Italian Lessons

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The Future is Now (Probably)!

In this lesson, we're going to talk about the future tense in Italian, and how it's used, not just for the future, but also for probability.

In our first example, Federico Fellini is talking about a future meeting with Ingmar Bergman, and as you can see from the translation, he uses the verb essere in its future tense in a straightforward way. He has no doubts about the outcome: It’s going to be stimulating!

 

Io penso che l'incontro fra lui e me sarà veramente molto stimolante.

I think that the encounter between him and me will be really very stimulating.

Caption 37, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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In this next example, however, the verb essere is again used in the future tense, but here it means something completely different! In fact, one of the uses of the future tense in Italian is to express a supposition, probability, uncertainty, or doubt. In this case, the element of time is no longer taken into consideration and is replaced by a kind of conditional mood (appunto, the future is now—probably).

 

Guarda, stamattina ho appetito. Sarà l'aria di campagna...

Look, this morning I have an appetite. It must be the country air...

Captions 21-22, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Although this special use can be applied to any verb, it’s most common with essere and avere. In Un medico in famiglia, Lele is reassuring his daughter, Maria, about the future. He’s sure!

 

Sono sicuro che ti piacerà la nuova scuola e avrai un sacco di nuovi amichetti.

I am sure you will like the new school and you will have a lot of new playmates.

Captions 11-12, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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But here, the signora is just making a good guess as to how hungry her passenger Alessio is.

 

Avrai fame immagino, sì? Andiamo?

You must be hungry, I'd imagine, right? Shall we go?

Captions 14-15, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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In her Yabla newscast, Marika is giving us some very suspicious news from another planet, and she expresses her consternation:

 

Sarà vero?

Could it be true?

Caption 47, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo

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Another way to ask the above question would be: potrebbe essere vero? (could it be true?) or even può essere vero? (can it be true?). But more often than not, the future tense will be used when talking about probability in the present, or even in the past (together with a participle), as in the following example, where there’s uncertainty in retrospect.

 

Non lo so. Sarà stata una buona idea farlo venire qua?

I don't know. Was it such a good idea to have him come here?

Captions 30-31, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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Here are a couple more examples to give you an idea.  

In an episode of Un medico in famiglia, the family members are wondering what Cetinka is about to take out of her suitcase:

 

Che è, che sarà? -Non lo so!

What is it, what could it be? -I don't know!

Caption 54, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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In a lively discussion between Lara and her zia about Ginevra, the attractive medical examiner, the aunt defends Commissario Manara, which infuriates Lara even more.

 

E Luca la sta coprendo! -Avrà le sue buone ragioni, eh!

And Luca is covering for her! -He must have a good reason, huh!

Captions 40-41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Learning suggestion:

As you watch and listen to Yabla videos, notice how the future tense is used. You may be surprised at how often it is used to express probability, supposition, or uncertainty. And as you go about your day, maybe talking to yourself in Italian, use the future tense of essere or avere to wonder about things and their probability. Sometimes you may really be wondering about the future, as in:

Sarà una bella giornata?

Will it be a nice day?

But other times you may just be conjecturing:

Sarà una brava persona, ma dal suo comportamento non sembra proprio.

He may be a good person, but from his behavior it certainly doesn’t seem like it.

Sento bussare alla porta. Sarà il postino.

I hear someone knocking at the door. It’s probably the postman.

Perché non è ancora arrivato? Avrà avuto un contrattempo!

Why hasn’t he come yet? He must have had a setback.

So as you can see, in Italian, the future can be right now!

Grammar

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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