Italian Lessons


Italians and TV

Italians love TV. Most houses have one in a central spot, and many families have it on during family meals. They get very good at listening to the conversation and the news at the same time. This can be frustrating for foreign guests trying to learn Italian!



As you can see from the following example, the abbreviation TV is often used. But let's talk about that. If you write it out, it's tivù, which is how you would pronounce the two letters, T and V. Although rarer and rarer, you might find it spelled out: tivù. But it's usually just spelled with the classic abbreviation, TV. You just have to remember to pronounce the V as Italians do.



What gender is it? Well, the noun visione (vision) is feminine, and so is televisione (television). So is TV. La TV. But if you see something on TV, then the article goes away and you use the preposition in, pretty much like English, except it's "in" not "on": in television, in TV.


Ti abbiamo visto in TV [tivù].

We saw you on TV.

Caption 9, Chi m'ha visto film - Part 26

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1) How about if the speaker is talking about himself, not his company?

2) What if he is talking to a musical group?


There's another word to talk about a TV. Here is Luca Manara after his first day on job, and he is staying at a bed and breakfast. Ada is showing him his room.

La stanza numero tre. La più bella. Un suo agente Le ha già portato i bagagli. -Perfetto. -Ah! -Sì? -Il televisore c'è in camera? Eh, certo che c'è. È anche bono [sic: buono], sa? Soltanto l'antenna non funziona. Vabbé, tanto la televisione non la guardo.

Room number three. The nicest one. One of your agents has already brought you your luggage. -Perfect. Ah! -Yes? -Is there a TV in the room? Yeah, of course there is. It's even a good one [heavy Tuscan accent], you know? It's just that the antenna doesn't work. All right, I don't watch television anyway.

Captions 28-33, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6

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3) What if Ada was showing Manara the biggest room, rather than the nicest one?

4) What if more than one agent had brought Manara's luggage?


So what's the difference between televisione and televisore? Well, visore means "viewer" or "screen," so with televisore, we are talking about the TV set, the actual appliance. In this case, visore is masculine and so is televisore: il televisore.


In the previous example, we can see clearly that Luca wants to know if there is a TV so he uses il televisore. But when it comes to watching it, he uses la televisione.


Just as in English, TV is used as an adjective, but we have to remember to put the adjective after the noun, as in serie TV (TV series). And as with "series" in English, serie doesn't change between singular and plural.

Capri è stata una serie televisiva in onda su Rai Uno, di grande successo.

“Capri” was a television series broadcast on RAI One. A big success.

Captions 54-55, L'Eredità -Quiz TV La sfida dei sei. Puntata 2 - Part 10

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The speaker could have said, a bit more informally:

Capri è stata una serie TV in onda su Rai Uno, di grande successo.



Another thing to note is that when una serie TV (a TV series) is a (usually fictional) story with episodes, as opposed to a talk show, game show, or the like, then it's usually called un telefilm, in other words, a film for TV, often a puntata (in episodes), but not necessarily. Sometimes a telefilm is distinguished from a documentary or other kind of series by being called una fiction. In fact, RAI Fiction produces and broadcasts movies, made-for-TV movies, and series.

Eccomi qua a commentare alcune espressioni che troviamo nel telefilm "Il Commissario Manara"!

Here I am to comment on some expressions that we find in the TV series "Commissioner Manara."

Captions 3-4, Marika commenta - L'ispettore Manara Parole ripetute

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When we're talking about romantic stories or soap operas, usually daytime TV fare, then we can use the term telenovela. The example is taken from a little sketch where Marika and Anna play two office workers gossiping while pretending to work. 

Mi sembra proprio una telenovela.

It looks to me just like a soap opera.

Caption 27, Marika spiega Pettegolezzi in ufficio con Anna

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Fun (and not so fun) facts

When did Italians start having TVs?

Television in Italy was introduced in 1939, when the first experimental broadcasts began. However, this lasted for a very short time: When fascist Italy entered World War II in 1940, all transmissions were interrupted, and were resumed in earnest only nine years after the end of the conflict, on January 3, 1954.


One interesting feature of Italian television (RAI) from 1957 to 1977 was a series of short comedy sketches, many of which used live action but featured animation and puppetry as well. The name of the series was Carosello (carousel). You can view la sigla (theme song, title song, titles) for the years 1962-1974 on YouTubeCarosello was commercial in scope and each puntata (episode) lasted ten minutes, so they were actual stories (unthinkable today). They advertised pressure cookers, coffee, coffee pots, vacuum cleaners, brandy, and much more. The product would be revealed toward the end of the episode. The episodes often featured well-known actors and were beloved by viewers all over Italy (about 20 million viewers).

We have learned from the documentary about the Taviani brothers, who made some very famous films, that they discovered Lucio Dalla while filming an episode of Carosello he was acting in. Realizing how talented he was, they put him in one of their movies, I sovversivi (The Subversives). See trailer.

Lucio, eh, a quell'epoca non era un attore di cinema e non, non era nemmeno un cantante, lo diventò immediatamente dopo, si mise a cantare e col successo che tutti quanti noi sappiamo. Noi lo incontrammo perché girammo un carosello, un carosello, una pubblicità.

Lucio [Dalla], uh, was not a movie actor at that time and he wasn't, he wasn't a singer either. He became one right afterwards. He started singing, and with the success that we are all familiar with. We met him because we were filming a Carosello [TV commercial skit], a Carosello, a commercial.

Captions 21-26, Fratelli Taviani La passione e l'utopia - Part 5

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5) Can you replace the verbs in the passato remoto with verbs in the passato prossimo, trapassato prossimo or, where applicable, l'imperfetto?


Answers to the "extra credit" questions:

1) Ti ho visto in TV [tivù].​

2a) Vi ho visto in TV [tivù].

2b) Vi ho visti in TV [tivù].

3) La più grande.

3b) La più spaziosa.

4) I suoi agenti Le hanno già portato i bagagli.

5a) Lucio, eh, a quell'epoca non era un attore di cinema e non, non era nemmeno un cantante, lo è diventato immediatamente dopo, si è messo a cantare e col successo che tutti quanti noi sappiamo. Noi l'abbiamo incontrato perché giravamo un carosello, un carosello, una pubblicità.​

5b) Lucio, eh, a quell'epoca non era un attore di cinema e non, non era nemmeno un cantante, lo era diventato immediatamente dopo, si era messo a cantare e col successo che tutti quanti noi sappiamo. Noi l'avevamo incontrato perché stavamo girando un carosello, un carosello, una pubblicità.​ 



How to Talk About Email in Italian

How do Italians talk about email? Even in English we don't all use the same spelling. Some people write it as one word; some use a hyphen. We also use email as a verb in English, too: "I'll email you." Language doesn't stay the same. It evolves.


In Italian, too, "email" as a word, and as a concept, receives different treatment from different people. Be that as it may, the official name for email is la posta elettronica. It makes sense: the electronic mail.


And if you say la posta elettronica, you won't be wrong. But la posta elettronica actually stands for email in general, or even the inbox itself. One single email is more like unmessaggio di posta elettronica.


Still, more and more frequently, Italians use English words when talking about computers and the internet.


Since saying la posta elettronica every time can get old pretty quickly, the English term emailhas been adopted by many Italians. It's certainly quicker to say than la posta elettronica or unmessaggio di posta elettronica. But there's a basic problem. La posta is a feminine noun, so it makes sense for email to be feminine, too. So it might become la email. But how to pronounce the "E"?


Many Italians don't fully realize that we Americans pronounce the "E" in "email" like the letter "E."  We say email, e-book, ezine, e-commerce, etc. In Italian, an "E" is pronounced more like the "A" in make.


Italians learn to pronounce just about every letter they see. There are rules. But when they come upon foreign words, they can have a hard time imagining a pronunciation different from what think it should be by following the rules. As in most languages, people invent a version of a foreign word that sounds good or right to them. 


And regarding the word "mail," an average Italian who doesn't know English would pronounce the "mai" in "mail" as something more akin to "my."  So it's actually a very difficult word to pronounce.


To pronounce email in a similar way to English, an Italian would write something like ìmeil. Pretty weird, right?


In English, we put the accent on the "E," and when the word came into being, there was a hyphen so it was easier to figure this out, but Italians don't necessarily realize that it's the letter "E" as an abbreviation for "electronic." They just read it as they see it and the accent ends up on "mail."


So we get la email or worse, una email, with two vowels juxtaposed: "A" followed by "E," neither of which is accented. It's awkward.


So lots of people just shorten email to mail

Ti mando una mail.
I'll send you an email.


In the latest episode of La Ladra, someone is sending some files via email. But what they say is via mail. It has become very common to say it this way.

Allora, io Le mando via mail tutti i dati della villa.

So, I will send you all the information about the villa by email.

Caption 52, La Ladra - Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 3

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In the following example, la mail refers to a single email.

L'hai mandata la mail al commercialista?

Did you send the email to the accountant?

Caption 30, Marika spiega - Pettegolezzi in ufficio con Anna

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In the following example, what's meant is the email account.

Se per te privacy è entrar nella mia mail e scrivere a Marco al posto mio...

If privacy for you means going into my email account and writing to Marco in my place...

Caption 55, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema - Part 11

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Sometimes you need to provide your email address.

Certo. Qual è l'indirizzo mail?

Sure thing. What's your email address?

Caption 68, Italiano commerciale - Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 2

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Italians have found a darling way to name the @: the "at" sign. They call it a chiocciola (a snail).

Sì, certo. È Arianna chiocciola Phones and More punto it.

Yes, of course. It's Arianna at Phones and More dot it.

Caption 69, Italiano commerciale - Cominciare un nuovo lavoro - Part 2

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Can you provide your email address in Italian? If you can't remember how to say the names of the letters, check out Marika's video. If you have trouble making yourself understood, check out this handy telephone alphabet. Remember that punto (point, period, full stop, dot) is what you say for the dot in "dot com." In Italy, some email addresses end in "com," but many end in it for Italy. Sometimes it gets spelled "I-T" but sometimes it gets pronounced as a word, as in the previous example. 


Italians use English words more and more frequently, but they might differ from the original in meaning and in pronunciation, so they might be the hardest words to understand when an Italian is using them in the middle of an Italian sentence.


Rimanere: Being Impressed and Staying There

In English we use the verbs “to be” and “to get” to mean so many things. "To be" is usually translated into Italian with essere, while "to get" is translated with prendere (to take), diventare (to become), or ricevere (to receive) to name a few. In certain contexts, however, the translation of "to be" or "to get" is the verb rimanere, which usually translates as "to remain" or "to stay," as in the following example.


Come vedi, appaio a rallentatore. Ma il mio tono di voce rimane lo stesso.

As you can see, I appear in slow motion. But the tone of my voice remains the same.

Captions 30-31, Yabla-Intro - Irene

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In the example below, we have the past participle of the verb colpire (to hit, to strike, to impress) functioning like an adjective. In this case, English uses the passive form, “to be impressed,” but in Italian the act of being impressed or struck needs a more active verb. In English, to obtain a more active feeling, we might use “to get” or “to become.” Italian uses rimanere, and in this fable, it's in the passato remoto (remote past tense).


Il re rimase colpito.

The king was impressed.

Caption 27, Ti racconto una fiaba - Il gatto con gli stivali - Part 2

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To get a better feeling of the verb rimanere, we could construe the translation like this:


The king was left dumbfounded. 


In the following example, two co-workers are discussing how to get a raise.


Nel frattempo gli porti tutti i risultati che lui voleva per il mese successivo, così lui rimane impressionato, e magari...

In the meantime you show him all the results he wanted to see for the next month, that way he'll be impressed, and maybe...

Captions 47-49, Marika spiega - Pettegolezzi in ufficio con Anna

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It’s good to remember that the verb rimanere often goes hand in hand with impressionato (impressed) or even more often, with its synonym colpito.


In the following example, we again have the passive. The English uses the verb “to get,” but in Italian we need rimanere.


Siccome ai quei tempi nel fare l'elettricista ci si moriva, si rimaneva fulminati e io amo molto la vita.

Since in those days in working as an electrician you could die from it, you could get electrocuted, and I love life a lot.

Captions 13-14, That's Italy - Episode 1 - Part 4

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It’s important to understand and recognize this use of rimanere, but actually using it comes with time and practice.


Here are a few more past participles as adjectives that often go hand in hand with rimanere in Italian:


rimanere stupito (to be astonished)
rimanere stecchito (to be flabbergasted)
rimanere scioccato (to be shocked)
rimanere sorpreso (to be surprised)
rimanere senza (to be without, to have none left)
rimanere male (to have or to get one's feelings hurt)


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