Lezioni Italiano


Lessons for topic Expressions

Meglio Tardi che Mai: Better Late than Never

We can’t always be on time, so let’s look at some of the words you need when you or someone else is late. It’s not as simple as using the Italian word tardi (late).


In a recent episode of Stai Lontana da Me there has been a little car accident. This time nobody got hurt, but Sara is going to be late for work if she’s not careful.


Però è tardi.

But it's late.

Senti, mi dispiace, io prendo la metropolitana.

Listen, I'm sorry, I'll take the metro.

Ho fatto tardi.

I'm running late [or "I've gotten delayed," "It got late," "I'm late."]

Captions 11-13, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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When she says, “È tardi, she’s talking about the hour. She has to be at work, say, at nine, and it’s already ten to nine, and she is still far from her office. Objectively speaking, it is late!

When she says “Ho fatto tardi,” she is talking about herself and the fact that she got delayed. She is late.


Telling someone not to be late is important sometimes. Here’s one way to do this:


Ciao, mamma. Io vado da Flavia.

Hi, Mom. I'm going to Flavia's.

-Ciao, amore. -Non fare tardi.

-Bye, love. -Don't be late.

Captions 38-39, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Another way to say you’re late is to use the phrasal adverb, in ritardo (late). Ritardo is a noun meaning “delay.”

In an episode of Commissario Manara, Manara’s boss is not happy with him per niente (at all).


Lei è in ritardo di ventiquattro ore.

You're twenty-four hours late.

Si può sapere che cosa aveva da fare di così urgente?

Can you let me know what you had to do that was so urgent?

Captions 16-17, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

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The noun il ritardo is commonly used when we apologize for being late.


Buonsera a tutti.

Good evening everyone.

Scusate il ritardo, ragazzi.

Sorry I'm late, guys.

Ma aspettavate solo me?

Were you just waiting for me?

Captions 8-10, Concorso internazionale di cortometraggio - A corto di idee

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Both the adverb tardi and the noun ritardo also have verb forms: tardare and ritardare.

Non dovrebbe tardare ad arrivare.
It won’t be long before he arrives.

This doesn’t refer to a precise amount of time, and doesn’t necessarily mean someone or something is late. It just means they haven’t arrived yet.


The following is a bit more urgent and refers, most likely, to an agreed-upon hour.

Non ritardareperché il film comincia puntuale.
Don’t be late, because the film starts punctually.


Here’s how we use comparatives and superlatives with tardi (late).

Vado a letto tardi il sabato sera.
I go to bed late on Saturday nights.

Più tardi means "later."

Ci vediamo più tardi.
We’ll see each other later.

Al più tardi means "at the latest."

Devi spedire questa lettera domani al più tardi.
You have to send this letter by tomorrow at the latest.


The opposite of in ritardo is in anticipo (ahead of schedule, early, in advance).
We can also use the verb form anticipare (to be early, to expect).

La consegna era prevista per domani, ma il pacco è arrivato in anticipo.
Delivery was scheduled for tomorrow, but the package arrived early.

Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno anticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they came back early.


Just to add a little twist, another opposite of anticipare is posticipare (postpone, to delay).

Per via del maltempo in arrivo, hanno posticipato il rientro.
Because of approaching bad weather, they postponed their return.


Attenzione! Italians do not use anticipare in the sense of “looking forward to something.” See this definition of the verb to anticipate. Definition number 2 doesn’t conform to the Italian. In fact, “looking forward to something” is difficult to say in Italian, and there is no precise translation. We will tackle this conundrum in another lesson.



To sum up

Tardi (late): With the adverb tardi, we use the verb fare when talking about someone being late. When talking about the hour, we use essere (to be).
Tardare (to be late, to run late)
Il Ritardo (the delay)
Essere, arrivare in ritardo (to be late or behind schedule)
Ritardare (to run behind schedule, to be late)

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A Common Expression: Nel Senso...

In the new film on Yabla, La Tempesta, a conversation takes place down on the street. Paolo has had his car towed and doesn’t quite know how to get to work. His neighbor comments:


Nel senso, magari è la volta buona

I mean, maybe this will be the time

che ti fai una bicicletta pure tu.

that even you get yourself a bike.

Captions 4-5, La Tempesta - film

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Nel senso literally means “in the sense,” but Italians use it these days much as we use “I mean” in English. Lots of times they don’t even finish the sentence. Nel senso just stands alone, and you have to guess the rest. Nel senso can be likened to cioè (that is, meaning...), but technically, nel senso in this context should be followed by che (that) as in the following example.


Conoscendolo in che senso...?

Knowing him in what way...?

Nel senso che in paese le voci girano.

In the way that in town word gets around.

Captions 48-49, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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Without che (or any other conjunction) following it, it's decidedly less grammatically correct.

Il senso is a noun that covers a lot of bases, but here, it is equivalent to "the way," "the manner."


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What's the Difference Between infatti and in effetti ?

A Yabla subscriber has asked about the difference between infatti and in effetti. The question is an excellent one.

The short answer is that infatti may be translated as “in fact,” while in effetti can be translated as “actually,” or “admittedly.” You can get this kind of information from any dictionary. But the question merits a closer look.

Infatti has, over time, become a single word but like many Italian words of this type, started out being two words: in + fatti. It’s extremely similar to the English “in fact,” and, not surprisingly, it means the very same thing.


È quasi una sorella, anzi è una sorella.

She's almost a sister, or rather, she is a sister.

Infatti, parliamo allo stesso modo...

In fact, we talk the same way...

e facciamo le stesse cose.

and do the same things.

Captions 4-6, Amiche - sulla spiaggia

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Another way to say infatti is difatti. It’s less common, but used often enough, and is interchangeable with infatti. Note that these two terms use the plural ending.


The fact is, both infatti and difatti come from the Latin de facto (from the fact) which is also used in English to mean that something exists in fact, although perhaps not in an intentional, legal, or accepted way: de facto. The direct Italian translation of the Latin de facto is di fatto—two words, like the Latin. Note that this term uses the singular ending, as in the Latin.

When we go to a meeting, and it doesn’t actually take place for some reason, we can say it was nulla di fatto (nothing actually happened).

In the following example from the very first episode of Commissario Manara, introductions are being made at police headquarters. Pio, meaning pious, is an old-fashioned but common enough name in Italian. Buttafuoco’s co-worker is making a pun, saying Pio Buttafuoco is a good and maybe even religious person.


Buttafuoco. -È pio, eh di, di nome e di fatto.

Buttafuoco. -He's Pio [pious], uh in, in name and in fact.

Caption 48, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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Unlike infattiin effetti is made up of two words, and though, like infatti and difatti, it comes from the Latin de facto, it’s a bit more subjective, and has to do with taking something into consideration and admitting that, “yes, that is actually so.”

In the following example, in effetti is used because one couple realizes that they have actually been absent for a good while, and so the question is more than justified.


Ma è un po' che non vi si vede. Dove siete stati?

Well, it's been awhile since we've seen you. Where have you been?

Beh sì, in effetti siamo appena rientrati dall'India.

Well yes, actually we've just gotten back from India.

Captions 7-8, Escursione - Un picnic in campagna

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In this case, they could just as easily have said:

Beh si, infatti, siamo appena rientrati dall’India.
Well yes, in fact, we just got back from India.

It’s just a different slant, like saying “in fact” instead of “actually” or “as a matter of fact.”

In effetti can be used when you’re forced to agree with someone, but not all that willingly, or when they have convinced you of something.

You might say:

In effetti... hai ragione.
Admittedly... you’re right.

The other person who knew he was right all along, and was waiting for you to realize it, might say:

Infatti, ho ragione!
In fact, I am right!

He might also just say:

In fact.

Infatti can be used by itself to confirm what someone has said. You’re agreeing wholeheartedly. It may not actually have to do with facts, but is used in the same circumstances in which we use “in fact,” “as a matter of fact,” “that’s a fact,” or “that’s true” in English. It’s usually expressed with an affirmative tone.

In effetti is more like a consideration. It’s more like “admittedly” or “actually.” The tone may well be one of realizing something you hadn’t considered before. You might raise your eyebrows. The adverb form of in effetti is effettivamente and can be used interchangeably for the most part.


To sum up, there are definite differences in the words discussed in this lesson, but the differences are, in effetti, fairly subtle, and so you have to pay close attention to really grasp them. For the most part, if you stick to infatti to be emphatic, and in effetti to be a bit more thoughtful, you’ll probably do fine! Listen to the tone and context in the Yabla videos to get more insight into these words.

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Fregarsene: To Not Care

The following Italian expression paints a picture of an outside force, either making us do something, or preventing us from doing something. It’s out of our hands.


È più forte di me, non ce la faccio, non ce la faccio.

It's stronger than me [I can't help it], I can't do it, I can't do it.

Caption 90, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP9 - Morte in paradiso

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The expression is used when you know that what you’re doing is a bit overboard, but you still do it. You can’t help it, there's a stronger force at work!


In the expression below, you are throwing your cares to the wind. You might be able to do something about the situation, but you choose not to worry about it!


E se entrano, chi se ne frega?

And if they come in, who cares?

Caption 80, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP9 - Morte in paradiso

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Fregare (to rub, to scrub, to steal, to rip off) is a widely used word, acceptable in casual speech, but should be avoided in formal situations or in writing to anyone but close friends. Originally it meant “to rub” or “scrub” but now, sfregare is more common for those meanings. Nowadays fregare has various colloquial meanings, and has become part of a very popular expression, fregarsene (to not care about something). This long verb with pronouns attached is called a verbo pronominale (pronominal verb). See this lesson to learn more about pronominal verbs.


Grammatically speaking, fregare is used reflexively in this expression, with an indirect object included that means “of it” or “about it.”


fregar(e)se (oneself) + ne (of it)


This tiny ne is quite important, but a bit tricky to use. When the expression crops up in a video, listen carefully and read the captions to assimilate it, as it goes by rather quickly. You won’t hear Daniela and Marika using this expression in their lessons, but you will often hear it in Commissario ManaraL’oro di ScampiaMa che ci faccio qui? and others.


Since the expression is tricky, let’s look at some examples in different conjugations and constructions.


Indicative first person singular/third person singular:

Me ne frego (I don’t care about it).
Se ne frega (he/she/it doesn’t care about it).

Imperative informal:

Fregatene (don’t be concerned about it, ignore it)! [Attenzione, the accent is on the first syllable!]


Che mi frega (what do I care?)
Che ti frega (what do you care?)

Passato prossimo (past tense):

Se n’è fregato (he didn’t care about it, didn’t do anything about it). [Here the accent is on the second syllable.]


Non me ne può fregar di meno (it can’t affect me any less, I don't give a hoot about it).

Note: In English we often use the conditional to say the same thing: "I couldn't care less."

Note the troncamento or shortening, from fregare to fregar. See Marika’s lessons on troncamento!


Avere la puzza sotto al naso or avere la puzza sotto il naso (to have a stink under their noses): These are both ways of saying “to have one’s nose in the air” (to avoid smelling the stink below). It’s a way of calling someone stuck up, or a snob.

The difference between sotto il naso and sotto al naso is a bit like the difference between “under” and “underneath.”  We can use either one.


Va be', però c'hanno la puzza sotto al naso.

OK, but they have the stink underneath their noses [they're stuck up].

Caption 46, L'oro di Scampia - film

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So, now you have a few more expressions to use when the situation calls for it.

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Committed and Busy with Impegno, Impegnato, and Impegnarsi

In a recent episode of Stai lontana da me, some form of the word impegno or impegnarsi appears three times in a row, each time with different connotations. Let's have a look.


The noun form impegno can refer to a commitment at work, an errand, an appointment.


Comunque abbiamo un sacco di cose in comune,

Anyway, we have a lot of things in common,

gli impegni di lavoro, l'intimo.

work obligations, underwear.

Captions 22-23, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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It's a convenient way to be vague: 

Ho un impegno (I have a [prior] commitment).

We can use the adjective form impegnato to mean "busy":

Sono impegnato al momento (I'm busy just now).


The reflexive verb form impegnarsi means "to commit" or "to make a commitment." In the video, the two people are talking about a commitment in matters of the heart:


Il terrore di impegnarsi.

The terror of commitment.

Caption 24, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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But it can also mean "to try very hard," "to make an effort":

Mi sto impegnando molto ma i risultati sono scarsi.

I'm really trying hard, but the results are poor.



The expression senza impegno (literally "with no obligation") sometimes means, "don't feel you have to." It can also make it clear that we're talking about something very casual, which may be the case in the breakfast invitation below.


Colazione insieme? Senza impegno, eh.

Breakfast together? No obligation, huh.

Captions 25-26, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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In more commercial settings senza impegno can mean "you don't have to sign anything and there's no charge."


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Ecco: An Ancient and Useful Adverb

Ecco (here it is), from the Latin ecce or eccum, is about presenting a person, thing, or idea and inviting you to perceive it at the very moment it appears.


Ecco la primavera is a 14th century song by Francesco Landini. It’s a song about the coming of spring. We might translate the title as “Behold, Spring Has Come!” The entire Italian text with a non-literal English translation opposite may be viewed here.


So this way of calling our attention to something goes way back. Despite its very ancient origins, it’s a popular word that Italians use constantly. We say ecco to call attention to something or someone arriving, or when we find something we were looking for.


We no longer use the word “behold” in English, but we might say, “well, will you look at that,” “there you go!” In the following example, Anna gets her question about long-lasting bread answered before she asks it, so she says ecco, to acknowledge the fact.


È un pane che dura tantissimo.

It's a kind of bread that lasts a very long time.

Ah ecco! Perché volevo appunto chiedere,

Ah, there you go! Because I wanted to ask you just that,

qual è il tipo di pane che dura di più.

what type of bread lasts the longest?

Captions 61-62, Anna e Marika - Il pane

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Ecco can stand alone (just about anywhere in a sentence) as in the above example, or can precede a noun to present it, as in ecco la primavera. When a pronoun is used, on the other hand, ecco gets attached to it. This goes for all the different direct object pronouns (mi, ti, lo, la, ci, vi, li, and le).


Aha. Sì. Eccolo, eccolo, è arrivato. Sì, sì.

Aha. Yes. Here he is, here he is, he's here. Yes, yes.

Captions 13-14, Francesca - alla guida

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One common way ecco is used is with perché (why, because) to mean “that’s why” or “you see why” or even “here’s why.”


Ecco perché io non me ne voglio andare.

That's why I don't want to leave it.

Caption 5, Basilicata Turistica - Non me ne voglio andare

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Another common usage is ecco qua (here you are). It calls your visual attention to what is being presented. In the following example, a pizzaiolo (pizza maker) is removing a mouth-watering pizza from his forno a legna (wood oven)!


È quasi pronta... Ecco qua!

It's almost ready... Here it is!

Captions 26-27, Antonio - presenta la Pizzeria Escopocodisera

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Ecco is also a filler word much like “OK,” “you know,” or “that's all” that can wrap up what one has said so far:


Io vorrei semplicemente che ognuno avesse la sua porzione, ecco.

I would simply like everyone to have his portion, that's all.

Caption 19, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 - EP2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Or it can introduce what one is about to say, much like “look,” “this is how it is,” or “here’s the thing.”


Però, ecco, per quanto mi riguarda,

But, there you go, from my point of view,

io vedo lì una cassata siciliana!

I see a Sicilian Cassata there!

Caption 11, Susanna Cutini - Dolci delle tradizioni di Pasqua

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Ecco is often difficult or even impossible to translate accurately. But once you start listening for the word and noticing it, you'll get a feel for it, and it will start creeping into your conversation naturally. Doing a Yabla search will display a very long list of examples from videos, so you can see the different contexts in which it’s used.


Ecco! (And there you have it!)


P.S. If you neglect to pronounce the double "c" in ecco, you'll obtain eco which means "echo." 

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To’ and Boh

In a recent episode of Commissario Manara, two short words stick out. The first is to’. It appears to be an abbreviation, and is found in the Collins dictionary, but is missing in many other dictionaries. In fact it’s a very informal, colloquial one-word expression.


Although hard to find in a dictionary, to’ is a good word to know, as we hear it often enough in informal situations. It sounds like an abbreviation for te lo do (I'm giving it to you), but is considered to be an abbreviation for tieni (“hold [it],” or “take [it]”) or prendi (take [this]). It’s used in the act of handing something to somebody. It’s often used together with the original word tieni. Though there is no actual infinitive to identify the verb, to'  is expressed as a command, as in "take this," and is only used informally.

It’s like saying “Here!”, “Here you go!” or “Here, take it.”

To’, tieni.
Here, take [it].


Luca’s friend Sergio uses it twice at the beginning of this week’s segment of Commissario Manara. He’s giving Luca some papers to sign.

To', è tutto qui, eh?

Here you go, it's all here. Huh?

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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Non manca niente. To', servizio a domicilio.

Nothing's missing. Here you go, door to door service.

Captions 3-4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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The other short word that we often hear in conversation is boh.

Boh is a way of vocally shrugging your shoulders to say, “I don’t know!” or “I have no idea.” It can also be a quick but significant way of saying you don’t know what’s going on, or that something doesn’t make sense or add up.

Ma non capisco, dovrebbe essere aperto, ma non c'è nessuno! Boh!

But I don't understand. It should be open, but nobody's there! It makes no sense!

Captions 18-19, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 2

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Pay close attention to how people say to’ and boh, as the o is quite short in duration and finishes quite suddenly. But once you get the hang of this kind of o, you’ll enjoy shrugging your shoulders and saying “Boh!”


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New Beginnings: Punto e a capo

Knowing how to divide words by syllables is a bit different in every language. These days word processors avoid the problem by making everything fit without having to divide the words at all. But word processors can get it wrong, and there are times when we really do need to know how to divide a word at the end of a line before hitting the "return" key, and Marika lays out some clear-cut rules for us.

E quindi, per andare a capo, cioè nella riga successiva, bisogna seguire queste regole.

And so, to start a new line, that is, on the next line, one needs to follow these rules.

Captions 35-36, Marika spiega - La divisione in sillabe

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Please see both part one and part two of Marika's video lessons to get all the information you need about dividing words into syllables.


And, just like in English, Italian uses punctuation terms as metaphors. Punto (period) indicates that there will be no further discussion!

Pensavo che stessimo lavorando insieme a quest'indagine.

I thought we were working together on this investigation.

Infatti ci stiamo lavorando insieme però di Ginevra me ne occupo io, punto.

In fact, we are working together, but I will take care of Ginevra, period.

Captions 20-21, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 6

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When we’re working on something and reach an impasse, we frequently have to start over. We start from scratch, we go back to square one, we go back to the drawing board. Having to start over happens quite frequently in criminal investigations, and Commissario Manara is no exception.


In one case, Luca uses an idiomatic expression/punctuation metaphor for this. In dictation, to indicate a new paragrafo (paragraph) or a new line, the term is punto e a capo (period, new line/paragraph).

Se la confessione di Perrone è vera, non abbiamo niente in mano.

If Perrone's confession is true, we're left with nothing in hand.

E siamo punto e a capo.

And we're back to square one.

Captions 5-6, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 16

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Here’s another way to say the same thing:

Già! E noi siamo di nuovo al punto di partenza.

Yeah! And we're back to the starting point [square one] again.

Caption 22, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 8

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In yet another episode, Luca seems to be losing patience with a witness or suspect, and uses daccapo to mean “from the beginning.” He could have said da capo just as easily, but it’s often used as a single word with a double c, originating from (and meaning the same as) da capo (from the beginning). Da capo is also used universally in music to indicate a repeat of the beginning of a piece.

Allora, ricominciamo daccapo, va! Com'è andata?

So, let's start over again from the beginning, come on! What happened?

Captions 4-5, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro - Part 15

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Check out punto (point) and capo (head) on WordReference.com for their various meanings and sfumature (nuances), and see this Yabla lesson about “Getting to the Point.”

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Verbi pronominali - Pronominal Verbs


We use the term verbo pronominale (pronominal verb) to describe long verbs like prendersela, in which pronoun particles are added on to the original verb (prendere in this case). But let’s take a closer look at what verbi pronominali (pronominal verbs) are all about.



What does pronominale (pronominal) mean?

Pronominale (pronominal) means “relating to or playing the part of a pronoun.” In Italian, un verbo pronominale (a pronominal verb) is one that has a special meaning when used together with one or two particular pronominal particelle (particles).


Grammatically speaking, a particle is simply a small word of functional or relational use, such as an article, preposition, or conjunction.


So we have a normal verb, which, when used together with certain particles, has a distinct meaning that is often, but not necessarily, related to the meaning of the original verb.

Technically, reflexive verbs can also be considered pronominal verbs because in effect, the verb is used together with a particle like the si (oneself) in alzarsi (to get up). But these verbs are a special case and not usually called “pronominal,” since they are already called “reflexive.” Learn more about reflexive verbs here.


Verbs can combine with one or two particles. The particles used to make up a pronominal verb are:

la (it)
le (them)
ne (of it, of them, from it, from them)
ci (of it, about it)

Note that La and le are direct object pronouns while ci and ne are indirect object pronouns and therefore include a preposition and an object in the one particle.


As mentioned in a previous lesson, a pronominal verb in its infinitive form has all the particles attached to it, but when used in a sentence, the pieces may be partially or totally detached, and hence a bit more difficult to locate.

Pronominal verbs with 1 pronoun

Pronominal verbs may be made up of one verb plus one pronoun particle:

smetterla (to quit doing something): smettere (to quit) + la (it)
darle (to give them, to give a spanking [idiom]): dare (to give) + le (them)
farne (to do something with something): fare (to do, to make) + ne (of it, of them)
capirci (to understand [about] something): capire (to understand) + ci (of it)


Sì, ma lo sai che è la prima volta che in un delitto non ci capisco niente neanche io? -Hm.

Yes, but you know it's the first time that in a murder I don't understand anything about it either? -Hm.

Captions 45-46, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 12

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Pronominal verbs with 2 pronouns

Pronominal verbs may also be made up of one verb plus two pronoun particles (which combine with each other).


The particle ci can be combined with a second pronoun particle, such as -la or -ne, but, as we have mentioned beforeci becomes ce when combined with another pronoun particle. Therefore we have, -cela, -cene; NOT -cila, -cine.

avercela [con qualcuno] (to have it in [for somebody], to feel resentful [towards somone]) avere + ci + la
farcela (to make it, to succeed) fare + ci + la


Ce la faccio, ce la faccio, ce la faccio.

"I can do it, I can do it, I can do it."

Caption 60, Dixieland - La magia di Tribo

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Since the feminine is so often used in pronominal verbs, especially in idiomatic expressions, we can think of la (it) as standing for una cosa (something, that thing), la vita (life), la faccenda (the matter), or la situazione (the situation).


Exactly why a feminine pronoun is used in so many expressions with pronominal verbs is not cut-and-dried, and there is no quick answer. If you’re insatiably curious, check out this passage from an online book about the question (in Italian).

Reflexive pronominal verbs 

Pronominal verbs may be made up of one reflexive verb (which uses the particle si in the infinitive) plus a second pronoun particle such as those mentioned above:  la, le, ne, or ci.

Prendersela (to get angry, to get offended, to get upset)
Fregarsene (to not care at all about something [colloquial])
Mettercisi (to put [time] into something)


In the following example, we have the pronominal verb accorgersene (to notice something, to realize something, to become aware of something). The basic (reflexive) verb is accorgersi (to notice), but the object pronoun particle ne is added as an indirect object pronoun.

Ma non è tutto lì. Forse la differenza ha radici più profonde. E te ne accorgi solo quando accade.

But that's not all of it. Perhaps the difference has deeper roots. And you only notice it when it happens.

Captions 32-34, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 11

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Getting Upset with Prendersela

In a Yabla video, Marika talks about the verb prendere (to take) and some of the expressions associated with it. Prendere is much like the English all-purpose verbs “to get” and “to have,” thus not easily taken care of with a cut-and-dried one-word translation.


One of the trickier expressions she mentions is prendersela (to get upset, to blame it [on someone], to take it personally, to take it to heart, to take it out on, to let it get to you, to take offense). Its precise meaning changes according to context. This kind of verb that contains pronouns (that when conjugated split up) is called un verbo pronominale (a pronominal verb--a verb with pronouns). More about pronominal verbs here


But let’s take this phrasal compound verb apart to understand it better in grammatical terms.


Prendere is the infinitive of the verb.

+Se (to oneself) indicates that it’s the reflexive form, prendersi. Note that to form the reflexive infinitive of a verb, we take the e off the end and add si, but if we also have a direct object pronoun in the phrase, we use se in place of si.

+La (it) is the direct object pronoun.

=to take       it    onto oneself
=Prendere   la    se

Italian inverts the indirect and direct object pronouns and connects it all together into one word: prendersela.


When we use prendersela in a sentence, we sometimes have to go hunting for the pieces because the word order might change, and prendersela will in some cases be broken up into its three elements, depending on person, tense, number, negative, imperative or question forms, and the presence of modifiers and other words.  


Prendere can be the conjugated verb:

Me la prendo con te perché non fai attenzione.
I get upset with you because you’re not careful.


But more often than not, it’s used in tenses where the conjugated verb is essere (to be), as in the following example, where prendere ends up as a past participle.

"Me la sono presa con quella persona."

"I got angry at that person."

Caption 13, Marika spiega - Il verbo prendere

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In the following example, there is a negative imperative, which we form with non (not) plus the infinitive of the verb in question. In this case, it’s common to place the reflexive pronoun first, thus breaking up the compound word, and saving the infinitive for the end.

Non te la prendere, ma quando sto male preferisco rimanere da solo.

Don't feel bad, but when I feel sick, I prefer to be by myself.

Captions 12-13, La Ladra Ep. 7 - Il piccolo ladro - Part 11

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"Dai, non te la prendere."

"Come on, don't be upset."

Caption 16, Marika spiega - Il verbo prendere

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It would not be wrong to say:

Dai, non prendertela.
Come on, don't get upset.




Just for fun:

La torta è uscita storta dal forno, e mi sono arrabbiata. 
The cake came out of the oven lopsided, and I got mad.
Ma non me la potevo prendere con nessuno.
But I couldn’t blame it on anyone.
Me la sono presa solo con me stessa, perché era colpa mia.
I only blamed myself, because it was my fault.


Perché te la sei presa? Io non t’ho fatto niente, quindi non te la prendere con me!
Why did you take it personally? I didn’t do anything to you, so don’t take it out on me!
Non me la sono presa con te, me la sono presa e basta.
I’m not mad at you, I’m just upset.


Using prendersela in a sentence can be somewhat of a challenge, so... non te la prendere se non ci riesci subito (don’t get upset if you don’t succeed at it right away)!

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Staying on the Pista and Going the Extra Mile

This week Dixi is attempting to ride a bicycle.


Non c'è due senza tre.

There can't be two without three [good/bad things come in threes].


-Shall we try again?

Caption 28, Dixieland - In bicicletta

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Three is often seen as a magic number, and the above expression is the way Italians express this. It can mean that if two bad things happen, one more will happen to make three, and the same can hold true for good things. Still another way the phrase can be interpreted is “third time’s a charm,” so it’s important not to stop after two. In fact, on the third try, Dixi does manage to stay on his little bicycle.


A related expression with numbers comes to mind that has to do with making that extra little effort at the end of something you’ve worked so hard on. It has to do with going that extra mile. It means going all the way and then some:


Abbiamo fatto trenta, facciamo trentuno.
We’ve done thirty; let’s do thirty-one.


Meanwhile, Dixi is not perfectly in control of his bike:


Attenzione! Pista!

Careful! Track [coming through]!

Caption 10, Dixieland - In bicicletta

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Pista means track, racetrack, runway, skating rink, dance floor, path or trail. If you hear someone yelling pista, it basically means they “have” the track, so you should get out of the way and in a hurry. It’s not considered impolite, but more about safety.


A proposito di sicurezza (speaking of safety), there are more and more bike paths cropping up in Italy.


Vicino al lungomare ci sta una pista ciclabile.

and next to the promenade there is a bike path.

Caption 44, Antonio - racconta Praia a Mare

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In their work, Lara and Luca use pista to indicate the track they’re on in the investigation, or the lead they’re following.


E che pista seguiamo?

And which track are we following?

Caption 25, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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When you’ve undertaken something, you’re off and running, like in a race. 

Sono in pista!
I’m off!

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Hypothetical Examples: Per Dire

Per dire is a common expression. It has different variations, with different sfumature, but this is perhaps it's most synthetic variant. It's as if the speaker were saying per esempio (for example), or "let's say..." In both cases, it's practically a stand-alone expression that gets inserted in a sentence with a comma or an ellipsis.


Per dire, io prendo la pastiera napoletana, all'interno c'è il grano, simbolo di ricchezza.

Let's say I take the Neapolitan Pastiera: inside there's wheat, symbol of wealth.

Captions 33-34, Susanna Cutini - Dolci delle tradizioni di Pasqua

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Literally, per dire means "in order to say." Perhaps the best way to think of it is "for the sake of argument." We might even simply use "say," as in "suppose."


Let's take, say, a Neapolitan pastiera...
Suppose I take the Neapolitan pastiera...


We're primarily talking about a hypothetical example, which may or may not actually be a true-life example. Susanna's example about her grandfather happened to be true, but she was using it as an example. 


Perché a Pasqua lui doveva avere lo zafferano per fare le panine pasquali. Per dire...

Because at Easter, he had to have saffron to make the Easter breads. Just as an example...

Captions 82-83, Susanna Cutini - Dolci delle tradizioni di Pasqua

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Fare a Meno and Tale e Quale


The useful expression fare a meno (to do without) comes up in a recent installment of L'Arte della Cucina:


L'armonia non può fare a meno dei contrasti, che possono essere numerosi.

Harmony can't do without contrasts, which may be numerous.

Caption 14, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá - Part 10

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Let's take a look at each separate word.

Fare means "to make" or "to do" (see this lesson about fare).
A is a preposition meaning any number of things, mostly "at," "to," or "in," but not specifically "with," so we need to stretch our imaginations a bit, and accept the fact that prepositions don't always correspond. 
Meno has a couple of different meanings, including "minus," which in this case, makes sense.


At the same time, let's not forget that the most common translation for meno is "less," or, when there's an article in front of it, "least":

a meno che (unless)
almeno (at least)


See WordReference, for more about fare a meno.


In a recent episode of Dixieland, there's an interesting expression: tale e quale

O forse l'autoritratto di Lolalù? "Tale e quale, Lolalù."

Or maybe the self-portrait by Lolalù? "Exactly like Lolalù."

Captions 43-44, Dixieland - Coppa di cioccolato

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If we take the expression apart, we have two principal words. Tale has a long list of definitions and translations. It can mean, as a noun, "that person," or as an adjective, "certain," "similar," "aforementioned," and more. Quale (which) has some different sfumature (nuances), but it mostly means "which," or "which one."


Merely connecting these words together with e (and) doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so it's best to think of tale e quale as an idiomatic expression, a compound adjective, you might call it, meaning "exactly the same." 


In English we might also say "the spitting image of Lolalù." "To spit" in Italian is sputare, and in fact, sputare is also used to say pretty much the same thing: sputato a LolalùTale e quale is probably easier to remember and easier to say!


Attenzione! In buying and selling, you might find this (without the conjunction): tale quale, which means "as is." 


Just for fun:

Non potevo fare a meno di andare dal parrucchiere. I miei capelli erano troppo disordinati. Appena sono entrata, il parrucchiere m’ha detto: “siediti pure, ho quasi finito.” Poi ha preso in mano un phon per asciugare i capelli di un altro cliente. Devo dire che quell' asciugacapelli era tale e quale al mio. Uguale uguale!... A meno che non fosse proprio il mio, rubato da lui. Sto scherzando... figuriamoci! Avrei fatto a meno della musica che era troppo forte, ma almeno mi ha pettinato molto bene, e in fretta. Dopo, non potevo fare a meno di mangiare un bel gelato.


I couldn't do without going to the hairdresser's. My hair was too messy. As soon as I went in, the hairdresser said, "Go ahead and have a seat. I'm almost finished." Then he took the blow dryer to dry another client's hair. I have to say that that hair dryer was exactly like mine. The same, identical!... Unless it really was mine, stolen by him. I'm kidding... no way! I could have done without the music, which was too loud, but at least he styled my hair nicely, and quickly. Afterwards, I couldn't have done without having a nice ice cream cone.

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Odd Weights and Measures

In English we use the term "dozens and dozens" to indicate a rather large amount. Dozzina (dozen) certainly exists in Italian, but more often than not, Italian sticks to the metric system. Dieci is precisely ten. Una decina is around ten. Venti is twenty precisely, but poche decine is a few times "about ten" (poche is the plural for poco, therefore meaning "a few," as in a few dozen), so it could mean a quantity anywhere between about eighteen to thirty or even more


Molte famiglie hanno degli ulivi di loro proprietà. Una decina, poche decine, fino a degli uliveti grandi.

Many families have olive trees of their own. Ten odd, twenty odd, up to large olive groves.

Captions 2-3, L'olio extravergine di oliva - Il frantoio

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Marika explains about approximate numbers in Italian:

Se io dico che per strada ho visto una cinquantina di alberi, non vuol dire che io ho visto cinquanta alberi, quindi esattamente cinquanta, ma che ho visto all'incirca cinquanta.

If I say that on the road I saw fifty-odd trees, it doesn't mean that I saw fifty trees, and therefore exactly fifty, but that I saw around fifty.

Captions 35-37, Marika spiega - Numeri moltiplicativi, distributivi

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There's a unit of weight that's no longer officially used, but which is actually extremely common in Italy, especially when referring to agricultural products. Un quintale (a quintal) is simply the equivalent of one hundred kilos. Alessio talks about the weight of olives compared to the weight of the resulting oil.


Un quintale sono cento chili e la resa...

A quintal is one hundred kilos, and the yield...

Caption 44, L'olio extravergine di oliva - Il frantoio

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Although un quintale is considerably less than a ton, it's commonly used to indicate something very heavy, just as when we say, "This thing weighs a ton!" Questo pesa un quintale!

When you don't have un metro (a tape measure, a yardstick) handy, you use alternative measuring devices. Italians often use their arms and legs to give approximate measurements. A man's stride will be around a meter. Le dita (fingers) are used to indicate how much water to put in a pot, how much wine to pour in a glass, or the thickness of a piece of meat or something similar, as in the following example.


Comunque, alta due belle dita, e fatta cucinare nel burro.

In any case, two fingers (an inch) thick, and cooked in butter.

Captions 13-14, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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There are lots of ways to talk about weights and measures. As you progress with Italian, you'll undoubtedly incorporate some of these odd ways of measuring into your everyday conversation.

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When Things Don't Matter

Saying something doesn’t matter is a little like saying it’s not important. This can be helpful when examining one way to say “it doesn’t matter” in Italian. The adjective “important“ has an Italian cognate, importante—easy enough—but importare (to matter, to be important) is the original verb. In fact, the third person singular of the intransitive verb importare is used in the negative when something doesn’t matter: non importa! It’s a great little phrase, because there’s an impersonal subject (hidden in the third person singular conjugation of the verb) just like in English: it doesn’t matter. It just works, and is easy to say (give or take the “r” which some English speakers have trouble with).  Add a little shrug of your shoulders, and you’ll fit right in!


Che non importa ciò che dice la gente.

And it doesn't matter what people say.

Caption 12, Tiziano Ferro - Il regalo più grande

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Importare can also be used reflexively (but here it gets more complex and much more personal) as in non m’importa (I don’t care, it’s not important to me), non t’importa niente di me (you don’t care about me at all, I’m not important to you), or non m’importa niente (I don’t care at all). For some great examples, do a search of importa in Yabla videos.

There’s also the question, “What does it matter?” Che importa?


Che importa se questo è il momento in cui tutto comincia e finisce?

What does it matter if this is the moment in which everything begins and ends?

Captions 12-13, Neffa - Passione - Part 1

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Another easy way to say something doesn’t matter is fa niente, or non fa niente (remember that Italian thrives on double negatives!). In this case the verb fare (to make, to do) is used. We need to stretch our imaginations a bit to find a viable word-by-word translation. Something like: it doesn’t make a difference, no big deal!


Va bene, non fa niente. Focalizziamoci sulla lezione di oggi.

All right, it doesn't matter. Let's focus on today's lesson.

Captions 4-5, Marika spiega - La forma impersonale

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Learning Italian does matter!

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"Di che cosa si tratta?" (What's it about?)

Avere a che fare con, which we discussed in a recent lesson, is rather similar in meaning to another turn of phrase: trattarsi di (to be about, to be a matter of, to be a case of), which is used in the impersonal third person singular. Being impersonal, it’s also a little bit more formal.

Let’s back up and look at other forms of this verb.


In its normal form, trattare (to treat) is transitive (meaning it takes an object).

Mi tratta male.
He treats me badly.

Followed by the preposition di (about, with, of, from), trattare di (to be about, to deal with, to talk about) is intransitive.

Il libro tratta di come costruire una casa.
The book deals with how to build a house.

If you substitute the verb parlare (to talk, to speak), it’s easier to grasp:

Il libro parla di come costruire una casa.
The book talks about how to build a house.

But, as mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, there’s also a way of using the verb with no grammatical subject, that is, the impersonal form: trattarsi di (it concerns, it’s a matter of, it’s about). It’s important to remember that with the impersonal, the actual subject is absent, although it gets translated with “it.” (Think of when we say "It's raining.")

Commissioner Manara is questioning a suspect for the first time.


Senta, signor Manuli, qui non si tratta soltanto di inquinamento. -Si tratta di omicidio!

Listen Mister Manuli, it's not just a matter of pollution here. -It's a matter of murder!

Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Trattarsi di is commonly used to answer the question, “What’s it about?” or sometimes, “What is it?” In fact trattarsi di is often used in the question itself:

Di che cosa si tratta?
What does it concern? 
What does it deal with? (note the similarity with avere a che fare)
What’s it about?
What is it?

Si tratta di una conferenza sul razzismo.
What it is, is a conference about racism.
It consists in a conference about racism.

When the subject is a generic “it,” we can use trattarsi di.

A good translation is tough to come up with, however, because in English we’d just say:

It’s a conference on racism.

It’s handy to be able to use trattarsi di in a question. When you get a phone call from someone you don’t know, or when strangers come to your house, your first question might be:

Di che cosa si tratta?
What’s this about?


Further learning:
This link takes you to a Yabla search of tratta. There’s one instance in which non si tratta della forma impersonale (it’s not about the impersonal form). Can you find it?

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Having to Do with “Having to Do with”: avere a che fare con

In this week’s episode of Commissario Manara, there are two instances of a turn of phrase that’s easy to miss when listening to Italian speech: avere a che fare con (to have to do with, to refer to, to be in relation to, to deal with). Lots of little words all in a row, and when the third person singular present tense is used, mamma mia! It can be difficult to hear ha a in ha a che fare con... But if you know what to listen for, it gets easier. It’s actually not so difficult, because the verb is always avere (to have), which is conjugated according to the subject and time element, and the rest of the expression doesn’t change. Remember that fare means both “to make” and “to do.” 


Manara is questioning a suspect:


Lei ci ha detto di non aver mai conosciuto Sianelli e di non avere mai avuto a che fare con la giustizia, giusto?

You told us that you'd never met Sianelli and that you had never had anything to do [been in troublewith the law, right?

Captions 6-7, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Later he reports his findings to Lara.


E quindi siamo sicuri che ha già avuto a che fare con la vittima in passato.

And so we're certain that he'd already had dealings with the murder victim in the past.

Caption 53, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

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Avere a che fare is rather informal and personal. The subject is accounted for. There's another more impersonal way to say pretty much the same thing: si tratta di (it's about, it has to do with, it means), which we'll cover in another lesson.

Quando vado in città, ho a che fare con tutti tipi di persone.
When I go to the city, I deal with all kinds of people.

The subject can be an idea or fact rather than a person:

La conferenza ha a che fare con il razzismo.
The conference has to do with racism.

This turn of phrase is especially effective in the negative: Remember that double negatives are quite acceptable in Italian.

Non voglio aver niente a che fare con quel tizio.
I don’t want to have anything to do with that guy.

Questo pesto non ha niente a che fare con quello genovese.
This pesto has nothing in common with the Genovese kind.


Just for Fun:

Questa lezione ha avuto a che fare con un’espressione comune e informale. Una futura lezione avrà a che fare con altre espressioni che vogliono dire più o meno la stessa cosa. Quando ho a che fare con una nuova espressione, cerco di ripeterla tante volte durante la mia giornata, così diventa parte di me. Non ho a che fare con un cervello giovanissimo! Non vorrei aver niente a che fare con persone che non vogliono imparare.

This lesson was about a common and informal expression. A future lesson will deal with other expressions that mean more or less the same thing. When I’m dealing with a new expression, I try repeating it lots of times during the day. I’m not dealing with a super young brain! I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with people who don’t want to learn.


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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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In the next example, the speaker could have said, Ascolta, Adriano, and it would have meant the same thing. Personal preference and regional usage often account for the difference.

Senti, Adriano, io lavoro qui da quando avevo dodici anni.

Listen Adriano, I've been working here since I was twelve years old.

Caption 37, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 6

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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.

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