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Verso: a word with too many meanings to count

Looking at the word verso, we can detect a couple of cognates: "verse" and "versus," abbreviated as "vs" or "v." We can also see the word in words like "reverse..."

Verso is actually a wonderful word that can be used in so many circumstances. But where to start? Let's start in earlier times.

 

When manuscripts had leaves, not pages:

If you look at a medieval manuscript, for example, and think of how they numbered the pages, it's pretty interesting.

 

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Instead of pages, they considered the whole sheet or leaf. Think of a looseleaf notebook. A leaf, or a sheet of paper (or parchment), has two sides. When scribes started numbering these leaves (in the twelfth century "foliation" became a rule. Before that there were different ways of keeping track), the number would be placed in the upper right-hand corner, for example: "XXX" (roman numerals were commonly used). This was the right side, the front side, the "recto." The backside of the leaf was called the "verso," the reverse side. So if you were indicating where a song or chapter started, you would say folio XXX r or XXX v. 

 

The word verso comes from the Latin verb "vertĕre," meaning "to turn" — in its past participle form, "versus." The Italian verb meaning "to turn" is voltare which has common origins with volgere, the Italian for Latin "vertere." So the backside of a sheet is the one you have "turned."

 

il verso

Considering the above, it seems appropriate to discuss the noun form il verso  next.

 

Il verso can certainly mean, as we have seen, "the reverse side," especially when talking about a coin, medal, or sheet or leaf of parchment. 

 

It can also mean "direction" or "way."

...e per trenta minuti si gira in un verso, lentamente,

...and for thirty minutes, you stir it in one direction, slowly,

Caption 35, Adriano L'arancello di Marina

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Le parti basse dell'ulivo vanno tolte perché sono secche e non permettono alla pianta di, di crescere nel giusto verso.

The lower parts of the olive tree have to be removed because they're dry, and they don't allow the plant to, to grow in the right direction.

Captions 25-26, Gianni si racconta L'olivo e i rovi

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In colloquial speech il verso can mean "the way," used figuratively. 

Pezzo di pane... -Bisogna saperlo prendere per il verso giusto.

Piece of bread... -You have to know how to handle him the right way.

Caption 65, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 16

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...ma non c'è stato verso di farla ragionare.

...but there was no way to get her to reason.

Caption 4, Imma Tataranni Sostituto procuratore S1EP1 L'estate del dito - Part 10

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When talking about marble, it means "the correct direction," or "the grain." 

Eh, il verso e il contro sono due termini, eh, conosciuti diffusamente tra gli art', gli artigiani del marmo,

Uh, the grain and against the grain are two terms, um, well known to art', marble artisans,

Captions 6-8, Claudio Capotondi Scultore - Part 1

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We also have the word inverso in Italian, meaning "inverse" or "opposite."

Quando "venire" è contrapposto esplicitamente ad "andare", indica movimento inverso, perché i due verbi esprimono insieme un movimento alternato e ripetuto nei [due] sensi.

When “venire” is explicitly juxtaposed with “andare,” it indicates an inverse movement, because the two verbs together express alternate and repeated movements, direction-wise.

Captions 42-45, Marika spiega I verbi venire e andare - Part 2

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Other meanings of il verso as a noun are: 

-the sound an animal makes.

-a line of poetry

-a verse

 

Verso — the preposition

 

Verso is a preposition, too, again having to do with direction.

Verso can mean "towards." It can also be interpreted as "facing,"

Perciò ti volti verso di lui. -Certo.

So, you turn towards him. -Of course.

Caption 62, Fratelli Taviani La passione e l'utopia - Part 16

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Note that when we use personal pronouns as an object, we need the extra preposition di. If it's a noun, then no extra preposition is needed.

Poi andando sempre più verso il Duomo, si vede appunto il Duomo

Then still going towards the Duomo, you can see just that, the Cathedral,

Captions 27-28, In giro per l'Italia Firenze - Part 4

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When we're talking about directions rather than concrete destinations, we use neither an extra preposition nor an article. 

Poi, andando verso sinistra si vede il Palazzo Vecchio,

Then, going towards the left you can see the Palazzo Vecchio [the old building]

Caption 34, In giro per l'Italia Firenze - Part 4

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The English word "versus," has the same Latin origin as the preposition verso, but has come to mean "against." Two people or teams face each other when they are against each other. 

 

Verso can mean "around" especially when talking about time.

La signora ha cenato e poi verso le nove è uscita.

The lady had dinner and then around nine, she went out.

Caption 8, Il Commissario Manara S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 5

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The verb versare

Finally, we mention the verb versare, because the first person singular happens to be verso. But versare deserves a lesson all to itself, because it's used often, but with various nuances in specific contexts. 

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Vocabulary

Comparatives of Equality

We have seen that comparatives work a bit differently in Italian as compared to English. Read more here. For most adjectives and adverbs in Italian, there is no specific comparative form. We use the adverbs più (more) or meno  (less) to form the comparative. Notable exceptions are buono (good) and bene (well), which have their own comparative forms. We have discussed them here

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But things get tricky when we compare things that are equal. For the most part, in English, we use the same adverb or conjunction "as" in both parts of the comparison. 

 

You are as tall as I am. We are both the same height.

 

In Italian, there are basically two pairs of words that are sometimes interchangeable and sometimes not. Tanto (lots, as much) pairs with quanto (how much), and così (like, so) pairs with come (how, as).

Il comparativo di uguaglianza si forma facendo precedere l'aggettivo dall'avverbio "tanto", o "così", seguito dall'aggettivo, più "come" o "quanto".

The comparative of equality is formed by placing the adverb "tanto" [as much] or "cosi" [like, as], followed by the adjective, plus "as" or "as much."

Captions 23-28, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Comparativo - Part 3

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And sometimes we can omit one of the two words in a pair. Tutto sommato (all in all), it can be a bit confusing.

 

Here are some examples of complete sentences from Yabla that feature comparatives of equality, so you can become more familiar with them. 

Insomma, i ponti sono tanto frequentati quanto sconosciuti ai romani di oggi.

In other words, the bridges are as traveled as they are unknown to the Romans of today.

Caption 44, I Love Roma - guida della città - Part 8

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Ed è stata tanto colpa nostra quanto colpa sua.

And it was as much our fault as his fault.

Caption 55, Italiano commerciale - Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 3

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The following example uses che, another ingredient of comparatives, as described by Daniela, but here, it's used incorrectly. This just goes to show that comparatives of equality can be tricky for Italians, too.

Disarmonie e contrasti sono ingredienti indispensabili tanto della vita che della cucina.

Disharmonies and contrasts are indispensable ingredients, as much in life as in cuisine.

Caption 18, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá - Part 10

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Here is what the speaker should have said.

Disarmonie e contrasti sono ingredienti indispensabili tanto nella vita quanto nella cucina.
Disharmonies and contrasts are indispensable ingredients, in life as well as in the kitchen.

 

This next example compares two comparatives on equal terms (more=more). Can you wrap your head around it

Quanto più l'impasto è durotanto meglio viene la pasta.

The stiffer the dough, the better the pasta will be.

Caption 45, Marino - La maccaronara

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In the following example, Adriano is using così come to compare the adjective intenso (intense) on an equal basis between one day and other days.  

Spero che anche voi possiate avere delle giornate così intense come questa.

I hope that you too can have days that are as intense as this one.

Caption 56, Adriano - Giornata

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We often find così and come together in a sentence and it can often be translated as "just as" or "just like."

Al verso è docile e al contro è duro, così come la vita.

Along the grain it's soft and against the grain it's hard, just like life.

Captions 11-12, Claudio Capotondi - Scultore - Part 1

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Here are examples of the two types of pairings, along with versions where the first adverb is omitted, as described by Daniela.

Non conosco nessuno così bravo come te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.
Non conosco nessuno bravo come te.
I don't know anyone smart like you.
Non conosco nessuno tanto bravo quanto te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.
Non conosco nessuno bravo quanto te.
I don't know anyone as smart as you.

 

Practice: 
Try looking around your home and comparing things. 

Questa stanza è più grande di quella (this room is bigger than that one).
Quella stanza è meno grande di questa (That room is smaller than this one).
Questo tavolo è tanto grande quanto quel tavolo lì (this table is as big as that one there).
Questo tavolo è grande quanto quello lì (this table is as big as that one there).
La mia poltrona è tanto comoda quanto la tua (my armchair is as comfortable as yours).
La mia poltrona è comoda quanto la tua (my armchair is as comfortable as yours).

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Start simple and get comfortable. Hint: In comparisons of equality, it's more common to omit the first adverb than to include it, at least in everyday speech. Whew! 

Grammar

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