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Talking about dates in Italian

When we are learning a new language we pay attention to things that native speakers don't necessarily pay attention to. They don't have to. But we do! That is how we learn.

 

Here's a case in point. A learner was watching a Yabla video about numbers. When do we use ordinal numbers, and when do we use cardinal numbers? In the video in question, Marika is talking about dates. Every language expresses dates a bit differently, and there are often different options. The basic premise is that in contrast to how we do it in English, Italians mostly use a cardinal number (not an ordinal number as in English) when talking about a specific date, preceded by the definite article.

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The learner's question was, "Is there some special reason why Marika uses the preposition di (of) when talking about August, but not for the other dates?" It's a great question, and it is exactly the kind of question we like learners to ask. Because native speakers, or even experienced non-native speakers, might not be aware they are saying di (of). They just know it sounds right without thinking about it and may or not be able to explain why.

Si dice il cinque aprile, il quattro luglio, il nove maggio, ehm, il venti di agosto.

One says the fifth of April, the fourth of July, the ninth of May, uhm, the twentieth of August.

Captions 24-25, Marika spiega Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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So the short answer is that when talking about a specific date, you can just say the cardinal number (with the definite article before it) followed by the month. There was nothing special about the month of August to cause Marika to use the preposition di. She might have used it because it was the last month she said in a series and it just sounded better to her. And it's a valid option. So it is not wrong to use the preposition, but more often than not, Italians don't use it. 

 

Let's look at another example. Antonio is telling us about a festival in August, in his area of Italy. In the following example, he just says the cardinal number and the month. He is talking about a specific date.

E poi il diciotto agosto la statua rientra qui nel... ehm, nel santuario.

And then on the eighteenth of August the statue returns here, in the... uh, in the sanctuary.

Captions 19-20, Antonio al Santuario - Part 1

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In the same video, a few captions earlier, he is again talking about the dates of the festival. He uses the preposition di in the first instance.

Ehm, la Madonna della Grotta è la protettrice di Praia a Mare e viene fatta una festa il quattordici e quindici d'agosto. Per l'esattezza inizia il quattordici a mezzanotte e finisce il diciotto agosto di ogni anno,

Um, the Madonna of the Cave is the patron saint of Praia a Mare and there is a feast on the fourteenth and fifteenth of August. To be exact it starts on the fourteenth at midnight and ends on the eighteenth of August every year,

Captions 13-16, Antonio al Santuario - Part 1

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When he cited two dates together he used the preposition di before agosto. Sometimes it just seems clearer to add it. It could also be that since agosto starts with a vowel and diciotto ends with a vowel, it's easier to put a consonant in the middle, so it's clearer and easier to say.

 

Marika, in this video about the news, doesn't add the preposition (febbraio starts with a consonant!).

Il ventiquattro e venticinque febbraio, in Italia si terranno le elezioni politiche, che decreteranno la scelta di un nuovo governo.

On the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth of February, Italy will hold political elections that will ratify the choice of a new government.

Captions 8-9, Anna e Marika in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 2

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The important thing to know is that it is correct to leave out that preposition and that we generally use a cardinal number except for when it's the first. When it's the first of the month, we use the ordinal number primo (first). 

E si dice: il primo luglio, il primo agosto, il primo settembre.

And one says: the first of July, the first of August, the first of September.

Caption 28, Marika spiega Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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And if we are talking about the first few days of a month, we can say it like this with the plural of primo (note we use the preposition di (of)):

I primi di gennaio (the first days of January)

 

I mesi che ci interessano sono quelli di metà marzo, aprile, maggio e i primi di giugno.

The months that interest us here are half of March, April, May, and the first [days] of June.

Captions 29-30, Adriano Le stagioni dell'anno

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It's funny this question has come up about the preposition di, because in our previous lesson we also talked about the preposition di and how it is common to use it when talking about saying "yes" and "no." In that case, too, it's an option. Learning which option works better comes with a lot of listening and repeating, and keeping your eyes and ears open. We thank the learner who wrote in about this topic!

Di is one of those prepositions that most learners of Italian struggle with, so don't feel bad if you often get it wrong. You are not alone! Non sei solo/sola!

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Caption 16, 15, 14, 13, 20, 19
Intermediate

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 - Ep 2

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E ora che succede? Shsh, è proprio arrabbiata. Senti come singhiozza.

And now what's happening? Shhh, she's really angry. Listen to how she's sobbing.

Captions 34-36, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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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

 Play Caption

 

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!

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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.

Answers:

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. 

Grammar

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