Italian Lessons



It’s almost funny how many times the verb capire (to understand) was used in last week’s episode of Commissario Manara. It’s not really funny because it was about Iolanda Sorge’s tragic murder. But it’s an excellent example of how often capire is used in everyday speech. And since in casual conversation, this past participle can stand alone, it’s very handy and easy to use. It can fill up the time between one phrase and the next. It’s almost as common as “you know” in English.


As mentioned in previous lessonscapire is most often used in the past participle, capito, even when English would call for the present tense, as in the following example.  

La gente si fida di me, capito?

People trust me, you understand?

Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 7

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In the following example, the speaker is getting more specific (and angrier), and uses the verb with its subject and auxiliary verb. 

Te [tu] mi usi per ricattarli, hai capito?

You're using me to blackmail them, you understand?

Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 7

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Later on in the episode, Manara is in a meeting with his chief. Here, they use the present indicative of capire. In this case, we’re talking about understanding something or someone on a deeper level. It’s used transitively, and means something like, “Do you understand where I’m coming from?” or “Do you understand what I’m really trying to tell you?” 

Ci sono i segreti di mezzo paese in quelle registrazioni, mi capisce?

There are secrets from half the town in those recordings, you understand me?

La capisco perfettamente.

I understand you perfectly.

Captions 44-45, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 7

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When arguing with her husband, Iolanda could have used the second person indicative present tense capisci (do you understand), and it would have been correct and maybe equally as effective, but using the past participle of this verb is just how people usually talk.


In the following example, the speaker could have used va bene (all right) or even the loan word “OK” in place of capito

Ma te non ti devi preoccupare, capito?

But you're not to worry, understand?

Caption 44, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 12

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But capito is a great and user-friendly alternative.


When listening to someone tell you something, instead of just nodding your head and sayingsì sì (yes, yes), it’s very natural to say ho capito (literally, “I have understood/I understood,” or “I get it”). People will say it to you when you are speaking, even if they don’t quite get what you’re saying. It’s basically another way of saying “I’m listening.”


As you go through your day, try mentally using capire in its past participle to ask the question “do you get it?” (capito?) or to replace “you know?” (capito?), or to say, “I heard you, I’m listening” (ho capito).

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Ancora: Again, Still, Yet, and More

The first translation of ancorathe one many of us know, is “again.”


This certainly applies to the title of a Gabriele Muccino film, whose trailer is on Yabla.

Trailer ufficiale - Baciami ancora

Official trailer: Kiss Me Again


It also applies to the title song: 

Baciami ancora, baciami ancora

Kiss me again, kiss me again

Caption 13, Lorenzo Jovanotti - Baciami ancora

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In fact, quite often, ancora does mean “again.”

Arrivederci. -Ci scusi ancora.

Good bye. -Again, please excuse us.

Caption 16, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 12

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But Italians also use ancora to mean “still.”

Scusatelo, eh, però è ancora sconvolto per quello che è successo.

Excuse him, uh, but he's still in shock for what happened.

Caption 43, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 11

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A proposito (speaking of which), another Italian word for “still” is sempre (always). This word, too, has several meanings. Check out the Yabla lesson about sempre here.


The above example could just as well have been:

Scusatelo, però è sempre sconvolto per quello che è successo.
Excuse him, but he's still in shock for what happened.


Juggling these words can take a bit of getting used to!

When there is the negative non before it, ancora means “yet,” as in “not yet.”

Allora? Come è andata? Non lo so ancora.

So? How did it go? I don't know yet.

Captions 56-57, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 11

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Still another way to use ancora is to reinforce the adverbs più (more) or meno (less). The English equivalent in this case would be “even” or "still."

Gli anni Cinquanta che, a pensarci, sembrano ancora più lontani.

The fifties which, if you think about it, seem even more remote.

Caption 1, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua - Part 11

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When più is by itself rather than modifying another word, it will be preceded by di (of) as in the following example. In this case it also means "even more so."

Mi piace questo vestito, ma quello mi piace ancora di più.
I like this dress, but I like that one even more so.


And lastly, ancora can also mean simply “more.”


When someone is putting sugar in your coffee, you can say ancora, to mean “more” or “keep going!”

Ancora qualche erbetta sulla nostra carne.

A few more herbs on our meat.

Caption 42, Battuta di Fassone - in Insalata Chef

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You may have learned that più means "more," and that’s true, but ancora can often replace it.

Sto facendo pressione sul presidente, ma mi serve ancora un po' di tempo.

I'm putting pressure on the president, but I need a bit more time.

Caption 36, La Tempesta - film - Part 14

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To use più in the preceding example, we just have to change the word order, like this:

...mi serve un po' piu di tempo.

...I need a bit more time.


Even in English, there is a close connection between “more” and “again.” It’s up to us to keep our eyes and ears open to gradually get a feel for the Italian perspective on the word. Thinking back on the first examples about kissing, the person could have either been saying “kiss me again” or “kiss me some more,” which has a slightly more emotional and intense feeling about it. Context and tone are key!


In a nutshell:

Ancora is used to mean:

yet (preceded by non)
even (followed by più or meno plus an adjective or adverb)
more so (ancora di più)
some more


Getting someone’s attention in Italian: ascoltare and sentire

One way to get someone’s attention is to use the imperative command form of a verb. Two useful verbs for this purpose are ascoltare (to listen) and sentire (to hear). In Italian it’s important to know to whom you are giving the command; this will determine both the word choice and its conjugation.



Commissioner Manara has a familiar relationship with Lara and uses the informal form of address: He’s getting her attention by saying ascolta (listen). There’s a slight urgency with ascolta.


Ascolta Lara, a volte bisogna prendere delle scorciatoie, no?

Listen Lara, sometimes you have to take shortcuts, right?

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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In the next example, there’s a bit of urgency, but this is Manara’s boss talking to him. They use the polite or formal form of address:


Manara, mi ascolti bene.

Manara, listen to me carefully.

Caption 23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Note that the imperative verb can stand alone, or be paired with an object personal pronoun as in the above example. It adds to the urgency, and makes it more personal. Manara’s boss could have added mi raccomando (make sure) for extra urgency:

Manara, mi ascolti bene, mi raccomando!


This next example is between two people who really don’t know each other at all. It’s a formal situation, so the Lei form of “you” is used. Senta is more passive and less intrusive than ascolti. In fact, it means “hear” or “listen,” but is actually a way of saying “excuse me.”


Senta Signora, oltre a Lei, chi lo sapeva di queste lettere?

Excuse me ma'am, other than you, who knew about these letters?

Caption 64, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi

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Senta (listen, excuse me, or hear me) is a command you’ll use in a restaurant when wishing to get the attention of the cameriere (waiter).

Senta, possiamo ordinare?
Excuse me, may we order?


Often, senta (listen) goes hand in hand with scusi (excuse me), to be extra polite.


Buonasera. Senta scusi, Lei conosceva il dottor Lenni, giusto?

Good evening. Listen, excuse me.  You knew Doctor Lenni, right?

Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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And in a familiar situation, such as between Marika and the mozzarella vendor in Rome, there’s no urgency but Marika wants to get the vendor’s attention before asking her a question.


Senti, ma quante mozzarelle dobbiamo comprare per la nostra cena?

Listen, but how many mozzarellas should we buy for our dinner?

Caption 50, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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Without necessarily studying all the conjugations of sentire and scusare, it’s a good idea to just remember that in polite speech, the imperative has an “a” at the end of senta, but an “i” at the end of scusi. The familiar command form would be senti, scusa. These endings can be tricky for beginners because they seem wrong, being the opposite of the indicative endings. It’s quite easy to get mixed up. The command form originally comes from the subjunctive, which is why it has a different, special conjugation.


Learning suggestion:

Getting someone’s attention is part of the basic toolkit you need to communicate in Italian, so why not practice a bit, in your mind? Look at someone and get their attention using the correct verb and correct form.

If you don’t know the person, or you address them formally for some other reason, you use:

Senta! Senta, scusi.
Senta, mi scusi.
[Mi] ascolti. (Not so common, and a bit aggressive, useful if you’re a boss.)


If you’re trying to get the attention of a friend, you’ll use:

Senti... (It’s almost like saying, “Hey...”)

Ascoltami... (This can be aggressive or intimate depending on the tone and the context.)




Learn more about the imperative in Italian here.

Don't Worry!

When you worry about something, it’s hard to think about anything else. With this in mind, it won’t come as too much of a surprise that the Italian word for worrying sounds a lot like the verb “to preoccupy.” The infinitive is preoccupare (to worry), usually used reflexively—preoccuparsi (to worry about)—the adjective/participle is preoccupato (worried), and the noun is preoccupazione (cause for worry) with its plural, preoccupazioni (worries, troubles). We all do our share of worrying, so it’s a good word to be familiar with!


In the story of La Bohème, Rodolfo is worried about Mimì because she has tuberculosis.


l'ho sentito che si confidava con Marcello, il suo amico pittore, e gli diceva che era preoccupato per via della mia malattia.

I heard him confiding to his friend Marcello, his painter friend, and he told him that he was worried because of my illness.

Captions 30-31, Anna presenta - La Bohème di Puccini

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Andiamo a casa, va'! Se no zia si preoccupa.

Let's go home, come on! Otherwise Auntie will worry.

Captions 36-37, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Sometimes people worry for no reason, so we want to reassure them. In other words, we’re giving the negative command, “Don’t worry.” Negative commands in Italian are easy when you’re talking to friends and family: non + the infinitive of a verb.

So, if a friend or familiar person is preoccupato and they shouldn’t be, take after Adriano, who’s reassuring his grandmother. She’s family, so he speaks informally to her. As he sings her praises, she notices something off-camera and points to it. He doesn’t want her to worry about it, or even to pay attention to it:


Non ti preoccupare, nonna.

Don't worry Grandma.

Caption 26, Adriano - Nonna

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Remember that preoccupare is generally used reflexively (preoccuparsi), so just like with other reflexive verbs, the personal pronoun can go in two different positions (both are equally grammatical): before the verb, as Adriano says it, or attached to the end of the verb as below. See this previous lesson, and this one, too, for more on reflexive verbs.


Scusa, eh, per le foto così brutte, ma le ha fatte mio marito, quindi... No, ma non preoccuparti.

Sorry, uh, for such bad photos, but my husband took them, so... No, but don't worry about it.

Captions 34-35, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 7

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If, on the other hand, you need to tell someone you don’t know very well not to worry, use the polite form of the imperative (more on doing so here): Non si preoccupi. Without delving into a lot of grammar, just memorizing the phrase (with a nice accent on the “o”) will be helpful when you’re addressing someone like a salesperson, someone’s parent, a teacher, or a doctor, as in the following example. 


Dottore non si preoccupi, ci occuperemo noi di lui.

Doctor don't worry, we'll take care of him.

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 12

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Gualtiero Marchesi forgets his troubles by going back to his childhood haunts. Pensieri (thoughts, worries) go hand in hand with preoccupazioni (worries, troubles):


Sono sempre tornato nei luoghi della mia infanzia, a volte, all'improvviso, lasciandomi alle spalle pensieri e preoccupazioni.

I've always returned to the places of my childhood, sometimes, suddenly, leaving my thoughts and worries behind.

Captions 16-17, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua

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As an aside, the antidote to worrying is frequently to take care of something, and the verb for that is occuparsi (to take care of, to deal with), not to be confused with preoccuparsi.



Learning suggestion:

When you meet people or pass them on the street, consider whether you would speak to them informally or formally, and tell them, in your mind, not to worry. Would you say non ti preoccupare or non si preoccupi


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