Italian Lessons



Just as “get” in English serves many purposes, and has many shades of meaning, there are words in Italian that work in a similar way. One of these is beccare. It comes from becco (beak) and means “to peck,” but it’s used in colloquial speech to mean “to take,” “to catch,” or “to get.” It’s often used reflexively (for more on reflexives, see this lesson), and that’s how Manara uses it as he questions an uncooperative witness: 

Se non vuoi beccarti un'incriminazione per complicità in omicidio...

If you don't want to get yourself an indictment for complicity in murder...

Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara: Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Ep 4 - Part 11 of 17

Here’s one more example from a Yabla video:

I fotografi! -C'hanno beccato!

The photographers! -They got us!

Caption 3, Trailer: Paparazzi

If you get caught doing something you shouldn’t, that’s when you say mi hanno beccato (they caught me)! You might use beccare if you get caught in the rain without an umbrella: mi sono beccato [or beccata] un raffreddore (I caught a cold), or if after dialing someone’s number many times, they finally answer: finalmente t’ho beccato (I finally got you)! 

It's not always easy to know when using beccare would be appropriate, but by listening for it and repeating it to yourself when you hear it, little by little you'll find it on the tip of your tongue at just the right moment. More meanings and examples can be found here

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In fondo in fondo

When you arrive in a new country, one of the first challenges is to find your way around. Asking directions is one thing. Understanding them is another!

A destra (to the right) and a sinistra (to the left) are pretty basic, but when someone starts saying in fondo (at the end, in the end, at the bottom), there may be some confusion as to exactly what’s meant. 

Fondo has to do with distance and depth. Let’s first look at its literal, physical meaning. 

Sì, sì, un bagno. -È in fondo a destra.

Yes, yes, a bathroom. -It's at the end of the hall, to the right.

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara: Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Ep 4 - Part 5 of 17

The above is a very typical answer to the question, “Where is the restroom?”

In fondo may indicate the furthest point (at the end) or the lowest point, as in in fondo alle scale (at the bottom of the stairs). If you’re late for a movie, you will probably sit in fondo (at the back).

Fondo often has to do with long distance, as in sci di fondo (cross-country skiing). A long-distance bicycle race will be il gran fondo. Note that the word profondo (deep) contains the root fondo! A very low bass singer will be a basso profondo

Ed ecco davanti a noi, nel blu profondo, una forma scura come quella di un grosso pesce adagiato sul fondo.

And here, in front of us, in the deep blue, a dark form shaped like a big fish lying on the bottom.

Captions 38-39, Linea Blu: Sicilia - Part 5 of 19

Italians often use piatti fondi (soup plates) for eating pasta or brodo (broth). They’re deep enough to hold liquids. 

Note that fondo is used both as a noun and as an adjective! Un fondo can be a fund, it can be a storage area, it can be a backdrop or background. It can be a piece of land. In makeup, fondotinta is your makeup base or foundation. 

Turning now to concepts rather than physical things, fondo, preceded by the preposition a (to, at, in), takes on the idea of “in depth,” or “thorough.”

In bagno, è molto importante pulire a fondo. 

In the bathroom it's very important to clean thoroughly.

Caption 32, Marika spiega: Le pulizie di primavera - Part 1 of 2

If you think about getting “to the bottom” of things, a fondo makes sense.

If you want to go all the way, vai fino in fondo (you go all the way), both literally and figuratively.

In fondo is used to mean “in the end,” or “after all is said and done,” or “deep down.”

E poi, i gatti in fondo hanno sempre sette vite.

And then, cats after all always have seven lives.

Caption 23, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 1 of 4

Then there’s a popular expression in fondo in fondo (deep down) used primarily in talking about people:

Sai che ti dico, zia? Che come commissario, in fondo in fondo, non è poi così male...

You know what I say, Aunt? That as a commissioner, deep down, he's not really so bad...

Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 17 of 17

It wouldn’t hurt to approfondire (to go into things more thoroughly, more deeply) a bit regarding the word fondo. There are plenty of examples in Yabla videos, and there are plenty of examples on Remember that context is key! In fondo in fondo, è una parola molto utile! (All in all, it’s a very useful word!)

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I like it - Mi piace

It's very important to be able to say what you like and what you don't like. In English, “to like” is an active verb, as in “I like strawberries.” Italians use the verb piacere (to be pleasing) to say they like something. But attenzione! In Italian it gets turned around like this:

I like snow. (To me snow is pleasing.)

Mi piace la neve.

"Snow" is singular, so piace is singular. If what we like is in the plural, like "strawberries," piacere will get conjugated in the plural (in this case, third person plural). 

Mi piacciono queste fragole.

To me these strawberries are pleasing [I like these strawberries.]

This can all be very confusing for new Italian speakers, but if you think about the fact that when you like something, it’s pleasing to you, it will make more sense.

So "I like" becomes mi piace. In her lesson on mi piace Daniela explains that mi (to me) is really just a contraction of a me (to me). A me is used when we want to emphasize the person, as opposed to the object the person likes, as in this hit song by Nina Zilli, Cinquantamila lacrime (Fifty thousand tears).

A me piace così -A me piace così

I like it like that. -I like it like that

Caption 7, Nina Zilli: 50 mila

Remember that mi is an indirect object meaning "to me." Whatever or whoever is doing the pleasing (for example, strawberries) on the other hand, becomes the subject of the sentence (and governs the conjugation of piacere). 

You may hear Italians say: a me mi piace. Now that you know that mi is short for a me, you may sense that it's wrong because it's a repetition. In fact, it's bad grammar. Still, people say it because it emphasizes just about everything in the sentence. It's sort of like saying, "Me, I like it."

So, what if I want to tell a person I like him or her?

Mi piaci.

You please me. [I like you.]

Although mi piaci or mi piace can just refer to liking someone in general, more often than not, it’s about finding the other person attractive. To say that someone is generally likable or agreeable without alluding to their attractiveness, Italian uses a word that doesn’t have a direct English equivalent: simpatico (agreeable, likable).

If you say mi sei simpatico or, as is more common in the south, mi stai simpatico (you're agreeable to me, you’re likable to me), you’re essentially telling the person you like him! It’s safer than mi piaci in many situations. 

Let’s take an example from our favorite commissioner, Manara. He’s convinced his new colleagues don’t like him, but there’s a job to do. 

Sentite, che io non vi sto simpatico l'ho capito perfettamente, però, abbiamo un caso molto complicato da risolvere.

Listen, I understand perfectly that you don't like me, however, we've got a very complicated case to solve.

Caption 39-40, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 8 of 14

In a nutshell: 

In English the person doing the liking is the subject, and the thing or person one likes is the object. In Italian the person or thing that pleases is the subject, and the person who does the liking, or who’s pleased, is the object! 

Learning suggestion: 

Look around you and see what you like and what you don’t like. Saying it out out loud in Italian will give you practice conjugating the verb piacere. Remember that when you don’t like something, just put non in front of mi: Non mi piace questo vino (I don’t like this wine).

Online Resources:

-This article will help you get the grammatical lay of the land regarding liking things in Italian.

-This article provides some extra input on using piacere.

Tune in to more lessons with Daniela on the subject: Ti piace and Piacere.

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Summer Offerings

During the summer, one nice thing to do on a hot afternoon is prendere un gelato (go for ice cream), especially if you’re with friends and you happen to pass una gelateria. You might want to be the one to treat everyone. If so, then the verb you need here is offrire (to offer). 

Allora, sai che facciamo? Per festeggiare, ti offro un gelato.

So, you know what we'll do? To celebrate, I'll treat you to an ice cream.

Caption 28, Francesca: alla guida - Part 3 of 4

When somebody looks ready to pull out his wallet, that’s the time to say, offro io! (I’m buying!)

In a gelateria, there are various prices relating to how many scoops, or palline (little balls), of gelato you get on your cono (cone) or in your coppetta (little cup), and the good news is that each scoop can be a different gusto (flavor). 

As far as gusti go, rarely will you find vaniglia (vanilla), but you will find fior di latte or fior di panna (or even panna fredda in the Bologna area). Why these names? Fiore (flower) can be used as an adjective, fior, to describe something as being special, of the best quality, in this case latte (milk) or panna (cream). Think of something flourishing or blossoming. In fact, fior fiore is an expression used outside the realm of gelato to mean “the cream of the crop” (la crème de la crème). So we’re talking about the best quality milk, the best quality cream. Theoretically, that’s what goes into this kind of gelato, which, whatever the gelataio chooses to call it, (fior di latte, fior di panna, or panna fredda), refers to gelato with no added flavoring, just the taste of the milk, cream, and sugar. It’s white in color, and naturally, this “neutral” flavor goes well with all the other gusti.

Gelato alla crema, on the other hand, is made with the above ingredients, plus eggs, and because of this, is rich, yellow, and more custardy. It’s probably the closest you’ll get to “vanilla.” It’s the kind of gelato that ends up on top of fragole (strawberries) or macedonia (fruit salad).

Una macedonia con il gelato alla crema. -Ok, alla crema, perfetto.

A fruit salad with vanilla ice cream. -OK, vanilla, perfect.

Caption 28, Una gita: al lago - Part 4 of 4

Apart from the ever popular cioccolato, other well-loved flavors are: 

  • nocciola (hazelnut)
  • stracciatella (shredded chocolate laced through fior di latte, from stracciare [to shred])
  • gianduia (chocolate and hazelnut)
  • amarena (fior di latte laced with amarene [sour cherries] in their syrup)

...and many more! Italians like to combine the flavors on the same cone or in the same little dish. They may even use a little spoon to eat the ice cream off the cone! 

If you’re invited to someone’s home for dinner in the summertime, it’s rarely a mistake to bring, as a gift, a vaschetta (little tub) of gelato. Pick a variety of gusti so there’s something for everyone. The gelataio will give you a polistirolo (styrofoam) container so it stays cold.

For more about gelato, see: Andromeda: in - Storia del gelato - Part 1 of 2 and Andromeda: in - Storia del gelato - Part 2 of 2.

Summer can be a great time to reinforce a foreign language experience. If you’ve already seen the Yabla offerings of Italian TV episodes like Medico in Famiglia or Commissario Manara, try watching an entire puntata (episode) from start to finish without the captions. You might be surprised at how much you understand! 

For a greater challenge, watch some classic Italian movies with (or without) subtitles, such as:

Fellini films like La Strada or La Dolce Vita, which are mentioned in the interviews with Fellini on Yabla, and Lina Wertmüller’s Pasqualino Sette Bellezze from which Yabla featured the ironic and humoristic opening song from the soundtrack. See also the interview with Lina Wertmüller.

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Che sarà sarà

The future tense with conjunctions: A will-will situation

In a previous lesson, we discussed how Italian uses the future tense to express probability, as well as the future itself. Now, getting back to the normal use of the future tense, we’re going to see how it works when using conjunctions such as se (if), quando (when), appena (as soon as), non appena (as soon as), finché (as long as), and finché non (until) to connect two parts of a sentence. Italian and English have two different approaches to this. In Italian the future tense has to be present on both sides of the conjunction, while in English the future tense appears on only one side. Consider the following example, where Francesca is telling us about what she is going to wear when she goes skiing: 

Questa la indosserò quando sarò in prossimità dei campi da sci.

This I'll put on when I'm close to the ski slopes.

Caption 27, Francesca: neve - Part 2 of 3 

Translated literally, this would be: This I’ll put on when I will be close to the ski slopes.

What we we need to remember is that in Italian the future tense will appear on both sides of these conjunctions—a “will-will” situation. 

One important conjunction frequently used with the future is appena (as soon as). Attenzione! Appena by itself is also an adverb meaning “barely,” “scarcely,” or “just.”  

Ho appena finito.

I just finished.

Si vedeva appena.

One could barely see it. 

When used as a conjunction meaning “as soon as,” appena will often be preceded by non, which, depending on the context, can give it an extra bit of urgency or emphasis. (Note that non in this case has nothing to do with negation.) In English we might say “just as soon as” for that same kind of emphasis.

Mi chiamerà appena starà meglio.

She’ll call me as soon as she’s better.

Mi chiamerà non appena starà meglio.

She’ll call me as soon as she’s better. 


She’ll call me just as soon as she’s better.

We can put the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, but il succo non cambia (the “juice” or gist doesn’t change). 

Appena starà meglio, mi chiamerà. 

[It could also be: Non appena starà meglio mi chiamerà.]

As soon as she's better, she’ll call me. 


Just as soon as she’s better, she’ll call me.

Two more related conjunctions used with the future are finché (as long as) and finché non (until). While appena can appear with or without “non” preceding it and mean pretty much the same thing, with finché and finche non, we have two related but distinct meanings. Finché by itself means “as long as,” but if we negate it with non, it becomes “until.” Let’s see how this works. 

In the following example, Manara’s boss is warning him about his unconventional behavior. Grammatically speaking, he uses the futuro anteriore, but the key here is that he uses the future, where in English “until” calls for the present perfect (“have shown”) here. 

Lei non se ne andrà da qui finché non avrà dimostrato di essere un vero commissario.

You' won’t leave here until you've shown yourself to be a true commissioner.

Caption 35, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 3 of 14

Translated literally: You won’t leave this place until you will have shown yourself to be a true commissioner.

Or, to understand how finché non becomes “until”: You won’t leave this place as long as you will not have shown yourself to be a true commissioner.

Attenzione! Occasionally finché non will be used in speech without “non,” but will still clearly mean “until.” The context will clue you in. If you watch this video about Fellini, you’ll come across an example of this in caption 13.

Learning suggestion:

As you watch Yabla videos, pay special attention to the conjunctions mentioned above when they crop up. It’s worth spending some time understanding first hand how this works in Italian, so why not try making up some sentences using these conjunctions and the future tense? To get started:

Non appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

Just as soon as I’m finished eating, I’ll do my homework.

Appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

As soon as I’ve finished eating, I’ll do my homework.

Non farò i compiti finché non avrò finito di mangiare. 

I’m not going to do my homework until I’ve finished eating.

Finché starò a tavola, non penserò ai compiti.

As long as I’m at the dinner table, I’m not going to think about my homework.

Se non avrò finito di mangiare, non potrò cominciare.

If I haven’t finished eating, I won’t be able to start.

Quando avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

When I’ve finished eating, I’ll do my homework.

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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 32, Fellini Racconta: Un Autoritratto Ritrovato - Part 18 of 21 

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.

Caption 13-14, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 12 of 12 

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’m sure you will like the new school and you’ll have a lot of new playmates.

Captions 9-10, Un medico in famiglia - 1: Casa nuova - Part 7 of 16    

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 imagine, right? Shall we go?

Caption 10, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 12 of 23

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 41, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 2 of 5 

    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?

Caption 19, Ma che ci faccio qui!: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 10 of 23 

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!

Captions 36-37, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 9 of 12 

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!

Caption 31, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 8 of 17  

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!

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Being Polite With "Dare del Lei"

As we saw in a previous lesson, Italians are very conscious of formal and informal greetings, and will say hello in different ways depending on the situation. But there’s more. When speaking or writing to someone they must, or want, to treat with respect, they’ll use the polite form of “you”—Lei. This happens to be identical to the word for “she,” lei. For a fascinating explanation, see this article and its continuation here. To show respect, Lei gets capitalized, together with its possessive pronouns Sua, Sue, Suoi (your, yours) and its object pronouns La and Le (you). Although the capitalization of these pronouns is going out of style, it can be helpful for figuring out who is being talked about. Using the formal “you” is called dare del Lei (giving the formal “you”). The opposite is called dare del tu (giving the informal “you”).  

In Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui (But What Am I Doing Here?), Alessio finds himself in an embarrassing situation. (Yes, he’s about to fare brutta figura!) Things have gotten decidedly intimo, but Alessio da ancora del Lei (is still giving the formal “you”) to this woman, and she calls him out on it.

Ma che fai, mi dai ancora del Lei?

What are you doing, you still address me formally?

Caption 22, Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 13 of 23

In an episode of Commissario Manara, Lara is trying to get some information from a woman in shock over the death of her employer. Lara uses Lei since she is addressing someone older than her, and whom she doesn’t know. Lara sees the woman is touchy on the subject at hand so she immediately apologizes, even though she’s done nothing wrong.

When the personal pronoun is an object, either direct or indirect, it can become part of the verb, as we’ve talked about in a previous lesson. In the example below, the polite “you” is a direct object of the verb offendere (to offend), and becomes part of it (with a respectful capital letter in this case).

Mi scusi, non volevo offenderLa.

I'm sorry, I didn't want to offend you.

Caption 39, Il Commissario Manara: Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Ep 4 - Part 2 of 17

In another episode, Luca Manara is being polite to his boss, but only on the surface. In this case, the indirect object pronoun is part of the compound verb, riferire a (to report to).

Ma, come purtroppo Lei mi ricorda, io devo riferirLe tutto, no?

But, as you unfortunately remind me, I have to report everything to you, don't I?

Caption 19, Il Commissario Manara:  Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 17 of 17    

In the concluding segment of “Vendemmia tardiva,” la zia, as usual, uses her powers of conversazione and intuizione femminile to help solve the crime:

Avevo capito che, in tutti questi anni, è stata innamorata di lui. E per trent'anni gli ha dato del Lei, ma ti rendi conto?

I'd figured out that, for all these years, she'd been in love with him. And for thirty years she addressed him formally, can you imagine that?

Captions 4-5, Il Commissario Manara: Vendemmia tardiva - Ep 2 - Part 17 of 17

Dare del tu (to address informally) or dare del Lei (to address formally) is an important aspect to settle in a new relationship. A common question to ask is: ci possiamo dare del tu? (can we give each other the informal "you?") or, ci diamo del tu? (shall we give each other the informal “you?”). The answer is almost always: sì, certo!

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Fare Figura: To Make an Impression

In certain situations, it’s important to put one’s best foot forward, to make a good impression. In Italian, that’s fare bella figura, or simply, fare figura.  For example:

Le sue scarpe sono costate poco, ma fanno figura.

Her shoes didn’t cost very much, but they make her look good (or, “they make a good impression”).


Fare bella figura (making a good impression) isn’t always possible though. Sometimes, without meaning to, you botch it and make a bad impression, or worse, are embarrassed by something you did or said. And that’s when you use brutta figura (bad impression). Just as bella is often left to our imagination, in this case, too, it’s common to leave off the brutta. To determine whether someone’s talking about a good or bad figura, pay close attention to the context, as well as to the speaker’s inflection and facial expression.

O mamma mia! Mamma mia, che figura che ho fatto.

Oh dear! Oh dear, what a bad impression I've made.

Caption 12, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6

 Play Caption


Note: The fact that there’s no article here is normal for this idiom, but in some cases an article or other modifier will be included for clarity or emphasis.


What about when someone puts you in an embarrassing situation, or makes you look like a fool? Ti fa fare brutta figura (he/she makes you make a bad impression). 


In an episode of Medico in Famiglia, Maria has gone missing, and her parents call her supposed boyfriend to find out where she is. He’s not her boyfriend, though, so just imagine how embarrassed she is upon discovering they’d called him. 

Mi avete fatto fare questa figura?

You made me make a bad impression? [Did you make me look stupid?]

Caption 62, Un medico in famiglia s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 13

 Play Caption


Maria’s brother has a retort ready with a play on words. He uses a more neutral definition of figura (figure, person, appearance, impression):

Non hai fatto nessuna figura perché quello, a te, non ti vede proprio! -Eh, bambini...

You made no impression at all because that one doesn't even see you! -Uh, kids...

Captions 63-64, Un medico in famiglia s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 13

 Play Caption


Another expression that’s used a lot in relational conversations comes from the verb figurare (to appear, to be, to show). This expression can be used as a sort of antidote to someone’s feeling as if they’re making or have made a brutta figura. It uses the reflexive form figurarsi (to imagine).


If you apologize for being late, or if you ask if you are disturbing someone, the response might likely be figurati! (of course not!). The person saying it is attempting to put you at ease, for example after you forgot a dinner date.    

E tu lo trovi leale accettare un invito a cena e poi non presentarsi? -Non ti ho avvertito? Scusami. Ci sei rimasto male? -Figurati, la cena era ottima.

And do you find it loyal to accept a dinner invitation and then not come? -Didn't I let you know? Sorry. Did you feel hurt? -Of course not, the dinner was excellent.

Captions 6-9, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 3

 Play Caption


At the same time, it can mean something like “no way!” or “yeah, right!” or “don’t count on it!”:    

C'hai paura? Paura io? Ma figurati.

What, are you scared? Scared, me? Don't count on it.

Captions 44-46, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 17

 Play Caption



Learning suggestion:

Watch and listen to the Yabla videos where these expressions are present (do a search of both figura and figurati). Hide the translation. Listen for the inflection. Is the speaker trying to put someone at ease, or being ironic? When no adjective is present for describing the figura, which do you think it is? 

Meanwhile, imagine a situation—invent a dialogue. Here’s something to get you started.

Ti ho fatto fare brutta figura? -Ma figurati, ho fatto la figura dello scemo tutto da solo.

Did I embarrass you? -Of course not, I came off as an idiot all by myself. 


Devo dire che quegli orecchini da due soldi fanno figura! -Grazie, ma questa giacca vecchissima, che figura fa? -Beh, per me, fai sempre una bellissima figura.

I gotta say, those cheap earrings happen to look really nice! -Thanks, but this super old jacket, how does that make me look? -Well, to me, you always look great!


Che figura! Quando sono arrivata alla cassa, non avevo abbastanza soldi per pagare.

How embarrassing! When I got to the check out, I didn’t have enough money to pay.


Il capo mi darà un aumento, sicuro! -Figurati!

The boss is going to give me a raise, for sure! -Yeah, right. (or, “Don’t count on it!”)

Divertitevi! (Have fun!)

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Don't Worry!

When you worry about something, it’s hard to think about anything else. With this in mind, it won’t come as too much of a surprise that the Italian word for worrying sounds a lot like the verb “to preoccupy.” The infinitive is preoccupare (to worry), usually used reflexively—preoccuparsi (to worry about)—the adjective/participle is preoccupato (worried), and the noun is preoccupazione (cause for worry) with its plural, preoccupazioni (worries, troubles). We all do our share of worrying, so it’s a good word to be familiar with!

In the story of La Bohème, Rodolfo is worried about Mimì because she has tuberculosis. 

Gli diceva che era preoccupato per via della mia malattia.

He told him that he was worried because of my illness.

Caption 24, Anna presenta: La Bohème di Puccini - Part 1 of 2  

Lara is wrapped up in her own thoughts while walking her dog (and the English “preoccupied” would be appropriate for her state of mind), but suddenly, she realizes it’s gotten late, and her aunt may be preoccupata (worried). Lara uses the present tense of preoccuparsi, though in English, we’d use the future tense here.

Andiamo a casa, va'! Se no, zia si preoccupa.

Let's go home, come on! Otherwise, Auntie will worry.

Caption 19, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 9 of 17

Sometimes people worry for no reason, so we want to reassure them. In other words, we’re giving the negative command, “Don’t worry.” Negative commands in Italian are easy when you’re talking to friends and family: non + the infinitive of a verb.

So, if a friend or familiar person is preoccupato and they shouldn’t be, take after Adriano, who’s reassuring his grandmother. She’s family, so he speaks informally to her. As he sings her praises, she notices something off-camera and points to it. He doesn’t want her to worry about it, or even to pay attention to it:

Non ti preoccupare, nonna.

Don't worry about it, Grandma.

Caption 24, Adriano: Nonna 

Remember that preoccupare is generally used reflexively (preoccuparsi), so just like with other reflexive verbs, the personal pronoun can go in two different positions (both are equally grammatical): before the verb, as Adriano says it, or attached to the end of the verb as below. See this previous lesson, and this one, too, for more on reflexive verbs.

Scusa, eh, per le foto così brutte, ma le ha fatte mio marito, quindi... -No, ma non preoccuparti.

Sorry, uh, for such bad photos, but my husband took them, so... -No, but don't worry about it.

Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 7 of 14

If, on the other hand, you need to tell someone you don’t know very well not to worry, use the polite form of the imperative (more on doing so here): Non si preoccupi. Without delving into a lot of grammar, just memorizing the phrase (with a nice accent on the “o”) will be helpful when you’re addressing someone like a salesperson, someone’s parent, a teacher, or a doctor, as in the following example. 

Dottore, non si preoccupi, ci occuperemo noi di lui.

Doctor, don't worry, we'll take care of him.

Caption 43, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 12 of 14

Gualtiero Marchesi forgets his troubles by going back to his childhood haunts. Pensieri (thoughts, worries) go hand in hand with preoccupazioni (worries, troubles):

Sono sempre tornato nei luoghi della mia infanzia, a volte, all'improvviso, lasciandomi alle spalle pensieri e preoccupazioni.

I've always returned to the places of my childhood, sometimes on the spur of the moment, leaving my worries and troubles behind.

Captions 16-17, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 12 of 15

As an aside, the antidote to worrying is frequently to take care of something, and the verb for that is occuparsi (to take care of, to deal with), not to be confused with preoccuparsi.

Learning suggestion:

When you meet people or pass them on the street, consider whether you would speak to them informally or formally, and tell them, in your mind, not to worry. Would you say non ti preoccupare or non si preoccupi

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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 - Part 1 of 2

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 you right now.

Captions 24-25, Briscola: Regole del gioco - Part 1 of 2

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 22, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 10 of 12

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 no ATM machine!

Caption 65, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 7 of 12

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 30, Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui: Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 10 of 23

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

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!

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Vabbè and Chi me lo fa fare?

In a previous lesson, we joined Anna and Marika at the famous Trattoria al Tevere Biondo in Rome, where they were having lunch... Later on, after their meal, they start chatting with the owner Giuseppina, who has plenty of stories to tell. She uses an expression that’s kind of fun:

Ma chi me lo fa fà [fare], io m'alzo due ore prima la mattina...

But who makes me do it? I get up two hours earlier in the morning...

Caption 18, Anna e Marika: Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 3 of 3

“Who makes me do it?” is the literal translation, but the gist is, “why should I go to all that trouble?” And with her Roman speech, she shortens the infinitive fare (to make, to do) to . As a matter of fact, as she tells her stories Giuseppina chops off the end of just about every verb in the infinitive. This way of speaking is popular all over Italy, so get some practice with Giuseppina!

Giuseppina may chop off her verbs, but the characters in Commissario Manara chop off the end of the adverb bene (well), turning it into . To agree to something, va bene (literally, he/she/it goes well) is the expression to use. But when the conversation gets going, and it's a back and forth of "OK, but..." or "All right, all right!" or "OK, let's do this," like between Luca Manara and his team, va bene often becomes vabbè. This simple expression, depending on what tone of voice is used, can say a lot. A Yabla search with vabbè will bring up many examples in Manara videos, and plenty of other videos as well.

In one episode, two detectives on Manara’s team think they’ve made a discovery, but of course the Commissario has already figured things out, and they’re disappointed. 

Vabbè, però così non c'è gusto, scusa. -Vabbè, te l'avevo detto io, 'o [lo] sapevo.

All right, but this way there's no satisfaction, sorry. -OK, I told you so, I knew it.

Caption 10, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 13 of 17

Vabbè is an expression that gets used about as often as “OK.” Sometimes, though, we really do need to know if things are all right. In this case we use the full form, va bene? (is it all right?):

Eh, guardi, pago con la carta. Va bene? -Okay. Un secondo, ecco a Lei.

Uh, look, I'll pay by credit card. All right? Okay. One second, here you are.

Caption 34- 35, Marika spiega: L'euro in Italia, con Anna

In her reply, the salesperson uses the international, “OK” but she could just as easily have said, va bene (that’s fine).

It’s important to understand abbreviated words when you hear them, but in most situations, when speaking, use the full form—you can’t go wrong.

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A Grammatical Look at Giving Gifts

The bellissimo music video Il regalo più grande (the greatest gift) is a reminder that some of the best gifts can’t be bought with money. If you check out the previous lesson, Gifts and Giving, you’ll be all set to understand what Tiziano Ferro is singing about.

Per cominciare (to start with), remember that in Italian, gifts (regali) are “made,” not "given," so we use the verb fare (to make):

Voglio farti un regalo

I want to give you a gift

Caption 1, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande

And let's not forget that other word for "gift," dono, along with its verb form donare, used in special, often more formal situations:

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna

I'd like to give your smile to the moon

Caption 10, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande

Let’s look at these lyrics from a grammatical punto di vista (point of view). Tiziano sings in the present tense at the beginning of the song: voglio farti un regalo (I want to give you a gift). He goes on to use the conditional vorrei donare (I would like to give). But further on in the song, he would like to receive a gift, and the grammar gets a bit more complex:

Vorrei mi facessi un regalo

I would like you to give me a gift

Un sogno inespresso

An unexpressed dream

Donarmelo adesso

To give it to me now

Caption 19-21, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande

He again uses the first person conditional of volere (to want), "vorrei" (I would like), but turns the phrase around, which calls for the subjunctive of fare (to make) in the second person imperfect, facessi. Translating it a bit more loosely may help it make more sense: “I would like [it if] you gave me a gift.”

And finally, he uses the infinitive donare (minus the final e), the indirect object/personal pronoun me, and the direct object lo all in one single word, donarmelo.

Learning suggestion:

Take a look at the conjugations of fare (to make, to do) and volere (to want). You might even be surprised to see that you know more conditional forms of these verbs than you thought, just from hearing them. Go one step further and take any of those conjugations, for example, faresti (second person conditional of fare), and do a Yabla search to find out how it’s used in the videos.

Learn more about Tiziano Ferro as he talks about his approach to writing songs, and about ecological awareness.

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Making Connections with Appunto (Indeed)

Appunto is a word Italians use all the time in speech. It officially translates as “indeed,” or “exactly,” but often means, “like I was saying,” “more precisely,” or “as already stated.” The important thing to remember is that its function is to refer back to something that's already been mentioned. We could say it points to a word or an idea in order to call your attention to the fact that we’re already on the subject. It confirms a connection. 

For starters, let’s see how appunto is used by itself, to mean something like, “that’s exactly what I’m talking about!”: 

Lara’s aunt, in an episode of Commissario Manara, is helping out with the investigation in her own neighborly way. She suspects an acquaintance of hiding something, so she sets a trap for him to tell her more. If, as he says, “these things are difficult to forget,” then he can’t say he doesn’t recall! Appunto! One word says it all!

Se lo ricorda, vero? -Altro che! Sono cose queste che si fa fatica a scordare.

-Ehm, appunto.

You remember it, right? -Do I ever! These are things that are difficult to forget.

-Uh, precisely.

Captions 45-47 Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 11 of 14

Many Italians use appunto liberally, often making it difficult to find an English equivalent, and appunto (indeed), sometimes there is no equivalent without using many more words.

In the following video, Anna is explaining the Jewish Ghetto of Rome, so her use of appunto is a means of linking the Jewish Ghetto to the Jews being confined there.

Qui siamo a Roma, nel quartiere del Ghetto Ebraico, che è appunto la zona di Roma dove, durante la seconda guerra mondiale, venivano confinate le persone appunto ebree.

Here we're in Rome, in the Jewish Ghetto quarter, which is, to be precise, the area of Rome where, during World War II, the Jewish people, as the name implies, were confined.

Captions 1-2, Anna presenta: il ghetto ebraico e piazza mattei

Although there is no quick translation for the second appunto in this sentence, the important thing to know is that Anna is using it to make sure we get the connection.

Sometimes you have to search out the “missing” link. Gualtiero Marchesi is musing about his career, and starts out talking about developing a passion for his work:

Quando ho incominciato ad appassionarmi veramente a quello che facevo... 

When I started becoming really passionate about what I was doing...

Caption 43, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 10 of 15

A bit later he’s still referring to the passione mentioned a few lines back, so he uses appunto to remind us.

Poi quando, appunto, è subentrata la passione, ero curioso, come sempre...

Then, when, like I was saying, passion entered in, I was curious, as always...

Caption 48, L'arte della cucina: Terre d'Acqua - Part 10 of 15

Francesca takes us with her to a ski lodge in the mountains. Since her subject is “going to the mountains,” she uses appunto when telling us where chalets can be found, as if to imply that it’s clearly obvious, but she’ll say it anyway.

Eccoci arrivati alla baita. La baita è un luogo che si trova, appunto, in montagna dove ci si va per rifugiarsi dal freddo.

Here we are at the chalet. The chalet is a place you find, logically, in the mountains, where you go to seek refuge from the cold.

Captions 20-21, Francesca: neve - Part 1 of 3

If you do a search in Yabla, you’ll see just how often and in how many ways appunto is used. You may be baffled in many cases. Pinning down a precise meaning is tricky business, but with time, you’ll see it’s actually quite a useful way to make connections with just one word, when in English, you’d need many. The WordReference forum can give you more examples and explanations.

Attenzione! The adverb, appunto is not to be confused with the noun appunto (note, criticism).

Learning suggestion: Don’t worry too much about actually trying to use appunto, especially if you’re a beginner. For now, just check out how it’s used in the Yabla videos and be aware of why it’s there: to make connections.

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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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