Italian Lessons

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Frizzante o Naturale?

When visiting a foreign country like Italy, there can be challenges to something as simple as asking for a un bicchiere d’acqua (a glass of water)! In fact, as Anna and Marika mention while enjoying a meal in a famous Roman restaurant, one of the first things the cameriere (waiter) will ask you is what you want to drink. 

Il cameriere è venuto e ci ha portato dell'acqua naturale.

The waiter came and he brought us still water.

Ci ha prima chiesto se volevamo acqua gassata o naturale e noi abbiamo scelto naturale.

First he asked us if we wanted fizzy water or still and we chose still.

Captions 12-13, Anna e Marika: Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 1 of 3

Water is not served automatically, nor is it free unless you specifically ask for acqua del rubinetto (tap water). Italians commonly drink acqua minerale (mineral water, or sometimes simply bottled water) al ristorante (at a restaurant), and will choose either acqua gassata (fizzy water), or acqua naturale (plain or still mineral water). If you ask for ghiaccio (ice), they may give you funny look, but you can ask for your acqua fredda (cold) or a temperatura ambiente (at room temperature).

One of the last things you’ll do after a meal in a restaurant is ask for il conto (the bill). Sometimes, as might be the case with Marika and Anna, you decide to pay alla romana (Roman style) where the bill is divided equally among the number of people dining, regardless of what each person had to eat. But if you do want to pay, you can tell the friend who's taking his wallet out to leave it where it is. Stai buono/a. You’re saying, “be good” but you mean “stay as you are!”  

Learning suggestion: Keep on the lookout for the verb stare (to be situated, to stay, to be) as you watch Yabla videos. It’s closely related to essere (to be) but implies a position or condition. Do a Yabla video search of both stare and stai to get a feel for when and how it’s used. 

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Four Expressive Eyes

We saw in the last lesson how the verb sentire takes care of several of our senses. Not to leave out the sense of sight (la vista), let’s look at how it‘s used in some common expressions. 

If we translate the English expression “I can’t wait” literally, it becomes non posso aspettare, and while this can be useful if someone is late, and you really can’t wait for him, we sometimes mean we are looking forward to something with anticipation. As we see in the following example, Italian uses the verb vedere (to see) to express this.

Francesca had been going back and forth about learning to drive. But now, she’s really looking forward to getting started, so much so that she “can’t see the hour.”

Ma invece adesso sono convintissima, motivata, e non vedo l'ora di cominciare.

But now however I'm totally convinced, motivated, and I can't wait to start.

Caption 4, Francesca: alla guida - Part 2 of 4

If there’s someone you don’t like very much, it’s probably someone you don’t want to see. In fact, if you say, non lo posso vedere (I can’t see him), you’re really saying you can’t bear seeing him. Note: If you do want to say that you can’t see something, just say, non lo vedo (I don’t see it) or non riesco a vederlo (I don’t succeed in seeing it).

You might be so hungry you can’t see straight. It so happens that an expression made famous in an Italian TV commercial for a candy bar says just that. Non ci vedo più dalla fame! (I can’t see straight from hunger [I’m famished]!)

Many expressions using vedere (to see) and occhio (eye) do indeed coincide with the English use of the sense of sight. For example, visto che translates easily as “seeing that,” although we would usually sooner use “since.” It’s a good expression to have handy when you are explaining something, like the woman telling us about her day at the lake.

E visto che siamo solo ad un chilometro, penso che andrò e tenterò di rilassarmi tutto il giorno.

And since we are just one kilometer away, I think that I will go and try to relax all day.

Caption 11, Una gita: al lago - Part 1 of 4  

When you want to talk to someone privately, you want to see the expression in their eyes as they speak, so parlare a quattr’occhi (to speak with four eyes) is to have a conversation face to face.

If something is super expensive, you might describe it as costing un occhio della testa (an eye of the head), which isn’t that different from paying “through the nose,” or something costing “an arm and a leg!

When something is too obvious to question, you might hear this: Vorrei anche vedere (I’d also like to see that), meaning something like, “I should think so/not!” “Yeah, right,” or “No way.”

Putting it all together just for fun:

Stamattina sono andata a parlare a quattr’occhi con la mia professoressa anche se non la posso vedere. Ora non vedo l’ora di arrivare a casa perché non ci vedo più dalla fame. Visto che I panini al bar costavano un occhio della testa, vorrei anche vedere se ne compravo uno.

This morning I went to talk face to face with my teacher even though I can’t stand her. Now I can’t wait to get home because I’m starving. Seeing that the sandwiches at the bar cost an arm and a leg, there was no way I was buying one.

And to really conclude, chi s’è visto s’è visto (literally, “we’ve seen whomever we’ve seen” meaning, “that’s the end of it”).

Learning suggestion:

Practice using the expressions in this lesson until they feel comfortable. (Think about all the the things you are looking forward to!) Then visit WordReference to see all the modi di dire connected with vedere, and add one or two more to your repertory.

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Taste and Smell - Sapere Part 2

Sapere - Part 1

Italians have a great word that encompasses four of our five senses (all but sight), and covers general sensory perception as well: sentire (to perceive). Marika and Daniela explain and conjugate sentire here. We’re going to talk about taste and smell, because these have to do with the real subject of this newsletter, the verb sapere (to know, or to give an impression, odor, or taste).

To talk about something tasting or smelling good (or bad) in Italian, we have to throw literal translations out the window (because no word really does the trick) and opt for a noun that can be either neutral—odore (odor), sapore (taste), gusto (flavor)—or specific—profumo (fragrance, scent), puzza  stink). The verb we’ll use will be one of two. The first, avere (to have), we use when talking about what tastes or smells good or bad, certainly of utmost importance when choosing a truffle, for example:

ll tartufo deve avere un buon profumo.

The truffle should have a good smell.

Caption 69, Tartufo bianco d'Alba: Come sceglierlo e come gustarlo

Our second option is the all-encompassing sense word, sentire (to perceive), used when talking about our perception of a taste or a smell. Francesca had a smelly encounter with a dog and it came naturally to her to use sentire. It’s clear she’s talking about smell, not taste! She’s afraid she might be giving off a not-so-wonderful odor. Marika and Francesca assure each other:

Però la puzza non si sente. -Non si sente. Meno male.

But you can't smell the bad smell. -You can't smell it. Less bad [Good thing].

Caption 59, Francesca e Marika: Gestualità

We’ve been talking about the good or bad quality of a taste or smell. But if we want to describe the taste or smell in even more detail, then we turn to sapere, which, as we discussed in I Have This Feeling... Sapere Part 1, doesn’t always have to do with knowledge. 

In this case the subject of the sentence is the food itself, or the situation if we’re speaking figuratively. These scenarios should help you get the idea:

You look in the fridge and open a jar of jam. Ugh!

Questa marmellata sa di muffa.

This jam smells like mold.

You made soup, but something’s not right.

Non sa di niente questa minestra. Ecco perché: Ho dimenticato il sale.

This soup doesn’t have any flavor. Here’s why: I forgot the salt.

You think someone is trying to give you a bum deal on a used car. You say to yourself:

Quest’affare sa di fregatura.

This deal smacks of a ripoff.

Later, when you’ve verified it was a bad deal, you can use the modo di dire from I Have This Feeling... Sapere Part 1 and say:

Mi sa che avevo ragione!

I guess I was right!

To sum up, remember that when sapere means “to know,” there will be a subject that’s a person (or animal), and what it is that the person knows, as a direct object. 

Il gatto sa quando è ora di mangiare.

The cat knows when it’s time to eat.

But when sapere has to do with what something tastes or smells like, even figuratively, the subject will be the food or situation, and it will be followed by the preposition di like in the scenarios above.

And let’s not forget the modo di dire, “mi sa che/mi sa di si/no,” discussed in the I Have This Feeling... Sapere Part 1.

Learning suggestion:

Now that you have some new insights on the world of tastes and smells, get a feel for how Italians talk about food by watching or re-watching Yabla videos on the subject. Truffles, wine, risotto, desserts: here’s the list. And if you’re planning on any wine-tasting, you’ll want to visit this quick WordReference thread

And se te la senti (if you feel up to it)...

This example employs the different meanings of sapere. Can you tell them apart? 

Lo sai che ho assaggiato la pomarola, ma sa di acido, quindi mi sa che non la mangerò anche se lo so che non mi amazzerebbe. -Sai che ti dico? Mi sa che fai bene a non mangiarla! Si sa che il cibo avariato fa male. Tutti sanno che la pomarola non deve sapere di acido, dovrebbe avere un buon sapore. 

You know I tasted the tomato sauce, but it tasted sour, and so I guess I’m not going to eat it, even though I know it wouldn’t kill me. -You know what I say? I think you’re doing the right thing by not eating it! It’s well known that food gone bad is bad for you. Everyone knows that tomato sauce should not taste sour; it should taste good

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I Have This Feeling... - Sapere Part 1

Sapere - Part 2

It’s always nice to have a variety of words that mean pretty much the same thing, so that, appunto (indeed), you don’t have to say the same thing all the time.

Sapere (to know) is normally about sure things. When you’re not quite sure about something, you use verbs like pensare (to think), credere (to believe), supporre (to suppose), or sembrare (to seem), among others. Right now, though, we’re going to talk about a very popular modo di dire (way of saying) that Italians use in everyday conversation when they don’t know for sure but they have a pretty good idea: mi sa che... (to me it gives the impression that...). But wait! If we don’t know for sure, why are we using the verb sapere? Good question! We’ll get to that, but first, let’s have a look at some real-life examples.

On its most practical level, mi sa che is used, for example, when someone is thinking out loud. 

Anna is deciding which of the tantalizing Roman pasta dishes to order.

Guardi, mi sa che andrò sulle, ehm, linguine cacio e pepe.

Look, I think I'll go with the, uh, linguini with cheese and pepper.

Caption 9, Anna e Marika: Un Ristorante a Trastevere

Another way to translate what she said would be, “I guess I’ll go with the linguini...” 

In the next example, however, it’s more about “I have a feeling” or “I sense.” Inspector Lara Rubino and another policewoman are looking at the telephone records from a murder victim’s phone and they see a very long list of women’s names. Lara comments dryly:

E da quanto vedo, mi sa che io e te siamo le uniche due sceme che non l'hanno conosciuto.

And from what I see, I have the impression that you and I are the only idiots who didn't get to know him.

Caption 46,  Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 5 of 15 

As for why we use the verb sapere (to know) when we are really just guessing, well, it comes from the other major definition of sapere which has to do with the senses. In its intransitive form (without a direct object), sapere means “to have an odor or taste” (also in a figurative sense). Its figurative meaning is also “to give the impression of.” (English uses other senses to say the same kind of thing: “it looks like”; “it sounds like.”) If you think about it like this, does it make more sense?

In Italian colloquial speech, mi sa che, which is exclusive to the first person singular, is interchangeable with mi sembra che (it seems to me that) and is really quite user-friendly once you get the hang of it. There’s a whole WordReference page dedicated to it! See the long list of forum threads, too.

When you’re not feeling very chiacchierone (talkative), and a short answer will do, mi sa di sì/no works just like penso di sì (I think so), credo di no (I believe not), suppongo di sì (I suppose so), and gets followed by di rather than che.

Ah bè, perfetto. Allora forse mi conviene quello. -E mi sa di sì.

Oh OK, perfect. So maybe I am better off with that. -Yeah I'd guess so.

Caption 23-24, Passeggiando: per Roma - Part 3 of 5 

In Part 2, we’ll talk more about sapere having to do with taste and smell, both literally and figuratively. Stay tuned.

Learning suggestion:

1) To practice this new modo di dire, follow along with the transcript of a given video, selecting one with conversation. When you see a telltale penso che, credo che, mi sembra che, or suppongo che, press “pause.” Mentally insert mi sa che as a substitute and repeat the phrase.

2) Plan your day, thinking out loud about what you’ll probably do. Here’s a head start:

Mi sa che oggi salto la colazione, non c’è tempo. Mi sa che dovrò comprare il pane, perché mi sa che è finito. Ma mi sa che più tardi andrò in centro. 

I guess I’ll skip breakfast; there’s no time. I guess I’ll have to buy bread, because I think there’s no more left. But I think later on, I’ll go downtown.

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Gifts and Giving

The Italian verb for “to give” is dare. But if you want to give someone a gift, you need to get used to using the verb fare (to make)—fare un regalo:  

Quella gli faceva un regalino, quell'altra l'invitava a cena...

One would give him a little gift, another would invite him to dinner...

Captions 38-39, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 3 of 15 

Or you can use the verb form of regalo, regalare:

Eh, ma mi sa che questo è l'ultimo anno che ti posso regalare le mie scarpe.

Uh, I guess this is the last year that I can give you my shoes.

Captions 4-5, Un medico in famiglia: 1 - Casa nuova - Part 10 of 16 

Regalo is analogous with “present,” and it’s the word you will be using most of the time. However, another way to say “gift,” which often implies a divine or important giver, is dono. You’ll hear it in conjunction with traditions, and indeed, dono is used like regalo in talking about what Santa Claus brings down the chimney.

Ovviamente ai bambini portava doni.

Obviously to children he brought gifts.

Caption 14, Marika spiega: La vera storia di Babbo Natale - Part 2 of 2

Donare is easy to remember, being very similar to “donate.” In fact, as a verb, donare can mean “to donate,” as in money or blood: donare sangue (to give blood). Blood donors are donatori di sangue.

Of course, gifts are not always tangible.

Lavoro con un grande dono prezioso che ognuno di noi ha... Lavoro con la mia voce.

I work with a precious gift that each one of us has... I work with my voice.

Caption 5-6, Marika e Daniela: Intervista a Daniela Bruni

And now you need to stretch your mind a bit because the giver is an item of clothing. The shirt in question gives the wearer some positive quality. This particular use of donare is worth remembering because it’s a wonderful way to compliment someone! (Note that the person is using the polite form; to a friend you would say ti dona.)

Ah... ma lo sa che questa camicia le dona? Fa esaltare il colore dei suoi occhi.

Ah... you know that this shirt looks good on you? It brings out the color of your eyes.

Caption 7-8, Il Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 7 of 17 

Finally we have dote (talent, gift, quality) with its verb form, dotare. Except for when it means “endowment” or “dowry,” dote isn’t the kind of gift you can give someone. 

Il ragazzo è dotato per la musica e sua sorella invece è dotata per il disegno.

The boy is a gifted musician while his sister is a gifted artist.

Ha una dote per la musica.

He has a gift for music.  

We could say that God, or some higher being has “provided” that boy with his gift for music. So don’t be surprised if you go to buy a TV in Italy and the salesman tells you that la TV è dotata di telecommando (the TV is supplied with remote control). Not God-given, but factory-given!

To sum up on a practical level (leaving Christmas, weddings, and TVs aside):

  • Il Regalo and regalare have to do with worldly things for the most part, things one person can give another. Regalo can be synonymous with “present.” Remember to use the verb fare with regalo
  • La dote and dotare have more to do with talent, and you can’t give someone this kind of gift.
  • Il dono and donare mostly give the idea of a bigger picture: a gift from God, a donation to a cause, donating blood or organs. But donare can also mean “to enhance,” to bring out positive qualities.

Learning suggestion:

What are your natural talents or gifts? What about those of your family and friends? What did you get for a present on your last birthday? Do you know people who give blood? What are the earth’s natural gifts? Make a list of what comes to mind and then choose the Italian word that is closest in meaning.

To test out any phrases you come up with, just Google them and you will probably get some clues. If you have doubts, use WordReference or other dictionaries to get some more complete input than this lesson can provide.

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A Few Words About “Some” (Qualche and Alcuni)

You guessed it—there's more than one way to say "some" in Italian. 

Master chef Gualtiero Marchesi is talking about one of the most famous northern Italian recipes, risotto alla milanese, and the symbolic meaning of the saffron that gives it a special color and taste:

Il giallo dello zafferano era, in qualche modo, il giallo dell'oro.

The yellow of the saffron was, in some way, the yellow of gold.

Caption 19, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 9 of 15

In qualche modo (in some way) could also have been translated as “in a way” or “in some ways.” Qualche is purposely ambiguous and implies a small, unspecified quantity that could even be just one.

Despite its generally plural meaning, qualche must be followed by a noun in the singular. Let’s see this in context as we put the finishing touches on a fancy dish. Goccia (drop) is singular but the meaning is plural, by just a little bit.

Condiremo con un pochino di sale fino, del pepe nero, qualche goccia di succo di limone...

We'll season with a little fine salt, some black pepper, a few drops of lemon juice...

Captions 11-12, Battuta di Fassone: in Insalata Chef

Qualche is very user friendly. You don’t need to know the plural or even the gender of the word you are modifying. You just need to remember to use a singular noun following it!

Now let’s look at another way to say “some” or “a few”: alcuni and alcune. Unlike qualche, which is quite close to a singular quantity, alcuni and alcune, although not specific, are clearly plural. In fact, the nouns they modify appear in the plural, and, like articles and other adjectives, these modifiers change their endings according to the gender. Alcuni modifies masculine nouns and alcune modifies feminine nouns. 

Alessio Berti has a few dishes to show us: 

Adesso vi farò vedere alcuni piatti di semplice realizzazione.

Now I'm going to show you some dishes that are simple to make.

Caption 3, Ricette dolci: Crème brûlée alla banana

And where can we find the milk for this delicious crème brûlée? 

Spesso, in alcune fattorie, puoi trovare dei prodotti caseari.

Often, on some farms, you can find dairy products.

Caption 17, Marika spiega: Gli animali della fattoria

Note that whereas qualche is always followed by the word it modifies, alcuni/alcune can stand alone, much like its English counterparts (some, a few). To determine which ending to employ, we refer to the gender of the modified noun, even if it's absent. We see this in the following example, where sculptor Claudio Capotondi is talking about his studio full of marble, drawings, models, and whatnot.

Ci sono vari bozzetti, progetti, che sono sedimentati nel tempo, alcuni realizzati, altri...

There are many small-scale models, projects, that have accumulated over time, some completed, others...

Captions 6-7, Claudio Capotondi: Scultore - Part 4 of 6

Qualche and alcuni/alcune can only be used with countable nouns in Italian. We’ll work with uncountable nouns in a future lesson. For now, follow these rules: To be vague, use qualche, which always goes with a singular noun even when its meaning is plural. To be more clearly plural, use alcuni or alcune alone or with a plural noun whose gender tells us which to use. 

Learning suggestion:

To practice using these modifiers, try swapping qualche and alcuni/alcune wherever they occur. There are situations where one is more common than the other, and you’ll gradually get a feel for it. Visit wordreference.com to get some input on phrases with qualche, and don’t forget to have a look at the long list of forum threads about this word. See this blog about alcuni and qualche.

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Different Shades of Sì

In Italian, as in any language, there’s more than one way to say (yes). As we’ll see, there are situations in which it’s more to the point to use words like certo (certainly), va bene (OK), senz’altro (definitely), or come no (of course). Even just changing the number of times we say , along with our tone of voice, can change its effect. Said just once, it can be rather dry, or, depending on how it is said, it can leave a little room for doubt. Said twice, sì sì (the first one higher pitched than the second), it indicates that the speaker is sure of his answer. But attenzione, this double sì sì can also imply irony! Three times, repeated rapidly, really emphasizes that there’s no question, no doubt: Of course it’s yes.

Ma posso prendere anche la metropolitana?

But can I also take the subway?

Sì, sì, sì, dura settantacinque minuti e puoi fare una corsa autobus e una corsa metro.

Yes, yes, yes, it’s good for seventy-five minutes and you can take one bus ride and one subway ride.

Captions 17-18, Passeggiando: per Roma - Part 3 of 5 

When you want to say "OK" (meaning "yes"), va bene* fits the bill.

Ti va di andare a prendere un caffè? -Ehm, va bene.

You feel like going to get a coffee? -Uh, OK

Captions 32 and 34, Passeggiando: per Roma - Part 3 of 5  

Senz’altro is a strong yes and leaves no room for doubt. 

E un'altra cosa, potrebbe trovarmi una sistemazione per stasera?

And another thing; could you find me an accommodation for tonight?

Senz'altro dottore, ci penso io.

Definitely, Doctor; I'll take care of it. 

Captions 36-37, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 4 of 14

In fact, senz’altro is also used to mean "without a doubt" or "undoubtedly" and can replace sicuramente (surely).

Hanno senz’altro dimenticato l’appuntamento.

They undoubtedly forgot the appointment.

In conversation, (or its equivalents) will often be preceded or followed by the non-word eh, which is used to reinforce the word, like in sì eh! (yeah, really!). Other words that can precede these yes words to give them more importance are e (and) and ma (but).

Che peccato! -Eh sì, che peccato.

What a shame! -Oh yes, what a shame.

Caption 19, Francesca: alla guida - Part 4

E certo. Che faccio, riesco, mi metto la cravatta e torno?

Sure. What do I do, go out, put on a tie, and come back?

Caption 15, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 6 of 14

Me la vuole dare questa stanza? -Ma certo che gliela do questa stanza.

Well, you want to give me this room? -But of course I'll give you this room.

Caption 23-24, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 6 of 14

Use d’accordo (agreed) to say yes to an invitation.

Andiamo al cinema insieme? -D’accordo.

Shall we go to the movies together? -Sure.

Sometimes you wouldn’t dream of saying no, so you say the literal equivalent of "how not?":

Posso farmi un panino? -Come no, io ricomincio a suonare. 

May I make myself a sandwich? -Of course. I'll start playing again.

Caption 20, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 4 of 4  

Come no is also used to contradict a false negative statement:

La Francia non è in Europa. -Come no!

France is not in Europe. -Yes, it is!

And that’s the story on . There are, senz’altro, still more ways to say , but this can get you started. As you go about your day, think positive! Say yes! Say it in Italiano and say it in as many ways as you can. 

* More about va bene in: Corso di italiano con Daniela: Chiedere "Come va?"

P.S. You can’t always know your mind. So if you’re not sure you want to say yes, or you just don’t know the answer, have Arianna tell you what to say both in Italian and in Italian body language! Arianna spiega: I gesti degli Italiani - Part 2 of 2

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Reflections on the Reflexive

We talked a little about reflexive personal pronouns in Ci Gets Around. They are: mi (myself), ti (yourself), ci (ourselves), si (himself/herself/itself/themselves), and vi (yourselves). 

The reflexive is necessary in Italian when someone (or something) is both the doer and the receiver of an action. Reflexive pronouns will be found lurking somewhere in the sentence, or attached either to the main verb or helping verb (like fare). The reflexive is worth paying attention to because it’s used a lot more than we might think, and its presence will often change the meaning of the verb it refers to in a subtle but important way. We saw this in the lesson Making It Happen with the verb prestare

So, for instance, if you hide something, the verb you are looking for is nascondere

E poi, ho pensato di nascondere il corpo e...

And then, I thought of hiding the body and...

Caption 44, Il Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 14 of 17

But if you are the one hiding, you’ll need the reflexive form, nascondersi (literally, to hide oneself). A marine biologist dives down to the bottom of the sea surrounding the Aeolian Islands to show us the beautiful creatures there.

Probabilmente, sta cercando una tana per nascondersi da me.

It's probably looking for a cave in order to hide from me.

Caption 22, Linea Blu: Le Eolie - Part 7 of 19

The same holds here, where avvicinare, by itself, means to move something closer. But if you add the reflexive, it’s something or someone that is getting closer. 

Il prossimo che si avvicina all'acquario, m'ingoio voi e tutta la famiglia.

The next one who comes near the aquarium, I'll swallow you and the whole family.

Caption 40, Acqua in bocca: Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

When it’s all about you, you’ll use the reflexive with many of the verbs you use to talk about your daily routines. 

Di solito, io mi sveglio alle sette in punto.

Usually, I wake up at seven on the dot.

Caption 4, Marika spiega: L'orologio

Sometimes fare (in its reflexive form) gets called in for an assist: instead of docciarsi (to shower), we can say farsi la doccia (to take a shower):

Mi faccio la doccia alle sette e mezza.

I take a shower at half past seven.

Caption 6, Marika spiega: L'orologio

Now you should be ready to reflect on the reflexive! Get the whole picture on reflexive verbs here. For the scoop on reflexive pronouns, you can get help here. For even more on the reflexive, see this online resource.

Learning suggestion:

Try to put your daily routine into words, using the dictionary (and the above-mentioned online resources) if necessary. Maybe your routine goes something like this:

Ti svegli alle 6 di mattina ma ti addormenti di nuovo e quindi ti alzi alle sei e mezza. Ti fai un buon caffè e poi ti fai la doccia, ti lavi i denti, e ti vesti. Se fa freddo ti metti una giacca prima di uscire.* Nascondi la chiave sotto lo zerbino. Ti fai prestare un biglietto per l’autobus.

You wake up at 6 in the morning, but you fall asleep again so you get up at 6:30. You make yourself a nice cup of coffee and then you take a shower, you brush your teeth and you get dressed. If it’s cold, you put on a jacket before going out. You hide the key under the doormat. You borrow a ticket for the bus.

*More about what to wear in Marika spiega: L'abbigliamento - Part 1 of 2.

Tocca a te! (It’s your turn!)

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Making It Happen

Fare (to make) is a verb for getting things done. It’s about as universal in Italian as “get” (or “have”) is in English and frequently means about the same thing. 

Here, fare really does mean “to make”:

Eccolo. Questo è il vino che faccio con mio nonno.

Here it is. This is the wine I make with my grandfather.

Caption 5, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4

Fare used simply, as in the above example, indicates you are doing the work. If, instead of doing something yourself, you have it done by someone else, you’ll generally use fare plus the verb in the infinitive:

Se vuole, La faccio accompagnare da uno dei miei ragazzi.

If you'd like, I’ll get one of my guys to accompany you

Caption 15, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4

When you need to borrow something, fare loans itself to you because there’s no single word in Italian that means “to borrow.” You need to “get something lent to you,” so you use the verb prestare (to lend) but you turn it around using fare, plus, depending on whom you are talking about, the appropriate reflexive personal pronoun. 

La mia dolce Ninetta riceve la visita di Pippo... e riesce a farsi prestare da Pippo alcune monete.

My sweet Ninetta gets a visit from Pippo... and is able to borrow a few coins from Pippo.

Caption 10, Anna e Marika: in La Gazza Ladra - Part 2 of 2

The same idea holds for showing something to someone: you need to “make them see it.”

Adesso vi farò vedere alcuni piatti di semplice realizzazione.

Now I'm going to show you some dishes that are simple to make.

Caption 3, Ricette dolci: Crème brûlée alla banana

Fare can also be intended as “get,” “have,” or “let,” depending on the context. Here, fare is used in a command:

Fammi uscire! Ehi, fammi uscire!

Let me out! Hey, let me out! [Or: Get me out of here!]

Caption 37, Acqua in bocca: Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

There’s lots more to say about fare, but for now, when you tune into Yabla, try to start noticing how people talk about getting things done using this catch-all word. To get more acquainted with fare, have a look here and here.

Learning suggestion:

Think about some things you would like to get done (or have already had done). Here are some ideas to work with. Try turning them into questions or changing the person, tense, subject, object, or verb, or you can make up your own sentences from scratch.

Faccio sempre pulire la casa da professionisti.

I always have the house cleaned by professionals.

Facciamo riparare la nostra macchina dal meccanico in paese.

We get our car repaired by the mechanic in town.

Mi sono fatta fare un tatuaggio.

I got a tattoo. (This is a woman speaking. A man would say, Mi sono fatto fare un tatuaggio.)

Vorrei farmi fare un vestito da una sarta.

I’d like to get a dress made for me by a seamstress.

Non mi lavo i capelli da sola.  Li faccio lavare dalla parrucchiera.

I don’t wash my own hair. I get it washed at the hairdresser’s.

Ti voglio fare conoscere un amico.

I want to introduce you to a friend.

Voglio farti conoscere un amico.

I want to introduce you to a friend.

Mi fai vedere le tue foto?

Will you show me your pictures?

Joining a language forum such as WordReference can be helpful for getting feedback on your attempts.

 

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Slow down you're driving too loud

The instrument we know as the piano is called il pianoforte in Italian. What made it special when it was invented was that it could be played both piano (softly) and forte (loudly). Many of us are familiar with these musical terms, but actually, forte and piano are ordinary words (used as both adjectives and adverbs) and much of the time have nothing to do with music.

Francesca is learning to drive, and her instructor is telling her how to use the clutch:
 
Piano piano, lentamente.
Slowly, slowly, slowly. 
 
If she had taken off too fast, her instructor might have said:
 
Rallenta, stai andando troppo forte!
Slow down, you are going too fast!
 
So just as piano can mean lentamente (slowly), forte is often used to mean veloce (fast). In fact, forte basically means “strong” or “loud.” It can be used to express a strong, positive emotion like, when Lele, upon seeing his new home for the first time, exclaims:
 
Forte! C'è il giardino con l'erba e tutto. -Ti piace?
Cool! There's a garden with a lawn and everything. -You like it?
 
Piano can mean “delicately,” “quietly,” or “slowly,” and it’s not always clear which meaning is intended. On the beach at Maratea, three friends are singing a famous Italian song.
 
Lasciatemi cantare una canzone piano piano
Let me sing a song slowly, slowly [Or: Let me sing a song softly, softly
 
Only the songwriter knows for sure!
 
“Level” is a completely different meaning of piano. In piano refers to level ground. Un piano is something level, like the story of a building. Lele tattles on his neighbor before leaving his old apartment for good:
 
La moglie di Andrea si bacia in macchina con l'avvocato del quinto piano.
Andrea’s wife smooches in the car with the lawyer from the fifth floor.
 
Un piano is also a flat surface to work on. In the kitchen you will need a piano di lavoro (countertop) and a piano di cottura (stovetop). Then you will set the table with two kinds of plates that take their names from their shapes: piano (flat) and fondo (deep).
 
Cominciamo con i piatti: questo è un piatto piano. Poi, c'è il piatto fondo...
Let's begin with the plates, this is a dinner plate. Then, there's the soup plate...
 
Piani (levels) can have to do with depth, too. When we zoom in with a camera, we will be getting a primo piano (close-up). We can also use piano to discuss priorities, like when Lara is trying to get Commissario Manara to focus on the job at hand:
 
Le questioni personali vanno messe in secondo piano.
Personal matters should take second place.
 
And if that weren’t enough, un piano is also “a plan.”
 
Tranquilli, ho un piano.
Don't worry, I have a plan.
 
So if you are playing the piano (pianoforte), talking too loud (troppo forte) or too soft (troppo piano), chopping vegetables on the counter (piano di lavoro), setting the table for dinner (piatti piani), filming a close-up (primo piano) of your cat, talking on a philosophical level (piano filosofico) with your friend, cycling on a flat road (in piano) and going too fast (troppo forte) or too slow (troppo piano) for your companion; if you have a plan (un piano), or even if you just live on the next floor up (al piano di sopra) in an apartment building, then these words are for you.
 
Learning tip: To get a more complete sense of the uses and nuances of piano and forte, go to an online dictionary like wordreference and check out the many examples. Whenever you can, reinforce your vocabulary skills by clicking on the green “Review Vocabulary” button below the video thumbnail.
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Ci Gets Around - Part 2

Ci Gets Around - Part 1

We saw in the previous lesson that the short word ci fits into (c’entra in) many situations.

But not only can ci mean “there,” ci can represent an object pronoun like “it,” “this,” or “that” plus a preposition (to, into, of, from, about, etc.) all in one, as we see below.

On the job, Manara finds himself in the wine cellar of an important estate and has questioned Count Lapo’s housekeeper about some rifle shots. She answers evasively:

Colpi di fucile qui se ne sentono spesso, è zona di caccia. Sinceramente non c'ho badato.

We often hear gun shots here, it's a hunting area. Honestly I didn't pay attention to that.

Captions 13-14, Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 5 of 17

And things get more mysterious when Manara discovers Count Lapo’s cryptic parting words about his estate:

Ma ci penserà qualcun altro...

Well, someone else will take care of it...

Caption 34, Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 5 of 17

Ci can even get into the kitchen! Two kids are putting the finishing touches on a recipe they have demonstrated:

La nostra pasta è pronta. Ci aggiungiamo un cucchiaino di parmigiano.

Our pasta is ready. To it we’ll add a teaspoon of Parmesan.

Caption 21, Ricette bimbi: Gli spaghetti con zucchine e uova

But what happens when there are two object pronouns in the same sentence (indirect and direct)? Non c’è problema! Ci transforms itself into ce. The most important question when it’s time to buttare la pasta (throw the pasta in) is:

Ci hai messo il sale? (Did you put the salt in?)

Sì, ce l’ho già messo. (Yes, I already put it in.)

Even when it means “us” (see previous lesson), ci is transformed into ce when a direct object pronoun is also present, like “it” or “that.”

Morto come? -Eh, non ce l'hanno detto.

How did he die? -Uh, they didn’t tell us that.

Captions 33-34, Il Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 1 of 17

Ci (often in the form of ce) can easily sneak into a sentence where there is technically no need for it, just to give it some weight.

Io son contadino mica grullo, ce l'avete il mandato?

I'm a farmer, not an idiot, do you have a warrant?

Caption 28, Il Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 8 of 17

While it’s nice to know what all these little words mean, it can be frustrating trying to account for all of them or to string them together in a logical order, so learning some common frasi fatte (idiomatic expressions) can get you off to a great start.

Lara’s aunt is being pulled by her little dog:

Non ce la faccio, mi fai cadere.

I can’t make it [I can't keep up], you'll make me fall.

Caption 2, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 1 of 14

And the Commissario has no clue why Lara is mad at him:

Lara! Io non l'ho capito perché ce l'hai con me.

Lara! I don't get why you have something against me.

Caption 49, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 5 of 14

A good way to get a realistic sense of ci and ce in context is to watch Yabla series like Commissionario Manara, Un Medico in Famiglia, or even Pippo e Palla. Listen for these words, and when you hear them, press pause and repeat the sentence out loud. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll discover these little words all over the place, sprouting like wildflowers.

Learning suggestion:

You will get a good helping of phrases using ci here. Get to know the ones that resonate with you. Enjoy a comprehensive and entertaining introduction to the word ci here.

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Ci Gets Around - Part 1

Ci Gets Around - Part 2

Most of us know what arrivederci means: “goodbye,” or literally, “until we see each other again.” Ci in this case means “us” or “to us” or “each other.” Take a look at how ci works in this evocative hymn to one of our most precious resources, water:

Ci ricorda qualcosa che abbiamo dimenticato.

It reminds us of something that we have forgotten.

Caption 20, Inno all'acqua: Un bene prezioso da difendere

When we like something, it gets "turned around" in Italian:

Ci piace molto questo posto! 

We like this place a lot! [Literally: This place pleases us a lot!]

Sometimes ci gets attached to a verb, like here, where Commissioner Manara has just arrived at the crime scene and is dispatching his team to question a cyclist:

Perché non vai a sentire cos'ha da dirci? [Another way to say this would be: Perché non vai a sentire cosa ci ha da dire?]

Why don't you go and listen to what he has to say to us?

Caption 11, Il Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 2 of 17

Ci is often used in reflexive constructions, which are more common in Italian than in English.

Noi ci troviamo in Campania...

We are [we find ourselves] in Campania... 

Caption 13, Giovanna spiega: La passata di pomodori

In all the above examples, ci is the plural of mi (me, to me, myself). But the word ci can also mean “there,” expressing place, presence, or existence. It’s frequently hidden in a contraction, thus not alway easy to recognize. On his first day of work, Commissioner Manara checks into a pensione (small, family-run hotel) and asks the receptionist:

Il televisore c'è in camera? -Eh, certo che c'è. 

Is there a TV in the room? -Eh, of course there is

Captions 27-28, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 6 of 14

He walks in on his colleagues who are gossiping about him:

Che c'è, assemblea c'è?

What is going on here, is there an assembly?

Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 8 of 14

In the above examples, c’è stands for ci è (there is), just like ci sono means “there are.” But, as we can see, it also means “is there?”—it’s the inflection (or punctuation if it’s written) that tells you whether it’s a question or a statement. (Learn more here and here.)

If I care whether you understand something or not, I will ask:

Ci sei?

Do you get it? Are you with me? [Literally: Are you there?]

If I don’t care so much, I might say:

Chi c’è c’è, chi non c’è non c’è.

If you're with me you're with me; if you're not, you’re not. [Literally, “whoever is there is there; whoever isn’t there, isn’t there.”]

There! Ci is pretty easy when you get the hang of it! (Tip: Do a search for ci in the Yabla videos to instantly see lots of different examples in context.) Stay tuned for Part 2 of this lesson, where we’ll find out how ci worms its way into all sorts of other situations!  

Learning tip:

Make a shopping list, even just mentally, and as you do, ask yourself if you have those items in the fridge or in the cupboard. For singular things, or collective nouns, you will use c’è and for countable items in the plural, you will use ci sono. To get started:

C’è del formaggio? No, non c’è. (Is there any cheese? No, there isn’t.)

Ci sono delle uova? Si, ci sono. (Are there any eggs? Yes, there are.)

Ci sei? 

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Stay Warm and Dream of Beaches

For those living in the northern hemisphere, December can be a good time to turn to indoor activities like learning or perfecting a second language. If it’s cold and dark outside, it might be nice to make yourself a nice cup of tea or cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) and view some of the new videos at Yabla!

With all this cold weather, Francesca must be daydreaming about warmer times. She shared with us how wonderful the beach can be in September: 

Oggi ho deciso di passare una giornata diversa dal solito e quindi sono venuta al mare.

Today I've decided to spend the day differently from usual and so I've come to the beach.

Captions 1-2, Francesca - sulla spiaggia - Part 1 of 3 

When talking about the beach in general, il mare (“the sea” or “the seaside”) is the right word to use, but once there, or when talking about the quality of the beach itself (sandy, pebbly, crowded, empty, etc.), use la spiaggia (the beach). Francesca explains that she chose to go to the beach in September to avoid "la calca": the summer crowd. 

La calca, in Italia, significa una folla esagerata, molta, molta gente, che si può trovare in queste spiagge.

La calca, in Italy, means an exaggerated crowd, lots and lots of people, that can be found on these beaches.

Captions 24-25, Francesca - sulla spiaggia - Part 1 of 3

In Italia much of the coastline consists of private beach clubs that provide bars, restaurants, changing rooms, showers, and restrooms. Bagno is used to indicate a beach club or bathing establishment, for example, "Bagno Italia." Fare il bagno (“to go swimming” or “to go in the water”) is one thing you might do there. But be careful; bagno can also mean lavatory! Public (free) beaches (spiaggie libere) exist but tend to be small and hard to find. Francesca is at a typical Italian beach club where it is customary to rent a beach umbrella (ombrellone) and beach chair (sdraio) or cot (lettino). She has to go and pay first alla cassa (at the counter). 

Va bene. Allora vado alla cassa. -Sì, sì, la cassa, sì.

All right. So, I'll go to the counter. -Yes, yes, the counter, yes.

Caption 11, Francesca - sulla spiaggia - Part 1 of 3

La cassa is used to indicate the place where you pay for something, whether it’s a cash register, ticket window, or checkout counter. 

To inspire your warm weather reverie, and to reinforce your vocabulary on the subject, have a look at these Yabla videos:

Antonio: e il Lido Costa Blu

Antonio takes us to a beautiful seaside resort at Praia a Mare in Calabria on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Adriano: a Mondello

Adriano tells us about the splendid beach at Mondello near Palermo in Sicily.

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The Simple Things in Life

It’s easy to get information on how to conjugate Italian verbs in all the tenses (for example, here), but it’s not so easy to know when to use one tense or another. Consider this conversation between two fish in an aquarium:

Che hai? Perché ti lamenti? -E ora che succede?

What’s the matter? Why are you complaining? -And now what's happening?

Shsh, è proprio arrabbiata. Senti come singhiozza.

Shhh, she’s really angry. Listen to how she's sobbing.

Captions 4 and 24-25, Acqua in bocca: Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

In English we have two types of present tense: present continuous, as in “I am talking on the phone at the moment," and the simple present, as in “I talk to my Mom every evening.” The first has to do with the moment, and the second with regularity or facts (learn more here). As you can see in the above dialogue, Italian speakers will use the present tense for both, unless there is some ambiguity about meaning or unless they want to emphasize the time element, such as in the following:

Non ti posso parlare ora perché sto mangiando.

I can’t talk to you right now because I am eating.

This progressive tense, which doesn’t really have an official name in Italian, is formed with the verb stare ("to stay" or "to be") plus the verb in its gerundio (gerund) form. Learn more here.

Now we are in Commissioner Manara’s office but he’s not there. As soon as he walks in, Sardi, who has been trying to pry information out of Lara regarding the Commissioner, feels she should get out of there. She says:

E infatti vado e tolgo il disturbo e vi lascio lavorare.

And, in fact, I’ll go and I’ll leave you be and I’ll let you work.

Caption 52, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 7 of 14

(N.b.: Literally, tolgo il disturbo means “I’ll remove the disturbance.”)

Sardi says it all in the present tense, but this time to refer to the (near) future! When the context does not require a specific reference to time, the most “neutral” version of a verb (i.e., the present tense) is preferred.

And il presente (the present) can also express English’s simple future tense (“going to” + verb), like at the beginning of Marika’s lesson about numbers:

Ciao. Oggi parliamo di numeri.

Hi. Today, we're going to talk about numbers.

Caption 1, Marika spiega: Numeri cardinali e ordinali

So the good news is that in Italian, with one tense, il presente, we can cover three different tenses in English. This may simplify things as you practice your Italian speaking skills, but don’t forget to pay attention to the context!

Learning suggestion: 

In addition to listening to the videos and paying attention to how the present tense is used, try putting these sentences into Italian using il presente

 

You’re asking a friend what she intends to wear to school. The verb is mettere (“to put” or “to put on”).

     What are you wearing today? 

You're talking to your boss about when you will hand in your work. The verb is finire (to finish).

     I’m going to finish the project after lunch.  

You're talking about your eating habits. The verb is mangiare (to eat).

     I eat a sandwich every day for lunch. 

You're at a restaurant talking to the waiter. The verb is prendere (to take).

     I’ll have the fish. 

You have a flat tire and don’t know how to fix it. The verb is fare (to make or do).

     What am I going to do now? 

You're talking about the new person in your English class. The verb is parlare (to speak).

     He speaks English very well.

Answers:

Cosa ti metti oggi?  

Finisco il progetto dopo pranzo. 

Mangio un panino tutti i giorni a pranzo. 

Prendo il pesce. 

E ora che faccio?

Lui parla molto bene inglese. 

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Magari-a magic word

Sounding like a native speaker is quite a challenge. Magari (maybe) is a word that can help your spoken Italian become more natural—almost like magic!  

Think of all the ways you say “maybe” in English: 

  • may or might (potrei, potresti, potrebbe, which is the present conditional of the verb potere [to be able to])
  • perhaps (forse)  
  • could be (può darsi, possibilmente)
  • possibly (forse, può darsi) 

 

Magari can work for all these meanings. As an adverb, magari basically means “maybe,” as in this telephone exchange between Lara, Lara’s aunt, and Commissioner Manara. He is calling to see how Lara is, and mentions he might (magari) stop in later. Lara’s aunt is thrilled—but Lara, not so much. She grabs the phone and tells him so. Ho detto magari (I said maybe), he protests: 

No, volevo solamente sapere come sta. Magari passo a farle visita più tardi.

No, I was just wondering how she is. Maybe I'll drop by to visit her later.

Eh sì, certo... -No, no, dammi il telefono! Non ci pensare neanche. -Ho detto magari.

Oh yes, sure... -No, no, give me the phone! Don't even think of it. -I said maybe.

Captions 25 and 27-28, Commissario Manara: Vendemmia Tardiva - Ep. 2 - part 2 of 17

But in the following example, the waiter at the lakeside restaurant has suggested to a woman that, given the very hot sun, she might like to jump in the water. Her reply, Magari! in a phrase all by itself, said with a certain emphasis, expresses a wish that something were true. She’d love to dive in, but doesn’t know how to swim. (“I’d love to, but...”  or, on a more colloquial level, “Yeah, right! I don’t even know how to swim!” or ”If only [I knew how to swim]!”)

Un tuffo? Magari! Peccato che non so nuotare.

A dive? I wish! Too bad I don't know how to swim.

Caption 10, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4

Magari is a word that can temper something you say and you can add it just about anywhere in a sentence. In Amiche: Anna e Marika raccontano..., we are at the close of a conversation between Marika and Anna, talking about their lives. Instead of just saying, ora facciamo i saluti (now let’s say goodbye), or allora ciao (well, goodbye), Marika softens it with magari, turning it into a suggestion rather than a statement or an order.

Bene. -Ora facciamo i saluti magari. -Mmh.

Good. -Now maybe we should say goodbye. -Mm.

Caption 31, Amiche: Anna e Marika raccontano...

Learning tip: 

Magari is a word that slips off the tongue with ease, and Italians use it often in conversation. As you try talking to yourself in Italian (a great exercise!), experiment with using it when in English you would say, “Maybe I’ll...”  “I just might...” “Yeah, right!” “Yeah, if only it were true,” or “I think I will...”  

It also works in the negative: magari, no (better not, maybe not, I wouldn’t).

Sometimes magari just adds a little something to the phrase; other times it is essential. To see more examples of how it is used in conversation, you can do a search of the Yabla videos: Click here and you'll see all instances magari highlighted. You can then go and watch the videos to get a more complete picture.

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Viva la pasta

Imagine being on vacation in Italy. You’ve rented a little apartment, and you’d like to do some cooking! You might even have bought an Italian-language cookbook. What are some handy things to know? 

Most Italians have a kitchen scale for dry measure, and use kilos and grams. For example, when deciding how much pasta to cook, they will typically measure out un etto* (one hundred grams) per person, which will then get cooked in a big pentola (pot) of acqua bollente salata (salted boiling water).

*Short for ettogrammo (hectogram), equal to cento grammi  (a hundred grams). To convert to and from the metric system, click here.

Let's look at how real Italian cooks work in two videos, Marino: La maccaronara and Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara -  Part 1 of 2.

In Marino: La maccaronara, Marino is making fresh pasta. He talks about the impasto (dough). But impasto can also refer to a batter, or the result of whatever you have mixed up, like a filling or stuffing. Lavorare (to work) in this context means to manipulate, to knead, to mix up, to beat, or to form. He explains:

È molto semplice: fare un impasto di acqua e farina e sale, lavorarlo almeno quaranta minuti, così la pasta è più buona,

It's very simple: make a dough of water and flour and salt, knead it for at least forty minutes, that way the pasta tastes better,

Captions 8-9, Marino: La maccaronara

Once you have kneaded it, you make it flatter and it becomes “la sfoglia”—thin and flat like a leaf (la foglia) or a piece of paper (il foglio).

E poi si fa la sfoglia con un mattarello in legno,

And then you roll out (the dough) with a wooden rolling pin,

Caption 15, Marino: La maccaronara

Adriano, nel frattempo (in the meantime), has been working on la carbonara, a favorite piatto (dish) among students on a budget, or with those who want to make something simple but tasty and nutritious. Click here for some theories on the origins of the name, or listen to what Adriano has to say about it as he cooks. Carbone means “coal,” so many people associate the name with one of the important ingredients, black pepper (pepe nero).

Per iniziare, dobbiamo fare il soffritto.

To start with, we have to sauté [the onions].

Facciamo soffriggere la cipolla, aggiungiamo un pizzico di sale.

We sauté the onion; we add a pinch of salt.

Captions 22 and 32, Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara - Part 1 of 2

Soffrigere (to sauté) is carried out at a lower temperature than friggere (to fry or deep-fry). Il soffritto is the classic beginning to cooking a great number of sauces and dishes.

The most common kinds of soffritto use: aglio (garlic), prezzemolo (parsley), and concentrato di pomodoro (tomato paste), or cipolla (onion), carote (carrots), and sedano (celery). They cook at a moderate heat in olio di oliva (olive oil) using a thick-bottomed padella (skillet).

Have fun, and buon appetito!

For more about Italian dining and cooking, see Marika spiega: Pentole e posate (Marika Explains About Pots, Pans, and Tableware). 

Learning suggestion: Look up different recipes for la carbonara in an Italian cookbook or on the Internet and try making this delicious pasta dish—or cook along with Adriano!

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Play Time

The verb suonare (to play music, to sound) has various related meanings, all connected with sound (il suono). 

In Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4, a guy is talking to his girlfriend about the vendemmia (grape harvest). He concludes by saying:

Suono l'organetto e facciamo una cena tutti quanti insieme.

I play the accordion and we have a dinner all together.

Caption 24, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4

After taking out his accordion, he says:

Questo è il pezzo che suono sempre.

This is the piece I always play.

Caption 26, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4

Back in the city, Milena and Mattia are sitting at an outdoor café. Mattia is talking about his band.

No, io suono solo il piano. Il ragazzo che suona la chitarra fa anche il cantante.

No, I just play the piano. The guy who plays the guitar is also the singer.

Captions 43-44, Milena e Mattia: Al ristorante - Part 1 of 2

In the above examples, suonare means “to play” (an instrument or music), but suonare also means “to sound.” Consider the following sentence:

Francesco suona bene il violino, ma in questa stanza il violino non suona bene.

Francesco plays the violin well, but in this room the violin doesn’t sound good.

Here's a list of even more ways the verb suonare can be used:

  •      suonare bene (to sound good, or to play well—depending on the context)
  •      suonare il campanello (to ring the doorbell)
  •      suonare il claxon (to honk the horn)
  •      fare suonare (literally, to make something sound; to play something, such as a CD—as in pressing “play”)
  •      suonare in giro (perform here and there, play some gigs)
  •      essere suonato/suonata come una campana (literally, having been rung like a bell—to be off one’s head)
  •      suonare (to ring, as in a telephone or an alarm clock; to toll, as in a churchbell slowly ringing  to announce a death)
  •      suonare male a qualcuno (to not sound right to someone)
  •  

Another translation of “to play” is giocare, but this comes from the word for “game,” il gioco. In Bibione: Torneo del frisbee - Part 1 of 2,  Dario talks about his favorite gioco:

Mi piace molto giocare a frisbee.

I really like playing frisbee.

Caption 3, Bibione: Torneo del frisbee - Part 1 of 2

L'Ultimate frisbee è uno sport che si gioca sia su erba che su spiaggia.

Ultimate frisbee is a sport that is played both on grass and on the beach.

Lo scopo del gioco è fare meta.

The aim of the game is to score.

Captions 34-36, Bibione: Torneo del frisbee - Part 1 of 2

So whether you like playing frisbee, playing the guitar, or playing your favorite CD, play some videos on your computer and play the Yabla Game. Can you figure out the right Italian word for all the highlighted words in the previous sentence, and in the following one? See if it sounds right to you!

(See below for the solution.)

  • giocare
  • suonare
  • fare suonare
  • fare suonare (or, fare andare—literally, to make something go)
  • giocare
  • gioco
  • suonare
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Attention, please!

Mi raccomando (I implore you) is an expression you will most often hear in commands: parent to child, between friends, from boss to employee. It’s mainly used to reinforce a request or a command, and indicates a certain degree of importance or urgency as well as trust.

In an episode of Acqua in bocca: Pippo e la pappa, the father says to his kids as he walks out the door:

Mi raccomando, qualcuno di voi dia da mangiare ai pesci.

Make sure one of you feeds the fish.

Caption 9,  Acqua in bocca: Pippo e la pappa - Ep 5

When I say mi raccomando I'm calling attention to what I'm about to say, or to what I’ve just said, and I mean, “Listen carefully to what I'm telling you to do, and make sure you do it, because it’s important!” I'm entrusting you with something, a task or an object. I'm counting on you. 

So how do you fit mi raccomando into a sentence? It’s easy, and quite common in speech, to consider it as a separate phrase, or a tag:

Non arrivare in ritardo, mi raccomando.

Don’t come late. I’m counting on you.

Mi raccomando, non rompere quel vaso.

Be careful; don’t break that vase. 

Sometimes it’s used just by itself as a warning or an exhortation to pay attention, to be careful. Someone’s youngster is going off to camp, or going out with friends for the first time. After giving him a hug, his parent might say, Mi raccomando... (Take care and don’t get into trouble...) while giving him a meaningful look. 

But what does the word raccomandare actually mean? Your first instinct tells you it means “to recommend.” That’s not completely wrong, but it’s not completely right, either. In fact, that definition is probably the one used least often! There are various somewhat related meanings, but the most useful and commonly heard form is the reflexive form used in the first person: mi raccomando (I implore you). Here are some other uses:

  • raccomandarsi = to commend or entrust oneself to (to God, for example); to urge someone to do something. To entreat, implore.
  • lettera raccomandata = registered letter (you are making sure the letter gets to its destination. It’s getting special care).
  • essere raccomandato = to be helped in one’s career or studies or other situations by knowing someone, by friends or connections.
  • raccomandare = to recommend or advise, to put in a good word, to urge. A doctor might say, Le raccomando di stare a letto (I strongly advise you to stay in bed). But note that in order to recommend a good restaurant or film, Italians will more likely use the verb consigliare (to advise), as in the following example, where a customer at lakeside vacation spot gets some advice as to how to combat the heat.

Se sente caldo, Le consiglio di fare un tuffo

If you're hot, I recommend diving in.

Caption 9, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4

Learning Tip:

Practice adding mi raccomando to commands, either at the beginning or the end. You will want it to correspond to “I’m counting on you,” “I really mean it,” “Be careful!”  “Pay attention!”

Mi racommando! Don’t forget to visit Yabla Italian today.

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