Leçons Italien


Getting someone’s attention in Italian: ascoltare and sentire

One way to get someone’s attention is to use the imperative command form of a verb. Two useful verbs for this purpose are ascoltare (to listen) and sentire (to hear). In Italian it’s important to know to whom you are giving the command; this will determine both the word choice and its conjugation.



Commissioner Manara has a familiar relationship with Lara and uses the informal form of address: He’s getting her attention by saying ascolta (listen). There’s a slight urgency with ascolta.


Ascolta Lara, a volte bisogna prendere delle scorciatoie, no?

Listen Lara, sometimes you have to take shortcuts, right?

Caption 36, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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In the next example, there’s a bit of urgency, but this is Manara’s boss talking to him. They use the polite or formal form of address:


Manara, mi ascolti bene.

Manara, listen to me carefully.

Caption 23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Note that the imperative verb can stand alone, or be paired with an object personal pronoun as in the above example. It adds to the urgency, and makes it more personal. Manara’s boss could have added mi raccomando (make sure) for extra urgency:

Manara, mi ascolti bene, mi raccomando!


This next example is between two people who really don’t know each other at all. It’s a formal situation, so the Lei form of “you” is used. Senta is more passive and less intrusive than ascolti. In fact, it means “hear” or “listen,” but is actually a way of saying “excuse me.”


Senta Signora, oltre a Lei, chi lo sapeva di queste lettere?

Excuse me ma'am, other than you, who knew about these letters?

Caption 64, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi

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Senta (listen, excuse me, or hear me) is a command you’ll use in a restaurant when wishing to get the attention of the cameriere (waiter).

Senta, possiamo ordinare?
Excuse me, may we order?


Often, senta (listen) goes hand in hand with scusi (excuse me), to be extra polite.


Buonasera. Senta scusi, Lei conosceva il dottor Lenni, giusto?

Good evening. Listen, excuse me.  You knew Doctor Lenni, right?

Caption 4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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And in a familiar situation, such as between Marika and the mozzarella vendor in Rome, there’s no urgency but Marika wants to get the vendor’s attention before asking her a question.


Senti, ma quante mozzarelle dobbiamo comprare per la nostra cena?

Listen, but how many mozzarellas should we buy for our dinner?

Caption 50, Anna e Marika - La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli

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Without necessarily studying all the conjugations of sentire and scusare, it’s a good idea to just remember that in polite speech, the imperative has an “a” at the end of senta, but an “i” at the end of scusi. The familiar command form would be senti, scusa. These endings can be tricky for beginners because they seem wrong, being the opposite of the indicative endings. It’s quite easy to get mixed up. The command form originally comes from the subjunctive, which is why it has a different, special conjugation.


Learning suggestion:

Getting someone’s attention is part of the basic toolkit you need to communicate in Italian, so why not practice a bit, in your mind? Look at someone and get their attention using the correct verb and correct form.

If you don’t know the person, or you address them formally for some other reason, you use:

Senta! Senta, scusi.
Senta, mi scusi.
[Mi] ascolti. (Not so common, and a bit aggressive, useful if you’re a boss.)


If you’re trying to get the attention of a friend, you’ll use:

Senti... (It’s almost like saying, “Hey...”)

Ascoltami... (This can be aggressive or intimate depending on the tone and the context.)




Learn more about the imperative in Italian here.

Continuer la lecture

Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu

In this week's lesson, Daniela shows us how different colors behave differently according to gender and number. Some of the colors are easy to understand, and to find equivalent names for, but when it comes to blue, Italians make some important distinctions. The three basic shades of blue are bluazzurro, and celeste.


Blu is the most basic and can have an adjective attached to it such as in blu notte (midnight blue, dark blue, or navy blue) or blu elettrico (electric blue) or blu petrolio (oil blue or teal blue)It's the darkest of the three and also the "bluest." Think of the American or French flag. That's blu.

Azzurro isn't just any blue. It's a blue that reminds us of the transparent waters of the Mediterranean Sea along a rocky coast, the sky when it's so incredibly clear, that it seems unreal, with the sun shining high in the sky. It's a blue that has a tiny bit of green in it, tending more towards turquoise than deep blue, or even royal blue. Azzurro is also the name given to the Italian national sports teams. They wear jerseys or shorts of this color. The color azure exists in English, but it's not commonly used to describe the color of everyday items. 

Celeste is a kind of sky blue (think: "celestial"), like the sky in the early evening or early morning on a summer day. There's not a whole lot of sun, and the sky is clear but not intense. That's celeste. Baby blue is quite close to celeste.

In describing Sicily, Adriano uses both blu and azzurro:


Ma quello che di più colpisce è il contrasto spettacolare tra il colore azzurro, blu del mare che si staglia sul verde della montagna di Monte Pellegrino.

But what is most stunning is the spectacular contrast between the blue color, the blue of the sea that's outlined on the green of the mountain of Monte Pellegrino.

Captions 42-44, Adriano - Monte Pellegrino

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Milena is showing us some items at the supermarket. There may be some discussion as to whether the cap on the milk container is azzurro or celeste, but it's clear that it's a blue that's on the light side, to indicate "light" milk. 


Questo è il latte parzialmente scremato. Di solito ha il tappo celeste.

This is partially skimmed milk. Usually it has a sky-blue cap.

Captions 23-24, Milena - al supermercato

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These two lines from Adriano Celentano's hit song, Azzurro, sung by Milena and friends, give you an idea of what azzurro is all about:


Cerco l'estate tutto l'anno e all'improvviso, eccola qua

I've been looking for summer all year long and all of a sudden, here it is

Azzurro, il pomeriggio è troppo azzurro e lungo per me

Blue, the afternoon is too blue and long for me

Captions 2-5, Amiche - È tempo di cantare

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Another famous Italian song known as Volare, by Domenico Modugno, uses blu, notazzurro, to describe the sky. It must be said that blu rhymes with a lot more words than azzurro!

Nel blu dipinto di blu 
In the blue painted blue
Felice di stare lassù
Happy to be up there



Learning suggestion:

Take a look around at all the blue items you can see. Try to say which color they are in Italian, and, after following Daniela's lesson, use the colors as adjectives in both the singular and the plural. Bluazzurro, or celeste


Continuer la lecture

Giardino e Orto

Maggio e giugno, falce in pugno.
May and June, sickle in hand.

This detto (saying) or proverbio (proverb) reflects the fact that in May and June, plants grow at an amazing rate, and need to be kept under control. It's very Italian to have un pezzetto di terra (a little piece of land) on which to plant un orto (vegetable garden), not to be confused with un giardino (garden), which is ornamental, or which can refer to the back or front yard. Many kinds of piante (plants) can also grow in vasi (pots) in terrazza (on the terrace).


L'erba (the grass) is what you mow. You can use a tagliaerba (lawnmower) if you have a pratino (little lawn), or adecespugliatore (brush cutter) when the terreno (terrain) is uneven, or even a falce (scythe) or falcetto (sickle) if you cut it by hand. However, if we use the plural, le erbe, then we're talking about herbs used in cooking. Erbe commestibili (edible greens) are what you gather in fields and woods; erbe medicinali (medicinal herbs) are used by erboristi (herbalists) to make medicines.

In this week's video about composting as a way to recycle, three closely related words having to do with la terra (the earth) are used in three consecutive lines of text.


L'humus compost è un terriccio che ha la capacità di trattenere e liberare lentamente gli elementi nutritivi necessari alle piante,

Humus compost is a soil that has the capacity to retain and slowly set free nutritive elements necessary to plants,

e di assicurare la fertilità del terreno.

and to assure the fertility of the soil.

Il rifiuto umido può essere una risorsa per la nostra terra.

Wet garbage can be a resource for our land.

Captions 6-9, Raccolta differenziata - Campagna di sensibilizzazione del Comune di Alliste (LE)

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Terriccio (soil, potting soil). This usually implies rich soil or loam, suitable for growing plants.
Terra (earth, land, ground). This is a very general term and can refer to our planet, a piece of land, the ground, and more. In caption 7, terra leaves some room for interpretation.
Terreno (plot of land, ground, terrain, soil). This often refers to something you can measure, but is used generically as well.

When we talk about raccolta differenziata, as in the title of the above-mentioned video, we're talking about recycling. Raccolta (gathering, collection, picking up, harvest or harvesting) differenziata (differentiated) means that trash gets divided into categories such as carta e cartone (paper and cardboard), vetro e plastica (glass and plastic), umido (organic waste) and rifiuti indifferenziati (general rubbish). Every town has its own rules and collection methods concerning this. There are either big dumpsters for each kind of garbage, or small plastic containers for different material (glass, plastic, paper, organic, general) which each family manages, and puts out on the appropriate day of the week to get raccolto (picked up), door to door.



More videos on the subject of ecology:

L'unione fa la forza: Cooperativa La Quercia
Inno all'acqua: un bene prezioso da difendere
Enel intervista: Tiziano Ferro - Part 1 
Enel intervista: Tiziano Ferro - Part 2
L'unione fa la forza - Ecovillaggio Habitat 

Continuer la lecture

Hypothesis Versus Reality - the subjunctive and the conditional

If you knew the Italian subjunctive well, life would be easier, right?

The above is a simple conditional statement. It happens to use the subjunctive, but in English we don’t really notice it because “knew” just looks like the past tense of “to know.” If you think about it, though, it’s an “unreal” past tense. We’re talking hypothetically (unless of course you’re already an expert on the Italian subjunctive), not about the past.


If we put the above conditional sentence into Italian, we still use a past tense, but it’s a subjunctive past tense called congiuntivo imperfetto (imperfect subjunctive).

Se sapessi bene il congiuntivo italiano, la vita sarebbe più facile, no?

The imperfect subjunctive has different endings from the other conjugations, so it’s impossible to fake! Sapessi is the first person congiuntivo imperfetto of the verb sapere (to know). Here’s the conjugation chart for sapere (to know).

The second part of the sentence uses the conditional, which in English is formed with “would” or “could” (“life would be easier”). Here again, Italian has its own special conjugation for the conditional, called il condizionale, and only needs conjugating in the present. Sarebbe is the third person singular condizionale presente of essere (to be).

The little princess in Il principe ranocchio (The Frog Prince), new at Yabla this week, is wishing she had her golden ball back, but the reality is that it’s at the bottom of the pond and she doesn’t believe she’ll get it back. So we have another hypothetical situation.


Se solo avessi indietro la mia palla d'oro! Darei tutti i miei bei vestiti e gioielli per lei!

If only I had my golden ball back, I would give all my fine clothes and jewels for it!

Captions 15-16, Ti racconto una fiaba - Il Principe Ranocchio

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The above example uses the first person congiuntivo imperfetto of avere and the first person condizionale presente of dare.

In a nutshell:

If we break down a conditional statement into its two clauses, we come up with these basic elements.

In the subordinate, or dependent clause:

se (if) +
a verb in the congiuntivo imperfetto

And in the main clause:

a verb in the condizionale presente

Here are some examples where the person is the same in both parts of the sentence. The verb conjugated in the subjunctive is essere (to be). The verb conjugated in the conditional is comprare (to buy).

Se io fossi ricca, comprerei una casa.
If I were rich, I would buy a house.
Se tu fossi ricca, compreresti una casa?
If you were rich, would you buy a house?
Se lei fosse ricca, comprerebbe una casa.
If she were rich, she would buy a house.
Se loro fossero ricchi, comprerebbero una casa.
If they were rich, they would buy a house.
Se noi fossimo ricchi, compreremmo una casa.
If we were rich, we would buy a house.
Se voi foste ricchi, comprereste una casa.
If you (pl.) were rich, you would buy a house.

Note that you can switch the two clauses around like this:

Lei comprerebbe una casa se fosse ricca.
She would buy a house if she were rich.

Try the same thing with avere (to have). Here’s an example to get you started.

Se avessi tanti soldi, lavorerei molto meno.
If I had a lot of money, I would work much less.

To get even more practice, keep on using the model, but change the adjectives, the subjunctive verb, and the conditional verb along with the person. If you’re a bit unsure, just change one element in one clause at a time (the person, the subjunctive verb, or the conditional verb). If you’re more advanced, be adventurous!

Keep in mind that the personal pronouns are present when they need to clarify who’s doing what, or for emphasis. Otherwise, they can be included in the verb in both the conditional and the subjunctive. It can get tricky between the first and second person, which have the same endings, and between the third person and polite second person, which have the same endings (see conjugation charts). It’s a good idea to practice it both ways.


Don’t worry. Even though the grammar itself might seem daunting and complicated, before you know it, verbs in the subjunctive will become part of your everyday Italian speech.

Continuer la lecture

Everything Changes

In English we use the present (simple or progressive) to indicate the future, or we use the auxiliary verbs "going to" or "will." In Italian, the present tense is sometimes used to express the future, as in the following example.


Dico, ma io vengo anche subito, vado a casa, mi cambio e torno!

I say, but I'll even come right away. I'll go home, I'll change, and I'll come back!

Caption 45, L'arte della cucina - I Luoghi del Mondo

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The actual future tense, however, is constructed by conjugating the verb itself. 

If you look at this song title: Cambierà, you might guess that it's a verb in the future tense. The accented vowel at the end gives it away. The verb is cambiare (to change), and we know by its ending, à, that it's in the third person singular, (see conjugation chart for cambiare). but we don't know, without the context, what or who is going to change. Try listening to Cambierà to find out, and see how many future tense verbs you can pick out. Attenzione: not all words with accents at the end are verbs. The second line in Italian ends with verità. It's is preceded by an article, helping us to see that it's a noun.

Here's part of the song:


Di questi tempi si vende

These days you sell

Qualsiasi cosa, anche la verità

Anything, even the truth

Ma non sarà così sempre

But it won't always be like that

Perché tutto cambierà -Cambierà

Because everything will change -It will change

Captions 5-8, Neffa - Cambierà

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For a concise but comprehensive explanation of the Italian future tense, see this article.


Once you feel somewhat confident, here are some great flashcards and exercises to seriously practice the future tense.

See these Yabla lessons about the future tense. Il tuo italiano migliorerà! (your Italian will improve!)

The Simple Things in Life
Che sarà sarà
The Future is Now (Probably)!

Continuer la lecture

What to Say While You're Thinking of What to Say

When we talk casually, there are words we use to fill up silences while thinking of what we want to say next, or words that just sound good and seem to help with the flow. Everyone has preferences and as you watch Yabla videos, you’ll start to recognize each person’s pet words.


The aunt (la zia) in Commissario Manara, whether she’s talking to her dog or to other people, tends to start her sentences with ma (but). You can see it doesn’t really mean “but” in every case; it’s just something to start a sentence with. Using words like the ones in the list below can be quite habit forming, even if you have a limited Italian vocabulary. Used judiciously, they can help you keep up your side of a conversation or make small talk.


Ma, nah, ma cosa fai?! Ma che stai combinando? Brigadiere! Ma stai fermo, ma cosa combini?!

But, no, but what are you doing? But what are you up to? Brigadiere! But keep still, what are you up to?!

Captions 46-48, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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When she gets the least bit excited, la zia uses ma to glue her sentences together:


Ma dove, ma dove... ma no, ma tu non andrai da nessuna parte. Devi rimanere a letto. Eh, ma che scherziamo.

But where, but where... but no, but you're not going anywhere. You have to stay in bed. What, are you kidding?

Captions 6-8, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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Below is a partial list of filler words you’ll hear quite often. Their translations change somewhat depending on the contesto (context), so check them out in both WordReference and the Yabla dictionary.

  • ma (but)
  • appunto (indeed)
  • invece (instead, on the other hand, but)
  • magari (maybe)
  • proprio (really)    
  • sai (you know)    
  • vedi (you see)
  • allora (well, so)
  • cioè (that is)
  • quindi (therefore, so)
  • capito (understood)
  • poi (then)
  • così (like this)
  • via (away)
  • insomma (all in all, well)
  • in pratica (basically)
  • praticamente (practically)
  • comunque (however, in any case)

Insomma (to conclude), each of the filler words could fill up an entire lesson, and appunto (indeed), a few have already gotten some special attention in Yabla lessonsAppunto, which roughly translates as “indeed,” but which has other sfumature (nuances), is featured in Making Connections With Appunto (Indeed)Magari is either used as a one word answer, or slipped in among other words, as discussed in this lesson: Magari - A Magic Word.

Insomma is an especially tricky word in that the inflection significantly changes its meaning. It's hard to pin down a specific meaning in English, and goes from meaning "so-so," (such as in response to being asked about a film or a book) to an expression of frustration or impatience (used with an exclamation point), or to a filler similar to "you know" or "like." (slipped in among the other words in a phrase). Do a Yabla search of insomma and you'll laugh at how often it crops up as a filler, rounding out the phrase, helping the flow, reinforcing the meaning, without having a pinpointable meaning in itself.


Further learning:
Pick a word from the list above, and listen for it as you watch Yabla videos. Or see how many of these filler words appear in a single video. Listen carefully for the inflection, which is important. And, of course, as you talk to yourself each morning in italiano, try each of these words on for size. You may sound ridiculous at first, but that’s OK. No one's listening. 


While talking to yourself, you might come up with something like the following, just to get the feeling of these filler words.

Allora, insomma... magari...
Well, kind of iffy... if only...
Ma poi... cioè sai... praticamente... sai... capito? -Appunto.
But then... that is, you know... practically... you know... get it? -Exactly.
Quindi, vedi, in pratica... proprio così... comunque...
So, you see, basically... really... in any case...
OK then.

Continuer la lecture

Degrees of Love

In Italian there are different ways of saying "I love you." Romantic love is expressed with the verb amare (to love). Ti amo (I love you) is what a person will use when he or she is quite serious about a romantic relationship. But to express the kind of amore (love) parents have for their children (and vice versa), as in the following example from a video on essere madre (being a mother, or "motherhood"), an important phrasal verb to go for is voler bene (to care about, to care for). 


A mia madre invece vorrei dire... ti voglio bene! Un bacio!

To my mother, on the other hand, I'd like to say... I love you! A kiss!

Captions 30-40, Essere... - madre

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While English speakers may send love at the close of a letter to a friend or loved one, Italians will more likely send kisses and hugs, both in writing and verbally, as in the previous example. Here are some variations:

un bacio (a kiss)
un bacione (a big kiss)
baci (kisses)
un abbraccio (a hug, an embrace)

If you really like someone, but are not in love, or just not ready to say ti amo, then voler bene can be used to mean "to be very fond."

Look at the lesson I like it - Mi piace to integrate even more degrees of affetto (affection) using the verb piacere (to please) and the adjective simpatico (likeable, nice).

When falling in love, Italians have a reflexive verb all ready: innamorarsi (to become, or fall, in love). Once having fallen in love, a man is innamorato and a woman is innamorata. Note that the preposition is di (of), not con (with). 


Avevo capito che, in tutti questi anni, è stata innamorata di lui. E per trent'anni gli ha dato del Lei, ma ti rendi conto?

I'd figured out that, for all these years, she'd been in love with him. And for thirty years she addressed him formally, can you imagine that?

Captions 5-6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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Two people may be molto innamorati (very much in love) and refer to each other as his or her amoroso. The noun form stays in the masculine, although the adjective form (much less common) changes according to gender and number.

To sum up some of the words having to do with love:


amore (love)
affetto (affection)
amoroso (beloved, sweetheart)


amare (to love)
voler bene a (to really care for)
innamorarsi (to fall in love)
piacere (to please)


innamorato (in love)
affezionato (attached to, fond of)
simpatico (likeable)
amoroso (affectionate, amorous)

Learning suggestion:
Look around you at home and outside, and try to choose the word that best expresses your affetto (affection) for the people intorno a te (surrounding you). 


Further reading:
Enjoy this lighthearted article about voler bene.

Continuer la lecture

The Need to Need: bisogna and bisogno

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.

Caption 3, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo

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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

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The infinitive of this indispensable verb is bisognarebut 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 of inventing 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:

  • bisogna + verb in the infinitive: Bisogna pagare il caffè prima di berlo. (One needs to pay for the coffee before drinking it.) This is impersonal. Only the third person singular is used, but may be used in different tenses
  • ci + è + bisogno + di (there is need of): C'è bisogno di pagare il caffè prima di berlo. (It's necessary to pay for the coffee before drinking it.) This is also impersonal. The verb is essere (to be) in its third person singular conjugation and may used in different tenses.
  • aver + bisogno + di + an object (which can be a noun, modified or not, or also a verb in the infinitive): Hai bisogno di pagare il caffè prima di berlo. (You need to pay for the coffee before you drink it.) This is personal. The conjugated verb is avere (to have). 


Putting them together just for fun:

Bisogna andare in banca. In effetti, c'era bisogno di andare ieri, ma ieri bisognava fare tante altre cose. Bisognerà anche andare a fare la spesa questo pomeriggio, quindi, di che cosa abbiamo bisognoC'è bisogno di fare una lista. Avrei bisogno di caffè, ma per quello, bisognerà andare in un altro negozio. C'è bisogno dello zucchero? No, non ce n'è bisogno, anche perché ho bisogno di dimagrire. Bisogna vedere, però, se riesco a berlo amaro. 

We/I need to go to the bank. Actually, it was necessary to go yesterday, but yesterday we needed to do lots of other things. We'll also need to go food shopping this afternoon, so what do we needWe 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].



Learning suggestion:

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!)

Continuer la lecture

Musical Nouns

At Yabla Italian, there's been plenty of talk lately about nouns. Daniela has been talking about indefinite articles for both masculine and feminine nouns (see Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 1 of 3 and Corso di italiano con Daniela - l'articolo indeterminativo - Part 2 of 3). Marika has talked about nouns that remain the same in singular and plural, and nouns that have two different plurals: one masculine and one feminine (see Marika spiega - Il plurale - Part 1 and Marika spiega - Il plurale - Part 2 of 2). It can be quite daunting! And to add to this, Alessio comes along with his rigo musicale, among other musical nouns!


Si tratta ora di fissarle sul rigo musicale, il pentagramma, formato da cinque linee.

Now we're concerned with placing them on the staff, the staff, made up of five lines.

Caption 2, A scuola di musica - con Alessio - Part 2

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If you're already familiar with the noun riga (line), you might be wondering if Alessio got his gender wrong. As a matter of fact, the feminine form, la riga (the line), is the word you'll use most of the time. But in music, il rigo is used to refer to a staff made up of five linee (lines), also called il pentagrammaand can also refer to each individual line within the staff.  For a detailed explanation of rigo versus riga, see this articleRigarigo and linea are only a few of the Italian words that can translate as "line." See this link for many more!


There are other words that have special meanings when it comes to music:


In ordinary usage, la chiave means "the key," but in music, it means "the clef," a special symbol (actually a stylized letter C, G, or F) placed on a staff line in such a way as to indicate what note and pitch the line refers to. From that departure point, all the other notes can be recognized. A proposito, "clef" comes from the French word for key (clef or clé)!


In addition to being the name of a famous opera theater in Milan (La Scala), scala has several meanings, and they mostly have to do with going up and down: a staircase, a ladder, a level, and also a scale in music (a succession of musical notes at fixed degrees).


Di più, questa successione così omogenea, forma una scala discendente che poi, sempre in scala, risale.

In addition, this succession, homogeneous as it is, forms a descending scale which then goes back up, still as a scale [stepwise].

Captions 9-10, A scuola di musica - con Alessio - Part 2

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Uno scalino or un gradino can be a step in a musical scale, a rung on a ladder, a step up from the street to the curb, or a single step of many scalini, like the ones Marika talks about at the beginning of her latest newscast. 


Per arrivare nella scuola più piccola d' Europa bisogna fare trecentocinquanta scalini.

To get to the smallest school in Europe, you have to go up three hundred fifty steps.

Caption 3, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 9

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Learning suggestion:

Become more familiar with the different meanings of some of the above-mentioned nouns by looking them up in the dictionary of your choice, and then, learn their plurals! Daniela's recent classes on definite and indefinite articles and Marika's lessons on plurals will be of help in classifying them, as well as for finding the right indefinite article for each.



Here's a list to help you.

  • la chiave (the key, the clef) le chiavi (the keys, the clefs)
  • la riga (the line) le righe (the lines)
  • la linea (the line) le linee (the lines)
  • il rigo (the staff, the staff line) i righi (the staves)
  • il pentagramma (the staff) i pentagrammi (the staves)
  • la scala (the stairway, the ladder, the musical scale) le scale (the stairs, the musical scales, the ladders)
  • lo scalino (the step) gli scalini (the steps)
  • il gradino (the step) i gradini (the steps)


A key to learning these words might be to draw picture flashcards. There may be more than one valid answer for some of them.

Continuer la lecture

To Mind Or Not To Mind

We learned about saying we’re sorry using the verb dispiacere in Learning to Say You're Sorry. But that’s only one of its common uses. If we look closely at dispiacere we can detect two parts: the root piacere (to please) and the prefix dis, indicating negation or the opposite (very much like “dis-” in English). In a sense, dispiacere (to displease) is the opposite of piacere (to please, to be pleasing), so when I say “I’m sorry,” I’m saying that something displeases me:


Mi dispiace ma il tiramisù è terminato.

I'm sorry but we've run out of tiramisù.

Caption 17, Passeggiando per Roma - per Roma

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Normally, dispiacere isn’t used as the opposite of piacere. See the lesson I like it - Mi piace where liking and not liking are discussed. In order to say I don’t like something, I say non mi piace, but if I say mi dispiace, it means “I’m sorry,” at least most of the time. Oddly enough, by negating dispiacere (non mi dispiace), it becomes a sort of via di mezzo (middle way) between liking something and not liking it. It’s as if to say non male (not bad) without the exclamation point.* Non mi dispiace can be the equivalent of “I like it enough” or “I don’t mind it.” In the end, it depends on the inflection and facial expression, and on the context. Tutto è relativo (it’s all relative)! Sometimes it serves to temper or soften a statement that might hurt someone’s feelings, as in the example at the end of this lesson.

*For more on saying “not bad” with an exclamation point, see the lesson Elegant and Not So Elegant Turns of Phrase.


Dispiacere is also used when asking someone if they mind something. Usually a positive answer is expected, especially when using the conditional as in the following example. As in English, the answer may or may not answer the actual question:

Ti dispiacerebbe aprire la porta? -Certo.
Would you mind opening the door? [Would it displease you to open the door?] -Sure.

In the example below, the answer is negative in meaning, but said in a positive statement.


Senta, Le dispiace se diamo un'occhiata in giro? -Eh, mi dispiace sì!

Listen, do you mind if we have a look around? -Eh, yes I do mind!

Captions 28-29, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva

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In a nutshell:

When dispiacere has to do with minding, the pronoun will generally represent the person being addressed, in the second person:

Ti dispiace? (Do you mind?)
Le dispiace? (Do you mind? [formal])
Vi dispiace? (Do you mind? [plural])

When dispiacere has to do with liking something somewhat, the person doing the liking will be indicated by the pronoun:

Non mi dispiace (I like it pretty much)
Non gli dispiace (He likes it OK)


Putting the pieces together, just for fun:

Mi dispiace dirtelo, ma non mi dispiace la pubblicità della concorrenza. Non ti dispiace se ti dico la verità, vero?
I’m sorry to tell you but I somewhat like the competition’s publicity. You don’t mind if I tell you the truth, do you?
Non mi piace quello che dici ma non mi dispiace se mi dici quello che pensi. Anzi...
I don’t like what you’re saying, but I don’t mind if you tell me what you think. On the contrary...



Check your comprehension:

Make a search of the different conjugations of dispiacere in a Yabla search and choose what you think the closest meaning is in each case. There’s no translation right there, so you won’t get any hints except context, but you can check your results by watching the video.

Continuer la lecture

Wasting Time and Leaky Faucets: All about the verb perdere

When talking about winning and losing, vincere (to win) and perdere (to lose) are the words you’re looking for. When talking about finding something and losing something, trovare (to find) and perdere (to lose) are useful, too. But perdere also has some other important common uses.

When you miss a train, you lose it: perdere il treno (to miss the train).



Il sette dicembre del duemila, io avevo avuto un grosso imprevisto che mi fece perdere il treno per Londra.

On the seventh of December of the year two thousand, I had had something unexpected happen that made me miss the train for London.

Captions 54-55, Anna e Marika - Il verbo avere

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When you waste time, you lose it: perdere tempo (to waste time).


Lo sapevo che non dovevo venire. Mi state facendo perdere solo tempo.

I knew I shouldn't have come. You're just wasting my time.

Captions 49-50, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio - A corto di idee

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When there’s a leaky faucet, it loses water: perde (it leaks).


Ma guarda che l'ho aggiustato il rubinetto, adesso perde poco!

But look, I fixed the faucet, now it leaks very little!

Caption 49, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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When you let something go, you drop it, you forget about it, you let it get lost: lasciare perdere (to let it be).


Ti aiuto ad asciugare? -No, lascia perdere, sei stanco, lavati! Eh...

Shall I help you dry? -No, forget it, you're tired, wash up! Uh...

Caption 44, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Much of the time perdere means “to lose,” but, non perdere di vista (don’t lose sight of) the common expressions above!


Here are some more instances where perdere is used:

When you’ve missed the beginning of a movie:  

Ho perso l’inizio!

I missed the beginning!

When you’ve lost weight: 

Ho perso dieci chili!

I lost ten kilos!

When you don’t want to miss something: 

Venezia è da non perdere!

Venice is not to be missed!

When you can’t find your way:

Sono perso.

I’m lost.


Learning suggestion:

Be on the lookout for these particular meanings of perdere. You’ll find them cropping up often in Yabla videos, and in real life, if you’re lucky enough to listen to Italian conversation. Soon enough all these meanings will become familiar to you. And when you next miss a train, or a flight, or have a leaky faucet, or get lost, or waste time, ricordatevi (remember) that perdere is a word da non perdere (not to be missed).

Continuer la lecture

Ricordare: Remembering and Reminding

One of Italy’s most beloved singer-songwriters ci ha lasciato (passed away): Pino Daniele. Italian uses the verb ricordare to express remembrance on such occasions.

Lo ricorderemo con affetto.

We’ll remember him with affection.


In Quando (When), one of his most famous songs, Pino sings about, among other things, ricordi (memories).


Fra i ricordi e questa strana pazzia E il paradiso che forse esiste

Among memories and this strange madness And a paradise that might exist

Captions 29-30, Pino Daniele - Quando

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Ricordare has another, closely related meaning—“to remind,” as in the following example.


Ah, un'altra cosa, scusami Anna, che volevo ricordare ai nostri amici di Yabla, come usanza, noi italiani a tavola non mangiamo mai pane e pasta insieme.

Ah, another thing, sorry Anna, that I wanted to remind our Yabla friends of, customarily, we Italians at table we don't eat bread and pasta together.

Captions 41-42, Anna e Marika - Un Ristorante a Trastevere

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When using ricordare as “to remind,” it becomes ricordare a and gets used with an indirect object, as in the above example. The preposition a (to)—sometimes connected to an article, as above—goes between ricordare and the person getting reminded. In the above example, the direct object is cosa.


But when the indirect object is a personal pronoun, the spelling shifts, as in the following example, where ti stands for a te (to you). See an explanation and chart of Italian indirect object pronouns here.


E tra l'altro, ti volevo ricordare, che questa era una palude.

And besides, I wanted to remind you, that this was a swamp.

Caption 18, Marika e Daniela - Il Foro Romano

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In the following example, the personal pronoun as indirect object is attached to the verb itself. See more about this in previous lessons Ci gets around, part one and part two.


Hm... Rosmini. -Hm. -Ricordami il nome? -Ginevra.

Hmm... Rosmini. -Uh huh. -Remind me of your [first] name? -Ginevra.

Captions 80-81, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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In English we have two distinct but related words, “to remember” and “to remind,” while in Italian the difference is considered so minimal that the same word is used, but there are some subtle differences.


More often than not, when we’re remembering, ricordare is used reflexively: ricordarsi, as in mi ricordo (I remember). (See the lesson: Reflections on the Reflexive.) When using the past tense, as in the following example, essere (to be) is the auxiliary verb.


Ci siamo ricordati tutti i momenti belli della nostra storia.

We remembered all the beautiful moments of our romance.

Caption 17, Anna presenta - La Bohème di Puccini

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If you think of ricordare as meaning “to call to mind,” it may be easier to see how one word can fill two bills. While ricordarsi (to remember) is reflexive, and involves the person who’s remembering, ricordare a (to remind) involves two or more people.


Things get a little tricky when personal pronouns are used (which is a lot of the time)! Notice the object pronouns and conjugated verb. When ricordare means “to remember” the conjugation of ricordare matches the object pronoun, such as in ti ricordi? (do you remember?), si ricorda (he/she/it/one remembers), vi ricordate (you remember), ci ricordiamo (we remember). But in ricordare as reminding, there are usually at least two different people involved: ti ricordo (I remind you), ci ha ricordato (he/she/it reminded us), mi poteva ricordare (he could have reminded me).


In a nutshell:

Ricordare and its reflexive form ricordarsi (to remember): takes essere (to be) as an auxiliary (e.g., ci siamo ricordati), can be reflexive (same person)

Ricordare a (to remind): takes avere (to have) as an auxiliary (e.g., ci ha ricordato), is two-way (different people)


Here are a few more examples to help you remember...

Ti ricorderai di comprare il pane, o te lo devo ricordare?

Will you remember to buy bread, or do I have to remind you of it?

Ricordamelo pure, ma forse non mi ricorderò!

Go ahead and remind me of it, but maybe I won’t remember!

Come faccio a ricordarmi di ricordarti?

How can I remember to remind you?

Ti ho già ricordato due volte.

I’ve already reminded you twice.

When we’re una squadra di uno (a team of one), then we need stesso (self) to remind ourselves of something:

Alla fine, sarà più semplice ricordare a me stesso/stessa di comprare il pane, che di ricordarmi di ricordare a qualcun altro.

In the end, it’ll be easier to remind myself to buy bread, than to remember to remind someone else.

Continuer la lecture

Alimenti, Ravioli, and Pinzimonio

Alimenti: Food and fuel


In the latest episode of Commissario Manara, someone is worried about having to pay alimenti (alimony).


Sto aspettando il divorzio dalla mia ex moglie e... conoscendola quella... veniva a saperlo, poi mi tartassava con gli alimenti.

I'm waiting for a divorce from my ex-wife and... knowing her, that one... if she found out, she would have hit me hard for alimony.

Captions 66-67, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde

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But there’s much more to this word than supporting one’s ex. The various forms of the word have to do with fuel, energy, food, and nutrition. Here are a few related terms:


  • L’alimentari (small grocery or deli)
  • Il reparto alimentare (the food section of a department store)
  • Il cavo d’alimentazione (power cord)
  • Alimentare (to feed, to fuel)
  • Un alimento (a specific food): La carne è un alimento ricco di proteine. Meat is a food rich in protein.
  • L’alimentazione (food in general, eating): un’alimentazione sana (healthy eating).

And speaking of alimentazione sana...


Elegant finger food


In an episode of La Ladra, there’s a discussion about pinzimonio between Eva and her new cook, Dante.


Come vuole Lei, solo pensavo che con il suo pinzimonio una salsa in più ci stesse bene. Eh?!

As you wish, I just thought that with your raw vegetable dish one more sauce would fit in well. Huh?

Captions 24-25, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 13

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There’s no good one-word translation of pinzimonio, but it’s certainly worth explaining (and tasting). Basically, it’s an elegant method (called in pinzimonio) of eating plain raw vegetables by dipping them into a little dish filled with good olive oil and salt. Pepper, vinegar, and other ingredients may be added at the diner’s discretion. You can’t get simpler than pinzimonio, but if the olio extravergine d’oliva is of good quality, and the vegetables are fresh and appealing, then it’s a wonderful way to eat a light second course, side dish, or appetizer.


Vegetables used for la verdura in pinzimonio are, to name a few: carote (carrots), cipolla fresca (fresh spring or green onions), finocchio (fennel bulbs), young tender carciofi (artichokes), cetrioli (cucumbers), il sedano bianco (white celery), la belga (Belgian endive), peperoni (bell peppers), and ravanelli (radishes).


The verb pinzare means “to clamp” or “to pinch closed,” so it’s easy to visualize holding a piece of carota or sedano between thumb and fingers in order to dip it in the olive oil.


And for those (like most Italians) who love their pasta...


Pasta ripiena


Yabla has a series about cooking called L'Arte della Cucina (the art of cooking) and in a segment about chef Gualtiero Marchesi, he talks about il raviolo. Usually we see this word in the plural, i ravioli, because there’s usually more than one of them sul piatto (on the plate). In this particular case there was just one large beautiful raviolo on each plate.


Un giorno, sentendo un'amica che diceva che aveva mangiato dei ravioli tutti aperti, sai, quando stanno [ci sono] i banchetti, così, mi venne in mente così di fare il raviolo aperto, è stato un tutt'uno.

One day, talking with a friend who said she had eaten ravioli all opened, you know, when there are banquets, and such, that's how it came to mind to make an open "raviolo," it was all one thing.

Captions 26-28, L'arte della cucina - I Luoghi del Mondo - Part 17

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We’re talking here about pasta ripiena (filled pasta). With the exception of Marchesi’s “open” raviolo, there are normally two layers of la sfoglia (fresh egg pasta dough) with a ripieno di carne (meat filling) or ripieno di spinaci e ricotta (spinach and ricotta filling), but there are many variations.


Ravioli, tortelli, tortelloni, agnolotti, or pansotti each have their traditional forme (shapes), ripieni (fillings), and condimenti (sauces), which range from simple burro e salvia (butter and sage) to an elaborate ragù (meat sauce). Tortellini and cappelletti are filled pasta, but are bite-sized, and almost exclusively made with a ripieno di carne. One favorite way to eat them is in brodo (in broth). Don’t forget the parmigiano!



Ravioli and other types of filled pasta are best eaten in restaurants where they’re a specialty. There are plenty of calories in pasta, and especially in pasta ripiena, so why not follow it (or precede it) with a pinzimonio to maintain un’alimentazione sana!

Buon appetito!

Continuer la lecture

Wishing you the best, with "buono"

When Italians want to wish someone luck, or just express their good wishes, one word they use is buono (good):

Buon compleanno! (Happy birthday!)

Buon natale! (Merry Christmas!)

Buon anno! (Happy New Year!)

They often add auguri (best wishes), which comes from the verb augurare (to wish):


Buon anno a tutti! Auguri!

Happy New Year everyone! Best wishes!

Caption 31, Orchestra Pit Pot - Buon anno e buona fortuna

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Whatever someone is about to do, buono is a way of hoping it goes well. Note that when the object is masculine, buono gets shortened to buon, and when the object is feminine, it becomes buona.

Buon lavoro. (Good luck on your job.)

Buon viaggio. (Have a good trip.)

Buona dormita. (Have a good sleep.)

Buon appetito. (Have a nice meal.) 

Buon ascolto. (Enjoy the concert/lecture/CD.)

Buona visione. (Enjoy the show/film.)

Buona notte. (Good night.)

Buona giornata. (Have a nice day.)

...and plenty more!

You may be wondering what the difference is between giorno and giornata. They both mean “day” and although there are no hard and fast rules, there are conventions in using one or the other. In deciding whether to use giorno or giornata, think of the calendar. As a general rule, use giorno when talking about the calendar, where a day is a unit in a larger block of time (week, year, month).

For example,

Il giorno di natale i negozi sono chiusi.

On Christmas day the stores are closed.

Sarò via per due giorni.

I’ll be away for two days.

Giorno is used in opposition to notte (night):


Di giorno sgobbavo in un cantiere e di notte sui libri.

By day I slogged away at a construction site and by night with my books.

Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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When you greet someone in the morning, you'll say buongiorno (good morning, hello). After noon, you’ll greet them with buonasera. But when saying goodbye, buona giornata (have a nice day) and buona serata (have a good evening) are commonly used to wish someone well.

Giornata (day) is more subjective and approximate than giorno. It describes the time between morning and night. Think about the quality of your day or someone else’s: the weather, your mood, your health, your workload.

Che giornata!

What a day!


Oggi ho deciso di passare una giornata diversa dal solito.

Today I've decided to spend the day differently from usual.

Caption 1, Francesca - sulla spiaggia

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Whatever your level of Italian is, it’s always nice to be able to say something nice, and to understand when someone is saying something nice to you! In a nutshell, giorno and sera are used when you arrive, while giornata and serata are used when you leave. And when you’re wishing someone well in whatever they may be doing next, buono is your friend!


Further learning:

Do a search of both giorno and giornata in Yabla videos to get a sense of when one or the other is used. Supplement your learning by reading about giorno and giornata in WordReference.


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.


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.”



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? 



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

The Italian Alphabet - Part 2

The Italian Alphabet - Part 1

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?

Claudia Rossi. -Can you spell that for me?

Sì, certo! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.

Yes, of course! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.

Captions 12-16, Marika spiega - Fare lo spelling

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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



Learning suggestion:

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.

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The Italian take on “take” and “make” (prendere and fare)

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 with a notary.

Caption 34, Francesca - alla guida

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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 very important decisions.

Caption 45, Marika spiega - Proverbi italiani

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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...

Caption 27, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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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

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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.]


Learning suggestion:

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:

  • fare una pausa (to take a break)
  • fare un massaggio (to give a massage) 
  • fare una passeggiata (to take a walk)
  • fare colazione (to have breakfast)
  • prendere un caffè (to have a coffee)
  • prendere un raffreddore (to catch a cold)
  • fare la doccia (to take a shower)
  • fare il bravo (to be good, to behave)
  • fare una foto (to take a picture)

Ce la farai! (You’ll get it!)



For more on proverbs see:

Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 1 of 2

Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2

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