When speaking a foreign language, the important thing is to make yourself understood. Sometimes, however, unless someone makes a point of correcting you, you might spend years saying something that sounds right to you and gets the appropriate result or response. Then un bel giorno (one fine day) you realize with horror that you’ve been using the wrong word all this time and no one has ever corrected you because they understood anyway. This can easily happen with common words like fare (to make, to do) and prendere (to take, to have), because Italian and English have different conventions about how they get paired with nouns to mean something specific. It’s easy to fare confusione (get mixed up).
For example, you or I might make an appointment, but when Francesca gets serious about buying a new car, she “takes” an appointment:
Dobbiamo prendere quindi un appuntamento per andare dal notaio.
So we have to make an appointment to go see the notary.
Caption 27, Francesca: alla guida - Part 1 of 4
And while most English speakers make decisions, Italians “take” decisions:
Siamo preoccupati, perché dobbiamo prendere delle decisioni molto importanti.
We're worried, because we have to make some very important decisions.
Caption 41, Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2
Do you take a nap in the afternoon? Well, the nonno in Medico in Famiglia “makes” a nap.
Io ho fatto solo venti minuti di pennichella...
I took a nap for just twenty minutes...
You want to take a trip to Sicily, but if you call an Italian travel agent, remember that Italians “make” trips.
Salve, vorrei fare un viaggio alla Valle dei Templi ad Agrigento.
Hello, I'd like to take a trip to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.
Caption 2, Pianificare: un viaggio
All this talk about fare brings to mind a popular Italian proverb:
Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare.
Between saying and doing, there’s an ocean in the middle. [Things are easier said than done.]
Bearing this proverb in mind, we could say that repeating a list of which verbs to use when and where is il dire (saying). It will only get you so far. Fare is a catch-all word, a little like “have” or “get,” having so many shades of meaning that you can’t possibly absorb them all in un colpo solo (in one fell swoop). Fare means “to do,” “to make,” “to give” (see the lesson on Gifts and Giving), “to be,” and more (see the lesson on Making It Happen). Prendere is less of a catch-all verb, but also has several meanings like “to get,” “to catch,” “to have,” and “to receive.” So when you are watching Yabla videos and come upon the verb fare or prendere, pay special attention to how the verb gets paired with the noun in the specific context, and then make it your own: Listen for it, repeat it, write it, conjugate it, make up sentences with it. This is il fare (doing). It will gradually start to feel right.
The following are just a few more examples in which fare and prendere are paired with nouns in ways we might not expect:
Ce la farai! (You’ll get it!)
For more on proverbs see:
In this week’s episode of Commissario Manara, there are two instances of a turn of phrase that’s easy to miss when listening to Italian speech: avere a che fare con (to have to do with, to refer to, to be in relation to, to deal with). Lots of little words all in a row, and when the third person singular present tense is used, mamma mia! It can be difficult to hear ha a in ha a che fare con... But if you know what to listen for, it gets easier. It’s actually not so difficult, because the verb is always avere (to have), which is conjugated according to the subject and time element, and the rest of the expression doesn’t change. Remember that fare means both “to make” and “to do.”
Manara is questioning a suspect:
Lei ci ha detto di non aver mai conosciuto Sianelli e di non avere mai avuto a che fare con la giustizia, giusto?
You told us that you'd never met Sianelli and that you had never had anything to do [been in trouble] with the law, right?
Captions 5-6, Il Commissario Manara: Reazione a Catena - Ep 6 - Part 7 of 14
Later he reports his findings to Lara.
E quindi siamo sicuri che ha già avuto a che fare con la vittima in passato.
And so we're certain that he'd already had dealings with the murder victim in the past.
Caption 44, Il Commissario Manara: Reazione a Catena - Ep 6 - Part 7 of 14
Avere a che fare is rather informal and personal. The subject is accounted for. There's another more impersonal way to say pretty much the same thing: si tratta di (it's about, it has to do with, it means), which we'll cover in another lesson.
Quando vado in città, ho a che fare con tutti tipi di persone.
When I go to the city, I deal with all kinds of people.
The subject can be an idea or fact rather than a person:
La conferenza ha a che fare con il razzismo.
The conference has to do with racism.
This turn of phrase is especially effective in the negative: Remember that double negatives are quite acceptable in Italian.
Non voglio aver niente a che fare con quel tizio.
I don’t want to have anything to do with that guy.
Questo pesto non ha niente a che fare con quello genovese.
This pesto has nothing in common with the Genovese kind.
Just for Fun:
Questa lezione ha avuto a che fare con un’espressione comune e informale. Una futura lezione avrà a che fare con altre espressioni che vogliono dire più o meno la stessa cosa. Quando ho a che fare con una nuova espressione, cerco di ripeterla tante volte durante la mia giornata, così diventa parte di me. Non ho a che fare con un cervello giovanissimo! Non vorrei aver niente a che fare con persone che non vogliono imparare.
This lesson was about a common and informal expression. A future lesson will deal with other expressions that mean more or less the same thing. When I’m dealing witha new expression, I try repeating it lots of times during the day. I’m not dealing with a super young brain! I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with people who don’t want to learn.
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.
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:
A 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 a (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.
The useful expression fare a meno (to do without) comes up in a recent installment of L'Arte della Cucina:
L'armonia non può fare a meno dei contrasti, che possono essere numerosi.
Harmony can't do without contrasts, which may be numerous.
Caption 10, L'arte della cucina: La Prima Identitá - Part 10 of 17
Let's take a look at each separate word.
Fare means "to make" or "to do" (see this lesson about fare).
A is a preposition meaning any number of things, mostly "at," "to," or "in," but not specifically "with," so we need to stretch our imaginations a bit, and accept the fact that prepositions don't always correspond.
Meno has a couple of different meanings, including "minus," which in this case, makes sense.
At the same time, let's not forget that the most common translation for meno is "less," or, when there's an article in front of it, "least":
a meno che (unless)
almeno (at least)
See WordReference, for more about fare a meno.
Tale e quale, Lolalù.
Exactly like Lolalù.
Caption 37, Dixieland: Coppa di cioccolato
If we take the expression apart, we have two principal words. Tale has a long list of definitions and translations. It can mean, as a noun, "that person," or as an adjective, "certain," "similar," "aforementioned," and more. Quale (which) has some different sfumature (nuances), but it mostly means "which," or "which one."
Merely connecting these words together with e (and) doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so it's best to think of tale e quale as an idiomatic expression, a compound adjective, you might call it, meaning "exactly the same."
In English we might also say "the spitting image of Lolalù." "To spit" in Italian is sputare, and in fact, sputare is also used to say pretty much the same thing: sputato a Lolalù. Tale e quale is probably easier to remember and easier to say!
Attenzione! In buying and selling, you might find this (without the conjunction): tale quale, which means "as is."
Just for fun:
Non potevo fare a meno di andare dal parrucchiere. I miei capelli erano troppo disordinati. Appena sono entrata, il parrucchiere m’ha detto: “siediti pure, ho quasi finito.” Poi ha preso in mano un phon per asciugare i capelli di un altro cliente. Devo dire che quell' asciugacapelli era tale e quale al mio. Uguale uguale!... A meno che non fosse proprio il mio, rubato da lui. Sto scherzando... figuriamoci! Avrei fatto a meno della musica che era troppo forte, ma almeno mi ha pettinato molto bene, e in fretta. Dopo, non potevo fare a meno di mangiare un bel gelato.
I couldn't do without going to the hairdresser's. My hair was too messy. As soon as I went in, the hairdresser said, "Go ahead and have a seat. I'm almost finished." Then he took the blow dryer to dry another client's hair. I have to say that that hair dryer was exactly like mine. The same, identical!... Unless it really was mine, stolen by him. I'm kidding... no way! I could have done without the music, which was too loud, but at least he styled my hair nicely, and quickly. Afterwards, I couldn't have done without having a nice ice cream cone.
In certain situations, it’s important to put one’s best foot forward, to make a good impression. In Italian, that’s fare bella figura, or simply, fare figura. For example:
Le sue scarpe sono costate poco, ma fanno figura.
Her shoes didn’t cost very much, but they make her look good (or, “they make a good impression”).
Fare bella figura (making a good impression) isn’t always possible though. Sometimes, without meaning to, you botch it and make a bad impression, or worse, are embarrassed by something you did or said. And that’s when you use brutta figura (bad impression). Just as bella is often left to our imagination, in this case, too, it’s common to leave off the brutta. To determine whether someone’s talking about a good or bad figura, pay close attention to the context, as well as to the speaker’s inflection and facial expression.
O mamma mia! Mamma mia, che figura che ho fatto.
Oh dear! Oh dear, what an impression I've made.
Note: The fact that there’s no article here is normal for this idiom, but in some cases an article or other modifier will be included for clarity or emphasis.
What about when someone puts you in an embarrassing situation, or makes you look like a fool? Ti fa fare brutta figura (he/she makes you make a bad impression).
In an episode of Medico in Famiglia, Maria has gone missing, and her parents call her supposed boyfriend to find out where she is. He’s not her boyfriend, though, so just imagine how embarrassed she is upon discovering they’d called him.
Mi avete fatto fare questa figura?
You made me make a bad impression? [You embarrassed me like that?]
Maria’s brother has a retort ready with a play on words. He uses a more neutral definition of figura (figure, person, appearance, impression):
Non hai fatto nessuna figura perché quello, a te, non ti vede proprio!
You made no impression at all because that guy doesn't even see you!
Another expression that’s used a lot in relational conversations comes from the verb figurare (to appear, to be, to show). This expression can be used as a sort of antidote to someone’s feeling as if they’re making or have made a brutta figura. It uses the reflexive form figurarsi (to imagine).
If you apologize for being late, or if you ask if you are disturbing someone, the response might likely be figurati! (of course not!). The person saying it is attempting to put you at ease, for example after you forgot a dinner date.
Scusami. Ci sei rimasto male? -Figurati, la cena era ottima.
Sorry. Did you feel hurt? -Of course not, the dinner was excellent.
At the same time, it can mean something like “no way!” or “yeah, right!” or “don’t count on it!”:
C'hai paura? -Paura io? Ma figurati.
What, are you scared? -Scared, me? Don't count on it.
Watch and listen to the Yabla videos where these expressions are present (do a search of both figura and figurati). Hide the translation. Listen for the inflection. Is the speaker trying to put someone at ease, or being ironic? When no adjective is present for describing the figura, which do you think it is?
Meanwhile, imagine a situation—invent a dialogue. Here’s something to get you started.
Ti ho fatto fare brutta figura? -Ma figurati, ho fatto la figura dello scemo tutto da solo.
Did I embarrass you? -Of course not, I came off as an idiot all by myself.
Devo dire che quegli orecchini da due soldi fanno figura! -Grazie, ma questa giacca vecchissima, che figura fa? -Beh, per me, fai sempre una bellissima figura.
I gotta say, those cheap earrings happen to look really nice! -Thanks, but this super old jacket, how does that make me look? -Well, to me, you always look great!
Che figura! Quando sono arrivata alla cassa, non avevo abbastanza soldi per pagare.
How embarrassing! When I got to the check out, I didn’t have enough money to pay.
Il capo mi darà un aumento, sicuro! -Figurati!
The boss is going to give me a raise, for sure! -Yeah, right. (or, “Don’t count on it!”)
Divertitevi! (Have fun!)
In a previous lesson, we joined Anna and Marika at the famous Trattoria al Tevere Biondo in Rome, where they were having lunch... Later on, after their meal, they start chatting with the owner Giuseppina, who has plenty of stories to tell. She uses an expression that’s kind of fun:
Ma chi me lo fa fà [fare], io m'alzo due ore prima la mattina...
But who makes me do it? I get up two hours earlier in the morning...
“Who makes me do it?” is the literal translation, but the gist is, “why should I go to all that trouble?” And with her Roman speech, she shortens the infinitive fare (to make, to do) to fà. As a matter of fact, as she tells her stories Giuseppina chops off the end of just about every verb in the infinitive. This way of speaking is popular all over Italy, so get some practice with Giuseppina!
Giuseppina may chop off her verbs, but the characters in Commissario Manara chop off the end of the adverb bene (well), turning it into bè. To agree to something, va bene (literally, he/she/it goes well) is the expression to use. But when the conversation gets going, and it's a back and forth of "OK, but..." or "All right, all right!" or "OK, let's do this," like between Luca Manara and his team, va bene often becomes vabbè. This simple expression, depending on what tone of voice is used, can say a lot. A Yabla search with vabbè will bring up many examples in Manara videos, and plenty of other videos as well.
In one episode, two detectives on Manara’s team think they’ve made a discovery, but of course the Commissario has already figured things out, and they’re disappointed.
Vabbè, però così non c'è gusto, scusa. -Vabbè, te l'avevo detto io, 'o [lo] sapevo.
All right, but this way there's no satisfaction, sorry. -OK, I told you so, I knew it.
Vabbè is an expression that gets used about as often as “OK.” Sometimes, though, we really do need to know if things are all right. In this case we use the full form, va bene? (is it all right?):
Eh, guardi, pago con la carta. Va bene? -Okay. Un secondo, ecco a Lei.
Uh, look, I'll pay by credit card. All right? Okay. One second, here you are.
Caption 34- 35, Marika spiega: L'euro in Italia, con Anna
In her reply, the salesperson uses the international, “OK” but she could just as easily have said, va bene (that’s fine).
It’s important to understand abbreviated words when you hear them, but in most situations, when speaking, use the full form—you can’t go wrong.
Fare (to make) is a verb for getting things done. It’s about as universal in Italian as “get” (or “have”) is in English and frequently means about the same thing.
Here, fare really does mean “to make”:
Eccolo. Questo è il vino che faccio con mio nonno.
Here it is. This is the wine I make with my grandfather.
Fare used simply, as in the above example, indicates you are doing the work. If, instead of doing something yourself, you have it done by someone else, you’ll generally use fare plus the verb in the infinitive:
Se vuole, La faccio accompagnare da uno dei miei ragazzi.
If you'd like, I’ll get one of my guys to accompany you.
Caption 15, Una gita: al lago - Part 3 of 4
When you need to borrow something, fare loans itself to you because there’s no single word in Italian that means “to borrow.” You need to “get something lent to you,” so you use the verb prestare (to lend) but you turn it around using fare, plus, depending on whom you are talking about, the appropriate reflexive personal pronoun.
La mia dolce Ninetta riceve la visita di Pippo... e riesce a farsi prestare da Pippo alcune monete.
My sweet Ninetta gets a visit from Pippo... and is able to borrow a few coins from Pippo.
Caption 10, Anna e Marika: in La Gazza Ladra - Part 2 of 2
The same idea holds for showing something to someone: you need to “make them see it.”
Adesso vi farò vedere alcuni piatti di semplice realizzazione.
Now I'm going to show you some dishes that are simple to make.
Caption 3, Ricette dolci: Crème brûlée alla banana
Fare can also be intended as “get,” “have,” or “let,” depending on the context. Here, fare is used in a command:
Fammi uscire! Ehi, fammi uscire!
Let me out! Hey, let me out! [Or: Get me out of here!]
Caption 37, Acqua in bocca: Mp3 Marino - Ep 2
There’s lots more to say about fare, but for now, when you tune into Yabla, try to start noticing how people talk about getting things done using this catch-all word. To get more acquainted with fare, have a look here and here.
Think about some things you would like to get done (or have already had done). Here are some ideas to work with. Try turning them into questions or changing the person, tense, subject, object, or verb, or you can make up your own sentences from scratch.
Faccio sempre pulire la casa da professionisti.
I always have the house cleaned by professionals.
Facciamo riparare la nostra macchina dal meccanico in paese.
We get our car repaired by the mechanic in town.
Mi sono fatta fare un tatuaggio.
I got a tattoo. (This is a woman speaking. A man would say, Mi sono fatto fare un tatuaggio.)
Vorrei farmi fare un vestito da una sarta.
I’d like to get a dress made for me by a seamstress.
Non mi lavo i capelli da sola. Li faccio lavare dalla parrucchiera.
I don’t wash my own hair. I get it washed at the hairdresser’s.
Ti voglio fare conoscere un amico.
I want to introduce you to a friend.
Voglio farti conoscere un amico.
I want to introduce you to a friend.
Mi fai vedere le tue foto?
Will you show me your pictures?
Joining a language forum such as WordReference can be helpful for getting feedback on your attempts.
In this week's episode of Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno, at the very end, there is an expression that's used just about every day, especially at the end of a conversation, email, a phone call, or text message, so let's have a look.
In this particular case, one person is talking to a few people, so he uses the imperative plural, which happens to be the same as the indicative in the second person plural.
Let me know.
Caption 62, Adriano Olivetti: La forza di un sogno Ep. 1 - Part 8 of 26
Let's take the phrase apart. The verb fare (to make) has been combined with the object pronoun mi which stands for a me (to me). To that is added the verb sapere (to know), in the infinitive.
So, first of all, we might have been tempted to use the verb lasciare (to let, to leave). It would be a good guess, but instead, we use the ubiquitous verb fare: "to make me know." Sounds strange in English, right? But in Italian, it sounds just right. You'll get used to it the more you say and hear it.
Let's look at this expression in the singular, which is how you will use it most often.
The most generic version is this: fammi sapere (let me know).
Va be', quando scopri qualcosa fammi sapere.
OK, when you discover something, let me know.
Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 3 of 18
This use of "to make" plus a verb in the infinitive is also used a lot with verbs besides sapere (to know).
Do a Yabla search of fammi and you will see for yourself. There are lots of examples with all kinds of verbs.
Chi c'è alle mie spalle? Fammi vedere. -Francesca.
Who's behind me? Let me see. -Francesca.
Caption 13, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1 of 15
Sometimes we need to add a direct object to our sentence: "Let me see it."
In this case, all those little words get combined into one word. Fammelo vedere (literally "let me itsee" or Let me see it).
Using fare means we conjugate fare, but not the other verb, which can make life easier!
English uses the word ride to mean different things, so when it comes to finding the right Italian word, we can easily be at a loss. Let’s look at some of the basic Italian words associated with “ride.”
The first installment of the new episode of Commissario Manara, starting this week, gives us one important example:
Ma sei sicura che non hai bisogno di un passaggio?
But are you sure you don't need a ride?
Caption 7, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte di un buttero Ep 8 - Part 1 of 16
If you ride in a car, or on a two-wheeler, but are not the “driver,” you are il passeggero (the passenger).
For those who are curious, it’s not readily discoverable why there is an “e” and not an “a” in this word. It comes from the French passager (passenger, passing/temporary) and in Neapolitan the spelling is passaggiere! But (going out on a limb), perhaps the adjective form passeggero (passing, temporary) might possibly have some connection with a passeggero (passenger) being a “temporary” occupant of the vehicle.
Attenzione! Don’t get confused between passaggio (a passage or ride) and andare a passeggio (to go for a stroll) with its verb form passeggiare (to stroll, walk) and noun form passeggiata (a stroll, a walk).
The subject of the new episode of Commissario Manara is il buttero, a sort of Tuscan cowboy, primarily associated with the Maremma part of Tuscany. What do these cowboys do? See this link for details about the butteri, but one thing is for sure. They ride horses.
We usually say andare a cavallo (to go horseback riding) to talk about riding a horse, but to be more specific, we use the verb cavalcare. The rider is il cavaliere. If you stay tuned for the next installment of Manara, you’ll be ready for this word!
We can also ride a bike: andare in bici, andare in bicicletta
If we go to the parco giochi (the amusement park), we may want to go on the rides. These rides are commonly grouped together with the merry-go-round, la giostra, and called le giostre (the rides, the attractions).
What about when we say, “let’s go for a ride”? In this case Italian uses the omnipresent giro. In English we usually put the means first, as an adjective: a train ride, a boat ride, a bike ride.
Ho bisogno di un bel giro in moto e di una birra.
I need a nice motorcycle ride and a beer.
Caption 9, Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 5 of 17
Note that the most common verb to use when going for a ride is fare (to make, to do).
Ho proprio voglia di fare un bel giro!
I really feel like going for a nice ride!
Caption 22, Il Commissario Manara 1: Sogni di Vetro - Ep 7 - Part 1
In a nutshell:
cavalcare (to ride a horse)
andare a cavallo (to go horseback riding)
andare in bici (to ride a bike)
fare il passeggero (to ride as a passenger)
un passaggio (a ride/lift as a passenger)
fare un giro (to go for a ride)
le giostre (the rides at an amusement park)
Walking and in general:
andare a passeggio (to go for a walk)
fare una passeggiata (to go for a walk or ride)
passeggiare (to stroll)
passare (to move from one place to another)
Just for fun:
Ieri ho fatto un giro in bici, ma poi ho forato, e quindi ho dovuto chiedere un passaggio ad un camionista. Non avevo mai fatto il passeggero in un mezzo così grande. Mi piace andare in bici, perché posso girare dove mi pare, usando le mie gambe. Mi piace pure andare a cavallo, ma non sono un cavaliere particolarmente bravo. Non cavalco bene come un buttero, ma, da più giovane, facevo delle bellissime passeggiate a cavallo in giro per la campagna toscana. Non era una passione passeggera, ma siccome sono caduto più volte cavalcando, ultimamente preferisco cavalcare i cavalli della giostra alle giostre o al parco giochi, oppure fare qualche passeggiata a piedi nel bosco, specialmente quando devo portare il cane a passeggio.
Yesterday I went for a bike ride, but I got a flat tire, and so I had to ask a truck driver for a ride. I had never been a passenger in such a large vehicle. I love going cycling, because I can go wherever I want, using my legs. I also like going horseback riding, but I’m not a particularly skilled rider. I don’t ride as well as a Maremmano cowboy, but when I was younger I went on some beautiful rides on horseback around the Tuscan countryside. It wasn’t a passing fancy, but since I fell several times while riding, lately I prefer to ride the horses on the merry-go-round at the carousel or amusement park, or else go for a walk in the woods, especially when I have to take the dog for a walk.
In a previous lesson we discussed addressing people formally or informally, using Lei or tu. Deciding which is appropriate has to do with the degree of conoscenza (knowledge, acquaintance, familiarity). Conoscenza comes from the verb conoscere (to know, to be acquainted with). (For the other kind of knowing, sapere, see the previous lessons, Sapere: Part 1 and Sapere: Part 2.) Conoscere is worth a closer look, because although it’s used to mean “to know, to be acquainted with,” Italians also use it to mean “to meet, to get acquainted with, to get to know.” In the following example from one of Daniela’s Italian lessons, it’s clear she means “to know.”
Se io, per esempio, non conosco Alex, Alex è il mio vicino di casa,
o una persona che ho incontrato per la strada, voglio sapere come si chiama, io do del Lei.
If, for example, I don't know Alex, Alex is my next door neighbour,
or a person I've met on the street, I want to know his name, I give the "Lei."
Captions 11-12: Corso di italiano con Daniela: Tu o Lei?
In the same lesson, Daniela is talking about meeting someone for the first time, and she uses the same verb, conoscere. The context tells us what she means.
Dobbiamo sapere, quando conosciamo una persona, se darle del tu o del Lei.
We have to know, when we meet a person, whether to use “tu” or “Lei” with him.
Caption 2-3: Corso di italiano con Daniela: Tu o Lei?
In a previous lesson, Making It Happen, we talked about combining fare (to do, to make) with other verbs to make things happen, or get things done. Fare gets combined with conoscere to make introductions: fare conoscere (to make someone or something known, or to introduce someone or something).
Francesca is going to her first riding lesson at a nearby stable, and she tells us:
Questo ragazzo che mi accoglierà, e che vi farò conoscere, si chiama Alberto.
This fellow who will receive me, and to whom I’ll introduce you, is named Alberto.
Caption 8: Francesca: Cavalli - Part 1 of 9
When you talk about when and where you met someone for the first time, use conoscere:
Ho conosciuto Alberto solo oggi. Conosce molto bene i suoi cavalli.
I met Alberto today [for the first time]. He knows his horses very well.
Now that Francesca has heard all about these horses from Alberto, she’s ready for a closer look.
E quindi va bene, ne andiamo a conoscere qualcuno. -Andiamo a conoscerne un bel po'.
And so all right, let's go to meet some of them. -We're going to meet a good many of them.
Caption 57: Francesca: Cavalli - Part 1 of 9
In case you’re wondering why ne is attached to the end of conoscere the second time it appears, it’s because it means “of them.” Like ci, as we’ve already seen in Ci Gets Around, ne is a particle that can either be separate, as in the first sentence, or can become part of the verb, as in the second. You’ll find more information on ne here.
To sum up, here’s a list of variations of conoscere, including a few new ones:
• conoscere (to know, to be acquainted with, to be familiar with)
• conoscere (to get acquainted with, to meet for the first time)
• fare conoscere (to introduce, to make known)
• conosciuto (well known)
• conoscenza (knowledge, acquaintance, awareness, consciousness)
• a conoscenza (aware)
• delle conoscenze (knowledge, influential people, connections)
• fare la conoscenza (to get acquainted)
• riconoscere (to recognize)
• un conoscente (an acquaintance)
• the reflexive form: conoscersi (to know oneself, to know each other/one another)
• riconoscente (appreciative, grateful)
• uno sconosciuto (a stranger)
• sconosciuto (unknown, little known)
And putting them all together, just for fun, here’s what we get:
Se finora non eri a conoscenza del sistema Yabla, probabilmente non conoscevi questo trucco: clicchi su qualsiasi parola sconosciuta, o su una parola che non riconosci, e puoi subito conoscerne il significato nella tua lingua, perché si apre il dizionario. O forse te l’aveva detto un conoscente, e sei stato riconoscente. Tu ti conosci meglio di chiunque altro, e quindi saprai tu se vuoi vedere i sottotitoli o no. Tutti gli utenti Yabla conoscono questo trucco. E a proposito, come hai conosciuto Yabla? C’è qualcuno che te l’ha fatto conoscere, o l’hai conosciuto per caso? A che livello è la tua conoscenza o a che livello sono le tue conoscenze dell’italiano? È vero che noi non ci conosciamo, ma per convenzione, ci diamo del tu.
Before sneaking a peek at the English translation, see how much you understand of the Italian!
If, up until now, you were not aware of the Yabla system, you probably weren’t familiar with this trick: click on any unknown word, or on a word you don’t recognize, and you can immediately find out (get acquainted with) the meaning of it in your language because a dictionary opens up. Or maybe an acquaintance had already told you that and you were grateful. You know yourself better than anyone, so you must know if you want to see the captions or not. All Yabla users know this trick. And by the way, how did you learn about Yabla? Was there someone who introduced you to it, or did you know about it already? What’s your level of knowledge in Italian? It’s true that we don’t know each other, but by convention we use the familiar form of address.
Whether you need something or need to do something, you need to know what words to use in Italian to express that need, especially since there's no simple, one-word equivalent of the verb "to need." In the following example, Marika uses a highly irregular verb that’s quite common in Italian, but which causes quite a bit of confusion for non-native speakers, both because it doesn't get conjugated and because it's so similar to its related noun form. It's practically useless to mention the infinitive because it doesn't ever get used.
Marika gives a news report about a school perched high on a hill. Let's see what she says:
Per arrivare nella scuola più piccola d' Europa bisogna fare trecentocinquanta scalini.
To get to the smallest school in Europe, you need to go up three hundred fifty steps.
In talking about the search for the right location for his restaurant, here's how Gualtiero Marchesi uses bisogna:
Bisognava inventarsi tutto.
I had to invent it all.
Caption 6, L'arte della cucina: L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni - Part 3
The infinitive of this indispensable verb is bisognare, but you never see it in this form,nor in any conjugation except the third person, where it is used impersonally. Marchesi uses it in the past tense: bisognava, and it will often appear in the conditional (bisognerebbe) or the future (bisognerà) as well.
Bisogna is a quick and neutral (sometimes maddeningly neutral) way to talk about what needs doing. For example, one housemate might say to the other:
Bisogna comprare il pane. (One needs to buy bread.)
Clearly, bread needs to be bought, but who's going to buy it? That detail is left to our imagination (or sense of duty).
This statement can also easily be expressed in the conditional:
Bisognerebbe comprare il pane. (Someone should buy bread.)
or in the future:
Bisognerà comprare il pane. (Someone will have to buy bread.
This way of using bisogna is easy: bisogna + verb in the infinitive
The other and more complicated way is: bisogna + che + verb in the subjunctive, but that's a topic for a future lesson.
Another way to express need is with the related noun bisogno (need), which is also easy to use, since the only verb you need to conjugate is avere (to have).
In fact, Gualtiero could have said:
Avevo bisogno di inventarmi tutto. (I had need ofinventing everything for myself.)
He also could have said:
C’era bisogno di inventarsi tutto. (There was need [it was necessary] to invent it all for oneself.)
This is also easy because the verb essere will always be in the third person singular. In the above example, it's in the simple past.
It all has to do with sorting out the difference between bisogna (verb) and bisogno (noun) and remembering the simple rules about how they work. For a full explanation see this article.
In a nutshell:
Putting them together just for fun:
Bisogna andare in banca. In effetti, c'era bisogno di andare ieri, ma ieri bisognavafare tante altre cose. Bisognerà anche andare a fare la spesa questo pomeriggio, quindi, di che cosa abbiamo bisogno? C'è bisogno di fare una lista. Avrei bisogno dicaffè, ma per quello, bisognerà andare in un altro negozio. C'è bisogno dellozucchero? No, non ce n'è bisogno, anche perché ho bisogno di dimagrire. Bisognavedere, però, se riesco a berlo amaro.
We/I need to go to the bank. Actually, it was necessary to go yesterday, but yesterdaywe needed to do lots of other things. We'll also need to go food shopping this afternoon, so what do we need? We need to make a list. I would need coffee, but for that I need to go to different store. Do we need sugar? No, I don't need any, because I need to lose weight. We'll have to see if I'm able to drink it bitter [with no sugar].
See how you can mix and match these ways of needing things, or needing to do things. Just keep in mind the way they work, and which is which.
Now that you know the ins and outs of bisogna and bisogno, do a Yabla search and see for yourself how often these words get used in speech. Bisogna solo fare pratica! (You just need to practice!)
The verb suonare (to play music, to sound) has various related meanings, all connected with sound (il suono).
In Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4, a guy is talking to his girlfriend about the vendemmia (grape harvest). He concludes by saying:
Suono l'organetto e facciamo una cena tutti quanti insieme.
I play the accordion and we have a dinner all together.
Caption 24, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4
After taking out his accordion, he says:
Questo è il pezzo che suono sempre.
This is the piece I always play.
Caption 26, Escursione: Un picnic in campagna - Part 3 of 4
Back in the city, Milena and Mattia are sitting at an outdoor café. Mattia is talking about his band.
No, io suono solo il piano. Il ragazzo che suona la chitarra fa anche il cantante.
No, I just play the piano. The guy who plays the guitar is also the singer.
Captions 43-44, Milena e Mattia: Al ristorante - Part 1 of 2
In the above examples, suonare means “to play” (an instrument or music), but suonare also means “to sound.” Consider the following sentence:
Francesco suona bene il violino, ma in questa stanza il violino non suona bene.
Francesco plays the violin well, but in this room the violin doesn’t sound good.
Here's a list of even more ways the verb suonare can be used:
Another translation of “to play” is giocare, but this comes from the word for “game,” il gioco. In Bibione: Torneo del frisbee - Part 1 of 2, Dario talks about his favorite gioco:
Mi piace molto giocare a frisbee.
I really like playing frisbee.
Caption 3, Bibione: Torneo del frisbee - Part 1 of 2
L'Ultimate frisbee è uno sport che si gioca sia su erba che su spiaggia.
Ultimate frisbee is a sport that is played both on grass and on the beach.
Lo scopo del gioco è fare meta.
The aim of the game is to score.
Captions 34-36, Bibione: Torneo del frisbee - Part 1 of 2
So whether you like playing frisbee, playing the guitar, or playing your favorite CD, play some videos on your computer and play the Yabla Game. Can you figure out the right Italian word for all the highlighted words in the previous sentence, and in the following one? See if it sounds right to you!
(See below for the solution.)
Quella gli faceva un regalino, quell'altra l'invitava a cena...
One would give him a little gift, another would invite him to dinner...
Captions 38-39, Il Commissario Manara: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 3 of 15
Eh, ma mi sa che questo è l'ultimo anno che ti posso regalare le mie scarpe.
Uh, I guess this is the last year that I can give you my shoes.
Captions 4-5, Un medico in famiglia: 1 - Casa nuova - Part 10 of 16
Regalo is analogous with “present,” and it’s the word you will be using most of the time. However, another way to say “gift,” which often implies a divine or important giver, is dono. You’ll hear it in conjunction with traditions, and indeed, dono is used like regalo in talking about what Santa Claus brings down the chimney.
Ovviamente ai bambini portava doni.
Obviously to children he brought gifts.
Donare is easy to remember, being very similar to “donate.” In fact, as a verb, donare can mean “to donate,” as in money or blood: donare sangue (to give blood). Blood donors are donatori di sangue.
Of course, gifts are not always tangible.
Lavoro con un grande dono prezioso che ognuno di noi ha... Lavoro con la mia voce.
I work with a precious gift that each one of us has... I work with my voice.
Caption 5-6, Marika e Daniela: Intervista a Daniela Bruni
And now you need to stretch your mind a bit because the giver is an item of clothing. The shirt in question gives the wearer some positive quality. This particular use of donare is worth remembering because it’s a wonderful way to compliment someone! (Note that the person is using the polite form; to a friend you would say ti dona.)
Ah... ma lo sa che questa camicia le dona? Fa esaltare il colore dei suoi occhi.
Ah... you know that this shirt looks good on you? It brings out the color of your eyes.
Il ragazzo è dotato per la musica e sua sorella invece è dotata per il disegno.
The boy is a gifted musician while his sister is a gifted artist.
Ha una dote per la musica.
He has a gift for music.
We could say that God, or some higher being has “provided” that boy with his gift for music. So don’t be surprised if you go to buy a TV in Italy and the salesman tells you that la TV è dotata di telecommando (the TV is supplied with remote control). Not God-given, but factory-given!
To sum up on a practical level (leaving Christmas, weddings, and TVs aside):
What are your natural talents or gifts? What about those of your family and friends? What did you get for a present on your last birthday? Do you know people who give blood? What are the earth’s natural gifts? Make a list of what comes to mind and then choose the Italian word that is closest in meaning.
To test out any phrases you come up with, just Google them and you will probably get some clues. If you have doubts, use WordReference or other dictionaries to get some more complete input than this lesson can provide.
The bellissimo music video Il regalo più grande (the greatest gift) is a reminder that some of the best gifts can’t be bought with money. If you check out the previous lesson, Gifts and Giving, you’ll be all set to understand what Tiziano Ferro is singing about.
Per cominciare (to start with), remember that in Italian, gifts (regali) are “made,” not "given," so we use the verb fare (to make):
Voglio farti un regalo
I want to give you a gift
Caption 1, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande
Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna
I'd like to give your smile to the moon
Caption 10, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande
Let’s look at these lyrics from a grammatical punto di vista (point of view). Tiziano sings in the present tense at the beginning of the song: voglio farti un regalo (I want to give you a gift). He goes on to use the conditional vorrei donare (I would like to give). But further on in the song, he would like to receive a gift, and the grammar gets a bit more complex:
Vorrei mi facessi un regalo
I would like you to give me a gift
Un sogno inespresso
An unexpressed dream
To give it to me now
Caption 19-21, Tiziano Ferro: Il regalo più grande
He again uses the first person conditional of volere (to want), "vorrei" (I would like), but turns the phrase around, which calls for the subjunctive of fare (to make) in the second person imperfect, facessi. Translating it a bit more loosely may help it make more sense: “I would like [it if] you gave me a gift.”
And finally, he uses the infinitive donare (minus the final e), the indirect object/personal pronoun me, and the direct object lo all in one single word, donarmelo.
Take a look at the conjugations of fare (to make, to do) and volere (to want). You might even be surprised to see that you know more conditional forms of these verbs than you thought, just from hearing them. Go one step further and take any of those conjugations, for example, faresti (second person conditional of fare), and do a Yabla search to find out how it’s used in the videos.
In a recent lesson we talked about the imperfetto, a simple past tense that has various ways of being translated into English. In this lesson we’ll discuss more ways we can translate the imperfetto.
In this gripping film about people trying to live out their lives in the rundown suburb of Scampia, near Naples, a husband and wife are discussing the difficult situation of being threatened by the Camorra almost daily.
Che dovevo fare? Dovevo accettare?
What should I have done? Should I have accepted?
Caption 17, Rai Fiction: L'oro di Scampia: Part 15 of 25
It’s good to know that this is not actually correct Italian. Nevertheless, it’s quite common in colloquial speech to skip complicated structures and use the simple past instead. If, as a foreigner, you know how to use the conditional and the subjunctive, it’s never wrong to say things correctly, just in case. At the same time, it’s essential to understand what someone is talking about. The conditional and past subjunctive need more words and take longer to say, and are complex as well, so more and more, in conversation, people take a shortcut and use the imperfetto.
Before reading further, can you put the above questions into correct Italian?
Here’s the answer:
Che avrei dovuto fare? Avrei dovuto accettare?
What’s needed grammatically is the conditional, but the imperfetto has become an acceptable alternative in casual conversation. This marital discussion was not the time to worry about grammar!
Here are two other examples where the imperfetto is used in place of the conditional, which would have been grammatically correct, and in any case necessary in English.
Però me la potevi passare, no?
But you could have passed her to me, no?
Caption 65, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte di un buttero Ep 8 - Part 12 of 16
Sai che potevo fare un viaggio per il Brasile?
You know, I could have gone on a trip to Brazil?
Caption 24, Francesca e Marika: Il verbo potere
Here are the grammatically correct versions:
Però, me l’avresti potuta passare, no?
Sai che avrei potuto fare un viaggio per il Brasile?
And here’s still another way to translate the imperfetto! The following example is a classic use of the imperfetto in place of a past subjunctive tense, in this case the trapassato congiuntivo. Again, it’s grammatically incorrect, but lots of people use it. The key word is se (if), which can signal a hypothetical situation and consequently the use of the congiuntivo (subjunctive).
Se sapevo che l'era l'ultima volta che lo vedevo...
If I had known that it was the last time I would see him...
Caption 44, Il Commissario Manara 1: Morte di un buttero Ep 8 - Part 14 of 16
What makes sentences like this complicated is the presence of se (if) and che (that, what), which both often take the subjunctive and/or the conditional. And there are a good two instances of che!
Here’s the more grammatically correct, but rather complex version:
Se avessi saputo che sarebbe stata l’ultima volta che l’avrei visto...
Mamma mia, it's super complex. Fortunately the imperfetto has become more and more acceptable. For more about the subjunctive and conditional see this lesson.
One English word has been largely adopted all over Italy: Shopping.
Non si deve fare shopping sulla spiaggia a fine stagione.
One shouldn't shop on the beach at the end of the season.
Caption 31, Francesca: sulla spiaggia - Part 2 of 3
Italians pronounce it with their kind of O and they give the double P some importance, but it’s recognizable.
They also use the article lo (the) since the S is phonetically “impure” (esse impuro) meaning that it’s followed by another consonant, in this case, H. For more on articles, see Daniela’s lessons.
But let’s be clear. Lo shopping is not grocery shopping. To do the grocery shopping is fare la spesa (literally, to do the spending).
Whatever you do — lo shopping to buy some new shoes, or fare la spesa to buy groceries for a dinner you are planning, it’s handy to have some words to communicate with the shopkeepers.
More and more Italians are able to communicate with tourist-shoppers in English. But to be on the safe side, let’s look at some essential vocabulary.
Prices are often indicated, but if not, you need to ask:
Quanto costa il giubbino? -Trentacinque.
How much does the jacket cost? -Thirty-five.
Caption 19, Serena: in un negozio di abbigliamento - Part 2 of 2
You won’t get arrested if you leave a store without a receipt, but it’s advisable to have it. In some places, the salesperson might try to get out of giving you a receipt, but it is your right to obtain it. Since tourists don’t necessarily know that, it’s easy to overlook it. If you need to return an item or exchange it, you will need the receipt. Sometimes you have to ask for it.
Mi dà lo scontrino per favore (can you give me a receipt, please)?
When it's offered, it's a good sign.
Grazie. -Aspetta che ti devo fare lo scontrino.
Thanks. -Wait, because I have to give you your receipt.
Caption 36, Serena: un pacchetto regalo
Most shops accept electronic payment, but at the outdoor markets, cash is more common.
If you do pay in cash, you might not have any change, especially if you got some nice crisp banconote (bills) from the Bancomat (ATM machine).
Mi dispiace, non ho spiccioli.
I'm sorry, I don't have any change.
Caption 21, Marika spiega - L'euro in Italia, con Anna
So spiccioli (with the accent on the first syllable) means "small change," but when we're talking about someone giving you change, it's a different story. Il resto does mean "the rest" but here, it means "[the rest of] what I owe you."
Ah, vabbé, non si preoccupi, ora Le do il resto. Prego.
Oh, OK, don't worry about it, now I'll give you your change. Here you are.
Caption 22, Marika spiega - L'euro in Italia, con Anna
Italians use the English word “cash” to mean “cash,” but sometimes they say "the cash" to mean la cassa, which is the cashier or check-out counter.
Dove si paga (where does one pay)?
Alla cassa (at the cash register/check-out counter).
Have you had any negative experiences in buying things on vacation in Italy? Do you have questions about shopping vocabulary or customs?
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We talked a little about reflexive personal pronouns in Ci Gets Around. They are: mi (myself), ti (yourself), ci (ourselves), si (himself/herself/itself/themselves), and vi (yourselves).
The reflexive is necessary in Italian when someone (or something) is both the doer and the receiver of an action. Reflexive pronouns will be found lurking somewhere in the sentence, or attached either to the main verb or helping verb (like fare). The reflexive is worth paying attention to because it’s used a lot more than we might think, and its presence will often change the meaning of the verb it refers to in a subtle but important way. We saw this in the lesson Making It Happen with the verb prestare.
So, for instance, if you hide something, the verb you are looking for is nascondere.
E poi, ho pensato di nascondere il corpo e...
And then, I thought of hiding the body and...
But if you are the one hiding, you’ll need the reflexive form, nascondersi (literally, to hide oneself). A marine biologist dives down to the bottom of the sea surrounding the Aeolian Islands to show us the beautiful creatures there.
Probabilmente, sta cercando una tana per nascondersi da me.
It's probably looking for a cave in order to hide from me.
Caption 22, Linea Blu: Le Eolie - Part 7 of 19
The same holds here, where avvicinare, by itself, means to move something closer. But if you add the reflexive, it’s something or someone that is getting closer.
Il prossimo che si avvicina all'acquario, m'ingoio voi e tutta la famiglia.
The next one who comes near the aquarium, I'll swallow you and the whole family.
Caption 40, Acqua in bocca: Mp3 Marino - Ep 2
When it’s all about you, you’ll use the reflexive with many of the verbs you use to talk about your daily routines.
Di solito, io mi sveglio alle sette in punto.
Usually, I wake up at seven on the dot.
Caption 4, Marika spiega: L'orologio
Sometimes fare (in its reflexive form) gets called in for an assist: instead of docciarsi (to shower), we can say farsi la doccia (to take a shower):
Mi faccio la doccia alle sette e mezza.
I take a shower at half past seven.
Caption 6, Marika spiega: L'orologio
Now you should be ready to reflect on the reflexive! Get the whole picture on reflexive verbs here. For the scoop on reflexive pronouns, you can get help here. For even more on the reflexive, see this online resource.
Try to put your daily routine into words, using the dictionary (and the above-mentioned online resources) if necessary. Maybe your routine goes something like this:
Ti svegli alle 6 di mattina ma ti addormenti di nuovo e quindi ti alzi alle sei e mezza. Ti fai un buon caffè e poi ti fai la doccia, ti lavi i denti, e ti vesti. Se fa freddo ti metti una giacca prima di uscire.* Nascondi la chiave sotto lo zerbino. Ti fai prestare un biglietto per l’autobus.
You wake up at 6 in the morning, but you fall asleep again so you get up at 6:30. You make yourself a nice cup of coffee and then you take a shower, you brush your teeth and you get dressed. If it’s cold, you put on a jacket before going out. You hide the key under the doormat. You borrow a ticket for the bus.
*More about what to wear in Marika spiega: L'abbigliamento - Part 1 of 2.
Tocca a te! (It’s your turn!)
L’alfabeto telefonico (The telephone alphabet)
Speaking on the phone in a foreign language can be quite a challenge. As Marika spells out in a lesson for beginners about the alphabet, Italians use the names of cities (for the most part) when they need to be crystal clear in spelling a name or a word.
The Italian way is to use the name of a city directly, leaving out the letter itself completely, once it’s clear you’re using this system. Notice how Marika does it, as she makes a phone reservation for a friend. The person taking the call asks her to spell the name, or fare lo spelling (to do the spelling). Spelling is a word taken pari pari (exactly as it is) from the English, except that it’s used as a noun, with its article lo.
Claudia Rossi. -Mi può fare lo spelling?
Sì, certo! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.
Claudia Rossi. -Can you spell that for me?
Yes, of course! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.
Captions 10-11 Marika spiega: Fare lo spelling
The spelling for Yabla would be: ipsilon, Ancona, Bologna, Livorno, Ancona.
Here’s the complete list of the cities generally used for spelling:
• A: Ancona
• B: Bologna
• C: Como
• D: Domodossola
• E: Empoli
• F: Firenze
• G: Genova
• H: acca, or hotel
• I: Imola
• J: i lunga, or Jolly, Jersey
• K: kappa
• L: Livorno
• M: Milano
• N: Napoli
• O: Otranto
• P: Palermo
• Q: Quarto, Quadro
• R: Roma
• S: Savona
• T: Torino
• U: Udine
• V: Varese, Venezia
• W: vu doppia, doppia vu, or Washington
• X: ics, or di raggi x (x rays)
• Y: ipsilon, y greca, or di Yacht, di York
• Z: zeta or Zara
Learn to spell your name and address using the alfabeto telefonico! Some of these cities, such as Udine, Otranto, Imola, Empoli, and Napoli are pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Domodossola is accented on the third syllable. Domodossola happens to be one of the important frontiere (border crossings) on the train line between Italy and Switzerland. Pronunciation aids along with the list (with some alternate city names) can be found here. Knowing what cities to associate with letters is especially handy if you intend to travel in Italy, so memorizing this list can be fun and useful.
We can’t always be on time, so let’s look at some of the words you need when you or someone else is late. It’s not as simple as using the Italian word tardi (late).
In a recent episode of Stai Lontana da Me there has been a little car accident. This time nobody got hurt, but Sara is going to be late for work if she’s not careful.
Però è tardi. Senti, mi dispiace, io prendo la metropolitana. Ho fatto tardi.
But it’s late. Listen, I’m sorry, I’ll take the metro. I’m running late [or “I’ve gotten delayed,” “It got late,” “I’m late.”]
Captions 10-11, Rai Cinema: Stai lontana da me - Part 11
When she says, “È tardi,” she’s talking about the hour. She has to be at work, say, at nine, and it’s already ten to nine, and she is still far from her office. Objectively speaking, it is late!
When she says “Ho fatto tardi,” she is talking about herself and the fact that she got delayed. She is late.
Telling someone not to be late is important sometimes. Here’s one way to do this:
Ciao, mamma. Io vado da Flavia. -Ciao, amore. -Non fare tardi.
Hi, Mom. I'm going to Flavia's. -Bye, love. -Don't be late.
Capton 28, Il Commissario Manara 1: Rapsodia in Blu - Ep 3 - Part 7
Another way to say you’re late is to use the phrasal adverb, in ritardo (late). Ritardo is a noun meaning “delay.”
In an episode of Commissario Manara, Manara’s boss is not happy with him per niente (at all).
Lei è in ritardo di ventiquattro ore. Si può sapere che cosa aveva da fare di così urgente?
You're twenty-four hours late. Can you let me in on what you had to do that was so urgent?
Caption 13, Il Commissario Manara 1: Sogni di Vetro - Ep 7 - Part 14
The noun il ritardo is commonly used when we apologize for being late.
Buonsera a tutti. Scusate il ritardo, ragazzi. Ma aspettavate solo me?
Good evening everyone. Sorry I'm late, guys. Were you just waiting for me?
Caption 6, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio: A corto di idee - Part 1
Both the adverb tardi and the noun ritardo also have verb forms: tardare and ritardare.
Non dovrebbe tardare ad arrivare.
It won’t be long before he arrives.
This doesn’t refer to a precise amount of time, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone or something is late. It just means they haven’t arrived yet.
The following is a bit more urgent and refers, most likely, to an agreed-upon hour.
Non ritardare, perché il film comincia puntuale.
Don’t be late, because the film starts punctually.
Here’s how we use comparatives and superlatives with tardi (late).
Vado a letto tardi il sabato sera.
I go to bed late on Saturday nights.
Più tardi means "later."
Ci vediamo più tardi.
We’ll see each other later.
Al più tardi means "at the latest."
Devi spedire questa lettera domani al più tardi.
You have to send this letter by tomorrow at the latest.
La consegna era prevista per domani, ma il pacco è arrivato in anticipo.
Delivery was scheduled for tomorrow, but the package arrived early.
Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno anticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they came back early.
Just to add a little twist, another opposite of anticipare is posticipare (postpone, to delay).
Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno posticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they postponed their return.
Attenzione! Italians do not use anticipare in the sense of “looking forward to something.” See this definition of the verb to anticipate. Definition number 2 doesn’t conform to the Italian. In fact, “looking forward to something” is difficult to say in Italian, and there is no precise translation. We will tackle this conundrum in another lesson.
To sum up
Tardi (late): With the adverb tardi, we use the verb fare when talking about someone being late. When talking about the hour, we use essere (to be).
Tardare (to be late, to run late)
Il Ritardo (the delay)
Essere, arrivare in ritardo (to be late or behind schedule)
Ritardare (to run behind schedule, to be late)
Il senso (the sense, the way, the feeling) is a very useful noun and has several meanings. Some of the meanings jibe with the English cognate “sense,” but it’s not always a perfect fit. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the wrong verb with this noun, thus saying something different from what we mean.
One of the most common ways to use senso is when it has to do with “meaning” or “sense.” Note that the verb here is avere (to have) but we translate it into English using the verb “to make.”
Scusa, eh, ma se devi stare così, mi dici che senso ha?
Excuse me, huh, but if you have to feel like this, will you tell me what sense that makes?
Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara 1: Le verità nascoste - Ep. 12 - Part 9 of 13
The response to the above question could be:
Non ha nessun senso (it doesn’t make sense at all).
Infatti, è senza senso (in fact, it doesn’t make sense, it’s senseless).
Senso also refers to one of the five senses. It also refers to “sense,” meaning “feeling” or “sensation.” The English cognate “sense” fits pretty well here and both Italian and English can use the verb “to give.”
Il secondo motivo, il più importante, è perché amo la moto e mi dà un senso di libertà.
The second reason, the most important one, is because I love my motorcycle and it gives me a sense of freedom.
Captions 28-29, Adriano: Giornata
In the following example, senso has to do with feelings but is used with the verb fare (to make). It means something entirely different from what we looked at above. It’s about feelings, but specifically negative ones, as you can see from the translation. Something gives you a sense of creepiness, repulsion, or repugnance. So, it’s important not to use the verb fare“to make” with senso unless you really mean it this way.
I topi mi fanno un senso.
Mice give me the creeps.
Caption 8, Psicovip: Il topo - Ep 22
Let’s remember that senso also means “way.” And just as “way” has various meanings, so does senso.
One very common question to ask someone is in che senso (in what way)? We ask this question when we need more details. It’s another way of saying, “What do you mean?”
No, per quello ho disposto diversamente. -In che senso?
No, for that I've distributed it differently. -In what way?
Caption 41, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 7 of 12
Just as in English, senso means “way” in traffic too.
Questa strada è a senso unico.
This is a one-way street.
In a nutshell:
Fare senso: to give a sense of repulsion, fear, or disgust
I ragni mi fanno senso.
Spiders disgust me.
Avere senso: to make sense, to have meaning
Ha senso arrivare due ore in anticipo?
Does it make sense to arrive two hours early?
Dare un senso: to give a sense, to give meaning
Ti dà un senso di sicurezza.
It gives you a sense of security.
Aiutare gli altri ti può dare un senso alla vita.
Helping others can give some meaning to your life.
Senso unico: one way
I cinque sensi: the five senses
For even more about senso, see this lesson.