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Rispondere: To Answer or to Respond?

Rispondere, with its English cognate "to respond" seems like it would be a very easy verb to use, and sometimes it is, indeed, easy. The verb rispondere translates as both "to respond" (its cognate) and "to answer" (a verb English inherited from the Old Norse "andsvar").

 

As with many verbs, by using a modal verb, we can keep the main verb in the infinitive, thereby avoiding the need to remember how to conjugate it.

 

Senti... Posso parlare con Luca?

Listen... Can I speak with Luca?

No, Luca non può rispondere, ha avuto un problema.

No, Luca can't answer, he had a problem.

Captions 49-50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

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If we don't include an object in the sentence, there are no complications. In the following example, we could also have translated rispondere with "to respond."

 

Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura

All right, then I will also follow normal procedure

e prima di rispondere chiamo il mio avvocato.

and before I answer, I'll call my lawyer.

Captions 25-26, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP8 - Fuori servizio

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1) What if the speaker used the conjunction che (after prima) as an alternate way to say the same thing?

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An important detail

Once we start involving an object in our sentence (such as "the question"), we have to keep in mind that rispondere is an intransitive verb (meaning it doesn't take a direct object), so if I want to say, "I answer the question" in Italian, I have to use a preposition after the verb followed by an indirect object (in this case, la domanda (the question). Think: "I respond to the question."

 

Rispondo alla domanda (I answer the question/I respond to the question).

 

Se la sente di rispondere a qualche domanda? -Sì.

Do you feel you can answer a few questions? -Yes.

Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi

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2) Can you ask this same question to someone you are on familiar terms with?

 

Non ha risposto alla mia domanda. Che cosa vuole?

You haven't answered my question. What do you want?

Caption 40, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep. 1

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3) Can you say the same thing informally?

 

2 Ways in English, 1 way in Italian

In English, "to respond" is intransitive and "to answer" is transitive, so we use them two different ways and we rarely have to think about it. We might think of using "to respond" in more formal situations.

I can respond to your letter or I can answer your letter. 

 

But when we are translating from English to Italian, we have to remember that we need a preposition after rispondere.

 

Rispondere with an indirect object personal pronoun

We can also use rispondere where the indirect object is a person, perhaps expressed with a personal pronoun, as in the following example. In this case, we use "to answer" in our translation. "To respond" wouldn't work.

 

Toscani, per favore rispondimi. È importante, dai.

Toscani, please answer me. It's important. Come on.

Caption 56, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata

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Memorizing rispondimi is a good idea. You never know when someone is going to faint and it's also handy to have when arguing with someone. Above all, remember that mi stands for a me (to me) so we do have a preposition (in this case a [to]).

 

4) How would you say the same thing to a person you don't know very well? And for the record, you wouldn't say dai. Can you think of an alternative?

 

Cases of Incongruence between Italian and English

In the following clip, we have an indirect object pronoun in the Italian, but none in the English. These days, we might say "I didn't pick up,"  "I didn't answer the phone," I didn't answer your call," "I didn't return your call." But we probably wouldn't say "I didn't answer you" unless it were an email or a letter. In this context, we think of answering the phone, not the person.

 

Sì, lo so, mi hai chiamato cento volte, però io non ti ho risposto

Yes, I know, you called me a hundred times, but I didn't answer

perché ho avuto un sacco di cose da fare, Teresa.

because I had a bunch of things to do, Teresa.

Captions 23-24, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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5) The above clip is very informal, between brother and sister, but he could have said he hadn't answered the phone. How could he have phrased it?

 

There are plenty of instances in which Italians insert an indirect object pronoun, where in English, none is called for. It's just something to be aware of.

 

We hope this lesson has provided some clarity about using the verb rispondere. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to write to us at newsletter@yabla.com

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Risposte Answers

1) Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima che risponda, chiamo il mio avvocato.

1b) Va bene, allora seguo anch'io la normale procedura e prima che risponda io, chiamo il mio avvocato.​

2) Te la senti di rispondere a qualche domanda? -Sì.

3) Non hai risposto alla mia domanda. Che cosa vuoi?

4) Agente Toscani, mi risponda, per favore. È importante, la prego.

5) Sì, lo so, mi hai chiamato cento volte, però io non ho risposto al telefono/alla tua chiamata perché ho avuto un sacco di cose da fare, Teresa.

Dare: the Gift that Keeps on Giving

 

Dare is an extremely common verb. It basically means "to give." But it also gets used as a sort of catch-all.

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Dai!

We've seen it many times in its informal, imperative form, all by itself:

Dai, dai, dai, dai che ti ho preparato una cosa buonissima che ti piace moltissimo.

Come on, come on, come on, come on, because I made you something very good, that you like a lot.

Caption 74, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 3

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As we see, it doesn't mean "to give" in this case. It means something like "come on." As "come on," it has plenty of nuances.

 

Dai is often used as a filler, as part of an innocuous and fairly positive comment, and can mean something as generic as "OK." Let's keep in mind that va be' also means "OK!" Va be' is short for vabene (all right).

Mi dispiace, Massimo, ma dobbiamo rimandare il pranzo. Va beh, dai, se devi andare... facciamo un'altra volta.

I'm sorry, Massimo, but we have to postpone our lunch. OK, then, if you have to go... we'll do it some other time.

Captions 65-66, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 2

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Dai is also used to express surprise and/or skepticism. In this case, it is often preceded by ma (but). We see this in last week's segment of Commissario Manara, when Luca figures out that Marta might be the target of a shooting. She feigns skepticism. 

E se per caso il bersaglio non fosse stata la Martini, ma fossi stata tu? Io? Ma dai!

And if by chance the target hadn't been Martini, but had been you? Me? Yeah, right!

Captions 5-7, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP6 - Sotto tiro - Part 13

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An all-purpose verb: dare

In English we use the verb  "to have" when giving commands: "Have a seat," "Have a drink," "Have a look." In Italian, though, the verb avere (to have) is rarely used in these situations. And there isn't just one Italian verb that is used, so it may be practical to learn some of these expressions one by one. 

 

We use the verb dare when asking someone to do something like check (dare una controllata), or have a look (dare un'occhiata).

Dai un'occhiatadai un'occhiata...

Have a look around, have a look around...

Caption 43, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 1

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Literally:

Let's not forget the literal meaning of dare, which can easily end up in the informal imperative.

E che fai, non me lo dai un bacetto, Bubbù?

And what do you do, won't you give me a little kiss, Bubbù?

Caption 41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 1

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Darsela a gambe

And to echo a recent lesson, and give another example of a verbo pronominale  (a phrasal verb using particelle or short pronoun-related particles) — this time with dare — we have darsela. We have the root verb dare (to give) plus se (to oneself, to themselves, to each other) and la (it). It's hard to come up with a generic translation, as it depends on the other words in the expression, but here are two different ones from Yabla videos. Maybe you can come up with other examples, and we will be glad to dare un'occhiata. The phrasal verb here is darsela a gambe (to beat it, or run away on one's legs).

È che è molto difficile trovare la donna giusta. Secondo me, se la trovi, te la dai a gambe.

It's that it's very difficult to find the right woman. In my opinion, if you find her, you'll high-tail it out of there.

Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 9

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Here's a colorful example from this week's episode of La Ladra:

Aldo Piacentini e la, la, la Barbara Ricci, insomma, i presunti amanti,
che se le davano di santa ragione.

Aldo Piacentini and, uh, uh, uh Barbara Ricci, anyway, the presumed lovers,
who were really beating the crap out of each other.

Captions 45-46, La Ladra Ep. 5 - Chi la fa l'aspetti - Part 14

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The meaning of se le davano isn't very obvious, so let's try taking it apart. Se is a reciprocal indirect pronoun, "to each other"; le is the plural generic direct object pronoun, "them"; and dare, in this case, can stand for "to deliver". In English it might not mean much, but for Italians the meaning is quite clear.

 

We could say they are giving each other black eyes, if we want to use the original meaning of dare.

 

Di santa ragione adds emphasis or strength, and might be translated as "the holy crap," "the hell," or "really."

In case you haven't gotten the chance, check out this lesson about verbi pronominali. 

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