alzo

ti alzi 

si alza

ci alziamo

vi alzate

si alzano


Let's remember that the conjugation of the verb tells us who is involved. It includes the subject pronoun. So I could also say, although it would be redundant in most cases:

tu ti alzi 

lui si alza

lei si alza

noi ci alziamo

voi vi alzate

loro si alzano


As we saw above, alzare means "to raise," but alzarsi means "to rise," "to get up." Sometimes the meaning of the two types of verbs can be close but different. So, for instance, if you hide something, the verb you are looking for is nascondere.


E poi, ho pensato di nascondere il corpo e...

And then, I thought of hiding the body and...

l'ho caricato in macchina e...

I loaded it into the car and...

non ri', non ricordo più niente.

I can't re', can't remember anything else.

Captions 57-59, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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But if you are the one hiding, you’ll need the reflexive form, nascondersi (literally, to hide oneself). A marine biologist dives down to the bottom of the sea surrounding the Aeolian Islands to show us the beautiful creatures there. The creatures are shy.


Probabilmente, sta cercando una tana per nascondersi da me.

She's probably looking for a hole in order to hide from me.

Caption 23, Linea Blu - Le Eolie

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The same holds here, where avvicinare, by itself, means to move something closer. But if you add the reflexive, it’s something or someone that is getting closer. 


Il prossimo che si avvicina all'acquario...

The next one who comes near the aquarium...

m'ingoio voi [sic] e tutta la famiglia, hm.

I'll swallow you and the whole family, hmm.

Captions 57-58, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino

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When it’s all about you, you’ll use the reflexive with many of the verbs you use to talk about your daily routines.


Di solito, io mi sveglio alle sette in punto.

Usually, I wake up at seven on the dot.

Caption 5, Marika spiega - L'orologio

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Mi alzo alle sei e mezza.

I get up at six thirty.

Caption 9, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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Mi vesto e ti lascio il bagno.

I'll get dressed and I'll leave you the bathroom.

Caption 48, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 11

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Now you should be ready to reflect on the reflexive! Get the whole picture on reflexive verbs here. For the scoop on reflexive pronouns, you can get help here. For even more on the reflexive, see this online resource.


Making It Happen

Fare (to make) is a verb for getting things done. It’s about as universal in Italian as “get” (or “have”) is in English and frequently means about the same thing. 

Here, fare really does mean “to make”:


Eccolo. Questo è il vino che faccio con mio nonno.

Here it is. This is the wine I make with my grandfather.

Captions 7-8, Escursione - Un picnic in campagna

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Fare used simply, as in the above example, indicates you are doing the work. If, instead of doing something yourself, you have it done by someone else, you’ll generally use fare plus the verb in the infinitive:


Se vuole, La faccio accompagnare da uno dei miei ragazzi.

If you'd like, I'll have one of my guys accompany you.

Caption 19, Una gita - al lago

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When you need to borrow something, fare loans itself to you because there’s no single word in Italian that means “to borrow.” You need to “get something lent to you,” so you use the verb prestare (to lend) but you turn it around using fare, plus, depending on whom you are talking about, the appropriate reflexive personal pronoun.


La mia dolce Ninetta riceve anche la visita di Pippo,

My sweet Ninetta also gets a visit from Pippo,

un altro servitore di Casa Vingradito,

another servant from the Vingradito home,

e riesce a farsi prestare da Pippo alcune monete.

and is able to borrow a few coins from Pippo.

Captions 11-13, Anna e Marika - in La Gazza Ladra

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The same idea holds for showing something to someone: you need to “make them see it.”


Adesso vi farò vedere alcuni piatti di semplice realizzazione

Now I'm going to show you some dishes that are simple to make

Caption 3, Ricette dolci - Crème brûlée alla banana

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Fare can also be intended as “get,” “have,” or “let,” depending on the context. Here, fare is used in a command:


Fammi uscire! Ehi, fammi uscire!

Let me out! Hey, let me out!

Captions 52-53, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino

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There’s lots more to say about fare, but for now, when you tune into Yabla, try to start noticing how people talk about getting things done using this catch-all word. To get more acquainted with fare, have a look here and here.



Learning suggestion:

Think about some things you would like to get done (or have already had done). Here are some ideas to work with. Try turning them into questions or changing the person, tense, subject, object, or verb, or you can make up your own sentences from scratch.

Faccio sempre pulire la casa da professionisti.

I always have the house cleaned by professionals.

Facciamo riparare la nostra macchina dal meccanico in paese.

We get our car repaired by the mechanic in town.

Mi sono fatta fare un tatuaggio.

I got a tattoo. (This is a woman speaking. A man would say, Mi sono fatto fare un tatuaggio.)

Vorrei farmi fare un vestito da una sarta.

I’d like to get a dress made for me by a seamstress.

Non mi lavo i capelli da sola.  Li faccio lavare dalla parrucchiera.

I don’t wash my own hair. I get it washed at the hairdresser’s.

Ti voglio fare conoscere un amico.

I want to introduce you to a friend.

Voglio farti conoscere un amico.

I want to introduce you to a friend.

Mi fai vedere le tue foto?

Will you show me your pictures?

Joining a language forum such as WordReference can be helpful for getting feedback on your attempts.



The Simple Things in Life

It’s easy to get information on how to conjugate Italian verbs in all the tenses (for example, here), but it’s not so easy to know when to use one tense or another. Consider this conversation between two fish in an aquarium:


Che hai? Perché ti lamenti?

What's the matter? Why are you complaining?

Captions 6-7, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino

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E ora che succede?

And now what's happening?

Shsh, è proprio arrabbiata.

Shhh, she's really angry.

Senti come singhiozza.

Listen to how she's sobbing.

Captions 34-36, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino

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In English we have two types of present tense: present continuous, as in “I am talking on the phone at the moment," and the simple present, as in “I talk to my Mom every evening.” The first has to do with the moment, and the second with regularity or facts (learn more here). As you can see in the above dialogue, Italian speakers will use the present tense for both, unless there is some ambiguity about meaning or unless they want to emphasize the time element, such as in the following:

Non ti posso parlare ora perché sto mangiando.

I can’t talk to you right now because I am eating.

This progressive tense, which doesn’t really have an official name in Italian, is formed with the verb stare ("to stay" or "to be") plus the verb in its gerundio (gerund) form. Learn more here.

Now we are in Commissioner Manara’s office but he’s not there. As soon as he walks in, Sardi, who has been trying to pry information out of Lara regarding the Commissioner, feels she should get out of there. She says:


E infatti vado e tolgo il disturbo e vi lascio lavorare.

And, in fact, I'll go and I'll stop bothering you and I'll let you work.

Caption 61, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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(N.b.: Literally, tolgo il disturbo means “I’ll remove the disturbance.”)

Sardi says it all in the present tense, but this time to refer to the (near) future! When the context does not require a specific reference to time, the most “neutral” version of a verb (i.e., the present tense) is preferred.

And il presente (the present) can also express English’s simple future tense (“going to” + verb), like at the beginning of Marika’s lesson about numbers:


Ciao. Oggi parliamo di numeri.

Hi. Today, we're going to talk about numbers.

Caption 1, Marika spiega - Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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So the good news is that in Italian, with one tense, il presente, we can cover three different tenses in English. This may simplify things as you practice your Italian speaking skills, but don’t forget to pay attention to the context!



Learning suggestion: 

In addition to listening to the videos and paying attention to how the present tense is used, try putting these sentences into Italian using il presente


You’re asking a friend what she intends to wear to school. The verb is mettere (“to put” or “to put on”).

     What are you wearing today? 

You're talking to your boss about when you will hand in your work. The verb is finire (to finish).

     I’m going to finish the project after lunch.  

You're talking about your eating habits. The verb is mangiare (to eat).

     I eat a sandwich every day for lunch. 

You're at a restaurant talking to the waiter. The verb is prendere (to take).

     I’ll have the fish. 

You have a flat tire and don’t know how to fix it. The verb is fare (to make or do).

     What am I going to do now? 

You're talking about the new person in your English class. The verb is parlare (to speak).

     He speaks English very well.


Cosa ti metti oggi?  

Finisco il progetto dopo pranzo. 

Mangio un panino tutti i giorni a pranzo. 

Prendo il pesce. 

E ora che faccio?

Lui parla molto bene inglese. 


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