Italian Lessons


Exams: How do we talk about exams in Italian?

There is an Italian cognate for the noun exam: It's esame, but there are a few basic things to know about using the word.


First of all, if you are in college (which is always called università in Italy), you take exams, right? Well in Italy, first of all, exams are generally oral exams, where you have to speak and answer questions at length, and often in public, before your peers. The final exam of high school is called l'esame di maturità, or just la maturità

Cioè, come ho potuto io, che alla maturità ho preso sessanta?

That is, how could I have, when I got sixty in the finals?

Caption 16, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 EP1 - Casa nuova - Part 8

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Second of all, instead of taking an exam, you give it: dare un esame. At least this is how it is in colloquial speech.

Che importa se non ha dato nessun esame.

What does it matter if he didn't take any exams?

Caption 16, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 3 S3EP3 - Il tarlo del sospetto - Part 5

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That's one way to say it. We can also use the more "correct" verb sostenere. Sostenere means plenty of things as you can see in the link (including a close cognate — "to sustain"), but in the case of exams, it means "to undergo."

Per avere l'elenco degli esami che ha sostenuto tuo nipote, ci vuole il [sic: la] password, no, eh. -Ah, sì, sì, ho capito. -Ecco.

To have the list of the exams your nephew took, you need the password, right? -Ah, yes, yes, I get it. -Here.

Captions 44-45, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 3 S3 EP2 - Un nuovo medico in famiglia - Part 8

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And sometimes Italians use the all-purpose verb fare (to make, to do).

Ma mi avevi detto che era una freccia, era... faceva gli esami, uno dopo l'altro.

But you told me that he was as fast as an arrow, he was... he took the exams one after another.

Captions 54-55, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 3 S3 EP2 - Un nuovo medico in famiglia - Part 5

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When you pass an exam, the right word is superare l'esame but people use the verb passare, too.


Non ho mai visto Alberto dispiaciuto di aver passato un esame.

I've never seen Alberto unhappy to have passed an exam.

Caption 46, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 3 S3 EP2 - Un nuovo medico in famiglia - Part 6

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Che se non superi quegli esami non puoi fare gli altri esami che poi ti permettono di passare al secondo, al terzo, al quarto e poi al quinto anno e prendere la laurea.

That if you don't pass those exams you can't do the other exams that then allow you to go on to the second, third, fourth, and then to the fifth year and get your degree.

Captions 36-38, Serena sistema universitario italiano

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If you flunk an exam, sei bocciato  or  bocciata.

Invece, all'università, se prendi un voto inferiore al diciotto sei bocciato e non passi l'esame.

Instead, at the university, if you get a grade below eighteen, you fail, and you don't pass the exam.

Captions 49-50, Serena sistema universitario italiano

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Check out the video where Serena and Martina talk about how the university system works in Italy. And here they talk about high school.




There are also the exams you do for your health (and sometimes when you are already dead). 

Non ti consegno il rapporto perché ho richiesto un esame necroscopico.

I won't give you the report because I requested a post-mortem exam.

Caption 19, Il Commissario Manara S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 4

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In the U.S. we make an appointment to see a doctor. In Italy, prediamo un appuntamento (we take an appointment) and a visit to the doctor is called una visita, but when the doctor examines you, he or she "visits" you: visitare.


Dopo che sei stato accolto o accolta dagli infermieri e visitato o visitata dal dottore del Pronto Soccorso, ti diranno cosa è meglio per la tua salute.

After you have been asked to come in (m) or come in (f) by the nurses and examined (m) or examined (f) by the emergency room doctor, they will tell you what's best for your health.

Captions 55-57, Marika spiega Il pronto soccorso

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...tanto che una volta andai da un medico a farmi visitare... much so that once I went to a doctor to get a checkup...

Caption 3, L'arte della cucina I Luoghi del Mondo - Part 3

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Sleeping Arrangements

In this week’s video, Marika shows us around her bedroom. The most important piece of furniture is il letto matrimoniale (“marriage” bed, double bed).


Two children sharing a room might have twin beds, or bunk beds. Marika talks about these here. But traditionally, the parents sleep together in one big bed. Italians take this quite seriously, and call a double bed (more like a queen-size bed) un letto matrimoniale (a bed for a married couple). The bedroom containing such a bed will likewise be called una camera matrimoniale. The actual size of the bed is open to question, but it’s clearly meant for two people who sleep in close quarters.


In many Italian hotels, and in some homes as well, two identical single beds are placed next to each other with a mattress cover that covers both of them, and it’s made up like a double bed or letto matrimoniale. The resulting bed will be rather large, like a queen-size. This is handy if the two sleepers have different needs, and it’s also handy for turning the mattresses for airing, or for changing from the winter side (stuffed with wool) to the summer side (stuffed with cotton). Some people feel two single mattresses are more versatile. Others prefer the comfort of one big mattress.


In a hotel, una camera singola might have a smaller single bed than you might expect. It’s not like in American motels where all the beds are queen-size!


When buying sheets, mattresses, or bed frames, the term matrimoniale may be used, but since there are different-sized “double” beds, we also find the term piazza, which is the space designed for one occupant. A bed is single when it is una piazza (one place). There’s also the intermediate size una piazza e mezza or una piazza e mezzo (room for one and a half occupants), also called alla francese (French-style). You might have this kind of bed if you don’t have space for a bigger one, or if you like something a bit bigger than a single bed. It can be likened to an old-fashioned double bed in America. It can also be a typical size for a divano letto (a sofa bed). Due piazze is about as big as you’ll find in a bed.


Sofas are also measured with piazze. They’re usually three or two: Tre piazze or due piazze. Yes, this is the same word as for the piazza in the center of a town or city.


Many homes have an extra guest bed, which may also fold up, to be placed out of sight. This is typically called una brandina (a folding bed, cot). The term, along with its unaltered version branda, is used to indicate a camp bed, or the kind of rudimentary bed used in the army or for camping.


A casual way to say you’re going to bed is:

Vado in branda.
I’m sacking out/I’m hitting the hay.

More properly, we say andare a letto or andare a dormire:


Adesso tu te ne vai a letto, ci fai sopra una bella dormita.

Now you go off to bed. Have a good sleep on it.

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Italian also uses andare a dormire to say “to go to bed”:



Go on.

Ehi, giovano',

Hey, young man,

dai, basta con 'sta televisione.

come on, that's enough with this TV.

Vai a dormire che è tardi, ia'!

Go to bed, because it's late, right?

Captions 14-16, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 3

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Andare a dormire can also mean “to go to sleep” in general, whether in a bed, an armchair, a sofa, or anywhere.


Alle quattro e mezza io andavo a dormire un'ora.

At four thirty I'd go to sleep for an hour.

Caption 20, L'arte della cucina - I Luoghi del Mondo

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But usually, “going to sleep” as in “falling asleep” is expressed with the verb addormentarsi (to go to sleep, to fall asleep). A is one prefix used to cause an action to take place, as in:

addensare (to cause to be dense, to thicken)
addolcire (to sweeten)

Without the reflexive, addormentare is transitive, and may be used, for example, if you’re trying to get a baby to go to sleep, or if someone is put to sleep with an anaesthetic.



Just for fun:

Quando ho sonno, vado in branda. Però, riesco a dormire solo in un letto grande, in unletto matrimoniale. Un letto ad una piazza mi è proprio troppo stretto. Anche un letto ad una piazza e mezza è troppo stretto. Non riesco proprio ad addormentarmi. Se vado a dormire troppo presto, mi sveglio all’una di notte, e allora sì, che non miriaddormento più. Quando mi capita così, il giorno dopo, devo andare a dormire una mezz’ora per recuperare un po’ di sonno. In quel caso uso una brandina che tengo nell’armadio per queste esigenze.

When I’m sleepy, I go to bed. However, I can sleep only in a big bed, in a queen-size bedA single bed is really too narrow for me. Even a double bed is too narrow. I just can’t get to sleep. If I go to bed too early, I wake up at one in the morning, and then, for sure I don’t fall back to sleep. When that happens to me, the following day I have to go sleep for a half an hour to catch up on my sleep. In that case, I use a folding cot I store in the closet, for when I need it.


Further Practice:

Can you describe the beds and bedrooms in your house? Can you talk about your sleeping habits, and those of your family?