Leçons Italien

Thèmes

Lessons for topic Grammar

Nothing Personal! - L'impersonale - Part 1

L'impersonale - Where's the Subject? - Part 2

L'impersonale - Si, Si, and Ci - Part 3

In a recent video lesson Marika gave us some important information about using the "impersonal" form of verbs. The form is called impersonale because, in effect, there is no mention of any person, nor is there a real subject.

The primary ingredients for cooking up the impersonale are:

si + the third person singular conjugation of a verb.

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This si does not represent a person or subject, as Marika explains, but does, for the most part, behave like one, grammatically, and uses the third person.

Since English doesn’t have a true equivalent for this form, it can be tricky to grasp, because there are different ways to interpret or translate it. 

The most immediate approach might be with “one,” a gender-neutral pronoun. It can be handy because like si, it operates in the third person singular. “One does this, one does that.”

Da questo semplice esempio, si capisce intuitivamente come procedere nella lettura delle note.

From this simple example, one understands, intuitively, how to proceed with reading the notes.

Captions 1-2, A scuola di musica con Alessio - Part 3

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This could have been translated using the second person singular:

From this simple example, you understand, intuitively, how to proceed with reading the notes.

 

As a matter of fact, the second person singular is another way to think of the impersonale, especially in an informal context. Note that in this case "you" is generic.

 

Ma è tutto buio! Non si vede nulla!

But, it's all dark! You can't see anything!

Captions 37-38, Acqua in bocca - Che caldo che fa! - Ep 10

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In some situations the impersonale corresponds to the third person plural (they) used generically, to mean “people” or “everyone”: 

 

Si dice sempre che il cane è il migliore amico dell'uomo ed è veramente così.

They always say that a dog is man's best friend, and that's really the way it is.

Caption 34, Animali domestici - Oscar

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The passive voice corresponds well to the impersonale in many cases, especially in a formal context, in that it's already impersonal:

It is said that a dog is man's best friend, and that's really the way it is.

 

Here's another case where the passive voice helps make sense of the impersonale:

Si parla inglese in tanti paesi.
English is spoken in many countries.

 

Lastly, sometimes the impersonale corresponds best to the imperative, or command form, where the pronoun is absent:

Si prega di non fumare.
Please refrain from smoking.

 

This is not the whole story! We'll be back with more about verbs in the impersonal + plural objects, and verbs in the impersonal + reflexive verbs.

 

Practice:

Complete these sentences using the impersonal form of the verbs provided. Then try your hand at finding the English translation that sounds best to you (there may be more than one). 

cominciare (to begin) ___________ alle undici.
guidare (to drive) A Londra ____________ a sinistra.
fumare (to smoke) Non ______________ a scuola.
scrivere (to write) Come ______________ il tuo nome?
andare (to go) Non ____________ a scuola la domenica.
fare (to do, to make) Come ____________ il risotto?
parlare 
(to speak) In Francia _____________ il francese.
dovere (to have to, should) Non ____________ sprecare l'acqua.
finire (to finish) Non ___________ mai di imparare.

Here's an example to get you started:

cantare (to sing) In un coro  ___________ .
In un coro si canta. (In a choir you sing/In a choir one sings).

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Answers will be provided in next week's lesson. (There will be a link when next lesson is online.) 

Continuer la lecture

Where's the Subject? - L'impersonale Part 2

L'impersonale - Nothing Personal! - Part 1

L'impersonale - Si, Si, and Ci - Part 3

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We're continuing on about the impersonale. Review last week's lesson here. So far we've been dealing with intransitive verbs (verbs having no object):

Si guida a sinistra (you drive on the left).

and verbs taking singular objects:

Si mangia la pasta a pranzo (people eat pasta at lunch).

But when the "impersonal" verb refers to an object in the plural, such as pietanze (dishes) in the example below, the verb must agree not with its subject, because there isn't one, but with its object. Therefore it, too, must be in the (third person) plural: Pietanze is plural, so mangiano is plural. There are a few different ways to translate this in English:

 

Io la Vigilia di Natale la passo in famiglia ... verso le sette, ci si mette a cena, e si mangiano pietanze a base di pesce.

I spend Christmas Eve with my family ... around seven, we sit down to dinner, and one eats dishes with fish as their basis.

Captions 3-5, Marika spiega - La Vigilia di Natale

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More possible options:

On Christmas Eve, seafood dishes are eaten.
On Christmas Eve, people eat seafood dishes.

If we were to change the object into a singular one like pesce (fish), our impersonal verb would change as well:

A Natale si mangia il pesce.
At Christmas fish is eaten.

This little word si can cause all sorts of chaos for learners, but little by little, you'll get it sorted out. 

This week, Daniela starts talking about reflexive verbs. Part 2 will follow next week. Pay close attention so that when we combine the impersonal with the reflexive, it will make more sense!

The following are some answers and possible translations for the exercise in last week's lesson.

cominciare (to begin) Si comincia alle undici.
It starts at eleven o'clock. 
We're starting at eleven.

guidare (to drive) A Londra si guida a sinistra.
In London, you drive on the left.
In London, one drives on the left.
In London, people drive on the left.

fumare (to smoke) Non si fuma a scuola.
You don't smoke at school.
People aren't allowed to smoke in school.
One doesn't smoke at school.
Don't smoke at school.

scrivere (to write) Come si scrive il tuo nome?
How do do you write your name?
How is your name written?

andare (to go) Non si va a scuola la domenica.
You don't go to school on Sundays.
We don't go to school on Sundays.
Kids don't go to school on Sundays.

fare (to do, to make) Come si fa il risotto?
How do you make risotto?
How does one make risotto?
How is risotto made?

parlare (to speak) In Francia si parla il francese.
In France, French is spoken.
In France, they speak French.
In France, you speak French.
In France, speak French!

dovere (to have to, should) Non si deve sprecare l'acqua.
dovere (to have to, should) Non si dovrebbe sprecare l'acqua.
One shouldn't waste water.
You shouldn't waste water.
People shouldn't waste water.
Water shouldn't get wasted.

finire (to finish) Non si finisce mai di imparare.
You never stop learning.
One never stops learning.
We never stop learning.

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Little by little you'll become familiar with the different contexts for using the impersonal verbs with si. Tune in next week for the last part, when we combine the reflexive and the impersonal.
 

Continuer la lecture

Getting Adjectives to Behave - Part 2

See also: Getting Adjectives to Behave - Part 1

In a previous lesson, and in Daniela's video lesson, we talked about aggettivi positivi, meaning those adjectives that end in o and change their endings according to gender and number. An example of this kind of adjective is grosso (big).

Mio padre è un uomo grosso (my father is a big man).
La casa di mia zia è grossa (my aunt's house is big).
Questi due alberi sono grossi (these two trees are big).
Quelle melanzane sono grosse (those eggplants are big).

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If you've gotten the hang of positive adjectives, you might instinctively put an e ending on the adjective when you're talking about a feminine noun in the plural. 

Quelle donne sono belle (those women are beautiful).

The other kind of adjective, called an aggettivo neutro, ends in e. In the singular, it stays the same, ending in e regardless of whether the noun it modifies is masculine or feminine.

 

E... mi ha reso una donna forte, una donna indipendente, autonoma.

And... she made me a strong woman, an independent woman, free.

Caption 69, Essere... madre

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If we put this sentence in the masculine the adjective stays the same: 

Mi ha reso un uomo forte...
She made me a strong man...

But what about the plural? The adjective forte (strong) already ends in e, so what do we do? The answer is that in the plural, regardless of whether it's masculine or feminine, the e changes to an i.

This is easy in a way—only two different endings to think about instead of four—but it's not always so easy to remember, and may come less naturally. In the following example, maniera (way, manner) is a feminine noun. The plural article le helps us discover that. We form the plural of the noun by changing the a to e, and since the singular adjective ends in e, we change it to i in the plural. So far so good.

 

Però, oh, con voi ci vogliono le maniere forti, sennò non capite.

But, oh, with you strong measures are needed, otherwise you don't get it.

Caption 15, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 13

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Attenzione però (and here's where the adjectives misbehave), because a feminine noun may also end in e. In this case, the plural of the noun ends in i, and a neutral adjective will also end in i. If you don't happen to know the gender of corrente (current) in the following example, the plural noun and plural adjective may lead you to believe that it's masculine. 

 

L'incontro tra i due mari produce infatti forti correnti.

The meeting of the two seas produces, in fact, strong currents.

Caption 31, Linea Blu - Sicilia - Part 2

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Fortunately, in the next example, the speaker uses the article!

 

In questo tratto di mare numerosi infatti erano gli affondamenti nel passato, a causa delle forti correnti che si scontrano con violenza.

In this stretch of sea, there were numerous shipwrecks in the past, because of the strong currents that collide violently.

Captions 35-36, Linea Blu - Sicilia - Part 5

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Here, we've learned from the feminine plural ending of delle (of the), that corrente is a feminine noun, but who knew?

One more reason to learn the article along with the noun!

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See these Yabla videos for more about nouns: their genders and their plurals.

 

Corso di italiano con Daniela: Articoli maschili plurale 
Corso di italiano con Daniela: Articolo femminile plurale
Corso di italiano con Daniela: Articoli ed eccezioni

Marika spiega: Genere maschile
Marika spiega: Genere femminile
Marika spiega: Il plurale
 

Continuer la lecture

When Is an Adjective Not an Adjective?

In Italian, as in English, there are past participles that are also adjectives.

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Let's take the example of verbs rompere (to break) and vendere (to sell), which are both transitive verbs (verbs that take a direct object), and take avere as an auxiliary verb.

In the first example, we have the masculine noun il vaso (the vase). The adjective and the past participle are identical: rotto.

Hai rotto il vaso (you broke the vase or, you've broken the vase). 
L'hai rotto (you broke it, or you've broken it).
Ora è rotto (now it's broken).

In the next example, la casa (the house) is feminine, so the ending of venduto/venduta will change when we use a pronoun in place of la casa, and when we use it as an adjective, which has to agree with the noun casa (feminine in this case).

Hai venduto la casa (you sold your house). 
L'hai venduta (you sold it, or you've sold it).
È venduta (it's sold).

The verbs in the above examples take avere (to have) as a helping verb. When we have a verb that takes essere (to be) as a helping verb, like morire (to die), it can cause confusion, because the participle and the adjective look totally identical, including the verb essere (to be), but their function, and consequently their translation, are in fact slightly different.

In this week's episode of Commissario Manara, someone, as usual, has died, and is therefore dead. In English there are two distinct words, but in Italian the word is the same. 

In the first example below, morto (dead) is an adjective:

 

È morto da almeno tre giorni.

He's been dead at least three days.

Caption 20, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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But morto is also the participio passato (past participle) of the (irregular) verb morire.

 

E allora come è morto?

So how did he die?

Caption 2, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

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The context will help you determine which translation to use, but it can be a bit ambiguous.

 

To add a bit of confusion, morto can also be used as a noun: il morto (the dead man, the dead person). In this case, there will be an article.

 

Le posso spiegare tutto, però non subito perché c'è un morto che ci aspetta.

I can explain everything to you, but not right now because there's a dead man waiting for us.

Caption 5, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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In the case of morto as a noun, it tends to be masculine, but if we know the dead person is a woman, it's correct to say una morta, or if there are multiple dead people, i morti

 

La morte (death) is not a pleasant subject, but it's important to know how to talk about it. Unfortunately, it's a word that's used too often oggigiorno (these days).

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Further practice:
Do a Yabla search of morto, and try to determine whether it's an adjective, a participle, or a noun.  Let the context help you.
 

Continuer la lecture

Getting Adjectives to Behave - Part 1

See also: Getting Adjectives to Behave - Part 2

In Italian, gender and number affect not only a noun and its article, but also the adjective describing the noun. We looked at some special cases in a previous lesson, which Daniela also discusses in her lesson series. But let's get back to general adjective behavior.

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Adjectives fall into two categories: positivi (positive) and neutri (neutral). In simplistic terms, it's a way of dividing them according to their endings: o or e

 

In this video lesson, Daniela starts out with the most common kind of adjective. She calls it an aggettivo positivo (positive adjective). It’s the kind of adjective that in its basic form (masculine singular), ends in o. Many of us are already familiar with this type: bello (beautiful, nice), piccolo (small), grasso (fat), magro (thin), alto (high, tall), buono (good), and so on. This kind of adjective matches up with its nouns in all four kinds of endings: masculine singular, masculine plural, feminine singular, and feminine plural. 

 

Allora, quando parlo di aggettivo positivo vuol dire che un aggettivo positivo è quello che ha tutte e quattro le finali.

So, when I talk about positive adjectives, it means that a positive adjective is one that has all four endings.

Captions 41-42, Corso di italiano con Daniela Aggettivi positivi e neutri - Part 1

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These adjectives are easy to deal with because they are entirely predictable: the masculine singular ends in o. The masculine plural ends in i, the feminine singular ends in a, and the feminine plural ends in e, just like many of the nouns they describe:

Masculine singular:
Il vestito è bello (the dress is beautiful).
Masculine plural:
I vestiti sono belli (the dresses are beautiful).
Feminine singular:
La gonna è bella (the skirt is nice).
Feminine plural:
Le gonne sono belle (the skirts are nice).

 

It’s important to know the gender of the nouns you are describing. The good news is that much of the time the gender is easily determined by looking at the ending of a noun, as Daniela explains in this video lesson.

 

Even if the noun is absent but implied, as when you tell someone they look nice, the rule still applies!

If you’re talking to a man:
Sei bello (you're handsome).
If you’re talking to a woman:
Sei bella (you're beautiful).
If you're talking to two men:
Siete belli (you're [both] handsome).
If you're talking to two women:
Siete belle (you're [both] beautiful).
If you're talking to a man and a woman:*
Siete belli (you're [both] beautiful).

*Masculine reigns, even though it seems unfair. 

 

It's easy to know the gender when referring to people. But don't forget that not only people have gender, but every kind of noun.

Il tavolo è alto (the table is high).
I materassi sono duri (the mattresses are hard).
La sedia è comoda (the chair is comfortable).
Le finestre sono aperte (the windows are open).

 

You can see why, when learning a new noun, it’s a good idea to learn the article along with it. "Positive" adjectives are the easiest ones to use, so they're a good place to start for understanding noun-adjective agreement. 

 

Further practice:
After viewing a Yabla video, check out the Vocabulary Review. You’ll recognize the nouns, because most of them will have articles attached to them, whether singular or plural. Check out the adjectives, too. Can you pick out the positive ones? Hint: they'll end in o, because they're given in the masculine singular. While you're at it, why not go through the other endings (masculine plural, feminine singular, and plural) for each positive adjective you find? 

 

Stay on the lookout for a lesson on aggettivi neutri, coming soon on Yabla. They're the adjectives that end in e, and they aren't quite as well-behaved as the aggettivi positivi.

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Just in case you're getting discouraged:
Learning to speak correctly is important, but remember, communication is the real key. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble getting it all straight. For people coming from languages where gender is nonexistent, it’s a huge challenge to get genders right all the time, not to mention grasping how adjectives work. Don’t let your doubts stop you from using your new language skills.
 

Continuer la lecture

Those Pesky Possessive Adjectives

Becoming comfortable using possessive adjectives and personal pronouns in Italian can be a challenge because they work a bit differently then they do in other languages. To learn about them with Daniela, check out her series of lessons about possessive adjectives:

Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi 

 

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An important thing to remember regarding possessive adjectives is that Italian uses both an article and an adjective (think: the my book), which certainly takes some getting used to. So, "my book" would be: il mio libro. But there's an important exception. Daniela explains that family members get special treatment in terms of possessive adjectives:

 

Regola generale: l'aggettivo possessivo in italiano vuole sempre l'articolo, tranne in un caso, quando parlo della famiglia, della mia famiglia, dei miei parenti stretti in singolare. In questo caso non voglio l'articolo. Non dico: il mio padre, la mia madre. Dico: mio padre, mia madre.

General rule: the possessive adjective in Italian always needs the article except in one case, when I talk about the family, about my family, about my close relatives in the singular. In this case I don't want the article. I don't say: the my father, the my mother. I say: my father, my mother.

Captions 44-50, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Aggettivi Possessivi - Part 6

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There is also another special case: an exception to the exception. When the nouns denoting family members become altered nouns (see this lesson about altered nouns), as in sorellina (little sister) instead of sorella (sister), or mamma (mom) rather than madre (mother), we put back the article!

Ho fatto una passeggiata con la mia sorellinaMio fratello ci ha accompagnato.
I went for a walk with my little sisterMy brother came with us.

See this article about mamma (not a totally clear cut case) and other family terms of endearment. 

See this chart about possessive adjectives, summing up in English what Daniela has been talking about in Italian.

Here are some exercises to test your comprehension:

Try this online exercise.
Do a short quiz.
Take another short quiz.

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Possessive adjectives are just plain tricky. Not only do you need to know the rules, but you need to get plenty of practice before they become second nature, so be patient with yourselves and you will slowly but surely start getting these pesky possessive adjectives right, more often than wrong! 

Continuer la lecture

Two Words in One, with a Catch: Perché

When someone asks you perché? (why?), you can recycle the same word in your response because perché also means “because”! Yes, two in one! Let’s look at the following example, where Daniela is asking her students to justify using one article over another. Make sure to look at the context and listen to the inflection!

 

L'articolo è uno. Uno scontrino, perché?

The article is "uno." "Uno scontrino" (a receipt). Why?

Perché la parola inizia per s più consonante.

Because the word starts with "s" plus a consonant.

Captions 54-56, Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo

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So perché actually has two grammatical forms. One is as an adverb meaning “for what reason.” It’s used in forming a question:

Perché l’hai interrogato?
Why did you interrogate him?

The other grammatical form of perché is a “causal conjunction” meaning “because.” It’s used to introduce the cause when it follows the effect (which might be simply implied as in our first example above). If we use a full sentence to respond to the above question, it might go something like this:

L’ho interrogato perché non l’hai fatto tu!
I interrogated him because you didn’t do it!

In the above example, “I interrogated him” is the effect and “you didn’t do it” is the cause, so perché (because) goes in the middle: effect-perché-cause. 

But here’s the catch. If you want to put the cause first, such as when you’re explaining yourself without being asked, or elaborating on your reasons, then things change in Italian. In English you could technically start your full sentence answer with the cause, using “because.”

Because you didn’t interrogate him, I did.

However, in Italian you cannot use perché in this case. The word to go to is siccome (because, as, given that, whereas, or since), used exclusively to introduce the cause when it precedes the effect: siccome-cause-effect. Siccome and perché have similar meanings but are not interchangeable within the structure of the sentence. This may seem complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it will become natural. Here’s an example in context, where Lara is explaining her actions to Luca Manara.

 

Ginevra deve essere iscritta nella lista degli indagati e deve essere interrogata,

Ginevra must be recorded on the list of suspects and has to be interrogated,

e siccome non lo fai tu lo faccio io, tutto qui.

and because you're not doing it, I'm doing it, that's all.

Captions 17-19, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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In the above example you could replace “because” with “given that,” "as," “whereas,” or “since.” But you can’t replace siccome with perché!

As your Italian becomes more fluent, you’ll find siccome to be extremely handy when you’re telling stories and explaining things. There are other similar words to call on as well, but we’ll save them for another time.

 

Learning suggestion:
To get a feel for perché in both of its two contrasting but related meanings, “why” and “because,” check out their occurrences in Yabla videos (and figure out which is which). Do a search with siccome to get acquainted with it, and hear it in context. Then, to really grasp the mechanism, ask yourself some questions, and answer them. Get used to using perché as both the question “why” and the answer “because.” Then, elaborate on your answers using siccome and perché according to how you structure your sentence. Don’t forget the accent on perché!

 

Here’s a head start:

Perché sei così nervoso?
-Perché... è una storia lunga. Siccome avevo dimenticato di caricare la sveglia ieri sera, stamattina mi sono alzata tardi. E siccome avevo un appuntamento alle nove, non avevo tempo per fare colazione. Farò colazione al bar, perché ora ho fame. Dopo mi sentirò meglio, perché avrò la pancia piena. Siccome la pancia sarà piena, mi sentirò molto meglio.

Why are you so tense?
-Because... it’s a long story. Since I had forgotten to set the alarm last night, this morning I got up late. And because I had an appointment at nine, I didn’t have time for breakfast. I’ll have breakfast at the coffee shop because now I’m hungry. Afterwards I’ll feel better, because my stomach will be full. Since my stomach will be full, I’ll feel better.

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To enhance your skills, make sure you practice ad alta voce (out loud), too. 

Perché? Perché sì!

Continuer la lecture

Verbs of Uncertainty and the Subjunctive

We talked about the subjunctive together with the conditional in a previous lesson. But there are other cases in which we need to use what’s called il congiuntivo (subjunctive mood). Certain verbs, usually having to do with some kind of uncertainty, “kick off” the subjunctive. This means that they are conjugated normally in the indicative themselves, but if they precede a conjunction like che (that), then the subjunctive comes into play with the verb that follows.

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These particular verbs express wishes, thoughts, beliefs, worries, and doubts. Here are some of them:

accettare (to accept), amare (to love), aspettare (to wait), assicurarsi (to insure), attendere (to wait for), augurare (to wish for), chiedere (to ask), credere (to believe), desiderare (to desire), disporre (to arrange), domandare (to ask), dubitare (to doubt), esigere (to require), fingere (to make believe), illudersi (to delude oneself), immaginare (to imagine), lasciare (to leave), negare (to negate), permettere (to permit), preferire (to prefer), pregare (to pray), pretendere (to expect), rallegrarsi (to rejoice), ritenere (to retain), sospettare (to suspect), sperare (to hope), supporre (to suppose), temere (to fear), volere (to want).

It’s a daunting (and partial) list, but you can learn them gradually, on a need-to-know basis.

The issue of the subjunctive arises when we have a main clause and a dependent clause. The two clauses, or parts of the sentence, are often connected by che (that). There are other conjunctions, but once you learn how to use che, it’ll be easier to use the other conjunctions.

Let’s focus on a relatively simple sentence from this informative and popular Yabla interview with Silvia D’Onghia, a journalist, who obviously loves her job. At the end she says:

 

Credo che sia il lavoro più bello del mondo.

I believe that it's the greatest job in the world.

Caption 58, Professioni e mestieri - Silvia D'Onghia, giornalista

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Note that in English no subjunctive is necessary here, and we could leave out “that.” Sia is simply the subjunctive of essere in the present tense. If you look at any conjugation chart, for example here, the subjunctive conjugation is the same in the first, second familiar, and third persons. Silvia’s comment provides us with a convenient formula to work with:

verb kicking off the subjunctive (credere) + che + verb in the subjunctive (essere)

Try using different verbs from the list above in place of credere. You can have fun with this while trying to have the sentence make sense. You’re simply replacing the main verb (conjugated normally), while the rest of the sentence stays the same. The idea is to get used to using the subjunctive so that it feels natural to you when using the appropriate verbs. Once it feels natural, you can go on to change other elements of the model sentence.

We can easily change the person in the main clause (this time it’s a reflexive verb!), but the subjunctive part of the sentence stays the same as in the model:

Ci illudiamo che sia il lavoro più bello del mondo.
We’re deluding ourselves that it’s the greatest job in the world.

Spera che sia il lavoro più bello del mondo.
She hopes that it’s the greatest job in the world.

Advanced learners might want to replace the verb in the subjunctive with fare (to do, to make) or avere (to have), for example:

Credo che faccia il lavoro più bello...
I believe that I do the greatest job...

Or:

I believe that he does the greatest job...

 

Credo che abbia il lavoro più bello...
I believe that I have the greatest job

Or:

I believe that she has the greatest job...

As mentioned above, the subjunctive is the same in the third person and the first person (which makes it easy, but can also cause confusion). You can add the personal pronoun for clarity if need be:

Credo che lui abbia il lavoro più bello...
I believe that he has the greatest job...

 

Further exploration:
Do a Yabla search of sia. Does che or some other conjunction precede it? Look for the verb that kicks it off. You’ll recognize many of the verbs from the list above.

Noi di Yabla speriamo che tu abbia capito questa piccola lezione sui verbi che prendono il congiuntivo, ma immaginiamo che non sia facilissima da mettere in pratica. Desideriamo che tutti voi siate felici di imparare con noi!

We at Yabla hope that you have understood this little lesson about verbs that take the subjunctive, but we can imagine that it isn’t all that easy to put into practice. We would like you all to be happy to learn with us!

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Continuer la lecture

The Gender Gap

In foreign languages, gender (in its grammatical sense) goes way beyond the masculine, feminine (and sometimes neuter) equivalents of “the.” Gender affects not only articles, but pronouns, adjectives, and participles of verbs as well. Added to this is the fact that certain nouns take a masculine article even though they might apply to a woman and vice versa. Over the years, some denominations have changed based on women filling roles previously held only by men, and vice versa, and also by simple changes in usage. It can be daunting.

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For starters, let’s talk about a word that’s feminine but applies to everyone: la persona (the person). However masculine a person might be, he’s a person, and persona is feminine! For Italians this doesn’t cause any psychological problems... it’s just a matter of grammar. In the following example, Charles is clearly un uomo (a man), but he’s a persona, too. We can’t see the ending of the article, because it’s elided, but we know it’s “la” because the adjective ultimo (last) has a feminine “a” ending to agree with its feminine noun, persona. In fact even questa (this) as a modifier has to agree with the feminine persona

 

Charles Ferrant. Questa è l'ultima persona che ha visto il Conte.

Charles Ferrant. This is the last person who saw the Count.

Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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There’s a fun example of gender ambiguity in the very first episode of Commissioner Manara, Part 4. At police headquarters, Manara is told that the new inspector is in the other room. What makes it fun is that “inspector” is a masculine noun in Italian. The viewer is led to expect a man, not only because ispettore takes a masculine article, but because, at least in the past, it’s always been a position more often filled by men than women (although in part 3 we are introduced to ispettore Sardi, a woman). Ispettrice as a feminine form of ispettore does exist, but Sardi doesn’t use it, and it doesn’t appear in the dictionary.

 

È arrivato il nuovo ispettore, l'esperto di scena del crimine.

The new Inspector has arrived, the crime scene expert.

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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The noun esperto is also masculine (although some dictionaries do admit the feminine version esperta). In fact, if we use esperto as a noun, it’s masculine (most of the time, even referring to women) but if we use it as an adjective, it must agree with the person. So, if we’re talking about a woman, we’ll say: 

È molto esperta.


She’s very skilled.

To add to the ambiguity, much of the time pronouns are left out altogether, so it’s impossible to say whether the inspector is a he or a she.

 

Ma adesso è di là e sta familiarizzando con i colleghi.

But now he's in there getting to know his co-workers.

Caption 51, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Yabla has chosen to have the translation pronoun agree with ispettore, to maintain the dramatic surprise upon discovering that the inspector is a woman, but it could just as well have agreed with the person the speaker knows is a woman, and been translated as “she.”

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Further study:

For some simple but thorough explanations of grammatical gender see this article. Have another look at Lesson 15, A Few Words About “Some” (Qualche and Alcuni) where, towards the end, there’s some talk of gender when using modifiers. Grammatical gender is a subject that will keep coming up, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, when you learn a new word, learn its article at the same time. In most cases the vocabulary reviews connected with the video include the articles with the nouns. Approfittane! (Take advantage of it!)  

 

Continuer la lecture

Learning to Say You're Sorry

Sometimes saying you’re sorry is a quick thing, because you did something like bumping into someone by accident. In Italian, depending on how you say it, you might have to make a quick decision: How well do I know this person, and how formal should I be? 

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The familiar form is scusami (excuse me), or simply scusa. Grammatically speaking, we’re using the imperative form of scusare (to excuse). If you look at the conjugation of scusare, you’ll see that it’s conjugated like other verbs ending in -are (soon to be explained by Daniela in her popular grammar lesson series!). You’ll also see that it’s easy to get things mixed up. 

 

Learning conjugations can be daunting, but it’s worth learning the imperatives of scusare, since it’s a verb you’ll need in many situations. While you’re at it, you might do the same with perdonare (to pardon, to forgive), which conjugates the same way, and can have a similar meaning, as in the following situation where Marika is pretending to be distracted.

 

Perdonami, scusami tanto, ma ero sovrappensiero.

Forgive me, really sorry, but I was lost in thought.

Caption 25, Marika e Daniela - Il verbo chiedere

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It can be helpful to remember that in the familiar form, the mi (me) gets tacked onto the end of the verb: scusami, perdonami (and in the familiar second person plural: scusatemi, perdonatemi). But when using the polite form you need to put the mi first, making two words: mi scusi, mi perdoni

 

Signora mi scusi, Lei è parente della vittima?

Madam, excuse me, are you a relative of the victim?

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

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Attenzione! If you ask a friend to forgive you, the question is: mi perdoni? If instead you’re saying “pardon me” to a stranger, it’s mi perdoni (and is not a question, but a command). It all has to do with inflection and context. 

Sono in ritardo, mi perdoni?

I’m late. Will you forgive me?

Mi perdoni, non ho sentito il Suo nome.

Pardon me, I didn’t hear your name.

In many cases, you can use the generic chiedo scusa (I ask for pardon, I ask forgiveness). This way, no worries about complicated conjugations!

On Italian TV interviews are conducted using the polite form of address, but in this case the intervistatore  (interviewer) knows the intervistato (interviewee) Tiziano Terzani very well, and would like to make an exception.

 

Chiedo scusa ai telespettatori se userò il "tu" con lui.

I'll ask the television audience for forgiveness if I use the "tu" form with him.

Captions 24-25, Tiziano Terzani - Cartabianca

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Another way to say you’re sorry is mi dispiace (I’m sorry), often shortened to mi spiace (I’m sorry), which is a bit weightier than “excuse me” and doesn’t necessarily involve the other person pardoning you. 

 

Mi spiace, ma qualcuno doveva pur dirvelo. Questa è la realtà.

I'm sorry, but someone had to say it to you. This is the reality.

Captions 74-75, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio - A corto di idee

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Mi dispiace is used even when it’s not at all a question of asking pardon, such as when we hear about a disgrazia (adversity, terrible loss). In the following example, the father is using lasciare (to leave) to mean his daughter has died. Notice the plural ending of the participle (normally lasciato) that agrees with ci (us).

 

Angela ci ha lasciati. -Mi dispiace.

Angela's left us. -I'm sorry.

Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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There’s much more to say about being sorry, and about using the verb dispiacere. Ci dispiace (we’re sorry), but it will have to wait for another lesson. A presto!

Continuer la lecture

Che sarà sarà

The future tense with conjunctions: A will-will situation


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

 

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

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

Caption 34, Francesca - neve - Part 2

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

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

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

Ho appena finito.

I just finished.

Si vedeva appena.

One could barely see it. 

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

Mi chiamerà appena starà meglio.

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

Mi chiamerà non appena starà meglio.

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

Or,

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

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

Appena starà meglio, mi chiamerà. 

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

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

Or,

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

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

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

 

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

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

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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

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

Attenzione! Occasionally finché non will be used in speech without “non,” but will still clearly mean “until.” The context will clue you in. If you watch this video about Fellini, you’ll come across an example of this in caption 17.

 

Finché viene il giorno della partenza.

Until the day of departure arrives.

Caption 17, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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Learning suggestion:

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

Non appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

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

Appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

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

Non farò i compiti finché non avrò finito di mangiare. 

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

Finché starò a tavola, non penserò ai compiti.

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

Se non avrò finito di mangiare, non potrò cominciare.

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

Quando avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.

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

Continuer la lecture

The Future is Now (Probably)!

In this lesson, we're going to talk about the future tense in Italian, and how it's used, not just for the future, but also for probability.

In our first example, Federico Fellini is talking about a future meeting with Ingmar Bergman, and as you can see from the translation, he uses the verb essere in its future tense in a straightforward way. He has no doubts about the outcome: It’s going to be stimulating!

 

Io penso che l'incontro fra lui e me sarà veramente molto stimolante.

I think that the encounter between him and me will be really very stimulating.

Caption 37, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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In this next example, however, the verb essere is again used in the future tense, but here it means something completely different! In fact, one of the uses of the future tense in Italian is to express a supposition, probability, uncertainty, or doubt. In this case, the element of time is no longer taken into consideration and is replaced by a kind of conditional mood (appunto, the future is now—probably).

 

Guarda, stamattina ho appetito. Sarà l'aria di campagna...

Look, this morning I have an appetite. It must be the country air...

Captions 21-22, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Although this special use can be applied to any verb, it’s most common with essere and avere. In Un medico in famiglia, Lele is reassuring his daughter, Maria, about the future. He’s sure!

 

Sono sicuro che ti piacerà la nuova scuola e avrai un sacco di nuovi amichetti.

I am sure you will like the new school and you will have a lot of new playmates.

Captions 11-12, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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But here, the signora is just making a good guess as to how hungry her passenger Alessio is.

 

Avrai fame immagino, sì? Andiamo?

You must be hungry, I'd imagine, right? Shall we go?

Captions 14-15, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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In her Yabla newscast, Marika is giving us some very suspicious news from another planet, and she expresses her consternation:

 

Sarà vero?

Could it be true?

Caption 47, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo

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Another way to ask the above question would be: potrebbe essere vero? (could it be true?) or even può essere vero? (can it be true?). But more often than not, the future tense will be used when talking about probability in the present, or even in the past (together with a participle), as in the following example, where there’s uncertainty in retrospect.

 

Non lo so. Sarà stata una buona idea farlo venire qua?

I don't know. Was it such a good idea to have him come here?

Captions 30-31, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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Here are a couple more examples to give you an idea.  

In an episode of Un medico in famiglia, the family members are wondering what Cetinka is about to take out of her suitcase:

 

Che è, che sarà? -Non lo so!

What is it, what could it be? -I don't know!

Caption 54, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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In a lively discussion between Lara and her zia about Ginevra, the attractive medical examiner, the aunt defends Commissario Manara, which infuriates Lara even more.

 

E Luca la sta coprendo! -Avrà le sue buone ragioni, eh!

And Luca is covering for her! -He must have a good reason, huh!

Captions 40-41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Learning suggestion:

As you watch and listen to Yabla videos, notice how the future tense is used. You may be surprised at how often it is used to express probability, supposition, or uncertainty. And as you go about your day, maybe talking to yourself in Italian, use the future tense of essere or avere to wonder about things and their probability. Sometimes you may really be wondering about the future, as in:

Sarà una bella giornata?

Will it be a nice day?

But other times you may just be conjecturing:

Sarà una brava persona, ma dal suo comportamento non sembra proprio.

He may be a good person, but from his behavior it certainly doesn’t seem like it.

Sento bussare alla porta. Sarà il postino.

I hear someone knocking at the door. It’s probably the postman.

Perché non è ancora arrivato? Avrà avuto un contrattempo!

Why hasn’t he come yet? He must have had a setback.

So as you can see, in Italian, the future can be right now!

Continuer la lecture

A Grammatical Look at Giving Gifts

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

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

 

Voglio farti un regalo

I want to give you a gift

Caption 1, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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

 

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna

I'd like to give your smile to the moon

Caption 9, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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

 

Vorrei mi facessi un regalo

I would like you to give me a gift

Un sogno inespresso

An unexpressed dream

Donarmelo adesso

To give it to me now

Captions 18-20, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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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.

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Learning suggestion:

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

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

Continuer la lecture

A Few Words About “Some” (Qualche and Alcuni)

Let's talk about two different ways to say "some" in Italian. While they can mean the same thing, they are used in different ways, so let's dig in.

 

Qualche

Master chef Gualtiero Marchesi is talking about one of the most famous northern Italian recipes, risotto alla milanese, and the symbolic meaning of the saffron that gives it a special color and taste:

 

Il giallo dello zafferano era, in qualche modo, il giallo dell'oro.

The yellow of saffron was, in some way, the yellow of gold.

Caption 21, L'arte della cucina - Terre d'Acqua

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In qualche modo (in some way) could also have been translated as “in a way” or “in some ways.” Qualche is purposely ambiguous and implies a small, unspecified quantity that could even be just one.

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Despite its often plural meaning, qualche must always be followed by a noun in the singular. Let’s see this word in context as we put the finishing touches on a fancy dish. Goccia (drop) is singular but the meaning is plural, by just a little bit.

 

Condiremo con un pochino di sale fino, del pepe nero, qualche goccia di succo di limone, dell'olio di oliva extravergine delicato.

We'll season with a little fine salt, some black pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, some delicate extra virgin olive oil.

Captions 12-15, Battuta di Fassone - in Insalata Chef

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Qualche is very user friendly.

You don’t need to know the plural or even the gender of the word you are modifying. You just need to remember to use a singular noun following it!

 

Alcuni/Alcune

Now let’s look at another way to say “some” or “a few”: alcuni and alcune. Unlike qualche, which is quite close to a singular quantity, alcuni and alcune, although not specific, are clearly plural. In fact, the nouns they modify appear in the plural, and, like articles and other adjectives, these modifiers change their endings according to the gender. Alcuni modifies masculine nouns and alcune modifies feminine nouns. 

 

Alessio Berti has a few dishes to show us: 

 

Adesso vi farò vedere alcuni piatti di semplice realizzazione eh de'... della nostra carta.

Now I'm going to show you some dishes that are simple to make, um from... from our menu.

Captions 3-4, Ricette dolci - Crème brûlée alla banana

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And where can we find the milk for this delicious crème brûlée? 

 

Spesso, in alcune fattorie, puoi trovare dei prodotti caseari.

Often, on some farms, you can find dairy products.

Caption 18, Marika spiega - Gli animali della fattoria

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Note that while qualche is always followed by the word it modifies, alcuni/alcune can stand alone as a kind of pronoun, much like its English counterparts (some, a few). To determine which ending to employ, we refer to the gender of the modified noun, even if it's absent. We see this in the following example, where sculptor Claudio Capotondi is talking about his studio full of marble, drawings, models, and whatnot.

 

Ci sono vari bozzetti, progetti, che sono sedimentati nel tempo, alcuni realizzati, altri...

There are many small-scale models, projects, that have been accumulated over time, some completed, others...

Captions 9-11, Claudio Capotondi - Scultore

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Qualche and alcuni/alcune can only be used with countable nouns in Italian. We’ll work with uncountable nouns in a future lesson. For now, follow these rules: To be vague, use qualche, which always goes with a singular noun even when its meaning is plural. To be more clearly plural, use alcuni or alcune alone or with a plural noun whose gender tells us which to use. 

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Learning suggestion:

To practice using these modifiers, try swapping qualche and alcuni/alcune wherever they occur. There are situations where one is more common than the other, and you’ll gradually get a feel for it. Visit wordreference.com to get some input on phrases with qualche, and don’t forget to have a look at the long list of forum threads about this word. See this blog about alcuni and qualche.

Continuer la lecture

Reflections on the Reflexive

We talked a little about reflexive personal pronouns in Ci Gets Around. They are: mi (myself), ti (yourself), ci (ourselves), si (himself/herself/itself/themselves), and vi (yourselves). 

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The reflexive is necessary in Italian when someone (or something) is both the doer and the receiver of an action. In the dictionary, a reflexive verb is presented with si joined to the end of the infinitive (and the final e is omitted). For example, we have the transitive form of the verb alzare (to raise) but when it's reflexive, we have alzarsi (to get up, to rise).

 

When we conjugate a reflexive verb, the si will change into a different reflexive pronoun according to the person, and it will be detached from the verb (but close by). 

 

mi alzo

ti alzi 

si alza

ci alziamo

vi alzate

si alzano

 

Let's remember that the conjugation of the verb tells us who is involved. It includes the subject pronoun. So I could also say, although it would be redundant in most cases:

tu ti alzi 

lui si alza

lei si alza

noi ci alziamo

voi vi alzate

loro si alzano

 

As we saw above, alzare means "to raise," but alzarsi means "to rise," "to get up." Sometimes the meaning of the two types of verbs can be close but different. So, for instance, if you hide something, the verb you are looking for is nascondere.

 

E poi, ho pensato di nascondere il corpo e... l'ho caricato in macchina e... non ri', non ricordo più niente.

And then, I thought of hiding the body and... I loaded it into the car and... I can't re', can't remember anything else.

Captions 57-59, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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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. The creatures are shy.

 

Probabilmente, sta cercando una tana per nascondersi da me.

She's probably looking for a hole in order to hide from me.

Caption 23, Linea Blu - Le Eolie

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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 [sic] e tutta la famiglia, hm.

The next one who comes near the aquarium... I'll swallow you and the whole family, hmm.

Captions 57-58, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino

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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 5, Marika spiega - L'orologio

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Mi alzo alle sei e mezza.

I get up at six thirty.

Caption 9, Fellini Racconta Un Autoritratto Ritrovato - Part 19

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Mi vesto e ti lascio il bagno.

I'll get dressed and I'll leave you the bathroom.

Caption 48, Sposami EP 1 - Part 11

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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.

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Ci Gets Around - Part 2

Ci Gets Around - Part 1

We saw in the previous lesson that the short word ci fits into (c’entra in) many situations.

But not only can ci mean “there,” ci can represent an object pronoun like “it,” “this,” or “that” plus a preposition (to, into, of, from, about, etc.) all in one, as we see below.

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On the job, Manara finds himself in the wine cellar of an important estate and has questioned Count Lapo’s housekeeper about some rifle shots. She answers evasively:

 

Colpi di fucile qui se ne sentono spesso, è zona di caccia. Sinceramente non c'ho badato.

We hear gun shots often here, it's a hunting area. Honestly I didn't pay attention to that.

Captions 13-14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 5

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And things get more mysterious when Manara discovers Count Lapo’s cryptic parting words about his estate:

 

Ma ci penserà qualcun altro...

Well, someone else will take care of that...

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 5

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Ci can even get into the kitchen! Two kids are putting the finishing touches on a recipe they have demonstrated:

 

La nostra pasta è pronta. Ci aggiungiamo un cucchiaino di parmigiano.

Our pasta is ready. We'll add a teaspoon of Parmesan to it.

Captions 21-22, Ricette bimbi - Gli spaghetti con zucchine e uova

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But what happens when there are two object pronouns in the same sentence (indirect and direct)? Non c’è problema! Ci transforms itself into ce. The most important question when it’s time to buttare la pasta (throw the pasta in) is:

Ci hai messo il sale? (Did you put the salt in?)

Sì, ce l’ho già messo. (Yes, I already put it in.)

Even when it means “us” (see previous lesson), ci is transformed into ce when a direct object pronoun is also present, like “it” or “that.”

 

Morto come? Eh, non ce l'hanno detto.

How did he die? Uh, they didn't tell us that.

Captions 45-46, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 1

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Ci (often in the form of ce) can easily sneak into a sentence where there is technically no need for it, just to give it some weight.

 

Io son contadino mica grullo [stupido], ce l'avete il mandato?

I'm a farmer, not an idiot, do you have a warrant?

Caption 34, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 8

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While it’s nice to know what all these little words mean, it can be frustrating trying to account for all of them or to string them together in a logical order, so learning some common frasi fatte (idiomatic expressions) can get you off to a great start.

Lara’s aunt is being pulled by her little dog:

 

Non ce la faccio, mi fai cadere.

I can't keep up, you'll make me fall.

Caption 2, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 1

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And the Commissario has no clue why Lara is mad at him:

 

Lara! Io non l'ho capito perché ce l'hai con me.

Lara! I don't get what it is that you have against me.

Captions 61-62, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 5

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A good way to get a realistic sense of ci and ce in context is to watch Yabla series like Commissionario Manara, Un Medico in Famiglia, or even Pippo e Palla. Listen for these words, and when you hear them, press pause and repeat the sentence out loud. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll discover these little words all over the place, sprouting like wildflowers.

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Learning suggestion:

You will get a good helping of phrases using ci here. Get to know the ones that resonate with you. Enjoy a comprehensive and entertaining introduction to the word ci here.

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Ci Gets Around - Part 1

Ci Gets Around - Part 2

Most of us know what arrivederci means: “goodbye,” or literally, “until we see each other again.” Ci in this case means “us” or “to us” or “each other.” Take a look at how ci works in this evocative hymn to one of our most precious resources, water:

 

Ci ricorda qualcosa che abbiamo dimenticato.

It reminds us of something that we have forgotten.

Caption 22, Inno all'acqua - un bene prezioso da difendere

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When we like something, it gets "turned around" in Italian:

Ci piace molto questo posto! 

We like this place a lot! [Literally: This place pleases us a lot!]

Sometimes ci gets attached to a verb, like here, where Commissioner Manara has just arrived at the crime scene and is dispatching his team to question a cyclist:

 

Perché non vai a sentire cos'ha da dirci? [Another way to say this would be: Perché non vai a sentire cosa ci ha da dire?]

Why don't you go and listen to what he has to tell us?

Caption 14, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 2

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Ci is often used in reflexive constructions, which are more common in Italian than in English.

 

Noi ci troviamo in Campania...

We are [we find ourselves] in Campania...

Caption 16, Giovanna spiega - La passata di pomodori

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In all the above examples, ci is the plural of mi (me, to me, myself). But the word ci can also mean “there,” expressing place, presence, or existence. It’s frequently hidden in a contraction, thus not alway easy to recognize. On his first day of work, Commissioner Manara checks into a pensione (small, family-run hotel) and asks the receptionist:

 

Il televisore c'è in camera? -Eh, certo che c'è.

Is there a TV in the room? -Eh, of course there is.

Captions 30-31, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 6

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He walks in on his colleagues who are gossiping about him:

 

Che c'è, assemblea c'è?

What's up, is there an assembly?

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8

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In the above examples, c’è stands for ci è (there is), just like ci sono means “there are.” But, as we can see, it also means “is there?”—it’s the inflection (or punctuation if it’s written) that tells you whether it’s a question or a statement. (Learn more here and here.)

If I care whether you understand something or not, I will ask:

Ci sei?

Do you get it? Are you with me? [Literally: Are you there?]

If I don’t care so much, I might say:

Chi c’è c’è, chi non c’è non c’è.

If you're with me you're with me; if you're not, you’re not. [Literally, “whoever is there is there; whoever isn’t there, isn’t there.”]

There! Ci is pretty easy when you get the hang of it! (Tip: Do a search for ci in the Yabla videos to instantly see lots of different examples in context.) Stay tuned for Part 2 of this lesson, where we’ll find out how ci worms its way into all sorts of other situations!  

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Learning tip:

Make a shopping list, even just mentally, and as you do, ask yourself if you have those items in the fridge or in the cupboard. For singular things, or collective nouns, you will use c’è and for countable items in the plural, you will use ci sono. To get started:

C’è del formaggio? No, non c’è. (Is there any cheese? No, there isn’t.)

Ci sono delle uova? Si, ci sono. (Are there any eggs? Yes, there are.)

Ci sei? 

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The Simple Things in Life

It’s easy to get information on how to conjugate Italian verbs in all the tenses (for example, here), but it’s not so easy to know when to use one tense or another. Consider this conversation between two fish in an aquarium:

 

Che hai? Perché ti lamenti?

What's the matter? Why are you complaining?

Captions 6-7, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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E ora che succede? Shsh, è proprio arrabbiata. Senti come singhiozza.

And now what's happening? Shhh, she's really angry. Listen to how she's sobbing.

Captions 34-36, Acqua in bocca - Mp3 Marino - Ep 2

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In English we have two types of present tense: present continuous, as in “I am talking on the phone at the moment," and the simple present, as in “I talk to my Mom every evening.” The first has to do with the moment, and the second with regularity or facts (learn more here). As you can see in the above dialogue, Italian speakers will use the present tense for both, unless there is some ambiguity about meaning or unless they want to emphasize the time element, such as in the following:

Non ti posso parlare ora perché sto mangiando.

I can’t talk to you right now because I am eating.

This progressive tense, which doesn’t really have an official name in Italian, is formed with the verb stare ("to stay" or "to be") plus the verb in its gerundio (gerund) form. Learn more here.

Now we are in Commissioner Manara’s office but he’s not there. As soon as he walks in, Sardi, who has been trying to pry information out of Lara regarding the Commissioner, feels she should get out of there. She says:

 

E infatti vado e tolgo il disturbo e vi lascio lavorare.

And, in fact, I'll go and I'll stop bothering you and I'll let you work.

Caption 61, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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(N.b.: Literally, tolgo il disturbo means “I’ll remove the disturbance.”)

Sardi says it all in the present tense, but this time to refer to the (near) future! When the context does not require a specific reference to time, the most “neutral” version of a verb (i.e., the present tense) is preferred.

And il presente (the present) can also express English’s simple future tense (“going to” + verb), like at the beginning of Marika’s lesson about numbers:

 

Ciao. Oggi parliamo di numeri.

Hi. Today, we're going to talk about numbers.

Caption 1, Marika spiega - Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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So the good news is that in Italian, with one tense, il presente, we can cover three different tenses in English. This may simplify things as you practice your Italian speaking skills, but don’t forget to pay attention to the context!

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Learning suggestion: 

In addition to listening to the videos and paying attention to how the present tense is used, try putting these sentences into Italian using il presente

 

You’re asking a friend what she intends to wear to school. The verb is mettere (“to put” or “to put on”).

     What are you wearing today? 

You're talking to your boss about when you will hand in your work. The verb is finire (to finish).

     I’m going to finish the project after lunch.  

You're talking about your eating habits. The verb is mangiare (to eat).

     I eat a sandwich every day for lunch. 

You're at a restaurant talking to the waiter. The verb is prendere (to take).

     I’ll have the fish. 

You have a flat tire and don’t know how to fix it. The verb is fare (to make or do).

     What am I going to do now? 

You're talking about the new person in your English class. The verb is parlare (to speak).

     He speaks English very well.

Answers:

Cosa ti metti oggi?  

Finisco il progetto dopo pranzo. 

Mangio un panino tutti i giorni a pranzo. 

Prendo il pesce. 

E ora che faccio?

Lui parla molto bene inglese. 

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