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Making Sense of Senso

Il senso (the sense, the way, the feeling) is a very useful noun and has several meanings. Some of the meanings jibe with the English cognate “sense,” but it’s not always a perfect fit. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the wrong verb with this noun, thus saying something different from what we mean.

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One of the most common ways to use senso is when it has to do with “meaning” or “sense.” Note that the verb here is avere (to have) but we translate it into English using the verb “to make.”

 

Scusa, eh, ma se devi stare così, mi dici che senso ha?

Excuse me, huh, but if you have to feel like this, will you tell me what sense that makes?

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste - Part 9

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The response to the above question could be:

Non ha nessun senso (it doesn’t make sense at all).
Infatti, è senza senso (in fact, it doesn’t make sense, it’s senseless).

 

Senso also refers to one of the five senses. It also refers to “sense,” meaning “feeling” or “sensation.” The English cognate “sense” fits pretty well here and both Italian and English can use the verb “to give.”

  

Il secondo motivo, il più importante, è perché amo la moto e mi dà un senso di libertà.

The second reason, the most important one, is because I love the motorbike and it gives me a sense of freedom.

Captions 29-30, Adriano - Giornata

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In the following example, senso has to do with feelings but is used with the verb fare (to make). It means something entirely different from what we looked at above. It’s about feelings, but specifically negative ones, as you can see from the translation. Something gives you a sense of creepiness, repulsion, or repugnance. So, it’s important not to use the verb fare“to make” with senso unless you really mean it this way.

 

I topi mi fanno un senso.

Mice give me the creeps.

Caption 8, Psicovip - Il topo - Ep 22

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Let’s remember that senso also means “way.” And just as “way” has various meanings, so does senso.

One very common question to ask someone is in che senso (in what way)? We ask this question when we need more details. It’s another way of saying, “What do you mean?”

 

No, per quello ho disposto diversamente. -In che senso?

No, for that I've distributed it differently. -In what way?

Captions 60-61, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 7

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Just as in English, senso means “way” in traffic too.

Questa strada è a senso unico.
This is a one-way street.

 

In a nutshell:

Fare senso: to give a sense of repulsion, fear, or disgust

 I ragni mi fanno senso.
 Spiders disgust me.

Avere senso: to make sense, to have meaning

 Ha senso arrivare due ore in anticipo?
 Does it make sense to arrive two hours early?

Dare un senso: to give a sense, to give meaning


 Ti dà un senso di sicurezza.
 It gives you a sense of security.
 Aiutare gli altri ti può dare un senso alla vita.
 Helping others can give some meaning to your life.

 

Senso unico: one way
I cinque sensithe five senses

For even more about senso, see this lesson.

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Vocabulary

Elegant and Not So Elegant Turns of Phrase

Francesca is showing Daniela how to play one of the most popular Italian card games, Briscola. Two little words stand out, and merit some attention. They’re both in the category of “but,” yet they are more specific and allow for a more elegant turn of phrase. The first is the conjunction bensì (but rather).

 

La briscola, eh... come molti non sanno, non è un gioco nato in Italia, bensì in Olanda, nei Paesi Bassi.

Briscola, uh... as a lot of people don't know, is not a game originating in Italy, but rather in Holland, in the Netherlands.

Captions 5-6, Briscola - Regole del gioco

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The other one, ovvero (or rather), is used by Francesca who’s trying make things crystal clear, so she’s using language that’s a little more formal than usual. Ovvero is somewhat archaic, and is often a fancy way of saying o (“or,” “that is,” or “otherwise”).

 

Nella briscola ci sono delle carte che sono più importanti delle altre, ovvero, te le vado subito a mostrare.

In Briscola there are some cards that are more important than others, or rather, I'm going to show them to you right away.

Captions 33-34, Briscola - Regole del gioco

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In more informal speech, you’ll hear words like ma (but), invece (but, instead, rather), nel senso (I mean, in the sense), to express similar sentiments.

Speaking of informal speech, it’s definitely the norm in Lele’s family. One of the words that creeps into casual speech is mica (“not,” or “at all”). Think of when you say, “Not bad! Not bad at all!” That’s one time you’ll want to say, mica male! It’s a form of negation equivalent to non. Therefore, non male is just about equivalent to mica male, but think, “exclamation point” at the end. The fun thing about this word is that you can use it by itself, like Ciccio does, in justifying the shoes he bought with money taken from Grandpa’s pocket:

 

Ma guarda, Giacinto, che eran per le scarpe, mica per un gioco!

But look, Giacinto, it was for shoes, not for a game!

Caption 27, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 9

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But you can also use it together with a negative (it’s no crime to use a double negative in Italian) like Ciccio's Grandpa (before finding out who took his money) to emphasize the “no”:

 

Io sono un pensionato, Cetinka, non sono mica un bancomat!

I'm a retiree, Cetinka, I'm not an ATM machine!

Caption 91, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 7

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The character of Alessio in Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui! is older than Ciccio, but just out of high school. His speech is certainly very rich in modi di dire (if you do a Yabla search with mica, you’ll find Alessio and many others!), but in one episode there’s an expression whose translation is not very intuitive—con comodo (in a leisurely way). If you remember that comodo means “comfortable” it will make more sense. Depending on the tone (like in English), it can express patience or impatience!

 

Vabbè, fate con comodo.

OK, take your time [literally, "do with leisure"].

Caption 46, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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Watch the video to see which it is in this case!

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Learning suggestion: Enrich your vocabulary by using the Yabla search as well as WordReference to get more examples of bensì, ovvero, and mica. There’s no hurry: fate con comodo!

Vocabulary

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