Italian Lessons


Being Embarrassed in Italian

In this lesson, we’ll talk about a curious use of the noun imbarazzo (embarrassment). But first let’s look at another word associated with embarrassment: the noun la vergogna and the verb vergognarsi (to be ashamed, to be embarrassed). Here, you need context to help decide if someone is ashamed or embarrassed because they're closely tied.

Valeria, eri disperata, non è colpa tua.
Valeria, you were desperate. It's not your fault.
Però mi vergogno molto.
But I'm very ashamed.
Captions 6-7, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 8 of 17 


In the following example, the meaning is more of embarrassment. Note that the speaker is using the subjunctive.

Suo padre alleva pecore. È normale che se ne vergogni un po', no?
Her father raises sheep. It's natural for her to be a bit embarrassed about it, right?
Captions 69-70, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 2 of 14 


Italian often uses the noun form imbarazzo (embarrassment) with the preposition in (in) when expressing embarrassment, as in the following example.

Te ne sei andata come se avessi visto il diavolo.
You took off as if you'd seen the devil.
Scusami, non so che cosa mi è preso, forse mi sono sentita in imbarazzo.
Sorry, I don't know what came over me, maybe I felt embarrassed.
Captions 27-28, Il Commissario Manara - S1Ep5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 12 of 14


In this week’s segment of La Ladra, Dante and Eva’s son are looking at bicycles, to replace Eva’s old bike, which Dante inadvertently wrecked. The bike store proprietor says:

Ecco, non c'è che l'imbarazzo della scelta.
Here you are. Nothing but an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Caption 37, La Ladra: Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 1 of 14  


The above translation uses an English idiom, which comes from an 18th-century French play. “Embarras” in French means “embarrassment” or “confusion.”  We could also say that the choice is overwhelming or almost embarrassing, because every item is worthy of being chosen.


L’imbarazzo della scelta is a great expression to be familiar with because it’s used quite often when someone is a presented with a vast choice of great things to choose from, for example: What Italian city would you like to visit? C'è solo l'imbarazzo della scelta. The problem is choosing one!

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Conjugating Verbs in the Subjunctive

In previous lessons, we’ve mentioned that the subjunctive is often used after the conjunction che (that). The congiuntivo (subjunctive) can be tricky for Italians, not only for non-native speakers, so it’s fitting that conjugating a verb in the subjunctive be used as a challenge in a quiz show such as the one featured this week on Yabla.


Allora, io dirò l'infinito, tu mi devi dire il congiuntivo presente.
Mostrare. -Che io mostri.
So, I'll tell you the infinitive, you have to tell me the present subjunctive.
To show. -That I show.
Captions 3-5,  L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 - Part 5  


The contestant has to conjugate a verb in the present subjunctive, first person. Note that when Italians conjugate the subjunctive mood, they add che (that), the person, and then the subjunctive conjugation. That way, the subjunctive is distinguished from the indicative.


In the above-mentioned episode, we have the infinitive and the first person present subjunctive of several verbs. Can you provide the present indicative of the verbs mentioned? You can look up a verb’s conjugation here.


Some people are adept at memorizing lists of verb conjugations. Others might prefer to learn verbs in the subjunctive on a need-to-know basis, one by one. You will discover that certain verbs are used more often than others in the subjunctive, verbs such as:

andare (to go) - che io vada (that I go)
È meglio che vada a letto presto stasera (I should really go to bed early tonight).


fare (to make, to do) - che io faccia (that I do)
Cosa vuoi che faccia (what do you want me to do)?


essere (to be) - che io sia (that I am)
Pensi che io sia stupida (do you think I'm stupid)?


stare (to stay, to be) - che io stia (that I am, that I remain)
Non pretendere che io stia zitta (don't expect me to be quiet).


venire (to come) - che io venga (that I come)
È fondamentale che io venga alla riunione (is it necessary for me to come to the meeting)?


These are the verbs to learn early on. What verbs would you like to add to this list?


After practicing the first person subjunctive, move on to the other persons, one by one, and get the hang of them. In many cases, the third person is the same as the first person in the subjunctive. Using them in sentences will help you remember them.

To brush up or learn about the subjunctive, see Daniela’s lessons about the subjunctive here.

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Pronunciation Tips for Beginners

For English speakers, Italian can be difficult to pronounce, especially when reading. Watching, listening, and doing the exercises Yabla provides can all help reinforce correct pronunciation, but let’s zoom in on one of the basic sounds.

We’re not looking for the nuances here, of which there are plenty, but just the very bare bones.

In Italian, the vowels, in particular, sound so different from what they look like to an English speaker, so let’s start there.

Let’s have a look at pronouncing the letter "A."

To hear the Italian “A” click on the audio icon here, and you can hear the correct pronunciation and repeat it. Maybe you can find a word in English that you pronounce with this sound. Some people find the noun "father" helpful for this sound, and others won't. The Italian "A" sound has no diphthong in it, and never sounds like a long "A," as in April.

Let’s take the word naso (nose). If you pronounce the "A" as you do in "ah!," you will come pretty close!

Quindi ho bisogno di soffiare il naso tantissime volte.
So I have to blow my nose lots of times.
Caption 13, Marika spiega: Il raffreddore 

What are some other words with this sound?

How about pasta?


La pasta alla Norma è una pasta semplicissima da cucinare.
Pasta alla Norma is a very simple pasta dish to make.
Caption 5, Anna e Marika:  L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1 of 2


In fact, if we look carefully,  there are plenty of words containing the letter "A" in this one sentence. Listen to the video, and you will hear that they are all pronounced the same way. Listen to how Marika and Anna pronounce each others’ names. It’s the same kind of "A."

Try pronouncing the title. Italia a tavola (Italy at the Table).

In this week’s segment of La Ladra (try pronouncing the title), there’s a word that’s very similar to its English counterpart, but the "A’s" sound a bit different.

Murderer (Assassin)!
Caption 9, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 13 of 13 

For more on the alphabet, see Marika's videos about the alphabet and about pronunciation.

Let us know if this was helpful, and we’ll talk about another vowel, soon. 

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Expressing Relief with Menomale or Meno male

Here's a great little expression of relief. Literally, it means "less bad." It's about the relief you feel when worse didn't come to worst! In English we usually say "good thing" or "it's a good thing." We might even say "luckily" or "thank goodness." In the example below, meno male is used with che in a sentence.


Meno male che non era un lingotto.
Good thing it wasn't a gold ingot.
Caption 23,  La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 8 of 13


It can also be used by itself, and is an easy comment to make in many situations. In the following example, Caterina is worried about Lara, but then Lara finally shows up. Meno male. Thank goodness! 

Ah! Meno malemeno maleecco Lara!
Ah! Thank goodnessthank goodness, here's Lara.
Caption 21,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 9 of 17


Note that sometimes it's used as one word menomale, and sometimes two: meno male. They're both correct, although some dictionaries will say the two-word version is more proper. 



When you feel relief that something went better than expected or when you would say "whew!" having avoided a disaster, try saying menomale all by itself. For pronunciation help, listen to some examples by doing a search in the videos tab


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Roll up your Sleeves with Rimboccarsi le Maniche

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work learning a new expression.


In a recent video, Marika and Anna show us how to make fricos, a local dish from northern Italy. They are made with humble ingredients, but take a bit of slicing and dicing. So Marika rolls up her sleeves. Italians use this expression both literally and figuratively, as we do in English.


In this first example, Marika is speaking literally, and uses the verb tirare (to pull). That's one way to describe the action of rolling up one's sleeves, and perhaps the easiest to pronounce.

Mi sono già tirata su le maniche, come vedi.
I've already rolled up my sleeves, as you can see.
Caption 4, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 2 of 2


In the next example, however, the rolling up of the sleeves is figurative, and the classic expression is used:

Be', Claudio è un bravissimo ragazzo, prima di tutto, un vero amico e uno che sa rimboccarsi sempre le maniche.
Well, Claudio's a great guy, first of all, a true friend, and one who always knows how to roll up his sleeves [to pitch in and work hard].
Captions 14-15, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 5 of 14 


Rimboccare (to tuck in, to turn) refers to the edge of something, like a sleeve, a hem, or a sheet, but it's very commonly used in the above-mentioned expression, especially when acknowledging a long job ahead.


Rimbocchiamoci le maniche e cominciamo a studiare (let's roll up our sleeves and start studying)!

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Finding Yourself with Trovarsi

When we look at a video about a place, the speaker often uses the verb trovare in its reflexive form trovarsi. Using trovarsi in this fashion might be hard to wrap our minds around, so let’s back up to the normal verb for a moment. Trovare means “to find” and is transitive, meaning it can take a direct object.

Per suo marito ha trovato una cintura marrone.
For her husband, she found a brown belt.
Caption 39, Corso di italiano con Daniela - I colori - Part 3 of 3  


We can use the verb with ourself as an object much as we do in English:

Io non sono affatto sicuro di me, e non mi sono mai trovato in una situazione come questa, va bene?
I'm not sure of myself at all, and I've never found myself in a situation like this, all right?
Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 4 of 12 


If Luca Manara spoke English, he’d probably say “I’ve never been in a situation like this before, OK?” He would have simply used the verb “to be.” But Italians often use trovarsi, so it’s a good verb to understand. Of course, if you do use the verb essere, people will understand you anyway menomale (luckily)!


But then it gets a bit more peculiar. Here is Arianna telling us where she is: where she finds herself. She wasn’t lost; she’s just giving us her location.

Eccomi. Qui mi trovo vicino alla stazione Santa Maria Novella, in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Here I am. Here I am near the Santa Maria Novella Train Station in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Captions 25-26, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze - Part 3 of 3 



Instead of just saying: sono vicino alla stazione (I am near the station), she is referring to her geographical or physical position in that moment with trovarsi. It’s a little more specific than simply using the verb essere (to be).


In the previous example, trovarsi refers to a person, but trovarsi can also refer to an object, a place. English gets specific in a similar way by using “to be located,” “to be situated.”


When Marika plays the professoressa (teacher), she uses trovarsi to interrogate poor Anna. She just wants to know where Sardinia is.

Dove si trova questa regione?
Where is this region located?
Caption 21, Anna e Marika: L’Italiana a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna 


Il porto di Maratea è un porto turistico. Si trova vicino alle isole Eolie, alla Sicilia, a Capri, all'i... a Sorrento.
The port of Maratea is a tourist seaport. It's situated near the Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Capri, the... Sorrento,
Captions 23-24, Antonio: Maratea, il porto 


It’s also very common to use trovarsi to describe feelings or conditions. This is a bit tricky.

Abito in campagna, e senza macchina, mi trovo in difficoltà.
I live in the country, and without a car, it's hard. I have trouble. 


Non mi trovo bene con questo telefonino.
I don’t like this phone. I don’t feel comfortable with this phone.


Ma per ora mi trovo bene qua, vediamo.
Well, for now, I'm happy here, we'll see.
Caption 97, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 2 of 12 


Ah, a proposito, come ti trovi da Ada?
Ah, by the way, how do you like it over at Ada's?
Caption 90, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Ep. 10 -Un morto di troppo - Part 4 of 12 


Trovarsi can also be used reciprocally.

Ci troviamo da Letizia alle otto.
Let’s meet up [with each other] at Letizia’s place at eight.


For more on reflexive and reciprocal verbs, see Marika's lesson about reflexive and reciprocal verbs, and the written lesson Understanding the Reciprocal Reflexive Form.


The more you watch and listen to Italian, either on Yabla or in real life, the more you will notice trovarsi in all of its shadings. It’s a very popular verb!


Come ti trovi con Yabla (how are you managing with Yabla)? Facelo sapere (let us know) at

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How to Have Hindsight in Italian

If you want to talk about hindsight in Italian, you can't really use your intuition.


English uses the verb "to see," "to look back." Italian uses the noun senno (wisdom, good judgment, common sense) a not-so-common word outside of expressions such as the present one. It also uses poi, which as an adverb means "then" or "after" and as a noun means "the future," or "the hereafter." So we're talking about wisdom after the fact. 


Consider this dialog between Dante and Eva from a recent episode of La Ladra.


Ma ragiona. Che cosa potevo fare, eh?
But just think. What could I have done, huh?
Sceglierti meglio la fidanzata.
Choose a better girlfriend.
È facile parlare col senno del poi, ma io non avevo...
It's easy to speak [judge] with hindsight, but I hadn't... 
Captions 17-19, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 10 of 13

There's a proverb:

Del senno di poi son piene le fosse 
Graves are full of hindsight.
Hindsight has 20/20 vision.

Note that the Italian expression uses the preposition con (with) plus the article il (the): col = con ilCol senno di/del poi (with the wisdom of what happens afterward). In English, we usually say "in retrospect," and "in hindsight," or "with [the benefit of] hindsight."


Col senno del poi is an expression we hear often in Italian, but it's just quirky enough that it's hard to guess its intuitively. Senno is a noun we rarely hear. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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Being in the Mood with Stato d'Animo

Italian uses two similar words to talk about the soul or the spirit: animo (soul) and anima (soul, spirit). They basically mean the same thing, but if you look at the dictionary entries, each word has further translations that are more specific. 

They may be interchangeable in certain cases, but there are expressions that always use one or the other, such as stato d'animo. (We'll look at expressions with anima in another lesson.)
...e attraversando i pensieri, gli stati d'animo.
...and going over one's thoughts, one's states of mind.
Captions 19-20, Federica Reale: Io e la mia Pupezza  


Stato d'animo does mean "state of mind" but it also means "mood" — where you're at psychologically or emotionally — or "frame of mind." We're talking about the non-physical aspects of how one is feeling.Non ho lo stato d'animo per iniziare un progetto nuovo.

Non sono nello stato d'animo per iniziare un progetto nuovo.
I'm not in the right frame of mind to start a new project.
I'm not in the mood to start on a new project.


Being in the mood is important to be able to communicate, so stato d'animo is a good phrasal noun to have in your vocabulary.


Anima and animo are so similar that we might not notice the difference. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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Branching off with Innesto and Diramazione

At the very beginning of a recent video about an abandoned villa, we see a road sign. It's actually a trail marker. It says innesto. If you look up innesto in the dictionary, it gives "graft." "Graft" doesn't seem to have much to do with hiking. But that's the beauty of it. You can't really make a connection in the dictionary, but if we think about plants, where we traditionally use the word "graft," we have a main stem or trunk to which we attach a new plant. To find the "graft" point of trail number "01," percorri (you travel) 0.7 kilometers.

Note that Italians use a virgola (comma) instead of a decimal point and they sayvirgola rather than "point." Zero virgola sette (zero point seven).


Innesto is used when a bypass or secondary road has been connected to a main road. It signals the beginning of that road, the point at which it has been grafted. We might also use the word "junction."

[Innesto zero uno, Km zero virgola sette; Villa Bosniaski Km uno virgola quattro]
[Junction [of trail] zero one, zero point seven kilometers; Villa Bosniaski: one point four kilometers]
Captions 1, In giro per l'Italia - Asciano - S. Giuliano Terme: Villa Bosniascki - Part 1 of 2 


If you plan a road trip in Italy, another indication you will see on your percorso (route) is diramazione. In fact, between Pisa and Lucca, there is a very old road called Strada statale12 (state road 12) or SS 12, but there is also a new road. It's called SS12 dir. or SS12 racc.Let's look at these abbreviations.


Dir. is an abbreviation for diramazione. If we look at plants again, we have ramo, the word for "branch." So a diramazione is a branching off from the main road. It's similar to innesto, but innesto refers to the point of attachment. Diramazione refers to the new road in general. 

If you don't read the signs carefully, you can easily end up on la strada sbagliata (the wrong road).


Finally, if you travel to Rome by car, you'll see signs for the G.R.A., which stands for Grande Raccordo Anulare (big ring linking road). As you can see on the map below, it's a big ring road or beltway around the city of Rome, that connects all the roads running towards and away from Rome.

Racc. is the abbreviation for raccordo, which means "link" or "junction." 

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Regolare: Aggettivo e Verbo

Regolare, which sounds very much like "regular" is both a verb (to regulate, to adjust) and an adjective (normal, standard, regular, legitimate).

In questo corridoio io ho anche il condizionatore dell'aria calda e fredda, che mi aiuta un po' a regolare la temperatura.
In this corridor, I also have a hot and cold air conditioner, which helps me to regulate the temperature a bit.
Captions 28-29, Marika spiega: Il corridoio

As an adjective, regolare comes up a lot when talking about verbs and conjugations.

Come vedete, il verbo è regolare nella formazione della desinenza.
As you can see, the verb is regular in the formation of its ending.
Caption 14, Corso di italiano con Daniela: L'imperfetto - Part 2 of 4 


Note that we also have the noun la regola (the rule), and often the adjective regolare refers to following the rules or the law, such as in the following example. Note also that the opposite of regolare is irregolare, just as "irregular" is the opposite of "regular." 

Ma per eliminare l'immigrazione irregolare e clandestina bisogna favorire quella regolare.
But to eliminate illegal and clandestine immigration, we need to favor the legitimate kind.
Caption 23, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 14   


As a verb, it can also be used reflexively: regolarsi, and that's how it's used in this week's episode of Commissario Manara.  Manara is asking his team to adapt to the theme of the party: the eighties. He might also have meant, "Figure it out," or "Control yourselves." 

Il tema della festa è anni ottanta, quindi regolatevi.
The theme of the party is the eighties, so act accordingly.
Caption 40, Il Commissario Manara: S2Ep4 - Miss Maremma - Part 11 of 14  


This reflexive form is used a lot when discussing how to behave, how to react to a particular situation.

Mi regolo (I adjust my schedule, my opinion, or my actions [according to something]).


When used in the negative, it usually means I can't or won't control myself. I'm not careful, not disciplined. 

Quando mangio al ristorante, non mi regolo (when I go out to eat, I don't watch what I eat).


This isn't all there is to the common verb/adjective regolare. We will try to address additional subtleties as they come up in future videos. Meanwhile, if you have questions about how to translate "regular" or any other English words you're having trouble finding the Italian equivalent of, please let us know, and ci regoleremo (we'll figure out how to help you).

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Correre (to Run): Finding the Flow

Sometimes learning just one verb can open up a world of related words we can figure out without having to look for the exact word in English. The verb correre (to run, to rush, to flow, to race, to cycle on a racing bike) is one such word. It comes from the Latin "currere." Looking at the conjugation chart, on the left-hand side, you will see other words that contain the root verb correre. They conjugate the same way.


If we visualize movement in a direction, we can see the connection with so many words. Here are a few.

Related nouns:

il corriere (the courier, the shipping company)
la corriera (the bus).

Related adjectives (from the present participle):

corrente as in acqua corrente (running/flowing water)
corrente as in mese corrente (current month)
corrente as in essere al corrente (to be well-informed, to know about)

A noun related to corrente the adjective:

la corrente (the electricity, the electrical current)

A noun from corso, the past participle of correre:

corso (course)

With the noun corso, we have a true cognate: a course of study, a golf course. But if you connect the noun corso with its root verb correre, and again think of movement in a direction, either concretely or figuratively, then some words and expressions suddenly become easier to grasp and assimilate.

Lavori in corso (work in progress) 
Nel corso del discorso (during the speech)


Getting back to the verb correre itself, check out this lesson to find out when you use essereor avere as an auxiliary verb with it. 

Correre is an intransitive verb. This means it can't have a direct object.

Ah! Mi è venuta in mente quella volta che correvamo in bici e siamo caduti insieme! 
Ah, I just remembered [it came to my mind] that time we were cycling and we fell down together.
Captions 44 - 45, Marika spiega:Il verbo venire - Part 2 of 2 

Ho corso due ore. Sono stanca morta.
I ran for two hours. I'm exhausted.

But when we need a transitive verb, that is, a verb with a direct object, then we turn to percorrere (to follow, to go down, to travel along). 

Sembra un paese addormentato nella pianura, è difficile incontrarlo. Devi percorrere strade e acque silenziose e solitarie.
It seems like a sleeping village on the plains, it's difficult to come upon it. You have to followsilent and solitary roads and waterways.
Captions 44 - 45, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua - Part 3  

This verb has a noun form, too: il percorso (the path, the route, the itinerary, the journey).

Ma tutto il mio percorso creativo parte fondamentalmente da una scultura.
But my entire creative journey essentially started out from one sculpture.
Captions 8-9 Claudio Capotondi: Scultore - Part 2 of 6


We'll look more closely percorrere and percorso next month, as well as other related words. Hopefully, you will be able to build your vocabulary using your intuition as well as your flashcards.

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When Less is More with Un Po'

In the expression un po’,  po’ is short for poco (small quantity). Poco is a very common word that can be an adjective, adverb, noun, or pronoun, and, depending on the context, can correspond to different degrees of quantity.

This week on Yabla, we take a first look at the city of Florence. Arianna has a map to help her figure out how to get around. As she thinks out loud, she uses a common phrase:

Vediamo un pocome possiamo raggiungere il centro della città.
Let's have a look at how we can reach the center of the city.
Caption 7, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze Part 1 

Another way to translate vediamo un po’ is simply “let’s see.” It is extremely common for Italians to add un po’ to a verb, just to round off the expression:

Sentite un poil congiuntivo imperfetto e trapassato:
Have a listen to the simple past and past perfect subjunctive:
Caption 27, Anna e Marika: Il verbo essere - Part 4 of 4 



Allora ci dice un po' quali sono frutta e verdura tipiche romane?
So could you tell us a moment, which fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?
Caption 37, Anna e Marika: Fruttivendolo

In the example above, the addition of un po doesn’t really add any meaning to the phrase, but it rounds it out. We might also translate it as:

So could you just tell us what fruits and vegetables are typically Roman?

Sometimes un po’ can mean “pretty much” or “just about.” It loses its actual diminutive significance.

Al nord abbiamo precipitazioni e burrasche, un po' dappertutto.
In the north we have rain and storms, just about everywhere.
Caption 59, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9 of 10 

It can be used to give a vague kind of answer:

Sì. Un poun po'.
Yes, in a way, yesin a way, no [a little bit and a little bit].
Caption 15, Amiche: Filosofie

Ironically, we can also use un po’ to mean a lot, when we insert the adjective bello (nice, beautiful): un bel po’ (a good amount, a good number, plenty).

Non deve essere troppo salata, non... insomma ci sono un bel po' di cose da sapere legate alla mozzarella.
It shouldn't be too salty, not... in other words, there are plenty of things to know in connection with mozzarella.
Captions 30-31, Anna e Marika: La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1 of 3

Un po’ has come to mean so many different amounts, and can also  simply mean “some.”

Mi dai un po’ di pane?
Could you give me some bread?


So, if someone asks you if you speak Italian, you can answer un po’ but if you really want to say you don’t speak much at all, you might use the diminutive of an already “diminutive” word: un pochino. Or you might even diminish the amount further by saying pochissimo.

Practice - verbs in context:

Returning to this week’s video about Florence, here are the infinitive forms of the verbs Arianna uses in the first person plural (with noi/we). Can you recognize their conjugated forms in the video? Attenzione, some of them are used as auxiliaries/helping verbs attached to other verbs. You can use your ears to listen for the verbs while watching the video, or use your eyes with the transcript (you’ll find the pop-up link following the description of the video). Don’t forget, you can choose to see only Italian or Italian and English. A couple of these verbs are irregular, but super common. Why not take the opportunity to review the other conjugations of these verbs? Links are provided to a conjugation chart for each verb.

Essere (to be)

Vedere (to see)

Andare (to go)

Stare (to be/to continue to be)

Potere (to be able to/can)

Attraversare (to cross)

Chiamare (to call)

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Being Miffed in Italian

In this week's segment of La Ladra, Eva is pretty miffed at her son. He lied to her and probably did worse. So when he promises to do something right, she doesn't say thank you, because she expects nothing less. She uses an expression that is very handy and easy to use because it's always in the third person and can stand alone.

Ti prometto che vado a scuola in bici. OK?
I promise I'll go to school by bike. OK?
You had better.
Captions 54 - 55, La Ladra :Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 4 of 13


To use this expression, we use the future tense. As we have already discussed in a previous lesson, the future doesn't always actually mean the future. In this particular case, it may be hard to pin down the correct tense, but the tone is clear. You better get in line. If you don't do as you've promised, you're going to be in big trouble.


Sarà is the third person singular of the verb essere (to be). For more about this verb and this tense, see these video lessons from Daniela.


As a stand-alone expression, sarà meglio (one/you had better) works in many situations, especially if you raise your eyebrows. But it can also be part of a more complicated sentence including the subjunctive.

È da solo? -No, in compagnia del mio telefonino.
Are you alone? -No, in the company of my cell phone.
Allora sarà meglio che Le parli prima che squilli.
So I had better talk to you before it rings.
It would be better for me to talk to you before it rings.
Captions 42 - 44, La Ladra: Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 9 of 17


An even shorter expression uses the verb essere (to be) in the third person singular future on its own, to mean, "that might very well be." You don't have to be miffed to use this expression, but you're probably somewhat skeptical.

Hai visto che non è come sembra, ma molto meglio?
You see that he's not like he seems, but much better?
Sarà, ma quella bionda che abbracciava nella Spider non sembrava un fornitore di tartufi.
That might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
He might very well be, but that blonde he was hugging in the Spider didn't look like a truffle dealer.
Captions 41 -43, La Ladra - Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 3 of 13


As you go about your day, try experimenting with sarà meglio (you are the boss and you're not taking any flak) and sarà (you're listening but you are skeptical).

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How to Tell a Story in Italian, Part 2

In this week’s lesson with Daniela, we learn another way to set the scene of a story. We talked about using the presente (present simple) and passato prossimo (present perfect) in a previous lesson. Now we’ll talk about using the imperfetto (imperfect tense) to set the scene in the past without specifying the duration or pinpointing the moment in time of an action. We use theimperfetto to describe the characteristics of something in the past.

Allora, l'imperfetto viene usato per fare descrizioni di paesaggi, del tempo, delle qualità di una persona o di una cosa, al passato.
So, the imperfect tense is used to describe landscapes, weather, features of a person or a thing in the past.
Captions 30-32, Corso di italiano con Daniela - L'imperfetto - Part 2 of 4


In the following example, Lara, from the popular Commissario Manara TV series, is talking to an old classmate whom she met up with by chance. They are telling each other about their past feelings.


This is how she felt when she was younger:

Mi sentivo un brutto anatroccolo.
I felt like an ugly duckling.
Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 14 of 14

And this is how her friend Massimo felt about her!

Io ero innamorato pazzo di te!
I was crazy in love with you!
Caption 2, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 14 of 14 

The following example describes an ongoing condition in the past.

A scuola avevo sempre problemi con la matematica.
At school, I always had problems with math.
Caption 13, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Aggettivi positivi e neutri - Part 3 of 3

The following example is interesting, because we see the passato prossimo (siamo visti/we saw other) used when pinpointing the moment (l’ultima volta/the last time), but the imperfetto(eravamo/were) sets the scene.

Ma lo sa l'ultima volta che ci siamo visti dove eravamo?
But you know where we were the last time we saw each other?
Eravamo al porto di Istanbul.
We were at the port of Istanbul.
Captions 23-24, La Ladra - Ep. 2: Viva le spose - Part 6 of 13


For how to form the imperfetto, please see Daniela’s previous lesson.


Practice: Try setting the scene in the past using the verbs Daniela talks about in the lesson,and other verbs you know. If you’re not sure how to form the imperfetto of the verb you wish to use, look it up in an online dictionary such as WordReference. Think about the place, how old the person was, what the person looked like, what the person was wearing. How did the person feel?


Here’s something to get you started.

Quando ero giovane e andavo a scuola, suonavo il flauto nell’orchestra della scuola. Mi piaceva molto. Andavo a scuola in autobus tutte le mattine. Ci mettevo circa venticinque minuti per arrivare a scuola. Non era un’epoca molto felice per me. Non studiavoabbastanza, e quindi mi sentivo sempre a disagio in classe e avevo sempre paura delle interrogazioni. Preferivo stare nella sala di musica a studiare flauto. Cantavo anche nel coro. La maestra del coro era bravissima e tutti l’amavano.


When I was young and was going to school, I played flute in the school orchestra. I liked it a lot. I went to school by bus every morning. It took me about twenty-five minutes to get to school. It wasn’t a very happy time for me. I didn’t study enough so I was always afraid of being called on to answer the teacher’s questions. I much preferred hanging out in the music room to study flute. I also sang in the choir. The director was excellent and everyone loved her.


Of course, when we tell a story, we like to mix the tenses up to create interest and tension, but for now, let’s try to get to where we feel comfortable using the imperfetto and know more or less when and how to use it.

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Tregua: A Wartime Noun in Peacetime

The original meaning of the noun tregua has to do with a “truce,” a “cease-fire” in battle. It can certainly be used with this same meaning to take a break in an argument, but in casual conversation, it is often used to mean a “let-up,” a “temporary break,” to reduce the pressure, and in this sense, it’s generally used without an article and often with the verb dare (to give): dare tregua (to let up, to give someone or something a break). 

Ma no, niente, c'è qui un bastardo arrapato che non mi sta dando tregua.
But no, no big deal, there's a horny bastard here who's not letting up.
Caption 84, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 8 


When someone is “on your case” or “on your back” about something, then you might say,

Dammi un po’ di tregua!
Give me a break, will you?


We can use it in talking about the weather.

Piove senza tregua.
It’s been raining relentlessly.

C'è maltempo senza tregua.
There's no let-up in the bad weather.


Someone's headache finally goes away (and may or may not come back) and they get a bit of relief.

Gli ha dato un po’ di tregua.
It left him in peace for a bit.


Episode 3 of La Ladra begins with a war-like situation. We can only hope that Eva will be able to help the couple that has gotten involved with some very bad people who are not about to go away.

They know the loan shark they are involved with will not let up, will not cut them any slack, will not give them any sort of break. 

Quello non ci darà tregua.
That guy is not going to cut us any slack.
Caption 75, La Ladra - Ep. 3: L'oro dello squalo - Part 1 of 13


You don't need dramatic situations such as the ones in La Ladra to use tregua, so have fun weaving dare tregua into your Italian practice conversations. It’s handy in both positive and negative terms.

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The "Otherness" of Altrui

We have recently come to the end of the disturbing but fascinating documentary about Italian Fascism and the Italian language. We hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two about Italian history.


One important concept put forth in this final segment is that language is an equalizer, allowing us to express ourselves and understand others.

Uguale è chi sa esprimersi e intendere l'espressione altrui.
An equal is one who is able to express himself and understand how others express themselves.
Caption 9, Me Ne Frego - Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana:  Part 15 of 15


There’s a curious little word in that caption: altrui. It’s an odd word, not following the usual rules for adjectives. In earlier times, the three famous fourteenth-century Florentine "authors" of the Italian language (Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio) also used it as a pronoun to mean “others.” It was used with various prepositions: di (of), a (to), or con (with).


More commonly, altrui is used as a possessive adjective to mean “of others” or “belonging to others/someone else.” So we might say the preposition is built-in. And once you're in the know, it's also easy to use because it doesn’t change according to number or gender. To translate altrui into English, we would most likely use the possessive form with an apostrophe.


In the first episode of Commissario Manara, Toscani is looking at his new boss with a bit of envy. His wife calls him on it.

Toscani, non essere invidioso del posto altrui.
Toscani, don't be jealous of someone else’s job.
Caption 39, Il Commissario Manara 1:  Ep. 1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8 of 14  


The meaning of altrui is also fairly easy to guess. In Italian, you can think of the noun or adjective altro-altra-altri (other/others) or think of “altruism” or “altruistic” and you’ll get it! Just remember you don’t need a preposition.


Further learning:
Check out these examples of sentences with altrui.

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Finché (as long as) and Finché non (until)

In a recent video, we have a perfect example of how people talk in casual conversation as opposed to speaking with correct grammar, but let’s back up.


In a recent lesson we talked about the conjunction affinché (in order that) and how it prompts the subjunctive.


We also mentioned how it can easily be confused with finché (as long as) or finché non (until) because it sounds very similar. We looked briefly at these two conjunctions in a previous lesson. In Italian, they differ only in the addition of the negation non. This is a bit tricky since in English we use two different terms: “as long as” and “until.”


In Italian, just as in English, people abbreviate when speaking informally. They make contractions or leave words out to say what they need to say more quickly.


So sometimes, even when Italians mean to say “until,” they will leave out the non after finché. This is partly because they don’t need to be any clearer than that in a given situation, or because it’s quicker and easier, and for Italians, in some situations, it just doesn’t matter.


Let’s take the very recent video featuring Marika and Anna who are busy in the kitchen making panzerotti, a kind of deep fried dumpling, filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce.



It’s a casual situation, they’re very busy, and wouldn't you know it, they use finché incorrectly. But what they mean to say is very clear, so they don’t pay much attention.

Ok, quindi possiamo andare avanti ad oltranza, finché [sic: finché non] finisce il nostro impasto.
OK, so we can keep going indefinitely, until our dough is gone.
Caption 34, Anna e Marika - L'Italia a Tavola - Panzerotti Pugliesi - Part 2 of 2 


Sì, finché [sic: finché non] abbiamo, appunto, terminato l'impasto e [abbiamo] un certo numero di panzerotti da friggere.
Yes, until we have, exactly, used up all the dough and we have a certain number of panzerotti to fry.
Caption 35-36, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a Tavola - Panzerotti Pugliesi - Part 2 of 2 


The meaning is clear because they use finisce (is gone, is finished, is used up), so they understand each other: They’ll keep making panzerotti until all the dough has been used up.


Of course, there are plenty of instances where Anna and Marika do use finché properly, so it’s not a question of not knowing.

La cosa importante, con i bambini piccoli, è cambiare spesso posizione della schiena finché, naturalmente, non sono in grado di stare in piedi da soli.
The important thing with little babies is to often change the position of their backs, until, naturally, they are able to stand up by themselves.
Captions 9-11, Anna presenta: Attrezzature per un neonato


We could also say, to better follow the Italian:

The important thing with little babies is to often change the position of their backs, as long asthey are unable to stand up by themselves.


We could think of it this way: Non is a negation, and in a way, so is “until,” when used as a conjunction. “Un” is also a prefix meaning “not.”


Here is another example, where we can take finché non apart, to better understand it.

E poi, si lavorava finché il padrone non diceva "basta",
And then we worked until the boss said, “that’s enough.”
Caption 27, Gianni si racconta: Chi sono 

Another way to say this in English would be:

We kept working as long as the boss had not said, “that’s enough.”


It’s a bit awkward in English, which is why we use the word “until.”


Here is another very informal example:

Ti devo dire una cosa, non mi interrompere finché non ho finito.
I have to tell you something. Don’t interrupt me until I have finished.

It could also be:

Ti devo dire una cosa, non mi interrompere finché sto parlando.
I have to tel you something. Don’t interrupt me as long as I am still speaking.


Further learning: 
Do a Yabla search of finché and look at all the examples. Some will be correct without non, to mean “as long as,” some will use non, to mean “until,” and some will be wrong. Hint: Federico Fellini uses this conjunction the wrong way.

Can you understand the difference between finché and finché non? Feel free to let us know, or to make a comment in the comment section of the video in question.

We’ve mentioned that in different parts of Italy, or based on personal styles, the subjunctive gets skipped, the remote past is rarely used, and finché non might be abbreviated, too. But for those who are learning Italian, it’s good to be able to use finchéfinché non, and affinché correctly.

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Manco: an Informal Way to Say Neanche

In a recent episode of La Ladra, three great, informal adverbs stand out in three consecutive lines.

Ma quelli non mollano l'osso manco morti.
But those guys never let go of the bone, not even dead.
Magari l'osso di Cicci sono io.
Maybe I am Cicci's bone.
Ma mica solamente l'osso.
But not only the bone, of course.
Captions 33-35, La Ladra: Ep. 2 - Viva le spose - Part 10 of 13 


We have already discussed magari (maybe, if ever) and mica (at all), and here is a new adverb. We’ve seen it, here and there, in videos, but now it’s time to do a bit of explaining.


Manco: Originally, it meant meno (less), and was used in expressions such as niente di meno(nothing less) in the variants niente di manconiente manconon di manconon manco(nothing less) and is rarely used today. Its second, more recent meaning, and somewhat related to the first, is used quite a bit. It’s equivalent to neanche (not even) as an abbreviated form of nemmanco (not even).


Manco, meaning neanche, has generally been considered to be bad writing form* and continues, even today, to be used exclusively in informal speech, and in writing that reproduces speech. It’s used more in the south than in the north, and is equivalent to nemmenoneanche, and neppure (not even).


It’s important to remember that manco is an abbreviation for a word with ne (not, nor) as a sort of prefix, and therefore like mica has a negative meaning, even though it doesn’t exhibit the typical characteristics of a negation.


In the previous episode of La Ladra, the first word is manco!

Manco di Augusto mi posso più fidare.
I can’t even trust Augusto.
Caption 1, La Ladra: Ep. 2 - Viva le spose - Part 9 of 13 


See how easily it slips into conversation. It’s certainly quicker than saying neanche.

E lo sai che manco a farlo apposta, proprio qui vicino, c'è un negozio, aperto da poco, che vende mozzarella di bufala.
And you know, not even to do it on purpose [by sheer coincidence], right near here, there's a shop, recently opened, that sells buffalo mozzarella.
Captions 38-39, Anna e Marika: La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 1 


Have fun with manco. It’s a word you’ll likely hear more than say, since neanche andnemmeno are more straightforward. Like mica, it’s a strong word, and is used emphatically. When someone uses manco, they mean it. Just imagine someone’s eyebrows going up and their eyes opening wide, as they say, manco morto! as if to say, “you gotta be kidding me!” 


*See the Accademia della Cruscaa centuries-old linguistic institution in Italy, now also an online service for questions about the Italian language (articles are in Italian).

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