Italian Lessons


Disgrazia: A fickle friend

Let's look at a false friend. Not always false, but frequently. 

Una disgrazia

When something bad happens, like an accident, or a natural disaster, one word Italians commonly use is una disgraziaÈ successa una disgrazia (something bad happened/there's been an accident).

Domani, me [mi] capiterà 'na [una] disgrazia. -Che disgrazia? -Qualcosa de [di] male. Perché oggi sto troppo bene, canterino.

Tomorrow, some calamity will happen to me. What calamity? -Something bad. Because, today, I feel too good, songbird.

Captions 3-6, Fratelli Taviani La passione e l'utopia - Part 13

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The woman says it: something bad. In the following example, a suspect is describing someone dying as a terrible accident, not a murder.

È caduto e ha battuto la testa, ma non volevo! È stata, è stata 'na [una] disgrazia!

He fell and hit his head but I didn't want that. It was, it was a terrible accident.

Captions 20-21, Il Commissario Manara S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 13

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Here, again, a terrible tragedy:

Era sull'autobus dove è successa la disgrazia.

She was on the bus where the tragedy occurred.

Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata - Part 3

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The cognate is, of course, "a disgrace," but if we look up disgrace, we see other words that are used more commonly, such as una vergogna

Tu sei la vergogna della nostra famiglia. Vergognati!

You are the disgrace of our family. Shame on you!

Captions 46-47, La Ladra EP. 8 - Il momento giusto - Part 11

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So, disgrazia often refers to a natural disaster or someone dying suddenly. It's just something to keep in mind (tenere a mente or tenere presente).  Because it might happen that when you are traveling in Italy, you'll get some bad news. It's important to know that disgrazia might refer to a tragedy, an accident, a misfortune. Not necessarily will the speaker be talking about a disgrace.

A related term: disgraziato

As we have mentioned in the past, Italian and English don't always correspond regarding parts of speech.


Italians love to call each other names (just like lots of folks). One way to say that someone did something you totally do not approve of is to call them a disgraziato (a disgraceful fellow). We have to be a bit careful because it can either mean someone who has fallen on misfortune, but it can also mean someone who ought to be ashamed of himself, so context is key.

Don't take our word for it.  Let's look at some examples:

Disgraziato, ti ho scoperto con le mani dentro al sacco!

You bastard, I've discovered you with your hands in the bag!

Caption 50, Un medico in famiglia S1 EP2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 12

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Io non sono come quei disgraziati che parte [sic: partono] per fame, ma'. Io vado a Roma per fare lu [pugliese: il] cinema, ma', sia chiaro, eh, cinema.

I'm not like those poor guys who leave because they're hungry, Ma. I'm going to Rome to make movies, Ma, to be clear, uh, the movies.

Captions 41-43, Volare - La grande storia di Domenico Modugno Ep. 1 - Part 4

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Keep in mind that when you want to call someone a disgraziato, you need to distinguish between masculine and feminine and singular and plural.

Disgraziato can be used as an adjective or as a noun. We could say that as an adjective it is more likely referring to misfortune:

Tu cosa diresti? -Be'... direi... povera disgraziata la signora! -Eh. -Eheh!

What would you say? -Well... I would say... poor unlucky lady! -Uh-huh. -Uh-huh!

Captions 49-50, Un medico in famiglia S1 EP1 - Casa nuova - Part 6

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As a noun (especially if well-articulated) it might very well be talking about a "bad" person:


Disgraziato! Delinquente! Assassino!

Scoundrel! Delinquent! Murderer!

Caption 58, Psicovip Super Minivip - Ep 17

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Or it can be a combination.

Speriamo la prossima stazione di questo disgraziato sia qui vicino.

Let's hope the poor bastard's next stop is near here.

Caption 60, Il Commissario Manara S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 9

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Strappare: To Tear, To Rip


Strappare (to tear, to yank, to rip) is an interesting Italian verb, with a useful, related noun uno strappo (the act of ripping up) that goes hand in hand with it.



Sembrerebbe un tuo capello.

It seems like one of your hairs.

Va be', dai, strappami il capello, forza. Strappa 'sto capello.

OK, come on, pull out a hair, come on. Yank this strand out.

Dai, ai!

Come on, ow!

Captions 37-40, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola

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The previous example is literal and you can easily visualize the act. The following example could be literal, but not necessarily. It describes a somewhat violent act, but this grandfather might be speaking figuratively.


Insomma, mi hanno strappato via la mia nipotina dalle braccia.

In short, they tore my little granddaughter from my arms.

Caption 84, Un medico in famiglia - S1 EP1 - Casa nuova

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Even when we're talking about hair, strappare can be used figuratively.


Guarda, mi strappo i capelli da, proprio...

Look, I'm really tearing my hair out from, right...

Caption 24, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 1

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In this week's segment of La Ladra, there is a wonderful Italian expression with the noun strappo.


Ma sono vegetariano.

But I am a vegetarian.

Ma non fai mai uno strappo alla regola?

But don't you ever make an exception to the rule?

Qualche volta.


E... allora potresti venire nel mio ristorante, naturalmente saresti mio ospite.

And... so you could come to my restaurant, you'll be my guest, naturally.

Con piacere.

With pleasure.

Captions 61-64, La Ladra - EP. 8 - Il momento giusto

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Did you hear the percussive T, the well-articulated R, and the double, percussive P? It's a fun word to say. Remember that in Italian a double P sounds different from a single P. To hear the difference, go back to the examples about hair. There's a double P in strappare, or strappo, but there is a single P in capello or capelli. Tricky!

Strappare (to tear, to rip, to yank) is very close to rompere (to break) or even spezzare (to break, to snap, to split)So fare uno strappo alle regole, means "to break a rule," "to make an exception." 


Another expression with the same noun — strappo — is dare uno strappo (to give [someone] a lift). 

Ti do uno strappo a casa?

Shall I give you a lift home?

Caption 51, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP9 - Morte in paradiso

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The more conventional word would be un passaggio. Read more about passaggio here.



Here are some situations in which you might want to use the verb strappare or the noun strappo:


You want someone to tear off a page from their notebook or pad. Mi strappi una pagina? (Would you tear off a page for me?)

You want someone to give you a lift home. Mi dai uno strappo? (Will you give me a lift?)

You hardly ever eat ice cream, but today, you'll make an exception. Faccio uno strappo alla regola. Mangerò un gelato! (I'll make an exception. I'm going to have ice cream!)

You are very frustrated with listening to someone complain. Quando comincia con certi discorsi mi viene voglia di strapparmi i capelli. (When he/she starts up with that story, I get the urge to tear my hair out.)


Try fitting in these new words to your Italian practice. Send in your suggestions and we'll correct them or comment on them.

Being Willing with Volentieri

Volentieri is what you can say when you are willing and happy to do something. You can use it by itself as a positive, enthusiastic response: Think of volentieri as having to do with volere (to want, to want to).


Someone asks you to dinner:

Vieni a cena domani sera?
Will you come to dinner tomorrow night?
I’d love to!


Someone asks a favor:


Ehi, Lei con quella cosa rossa addosso, potrebbe aiutarmi?

Hey, you with that red thing on, could you help me?

Volentieri. Le serve qualche informazione?

With pleasure. Do you need some information?

Captions 22-23, Psicovip - Il treno

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Grammatically, volentieri is an adverb, so you can use it alongside a verb as well. In the following example, it modifies the verb venire (to come).


Mia figlia ci tiene tantissimo. -No, no, vorrei, volentieri, ma non posso.

It's very important to my daughter. -No, no, I'd like to, with pleasure, but I can't.

Caption 13, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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In the example below, volentieri is used with the verb fare (to do, to make).


La fotografia è un po' il mio primo amore. Per cui faccio sempre volentieri delle foto con dei grandi fotografi.

Photography is pretty much my first love. So I am always happy to have photos taken by great photographers.

Captions 20-21, That's Italy - Episode 1

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It’s also used in the negative.


Marcello la mattina non si alza molto volentieri.

Marcello doesn't like to get up in the morning very much.

Caption 21, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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Attenzione! Volentieri sounds kind of like “volunteer,” and certainly, to be a volunteer you need to be willing, but volentieri is an adverb, and modifies a verb. Note the e involentieri.

Volontario on the other hand, (note the o in volontario), is an adjective meaning “willing,” to describe a person. It's connected to the noun la volontà (the will). In the following example it’s in the plural, to agree with tutti (everyone).


Ci ha trovato tutti entusiasti e volontari!

They have found everyone to be enthusiastic and willing!

Caption 26, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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Another adjective meaning pretty much the same thing is volonteroso (enthusiastically willing). Word has it that volenteroso (enthusiastically willing) is more frequent thanvolonteroso, but means much the same thing.

Volontario is also a noun.


Be', veramente io so' [sono] un volontario.

Well, actually I am a volunteer.

Caption 27, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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Since Italian has no one word equivalent of “to volunteer,” here’s how they do it:

Offrirsi volontario (to volunteer, to offer oneself as a volunteer), and what they volunteer for is often volontariato (volunteer work).


Just for fun:

Mi sono offerto volontario all’asilo nido, perché lavoro volentieri con i bambini. Se una persona ha tempo ed è volenterosa, c’è una vasta scelta di lavoro di volontariato di tutti tipi. I volontari non vengono pagati in soldi, bensì in sorrisi e soddisfazioni.

volunteered at the daycare center, because I like working with children. If a person has time, and is willing, there’s a vast choice of volunteer jobs of all kinds. Volunteers don’t get paid in money, but rather in smiles and satisfaction.



We hope you read our lessons volentieri! 


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