Italian Lessons


How to Tell a Story in Italian, Part 1

Using tenses correctly in a new language is usually somewhat of a challenge. Let's talk about two tenses — presente indicativo (present simple) and passato prossimo (present perfect) — that we can use to set the scene in a story, or to establish a timeframe, and the signpost words that can help us figure out which tense to use. 


Here's what causes some confusion. Italian commonly uses the passato prossimo (present perfect), that is, the tense using the auxialiary verb "to have" plus the past participle, to refer to things that happened at a particular moment in the past, for which in English we use the simple past tense. This is hard to assimilate, because English uses the present perfect for events that are still going on, or still true. In addition to that, in cases where English does use the present perfect, Italian often uses the present simple. It's easy to get mixed up, but it should become clearer as we go along. 


In a new video this week, Erica and Martina speak very simply about their friendship and how it developed. This is an excellent opportunity to zoom in on the passato prossimo, since they use it a lot, and to get a feel for how it’s employed in everyday storytelling. Maybe you can tell a story of your own, using the same outline.  


But let's zoom out for a moment. Before telling a story, we often need to set the scene and establish a timeframe. Erica first uses the present simple, and adds da (from, since). This formula takes some getting used to, so it's a good idea to practice. Notice that the translation employs the present perfect. 

Siamo amiche da sei anni.
We've been friends for six years.
Caption 3, Erica e Martina: La nostra amicizia 


Here's another example of how the present tense is used to establish a timeframe that includes the past.

Questa statua è qui da almeno cinquanta anni.
This statue has been here for at least fifty years.
Caption 19, Antonio: Maratea, Madonna del Porto Salvo 


We can use this setup with verbs like conoscere (to be acquainted with), frequentare (to hang out with, to frequent), essere colleghi (to be co-workers), lavorare insieme (to work together),essere sposato (to be married), vivere in un posto (to live in a place).

Ci conosciamo da tre anni (we've known each other for three years).
Sono sposati da sei mesi (they've been married for six months).


Practice: Set the scene for a story. Establish the timeframe including the past up to the present with the simple present tense plus da (from, since), using the above-mentioned verbs, or other verbs you think of. You'll be answering the question: da quanto tempo (for how long)?


Another way to set the scene is to find the starting point in the past. We use the passatoprossimo for that, plus the short adverb fa (ago) that signals the past.

So in the featured video, Erica continues setting the scene, telling us when the two friends met. Here she uses the passato prossimo. In English, we’d use the past simple, of course. Erica is essentially saying the same thing she said in caption 3, but she’s pinpointing the moment, not a period of time. Note: Since the friends are female in this case, the ending of the past participle conosciuto is feminine and plural. If it were two guys, or a guy and a girl, what do you think the ending would be?

Ci siamo conosciute, appunto, sei anni fa.
We met, in fact, six years ago.
Caption 4, Erica e Martina: La nostra amicizia 

When you meet someone for the first time, it’s unique: one instant. So you use the passato prossimo.

Learn more about the verb conoscere (to be acquainted with, to make the acquaintance of) in this lesson.

Il figlio, diciassettenne, ha pubblicato il suo primo articolo su un quotidiano americano pochi giorni fa.
His son, seventeen years old, published his first article in an American newspaper a few daysago.
Captions 15 - 16, Tiziano Terzani: Cartabianca - Part 1 of 3


Practice: Experiment establishing a timeframe using the presente plus da (from, since) as you did in the first exercise, and then saying much the same thing in a different way, pinpointing a moment in time with the passato prossimo and fa (ago). You'll be answering the question: quando (when)? or quanto tempo fa (how long ago)?.

Here’s a quick example to get started:

Vivo in Italia da più di venticinque anni (I’ve been living in Italy for over twenty-five years).
Sono venuta in Italia per la prima volta più di trent’anni fa (I came to Italy for the first time, over thirty years ago).
Lavoro in questo posto da otto anni (I’ve been working in this place for eight years).
cominciato otto anni fa a lavorare qui (I started working here eight years ago).


As Erica and Martina continue their story, they use the passato prossimo to describe events in the past. You can do this too!


Hint: Why not use the transcript of this video? Just click on "transcript" underneath the video thumbnail (or in the pop-up menu "more" in the new layout). You can view it in just Italian, just English, or both. You can copy and paste it into a blank document. You can make it printer friendly. In somma (in short), it's pretty handy!

There are other ways to set the scene, and other tenses to use, but we’ll get to those in another lesson.

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Little Easter: Forming Diminutives

Pasqua (Easter) is a spring holiday. Although things are changing, traditionally, Italy is still a Roman Catholic country, so Pasqua is a big deal in all parts of the country. Local priests travel around the town and countryside to bless homes in the weeks preceding Easter. On la domenica delle palme (Palm Sunday), churches are filled, and olive branches are distributed. There are plenty of palm trees in Italy, but olive branches have become the tradition.


Some towns and cities stage elaborate processions on venerdì santo (Good Friday). There are famous ones in cities such as Gubbio and Assisi in Umbria, as well as in the Colosseum in Rome.


Let’s have a reminder of what Marika shared with us when talking about Christmas:

Ma prima voglio dirti che [sic] "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi".
But first I want to tell you that [sic] "Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want".
Caption 4, Marika spiega: La vera storia di Babbo Natale - Part 1 of 2 


This is a very famous rhymed saying in Italy. Christmas is dedicated to family, and you are really expected to spend it with your family, but Easter is less strict. In addition, just as December 26th is a holiday in Italy (Santo Stefano), to invite the relatives you didn’t invite for la vigilia (Christmas Eve) or Natale (Christmas Day), Easter Monday or Pasquetta (little Easter), also called Lunedì dell’ angelo (Monday of the angel), is still a holiday, and still a part of Pasqua. It gives everyone a second opportunity to get together with the people they didn’t see on Easter Sunday. It’s been a national holiday since after World War II, intended to give people more time off from work and school. Many Italians use this day to spend in the country, with a picnic or walk. 


We alter Pasqua to become Pasquetta by adding a suffix. The suffix changes the quality but not the basic substance of the noun it's attached to. So, let's talk about this -etta suffix. We see that it indicates “small,” or “less important.” What are some other words that can have the diminutive suffix added?


Ora (hour) - un'oretta (a short hour, about an hour, a little under an hour, an hour or so).

Se avete tempo, potete farli [farle] lievitare da soli [sole] un'altra oretta, altrimenti procedete.
If you have time, you can have each one rise on its own for another hour or so, otherwise go ahead.
Captions 13-14, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a Tavola - Panzerotti Pugliesi - Part 2 of 2 


La cena (the dinner) - una cenetta (a light supper, an intimate dinner)

E per farmi perdonare, che ne dici stasera di una cenetta solo per noi due?
And to get you to forgive me, what do you say to a little dinner for just the two of us?
Caption 41, Acqua in bocca: Tra moglie e marito... -  Ep 11 


So far, we have used feminine nouns as examples. Masculine words work the same way, but we use -etto.


Un divano (a couch, a sofa) - un divanetto (a loveseat)

Seguitemi, questo è un tipico divanetto siciliano.
Follow me, this is a typical Sicilian little loveseat.
Caption 23, Adriano: Negozio di Antichità Sgroi  


Only a few words with -etta and -etto as suffixes have been mentioned here. There are many more. And note that -etto and -etta are not the only suffixes used as diminutives. There are -ino and -ina, too, but we’ll talk about these another time.

Learn more about suffixes that alter words.

Enjoy your Pasquetta, whether you are a casa (at home), al lavoro (at work), scuola (at school), in viaggio (traveling), con amici (with friends) or in vacanza (on vacation).

To learn what countries do consider Easter Monday a holiday, and in what way, see this Wikipedia article

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Mica, an Insignificant but Potent Adverb

In this week’s episode of La Ladra, one word comes up in three different instances, that is used constantly in conversation, but rarely in “proper” writing.


In modern Italian, it is most often used as an adverb synonymous with affatto (at all) or perniente (at all).

Non sarà mica facile, eh, per delle dilettanti come noi.
It won't be at all easy, uh, for dilettantes like us.
Caption 10, La Ladra: Ep. 2 - Viva le spose - Part 9 of 13  


In the previous example, mica could be replaced by affatto or per niente. But mica is much more informal.

Non sarà affatto facile, eh, per delle dilettanti come noi.


It comes from “mica,” the Latin noun for “crumb,” so it has to do with something tiny, and of little importance.


The people from  una parola al giorno (a word a day) explain mica nicely:

Parola che come avverbio scivola continuamente nei nostri discorsi a rafforzare le nostrenegazioni (a word that slips, repeatedly, into our conversations and reinforces our negations):

non è mica male  (it’s not bad at all)
non mi scoccia mica (it doesn’t put me out at all, it’s no hassle at all)
non è mica uno scherzo (it’s no laughing matter)


To read what else they have to say, see: It’s a great site for learning new words.


As we have seen above, mica is generally used with a negation, but this is often merely implied, as in the following examples. At the same time, it can have the connotation of “by any chance” and/or have the same role as question tags in English.

Mica hai una penna da prestarmi (you wouldn’t happen to have a pen to lend me, would you)?


Ma... mica vorrai aprirlo con questa? -Ci proviamo.
But... you're not thinking of opening it with this, are you? -We'll try it.
Caption 9, La Ladra: Ep. 2 - Viva le spose - Part 9 of 13  


Mica ce l'hai con me?
You don't happen to be mad at me, do you?
You’re not mad at me, are you?
Caption 16, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Ep. 2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 13 of 17 


Mica l’ho fatto apposta!
didn’t do it on purpose!
It's not as if I did it on purpose!


Mica is a rather fun word to use. It’s a way of expressing a negation without coming right out and saying it, or reinforcing a negative you are indeed saying. And the more you use it, the more it will slip into your conversation, and the more genuine your Italian will sound.


Yabla... mica male!

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Expressing Need with Servire

In a recent lesson, Daniela talks about using the noun il bisogno (the need) to express need.

Ho bisogno di fare ginnastica.
I need to do some gym (literally, “I have need of doing some gym”).
Caption 31,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Concetto di "bisogno" - Part 1 of 2


Per cominciare, abbiamo bisogno di due melanzane lunghe.
To start with, we need two long eggplants.
Caption 10, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1 of 2 


Hai bisogno di qualcosa?
Do you need something?


Of course, bisogno looks like the first person singular of the verb bisognare, but it’s not. It’s a noun.


But, since we have already discussed bisogno in another online lesson, let's look at a different way to express need, this time with a verb.


We might agree that there’s sometimes a fine line between something that's necessary and something that is useful. Italian has an interesting verb that covers both bases much of the time. In Italian, we can express need with the verb servire (to serve). It’s used with an indirect object, as if it were “it serves to me.” Remember that ci in the following example means noi (to us).

Allora, mamma, quali sono gli ingredienti che ci servono per preparare una granita al limone?
So, Mom, what are the ingredients we need to make the lemon ice?
Caption 13,  Adriano: La granita al limone 


The verb servire is conjugated according to what is needed, what is necessary, or what is useful. In the above example, the noun that determines the conjugation is ingredienti (ingredients) so we use the third person plural of servireservono.


Servire works similarly to the verb piacere. Remember mi piace (I like it)? Here’s a lesson on it to refresh your memory.


If you are helping someone in the kitchen you might ask:

Cosa ti serve (what do you need/what is necessary for you)?


You could also ask, as Daniela explains in this week's lesson:

Di che cosa hai bisogno (what do you need/what do you have need of)?


However, when followed by the preposition (to), servire can also mean “is used.”

C'è una corda che è almeno il doppio di questa qui, che serve a far muovere il cavallo prima di montarci sopra.
There's a rope that's at least twice as long as this one, that is used to warm up the horse before mounting him.
Captions 25-26, Francesca: Cavalli - Part 2 


So a dialogue in the kitchen could go something like this:

Cosa ti serve (what do you need)?
Mi serve un mestolo (I need a ladle).
che cosa serve un mestolo (what is a ladle used for)?
Serve a servire il brodo (it’s used to serve the soup).


And now you have seen that servire also means “to serve.” It’s a true cognate in this case.
There’s also a reflexive version of this verb, but we’ll talk about that in another lesson.


Conoscere il verbo servire serve (knowing the verb servire is useful)!

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Chiaro and Chiaramente

A user wrote in with a question about these two words. Is there a difference? Yes, there is:chiaro is an adjective, and chiaramente is an adverb. But that’s the simple answer.


Language is in constant flux, and chiaro has various meanings, just as “clear” in English does. And this adjective has come to take on the job of an adverb in certain contexts, as Marika mentions in her lesson on adverbs.

Non fare troppi giri di parole, parla chiaro.
Don't beat around the bush. Speak plainly.
Caption 29, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi di modo


As a matter of fact, dictionaries list chiaro as both an adjective and adverb, but as an adverb, it's used only in certain circumstances, with certain verbs.

What’s the difference between parlare chiaro and parlare chiaramente?

Well, sometimes there isn’t much difference.

Del resto la relazione del mio collega di Milano parla chiaro.
Moreover, the report from my colleague in Milano is clear.
Caption 30, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 3 of 14 

In the example above, the speaker could have used the adverbial form to mean the same thing.

Del resto la relazione del mio collega di Milano parla chiaramente.


Parlare chiaro has become an idiomatic expression — un modo di dire. It gets the message across very clearly.  It implies not using flowery language, wasting words, or trying to be too polite. But parlare chiaramente can have more to do with enunciation, articulation, ormaking oneself understood. So, sometimes parlare chiaro and parlare chiaramente can coincide, but not necessarily.


Apart from this modo di dire, the adjective and adverb forms are used a bit differently in grammatical terms.


Since chiaro is an adjective, it normally describes or modifies a noun. To be correct, then, we often use è (it is).

È chiaro che non lo deve sapere nessuno perché il marito è gelosissimo.
It's clear that no one should know, because her husband is very jealous.
Caption 33, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 12 of 14 


Chiaro may be used by itself with a question mark to ask, “Is that clear?”

E non sono tenuto a spiegarti niente, chiaro?
And I'm not obliged to explain anything to you, is that clear?
Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 10 of 17 


The adverb chiaramente, on the other hand, can stand alone before or after another clause or can be inserted just about anywhere in a sentence.

Natoli ha chiaramente bisogno di glutine, eh.
Natoli clearly needs gluten, huh.
Caption 33, La Tempesta: film - Part 5 of 26 


Using chiaro, Paolo could have said:

È chiaro che Natoli ha bisogno di glutine.
It’s clear that Natoli needs gluten.


But chiaro has a special in-between meaning when it’s used in place of an adverb with verbs such as parlare (to speak) and vedere (to see).

Finché non ci ho visto chiaro la tengo io.
Until I've seen things clearly I'm keeping it.
Caption 44, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 10 of 17 


Although we have translated it with an adverb, we could also say:

Until I get a clear picture of things, I’m keeping it.

Look for sentences with either chiaro or chiaramente and try switching them, making the necessary changes. Doing a search on the video tab will give you plenty of examples.

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Doppiare, Sdoppiare: It's All About Dubbing

A recent segment about Italian Fascism and language focuses on dubbing.


What's doppiaggio (dubbing)? After receiving a translation of a script, an actor, in a special recording booth with a monitor, has to watch a movie, adapting what he or she reads to whatthe actor on the screen is saying. The meaning and intention have to be there, and at the same time, there must be the same number of syllables, more or less, so that it can look convincing. It’s a huge, creative, and painstaking job. Historically, Italians have been champions at this. Dubbing provides a way for people to enjoy foreign movies. When dubbing started out in Italy, lots of people all over the country had never learned to read. They were analfabeti (illiterate).

Nel millenovecentotrentatré viene inventato il doppiaggio, uno dei più complessi e magici trucchi cinematografici.
In nineteen thirty-three dubbing is invented, one of the most complex and magical tricks in cinema.
Captions 11 and 13, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 9 


Even today, although many Italians read a lot, there are still those who aren't comfortable or just don’t enjoy reading. When given the choice of a dubbed movie or one with subtitles, dubbing wins most of the time. This is certainly a generalization, but the fact that you need to go to a special art movie theater to find a movie in its original language with subtitles bears witness to this.


There are arguments for both dubbing and using subtitles, each having vantaggi (advantages) and svantaggi (disadvantages). Luckily, in this digital age, you can often choose your language when watching at home on DVD, streaming, or even on commercial TV. It comes down to personal preference as well as familiarity with the original language of the movie. Culture, tradition, and economics determine what happens in the movie theater.


There was a time when it was popular to dub Italian films in post-production, rather than record the sound live. At the outset, it may have been for technical reasons, as recording live sound is complicated, but for some directors, like Fellini, it was part of their art. And ofcourse, in many filmmaking situations, there comes a time when dubbing is needed to fix mistakes made by actors or for technical reasons. So the dubbing booth is part of making movies.
Italians, having had a lot of practice over the years, happen to be extremely good at dubbing.


Here at Yabla, of course, we promote watching a video in the original language. It’s hard to learn a foreign language if you never hear it spoken. And being able to turn the subtitles on and off with a click is pretty handy.


Speaking of Yabla, two people on our talent force have worked in the field of dubbing.

Eh, all'inizio sì, lo facevo come [sic], doppiavo grandi artisti e attori.
Yeah, at the beginning, yes; I did that like I dubbed famous artists and actors.
Poi, eh, mi sono concentrata molto sui documentari.
Then, ah, I started concentrating a lot on documentaries.
Captions 14-15, Marika e Daniela: Intervista a Daniela Bruni 


Inoltre, questo... in questo corso si impara a interpretare: interpretare un personaggio, interpretare un testo.
In addition, this... in this course one learns to act: to play a role, to interpret a script.

Questo è fondamentale quando ci si trova appunto nello studio di doppiaggio a dover affrontare un, un testo oppure un personaggio.
This is fundamental when you find yourself, in fact, in the dubbing studio and need to deal with a script or a character.
Captions 14-17, Arianna e Marika: Il lavoro di doppiatrice

The verb doppiare comes from the noun doppio. Its cognate is “double” in English. And sometimes it means just that, as in the following example, where it functions as an adjective. Note how the ending of the adjective changes according to the gender of the noun it modifies.

Ecco qua, doppia senape e doppio ketchup. -Bella schifezza.
Here you are, double mustard and double ketchup. -Nice bit of junk food.
Caption 7, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 12 of 12 


But more often than not, it means “twice,” as in the following example.

E per metterci magari anche il doppio del tempo.
And maybe it takes even twice as much time.
Caption 7, Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2 


Italians use sdoppiare to mean “to duplicate, to copy” when referring to CDs or cassettes. It is the negation of doppiare, and means “to split” but it also means “to make something into two.”

Mi potresti sdoppiare questo CD?
Could you copy this CD for me?


Interestingly enough, the verb “to dub” comes from “double” and came into use in the nineteen twenties. We use the verb “to dub” to refer to replacing speech in a movie, but also to copy from one tape to another (sdoppiare).


As Arianna tells us, you can go to school to get professional training in dubbing. Apart from dubbing actual movies, producers need dubbers for corporate videos, voice-overs for documentaries, and voices for cartoon characters. It’s a career choice that doesn’t immediately come to mind, but one that will never become obsolete.


See this fascinating article in English about the practice of dubbing in Italian cinema.

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Solido and Sodo

This week, Marika talks about adverbs. But she also talks about adjectives used as adverbs in idiomatic expressions. If we think about it, this happens in English, too, as we shall see.


One adjective she uses is sodo. It is very similar to solido, and indeed, they are pretty equivalent and have the same Latin origin: “solidus.”

Solido is a true cognate, and means “solid.”

Il composto è stato a riposare in frigo. Adesso è più solido e così possiamo preparare le palline.
The dough has been resting in the fridge. Now it's stiffer and that way we can prepare the little balls.
Caption 29, Dolcetti vegan: al cocco e cioccolato 


Sodo is just a bit different, and used primarily in different contexts. One of the most common uses for sodo is when talking about how long an egg is cooked. If it’s hard-boiled, it’s sodo. We can well visualize the shell coming off the egg, and its being solid enough to hold in your hand: sodo.


While we’re on the subject of eggs, here are some different ways of cooking eggs in Italian: Let’s remember that the noun uovo has an irregular plural. Un uovo (an egg), due uova (two eggs), delle uova (some eggs).

uova strapazzate (literally, “over-worked eggs,” scrambled eggs)  
uovo affogato (literally, “drowned egg”) or in camicia (literally, “in its jacket,”  poached egg)  
uovo alla coque  (literally, “egg in its shell," soft-boiled egg, often eaten in its shell in an egg cup)
uovo sodo (hard-boiled egg)  
uovo al tegameuovo al tegamino (fried egg)
all'occhio di bue (literally, “like an ox’s eye,” sunny-side up)

There is an Italian film by Paolo Virzì called OvosodoOvo is Tuscan for uovoHere is an English language description of the movie.


We also use sodo when referring to working hard. This is similar to English, where we have the adjective “hard” functioning like an adverb, modifying, or describing the verb lavorare(to work).

Bisogna lavorare sodo per ottenere dei buoni risultati.
You have to work hard to obtain good results.
Caption 31, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi di modo 


Sodo can also be used a bit like nocciolo (the kernel, the point, the heart of the matter). In this case, the adjective sodo is used as a noun, to mean something like  “the serious stuff.” Seethis lesson about nocciolo.

Arriviamo al sodo (let’s get down to brass tacks, let’s get to the point).
Va subito al sodo. Non gira intorno (he gets right to the point. He doesn’t beat around the bush).

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Workplace Vocabulary - Part 2

There’s an interesting word that is used a lot in the workplace, but not only. Originally, it’s a verb: impiegare (to use, to employ, to spend time), to invest.


But as often happens, the past participle of a verb becomes an adjective and/or noun, in this case: impiegato.


We might use the past participle when we refer to time or energy spent or used for something.


In the following example, Francesca has made a big snowball. Admittedly, it has nothing to do with the workplace, but it has to do with spending time doing something.

Ah, che fatica, amici! Ho veramente impiegato molto tempo e molta energia per creare questa enorme palla di neve, che somiglia quasi a una slavina.
Oh, what a job, friends! I truly spent a lot of time, and lots of energy creating this enormous snowball, which almost resembles an avalanche.
Captions 23 -24, Francesca: neve - Part 3 of 3


Just as we can use the verb “to employ” to mean “to use” or “to hire” in English, Italian uses impiegare in much the same way.

Ho impiegato questo coltello come cacciavite.
employed this knife as a screwdriver.


When referring to an office situation, we often use impiegato (the past participle of the verb impiegare) as a noun. Un impiegato is an employee or clerk in some kind of office, whereas “employee” in English is a bit more general.

Susanna lavora come impiegata nell’azienda di suo padre. 
Susanna works as a clerk/office worker in her father’s company.
Suo fratello invece è operaio.
Her brother is a worker, on the other hand.


The following example is from a Totò comedy film.

Ma un giorno mi farete vostra sposa?
But one day will you make me your bride?
Mia sposa? No, non posso. Come oso sposare voi, un umile impiegato morto di fame e sempre squattrinato.
My bride? No, I can't. How dare I marry you, [me] a humble, starving employee/office worker and always penniless.
Captions 19-21 Totò e Lia Zoppelli: Romeo e Giulietta 


We can also use the noun un impiego (a job, a post, employment). Il Centro per l’impiego is a center for finding employment when you are unemployed. To collect unemployment, you have to go there to prove you are looking for a job.


When we use the term operaio, it usually implies manual labor, in a factory or on a site, but not in an office, not at a desk.

Questi pettini vengono utilizzati dagli operai per scuotere le foglie e le olive stesse.
These combs are used by workers to shake down the leaves and the olives themselves.
Captions 9-10, Olio Extra Vergine Pugliese: Come avviene la raccolta delle olive 



Another word commonly used to mean “employee” is dipendente. It looks like “dependent,” and in fact, it implies that someone works for someone else and is dependent on them for his or her monthly or weekly paycheck. A business may have ten employees: dieci dipendenti. They may have different roles. Some may be operai, some may be impiegati, but they all work for il capo (the boss) and are called dipendenti.

Nel mese di dicembre, chi è lavoratore dipendente, riceve la cosiddetta tredicesima, quindi uno stipendio ulteriore a quegli [sic] presi precedentemente.
In the month of December, those that are hired employees, receive the so-called thirteenth, that is, a paycheck in addition to the one already received.
Captions 15-16, Anna e Marika: in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 5 of 10 

In the above example, dipendente is used as an adjective, but it is very often used as a noun: un dipendente, più dipendenti.


Some people have the security of a regular paycheck and a Christmas bonus: la tredicesima, an “extra, thirteenth” paycheck at Christmastime. They are lavoratori dipendenti ordipendentiOthers are lavoratori autonomi (self-employed workers). They have to drum up work, make out invoices, and get paid by their clients.


We’ll talk about the paycheck itself in a future lesson. There is more to a paycheck than just the money you take home.

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This and That - Questo e Quello

Questo/questa (this), and quello/quella (that) are both adjectives when they come before a noun or pronoun, and pronouns when replacing a noun. This happens in both English and Italian.


In the following examples, we have adjectives.

In questo caso, perché uso il congiuntivo?
In this case, why do I use the subjunctive?
Caption 10, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il congiuntivo - Part 16 of 17


Questa storia vuole dire che bisogna imparare dalle esperienze degli altri.
This story means that you need to learn from the experiences of others.
Caption 24, Adriano: Fiaba - Part 2 of 2  


Quella donna ha sempre avuto un aria un po' triste, poveretta.
That woman has always had a sad air about her, poor thing.
Caption 21, Il Commissario Manara 2 - Ep. 3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 4 of 14


In the following example, quello is shortened to quel but it works the same way.

In quel caso non ho bisogno della preposizione.
In that case, I do not need the preposition.
Caption 54, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Verbo + Verbo all'infinito + preposizione DI - Part 1 of 3


If there were an “S” plus “P” in a masculine noun, as in the following example, we might say:

Luigi ha quello spirito di avventura che io non ho.
Luigi has that spirit of adventure that I do not have.


As a pronoun, questoquestaquello or quella may replace both objects and people. In some cases, it’s true in English, too, as in:

Questo è per te.
This is for you.

Here, in the same sentence, we have the pronoun and person the pronoun refers to.

Questa è mia zia.
This is my aunt.


But attenzione. In Italian, we can use the pronoun form to replace people or things even when in English we need the adjective form plus a pronoun. In the example below, questo is a pronoun, representing “this person” but in English, we need to use the adjective “this” plus the pronoun “one” that stands for a person we aren’t identifying by name. We could also say “this guy” or “that guy.”

Questo è pazzo completo, or more correctly, [questo è completamente pazzo]
This one/this guy is completely crazy.
Caption 23, Il Commissario Manara 2: Ep. 2 - L'addio di Lara - Part 10 of 13 

So watch out for examples such as the above, where the Italian pronoun corresponds to an adjective plus pronoun in English. 


La sua scrivania è quella là, dottoressa.
Your desk is that one over there, ma'am.
Caption 40,  Il Commissario Manara 2: Ep. 3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 4 of 14

In English, we could say, “That’s your desk,” but it would be wrong to say, “Your desk is that over there.”


Uno di loro, per l'esattezza quello che voleva tagliarti la gola...
One of them, to be precise, the one who wanted to cut your throat...
Caption 23, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1:  fiction - Part 27 of 28


Sometimes, questoquesta,  or quelloquella represents something unspecified and we might translate it as “what,” or “whatever.”

Se fossi in te io non lo chiamerei, poi tu fai quello che ti senti di fare.
If I were you, I would not call him, but, you do whatever you think best.
Captions 64-65, Marika spiega: Gli avverbi - Avverbi di tempo


When using these adjective/pronouns, we just need to remember that they work similarly in English and Italian, but only up to a point. What's been discussed here is a detail, but it can easily trip us up when we're trying to speak our best Italian or understand what someone is talking about.


Further learning:
As you watch Yabla videos, see if you can determine when questoquestaquello and quellabehave as adjectives and when they are pronouns. Don’t forget that you can also click on the transcript of a video and see the whole text printed out in one or both languages. It may be easier to pick them out.

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Tricky Adverbs: Sempre, Ancora, and Mai

In a recent video, Marika talks about avverbi di tempo (time adverbs). Some of these are pretty straightforward, but some have multiple meanings, depending on the context. We have already looked at some of the tricky ones in previous lessons: ancora (yet, still, again) andsempre (always, still).


The title of a TV series offered on Yabla is Provaci Ancora Prof. (“Try Again, Professor,” or “Play it Again, Professor”). In this case, ancora clearly means “again,” but as we can see in the following example, it can also mean “still.”

Camilla è ancora in casa?
Is Camilla still home?
Caption 52, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: Part 1 of 28


And when used with the negative nonancora  means “yet.” In English we usually say “not yet,” and this is true in Italian as well.

Sicura? -Be', ho compiuto quarant'anni, ma non sono ancora del tutto rimbecillita.
Are you sure? -Well, I'm forty years old, but I'm not yet totally senile.
Caption 57, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: Part 7 of 28


Ancora can also mean “even” as an adverb modifying another adverb.

Uno si stanca ancora prima di cominciare.
You get tired even before you begin.
Caption 4, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: Part 4 of 28


When sempre means “always,” it’s pretty easy. But sempre also means “still,” which is a bit less familiar.

Sei sempre qua?
Are you still here?


And we might feel even more challenged, because we can also use ancora to mean the same thing.

Sei ancora qua?
Are you still here?


We use sempre when in English we would say “more and more” as an adverb. Semprereplaces the first “more.” To harmonize with the Italian, we could say “ever more.”

Sì, però, volendo si può anche fare la cena a lume di candela sul Tevere.
Yes, but if you want to, you can also have dinner by candlelight on the Tiber.
Mh, sempre più romantico.
Hm, ever more romantic/more and more romantic.
Captions 56-57, Anna e Marika: Il fiume Tevere


Another “time” adverb that can get a bit tricky is mai (never, ever).


It’s basically straightforward, but we need to remember that although English does not allow double negatives, Italian does allow them. So we will usually see non together with mai to mean “never.” It may be helpful to remember that in English we have “never” or “not ever.” They mean the same thing.

Io, in vita mia, non l'avevo mai vista la pizza bianca e neanche sapevo cosa fosse.
Me, in my life, I'd never seen white pizza and I didn't even know what it was.
Captions 14-15, Anna e Marika: Pizza al taglio romana - Part 1 of 2


In questions, where in English we would use “ever,” we still use mai in Italian, but we don’t use the negation non.

Hai mai viaggiato in aereo?
Have you ever traveled by plane?


In the response, if negative, we use mai to mean “never” or “not ever.”

Non ho mai viaggiato in aereo. 
I have never/I haven’t ever traveled by plane.


Mai is used in some modi di dire, so take a look at these lessons about them.

Casomai (if need be, if at all)
Come mai (how come)?


Are there particular Italian adverbs of time that confuse you? Let us know, and we’ll see what we can do to help. 

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Pasta and More Pasta


The most immediate image that comes to mind when hearing the noun pasta is a nice plate of it, at the table. When we say la pasta, we're referring, more often than not, to the dish we know and love.



But in Italian, pasta means other things as well. In fact, pasta refers to something that has been impastato (kneaded, mixed into a dough or paste at some point). Think of the similarity of pasta and “paste.” Think of the simple paste you can make with flour and water. That’s a kind of pasta, or dough.


A recent video at Yabla is a further episode about a shop in Rome that specializes in gift packaging, and personalized gifts made of carta (paper), cartone (cardboard), but also tessuto (cloth/fabric) and pasta modellabile (modeling clay). Think “playdough” to get the connection.

Abbiamo una pasta sintetica, vendiamo una pasta sintetica nel negozio, infrangibile.
We have synthetic modeling clay. We sell synthetic modeling clay in the shop, shatterproof.
Caption 1, Polvere di Fata: Negozio di Belle Arti - La pasta modellabile

Pasta sometimes means “dough.”

Quindi, si stende la pasta della pizza,
So, you spread out the pizza dough,
Caption 10, Antonio: presenta la Pizzeria Escopocodisera

Dough is also called l’impasto (the dough). L’impasto can mean any mixture, usually a bit thick. 

L'impasto della pizza è composto da: acqua, farina, lievito e sale.
The pizza dough is made of: water, flour, yeast, and salt.
Caption 6, Antonio: presenta la Pizzeria Escopocodisera

When people talk about pasta asciutta, what do they mean? It literally means “dry pasta.” You might think it’s the opposite of fresh pasta (usually, but not always, made with eggs and flour). But no, it means “not in broth.” There may be a sauce, but the pasta dish can be eaten with a fork, not a spoon.

Eh, quindi per esempio, la pasta asciutta, così apprezzata da, da tutta l'Italia...
Uh, so for example, pasta, so appreciated by, by all of Italy...
Caption 17, L'arte della cucina: I Luoghi del Mondo - Part 16 

Even in olive oil production, we can refer to una pasta. It’s the resulting paste from crushing the olives.

Le olive vengono frantumate, cioè spappolate, nocciolo e polpa insieme e ne risulta una pasta chiara.
The olives are crushed, that is, they are mashed, pit and pulp together, and the result is a light-colored paste.
Captions 36 - 37, L'olio extravergine di oliva: Il frantoio 

Una pasta can also mean any kind of sweet roll that you have for colazione (breakfast) or spuntino (snack) when you’re in an Italian bar. Other names for this item are pezzo dolce (sweet piece) in Tuscany, or brioche (with various spellings, as it comes from the French), and cornetto (croissant) in various areas of Italy.

Pago un caffè e due paste.
I’ll pay for a coffee and two sweet rolls.

Now you know there’s more to pasta than just spaghetti!


For pasta recipes on Yabla, here are a few:


Adriano shows us how to make pasta alla carbonara.


Three little cooks prepare a delicious pasta dish dedicated to the tricolore (the Italian flag).


Here’s a personal pasta recipe presented by Arianna.


Buon appetito and have fun making things out of pasta modellabile!

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Words that Trigger the Subjunctive: qualora and affinché

Some of us have been following Daniela’s lessons about the subjunctive. It can be tricky for English speakers to grasp because we use the subjunctive so rarely.


Italian gives us a rich variety of connecting words — words that connect the main clause in a sentence to a subordinate clause. Some of them are interchangeable and some are very unique. Some are used in formal situations and instructions, for the most part, like qualora (in the event that), and some are used in everyday speech. Sometimes there are ways to get around using these words if they don’t feel comfortable yet. On the other hand, they can be fun to learn, too.


As with other words we’ve looked at, many of these fancy conjunctions and adverbs are the result of two or more words having merged. Let’s take qualora. It’s made up of quale (which) and ora (hour). So it means “in whichever hour,” or “if at any time,” or something to that effect.


Daniela uses this example:

Qualora non ci siano abbastanza partecipanti, il corso non ci sarà.
In the event there aren't enough participants, the class won't take place.
Captions 2 -3, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il congiuntivo - Part 15 of 17 

Note that siano is the third person plural subjunctive of essere (to be). The indicative would be sono.


But we could also say, in a simpler way, with se (if):

Se non ci sono abbastanza partecipanti, Il corso non ci sarà.
If there aren’t enough participants the course won’t happen.


Here’s another example.

qualora si presentassero cattivi odori, la soluzione migliore è l'aggiunta di foglie, cenere e lo stesso terriccio.
And if at any time a bad smell presents itself, the best solution is adding leaves, ashes, and some soil itself.
Caption 29, Raccolta differenziata: Campagna di sensibilizzazione del Comune di Alliste (LE) 

We’re pretty direct in English, but if we wanted to get fancy, we could say,

“And in the event a bad smell should present itself...” and it would mean pretty much the same thing.




Affinché is a wonderful conjunction. We can take this apart too, and we get a (“to” or “at”) fine (“scope,” “end”), and che (that). So, we’re talking about a result we are looking for. In informal speech, we might say, “in order for,” “so that.” But the Italian word really gives the specific idea of an objective or goal.


In the following example, we can see that Marika’s use of affinché points to the result she would like to have: a life that’s a marvelous dream.

E quindi dipende da te, fare le scelte giuste, impegnarti affinché la vita sia sempre un sogno meraviglioso.
So it depends on you, to make the right choices, to work hard so that your life is always a marvelous dream.
Captions 18-19, Amiche: Filosofie 


Attenzione! It’s easy to mix up affinché (in order that) with finché (as long as) and finché non (until), so check out this lesson, and check this lesson out, too. It discusses fine,  a noun that means a few different things.

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Ammettere: a Fickle Friend

Ammettere (to admit) is somewhat of a true cognate when used in the indicative.
We can use it when referring to gaining access, say, to a course or school.

Non è facile essere ammesso alla facoltà di medicina.
It’s not easy to get admitted to the pre-med program.

It also refers to acknowledging something, like an opinion or an error. Here, too, ammettere is a true cognate.

Ammetto di aver reagito troppo in fretta.
I admit I reacted too hastily.

But, when we find ammettere with che (that), and it’s often in the past participle ammesso, it calls for the subjunctive, as Daniela mentions in a recent lesson on the subjunctive. But be careful because the meaning changes. Here it means “to assume” or “to suppose.” We are not confirming something, we are assuming. We're talking about something unsure, which is why the subjunctive is used.

Allora, un amico mi dice una cosa,
io non sono sicura se è vero o no,
e dico: "Ammesso che sia vero, è interessante".
So, a friend tells me something,
I'm not sure whether it's true or not,
and I say: “Assuming it's true, it is interesting.”
Captions 39 - 41,  Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il congiuntivo - Part 14 of 17


Ammettiamo che lui l'abbia uccisa.
Let's assume that he killed her.
Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 9 of 12 

A common expression in Italian uses this form: Ammesso e non concesso (assuming, for the sake of argument).

Ammesso e non concesso che quest’uomo sia innocente, lui non avrà problemi a dire la verità.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this man is innocent, he won't have any trouble telling the truth.

or, more literally:

Assuming, but not granting, that this man is innocent, he won't have any trouble telling the truth.

The verb assumere exists as well in Italian. But that’s another story, which we'll get to in a future lesson.

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Food in Italy at Christmastime

If it's Natale — Christmas Day, lots of folks in Italy are at home getting ready for a big meal. Food is a priority, and taken very seriously.


Of course, Italy is famous for pasta, and so on Christmas, the dinner table for traditional Italians will often include lasagne al forno (baked lasagna). Here are some recipes in Italian:

Lasagne al forno lasagne verdi


You wouldn't want to eat lasagna every day, but it's hard to say no to. Even Luca Manara can't say no. Note that, as for other kinds of pasta, the plural is used: lasagne.

Ecco qua il miracolo di zia Caterina, le famose lasagne al forno per festeggiare l'ennesimo caso risolto brillantemente, ecco qua.
Here it is, Aunt Caterina's miracle, the famous baked lasagna to celebrate the umpteenth case solved brilliantly, here you are.
Caption 18 - 19, Il Commissario Manara 2: Ep. 1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 15


Tortellini in brodo (Tortellini in broth) is another favorite. See more about tortellini here.

Making homemade brodo (broth) is common in Italy, and is easy and worth it. If you’re not sure what to do with the rind from your parmigiano (parmesan cheese), well, just throw it in the pot with the other basic ingredients: various cuts of meat and bones, celery, parsley, carrots and onions. The parmigiano rinds add some great flavor.

Here’s a recipe for brodo, in Italian.


From the Yabla video series about the famous chef Gualtiero Marchesi, we can see how big a deal a simple broth can be. 

Nell'orazione funebre che Bocuse tenne per la morte di uno dei due fratelli Troisgros, ricordava ancora la preparazione del brodo. La preparazione del brodo è come la preparazione della pozione magica...
In the funeral oration that Bocuse gave for the death of one of the two  Troisgros brothers, he mentioned again the preparation of broth. The preparation of broth is like preparing a magic potion...
Captions 27 - 29, L'arte della cucina: I Luoghi del Mondo - Part 13 of 17


One thing that characterizes the winter season in Italy, is the overwhelming availability of agrumi (citrus fruit). People like to eat arance (oranges)mandarini (mandarin oranges),and clementini (clementines) or clementine (clementines). They are shipped to all other parts of Italy from Sicily and Calabria, and fill shops and homes with their fragrance.


In just about any bar, you can order una spremuta (freshly squeezed orange juice). It's best when oranges are in season. 

Per me una spremuta d'aranciagrazie.
For me a freshly squeezed orange juice, thanks.
Caption 41, Provaci Ancora Prof Stagione 1 Ep1: fiction - Part 11 of 28


In Italy, fruit is generally served at the end of a meal, and at Christmastime, there is usually also frutta secca (nuts and other dried fruits) in addition to panettone and other wonderful but caloric desserts. 

Here’s a link to a Yabla blog about the winter holidays in various parts of the world.

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Ways to Say “About” in Italian

"About" is a very common word in English. It is a preposition, but also an adjective and adverb. For now, we'll focus on the prepositional meaning "on the subject of" or "concerning." As in English, Italian provides a few different options. So let's take a look.


The first way: the preposition di (of/about).


If you think back to stories you have heard, even English uses “of” sometimes to mean “about.”

I will speak to you of love.


It may seem a bit antiquated, but it does exist. In Italian, it’s very common. In fact, Adriano speaks a very everyday kind of Italian, and normally uses the preposition di (about, of) to mean “about.”

Vi parlo della colazione, di una colazione italiana.
I'm going to talk to you about breakfast, about an Italian breakfast.
Caption 2, Adriano: fa colazione


Oggi vi parlerò delle stagioni.
Today I'm going to talk to you about the seasons.
Caption 2, Adriano: Le stagioni dell'anno


The second way: a (to, at).

The preposition a is used with the verb pensare (to think). We could also say “to reflect.” Then the preposition “on” could make sense. “To reflect on life.”

Sì, mi metto a pensare alla vita in generale. A...  a tutto.
Yes, I get to thinking about life in general. About... about everything.
Captions 6-7, Amiche: Filosofie


But the preposition di can also be used with the verb pensare.

Cosa pensi di questo vestito?
What do you think about/of this dress?


You might have run across the pronoun ne in videos and lessons about particelle (particles).

Cosa ne pensi?
What do you think about it?


The third way: su (on).

Allora Rossana, ti faccio qualche domanda sul tuo mestiere, insomma.
So Rossana, I'm going to ask you a few questions about your profession, in short.
Caption 54,  Anna e Marika: Il pane


The fourth way: proposito.


In a recent Yabla video on business English, Arianna is settling into her new job, but already has a problem she needs to discuss with her boss. She uses a more formal, longer way to say “about.” It’s a bit more precise, and, well, businesslike, and gives the topic a bit more importance.

Sì, certo. Ho anche bisogno di parlarti a proposito del nostro contatto della stampa estera.
Yes, of course. I also need to talk to you about our foreign press contact.
Caption 11, Italiano commerciale: Difficoltà con colleghi e contratti - Part 1 of 3


In the above example, we might also translate proposito as “regarding,” since it’s a moderately formal situation. In actual fact, these days, “regarding” would more likely be found in a letter than in a normal office conversation. The meaning is pretty much the same.


In the following example, too, proposito could be translated as “regarding.” We would need some extra context to determine which would work better. If either Lara or Luca were talking to their boss, then “regarding” might be more appropriate.

proposito del caso del cimitero...
Speaking of the cemetery case...
Regarding the cemetery case...
Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 8 of 12


It all depends on who is talking to whom, and whether they want to be formal or informal, or if the question is a bit off the cuff, or planned out.


Note: One important, and very common way proposito is used, is all by itself, without a specified object: proposito... In this case, it can mean “speaking of which” or “by the way.” It’s a rather non-aggressive means of getting a word in edgewise, changing the subject, or bringing up a topic out of the blue.

Ne parliamo stasera, OK? -A proposito, hai comprato il vino?
We'll talk about it tonight, OK? -Speaking of which, did you buy wine?/By the way, did you buy wine?
Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara 2: Ep. 1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 8 of 15


Sometimes these different ways of saying "about" are interchangeable, and sometimes one works better than the other. Experience will help you determine the best one for any given situation. Keep your ears open!

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Fare and Food

Fare translates as “to make” or “to do.”  But we also use fare in contexts where English uses the verb “to have.” 


Let's look at some ways fare is used when referring to food — the cooking of it and the eating of it. It can be straightforward and mean “to make”:

Fa il pane ogni venerdì (he makes bread every Friday).


But let’s look at some less predictable uses of fare and see where they lead.


In English, we say: “I’ll fix dinner” or “I’ll make dinner,” but in Italian, it’s common to say preparo la cena (I’ll prepare dinner) or, to be more generic and informal, faccio da mangiare (I’ll make something to eat). Note that the verb cucinare (to cook) is the actual proper Italian verb for this.

Dovrei fare da mangiare ma invece leggerò il giornale (I should fix something to eat, but instead, I'm going to read the paper).


“Eating breakfast” or "having breakfast" uses the verb fare in Italian: fare colazione (to have breakfast or “to eat breakfast”).

Non esco mai da casa senza aver fatto una buona colazione.
I never leave the house without having eaten a good breakfast.
Caption 5, Adriano: Giornata 


In Italian, unlike English, having lunch or dinner is often referred to using the verb forms of pranzo (lunch) and cena (dinner): pranzare and cenare

Ho pranzato a mezzogiorno e mezzo (I had lunch at half past twelve).

Aveva già cenato quando sono arrivata io (he had already eaten dinner when I got there).

A che ora pranzi di solito (what time do you usually have lunch)?

Oggi non pranzo. Ho mangiato un panino per strada (I’m not having lunch today. I ate a sandwich on the way).


Note that the verb avere (to have) can be used as an auxiliary verb, as in ho mangiato (I ate), or ho fatto colazione (I had breakfast), but is not used the way we use it in English as a kind of substitute for "to eat." Avere (to have) might be used as follows:

Ho un po' di pasta avanzata. La vuoi mangiare (I have some leftover pasta. Do you want to have it)?


In a nutshell:

For breakfast, we use fare colazione (to have breakfast), but for lunch and dinner, we use pranzare and cenare. Fare da mangiare is a general term meaning to prepare or make something to eat.


Further practice:

As you go through your day, think about your meals, answer these questions, and, if you can, make up new ones, changing the conjugations or other elements in the sentence.

Chi fa da mangiare in casa tua (who cooks the meals in your house)

A che ora hai fatto colazione stamattina (what time did you have breakfast this morning)?

Con chi ha pranzato tuo fratello (with whom did your brother have lunch)? Cosa hanno mangiato (what did they eat)?

Note that when you get specific about the food you eat, then you can use the verb mangiare (to eat), but remember you don’t “eat lunch” in Italian, you eat something (such as pasta) at/for lunch:

pranzo i miei genitori hanno mangiato dei fagioli col tonno (my parents had beans and tuna for lunch). Tu che cosa hai mangiato (what did you have)?

Ti va di cenare con solo verdura (do you feel like having just vegetables for dinner)?

Note that in Italian, we sometimes use per (for) pranzo /cena and we sometimes use (at) pranzo/cena.

Cosa c’è per cena (what’s for dinner)?

Cosa mangiamo a cena (what shall we have for dinner?)


There’s always more to learn about verbs such as fare. Remember, it’s an irregular verb, and a very common one, so it’s a handy verb to know how to conjugate.

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The Historical Present Tense in Italian

In the English language, with some exceptions, history is told in the past. The historical present does exist, however. In English grammar, the historical present is the use of a verb phrase in the present tense to refer to an event that took place in the past. In narratives, the historical present may be used to create an effect of immediacy. It’s also called the historic present, dramatic present, and narrative present.


But in Italian and other romance languages the historical present is commonly used to recount events in the past, especially when referring to history.


Context is very important, and translating can present some challenges.


Here’s an example of how Italian uses the historical present for something that clearly happened in the past. In English, it would sound a bit strange in the present tense, and the first phrase would be well nigh impossible to express in the present tense.

Pitrè nasce nel milleottocentoquarantuno a Palermo, in una famiglia di pescatori.
Pitrè was born in eighteen hundred forty-one in Palermo, in a family of fishermen.
Il padre, un povero marinaio del rione di Santa Lucia, è costretto, come tanti, ad emigrare in America, dove muore di febbre gialla.
The father, a poor sailor from the Santa Lucia district, was forced, like many, to emigrate to America, where he died of yellow fever.
Captions 28-32, Dottor Pitrè: e le sue storie - Part 2 of 15 


In the documentary about Fascism currently available on Yabla, the historical present is used in several instances. Sometimes it makes sense to use it in English, too, as in the following example. By using the historical present, we set the scene. We seem to observe the events from close up, as they happen.

Sono gli anni delle campagne di stampa contro le parole straniere.
Parole straniere e borghesia sono mali da estirpare.

These are the years of the publishing campaigns against foreign words.
Foreign words and the bourgeoisie are evils to be rooted out.
Captions 5 - 6, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5 of 15


La "Gazzetta del Popolo" di Torino inaugura la rubrica "Una parola al giorno".
Turin's “Gazzetta del Popolo” [The People's Gazette] launches the feature “Una Parola al Giorno” [A Word a Day].
Captions 14 - 15, Me Ne Frego: Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana - Part 5 of 15 


The use of the historical or narrative present in Italian is just something to be aware of. Deciding whether or not to maintain the same tense in translation is a subjective one, based on the tone to be set, or based on clarity. Much of the time, using the past tense in English will be preferred, but not always.

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Those pesky particelle (particles)

In English we might imagine a dialogue such as this in a group of housemates:

Who will go to the store to buy milk? -I’ll go.

We have a very brief answer.  It includes the person who will carry out the task, and the verb “to go.” Anything else is easily inferred.


But in Italian, it’s common to include the place as well, or some other information, as a pronoun. So, the initial question is the same.

Chi va al supermercato per comprare il latte (who will go to the store to buy milk?)


But the answer will probably be:

Ci vado io (I’ll go there). We would not likely say “I’ll go there” in English, but it’s implied.


So, there’s this extra element in Italian, with respect to English: the place. Ci corresponds to “there,” “to that place,” “to the store.”


Here’s an example from Marika’s video about all these particles.

Cominciamo con "ci" più "mi". "Devo tornare a casa, mi ci porti?"
Let's begin with “ci” plus “mi.” "I need to go back home. Will you bring me there?”
Captions 17-19, Marika spiega: I pronomi combinati - Part 3 of 3 


Another example, not about a place but about a situation.

Who will take care of this problem? -I will.
Chi si occuperà di questo problema? -Ci penso io.


Ci corresponds to “of this problem,” or “about this problem.”

Italian has these little pronoun particles that say a lot, and they can often be construed to stand for something in English. But more often than not, they stand for some element of a sentence that generally gets left out in English. This makes learning the little words difficult. They don’t seem to correspond to anything.


If you leave them out, and say, for example, vado io, instead of ci vado io, people will understand you anyway, most likely, but little by little, as you use your Italian in real life, you will get the hang of these particles, and include them more and more often in your speech, and your Italian will become more fluent, more "Italian."


There are two parallel paths to becoming more fluent. The first is to listen and repeat, even if you are merely repeating in your mind as someone is speaking. Speaking, even though you know you will make mistakes, is also important. You can’t very well start out speaking perfectly, and communication certainly comes first. Having someone understand you despite all your mistakes is already a win.


The other path is to study and read. Studying can give you those “ah ha” moments when you figure something out, and it can give you some ground rules so you're not completely lost. But studying won’t help you too much in conversation if you don’t follow the listening path. Once you have a rudimentary knowledge of Italian and can communicate, then studying can help you refine your knowledge and skill.

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