Italian Lessons

Topics

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!)

Continue Reading

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.

 

Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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? 

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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. 

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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!

Continue Reading

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
Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

I say hello; you say goodbye

We’ve all heard the informal greeting ciao ("hi" or "bye") and the more formal buongiorno ("good morning" or "hello"). But when is the right—or wrong—time to use them? And what are the variations and alternatives?  

 

In Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto, a freshly transferred Commissioner is greeting his new boss. He certainly wouldn’t say ciao. He says buongiorno. If it were after noon (technically after 12 noon, but more likely later) he would say buonasera ("good evening," "good afternoon," or "hello"). 

Buongiorno. -Si può sapere, di grazia, che fine ha fatto? 

Good morning. -Can one know, kindly, where you have been?

Caption 18, Il Commissario Manara: Un delitto perfetto - Ep 1 - Part 3 of 14

At the market, Agata is addressing the vegetable vendor with respect (and vice versa). It is polite to add signora (ma’am) or signore (sir) when addressing someone you don’t know well, or when you don’t know their name. Agata’s friend just says a general buongiorno ("good morning") to everyone (a little less formal but still perfectly acceptable): 

Signora buongiorno. -Buongiorno Signora. -Buongiorno.

Madam, good morning. -Good morning, Ma’am. -Good morning.

Caption 21, L'isola del gusto: Il macco di Aurora - Part 1 of 7 

Agata and her friend Catena are still at the market. Catena says buongiorno since she doesn’t know anyone at all. Agata just uses her vendor’s name (Giuseppe) to greet him, and he greets her using the familiar form:

Buongiorno. -Giuseppe! -Ciao Agata.

Good morning. -Giuseppe! -Hi Agata.

Caption 8, L'isola del gusto: Il macco di Aurora - Part 1 of 7

Another vendor is saying goodbye to her customers: ciao to those to she knows well and arrivederci (literally, "until we see each other again") to those she doesn’t:  

Grazie. Arrivederci, ciao.

Thanks. Goodbye, bye.

Caption 37, L'isola del gusto: Il macco di Aurora - Part 1 of 7

One version of "hello" has a very limited application: pronto. It literally means "ready," and it's how Italians answer the phone:

Pronto, Sicily Cultural Tour. Buongiorno.

Hello, Sicily Cultural Tour. Good morning.

Caption 1,  Pianificare: un viaggio

Still another way to greet someone is salve (hello). Less formal than buongiorno, it is still polite and you can use it all by itself. It is especially useful when you’re not sure how formal to be or whether it is morning or afternoon/evening, and when you don’t know or remember the name of the person you are addressing.

Salve, vorrei fare un viaggio alla Valle dei Templi ad Agrigento.

Hello, I'd like to take a trip to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.

Caption 2,  Pianificare: un viaggio

As you go about your day, try imagining how you might greet the people you meet if you were speaking Italian. Keep in mind the hour, and how well you know the person—and, remember, when in doubt, there is always salve

To learn more:

A detailed explanation of Forms of Address used in Italian can be found here.

Continue Reading

Essere o non essere? To be or not to be?

Essere (to be), is conjugated as follows:

Io sono (I am)

Tu sei (you are)

Lei è (you are - polite form)

Lui è (he/it is)

Lei è (she/it is)

Noi siamo (we are)

Voi siete (you are plural)

Loro sono (they are)

 

Simple enough! But it can be tricky knowing exactly who "is."  That's because of a convention in Italian that's not used in English. Often, the pronoun that's the subject of essere is assumed or implied:  

Sono Minivip. Non si ricorda? Sono un suo paziente.

I am Minivip. You don't remember? I'm a patient of yours.

Caption 5,  Psicovip: Il treno - Ep 3  

È pieno di posti liberi.

It's full of free seats.

Caption 41, Psicovip: Il treno - Ep 3 

Context is very important in understanding these constructions. Consider the answers to the next two questions – they look the same, but their meaning is quite different:

Dove sei? (Where are you?)

Sono a casa. (I am at home.)

Dove sono i bambini? (Where are the children?)

Sono a casa. (They’re at home.)

In fact, if the context of "the children" has already been established, the question can be:

Dove sono? (Where are they?)

Feeling lost? You may be tempted to ask yourself Dove sono? right now. That's because it also means "Where am I?" How do you find your way through these abbreviated, pronoun-less constructions? Pay attention to the context! Sometimes the ambiguity can be a source of humor.  At the end of one of the Psicoivip episodes, Minivip is talking to his doctor about his dream and trying to understand something about himself:

E questo cosa significa? Che, che sono...

And what does this mean? That, that I'm...

Caption 48,  Psicovip: Il treno - Ep 3  

The doctor finishes his sentence with a completely different subject in mind, using the seemingly identical form of esseresono. In this case he is speaking in the third person plural to refer to the euros, which though expressed in the singular (euro always remains the same), are plural in this case, since there are eighty of them: 

Sono ottanta euro, prego.

That's eighty euros, please.

Caption 49, Psicovip: Il treno - Ep 3

Learning Tip:

While watching new videos, make sure to click on any word whose meaning you aren't totally sure of. You'll see the definition appear to the right of the caption, and the word will be added to your own personalized flashcard list for later review. It's a great way to watch yourself improve!

Continue Reading
12...121314