Lezioni Italiano


Lessons for topic Grammar

Ci: There's Always More to Say About It!

We had mentioned in a recent lesson that we would come back to ci. Well, it just so happens that Marika talks about ci in a recent video lesson.

To start off, she explains how ci is used to express place so that you don’t have to keep repeating the place in subsequent sentences if it has already been mentioned once. It’s a pronoun in this sense, and includes the preposition and the object of the preposition. So we’re talking about an indirect pronoun.

She uses some examples that give a fairly clear idea of how to use ci in this sense. What can be tricky is that in English, we can leave more elements out of the sentence than in Italian.

There is one example she gives:


Vieni a fare la spesa con me?

Are you coming food shopping with me?

Sì, ci vengo. Grazie.

Yes, I'm coming. Thanks.

Captions 29-30, Marika spiega - La particella CI

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In this case, it’s hard to find any kind of indirect object that represents “to do the shopping with me.” In English, we just say, “Yes, I’m coming.” We could say, “Yes, I’m coming with you,” but that leaves out the shopping.


So when we are thinking about how to say something in Italian, and we are translating from English, it’s tricky to remember this little particle ci. It gets used so often, and it gets used in situations in which we as English speakers would not bother. Fortunately much of the time we can be understood in Italian even if we don’t use these words. It can take years to make ci a natural part of speech for a non-native speaker.

Here are a few more examples:

Dovevo andare al lavoro oggi, ma non ci vado.
I was supposed to go to work today, but I’m not going there.

In English we would just say, “but I’m not going.” And that is what takes getting used to in Italian!


Mia madre sta bene in questa casa, ma io ci sto male.
My mother is happy in this house, but I am not happy here.


Ho chiesto un aumento,ma non ci conto.
I asked for a raise, but I’m not counting on it.


As Marika tells us more about ci, we'll have more examples for you. So stay tuned!

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The Ci in C'è

A common contraction we hear every day in Italian is c’è (there is). If we open it up, we find two words:

Ci (there) and è (third person singular of essere [to be]).



When referring to objects in a place, c'è is fairly straightforward, and its English translation “there is” corresponds quite well:


Nel corpo di Giada non c'è traccia di quel sonnifero.

In Giada's body there is no trace of that sleeping medicine.

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 9

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But things aren't always so straightforward. Let’s look at the following example where, to our ears, it might seem like there’s an extraneous “there.” In fact, the literal translation of the Italian would be “there’s the mama.” Let’s not forget that Italian uses ci to mean “there” and “here” interchangeably for the most part.


...vai, vai tranquillo, c'è la mamma!

...go, don't worry, Mommy's here!

-Sì, mamma.

-Yes, Mom.

Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 10

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In the following example, and the previous one, we see that the word order changes between English and Italian. In Italian the ci (there) comes before the conjugated verb “to be,” making the contraction easy, but in English we need to put “there” afterwards:


Sì, ma non c'è nessuno.

Yes, but nobody is there.

È tutto serrato.

It's all locked up.

Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 1

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Or, we can put in an extra “there.”

There’s nobody there.
There’s nobody here.


Attenzione! If we want to distinguish between “here” and “there,” then we can use qui and .

Il libro non è qui, è lì (the book isn't here; it's there).


Italian uses “there is” to mean “it exists”:


È il minerale più resistente che c'è in natura.

It's the most resistant mineral that exists in nature.

Rilassati Gina.

Relax, Gina.

Captions 17-18, La Ladra - EP. 1 - Le cose cambiano

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But there are also colloquial turns of phrase that use “there is” that don't quite correspond to English. The following example is in the imperfetto or simple past.


C'era Lei di turno tre notti fa? -Sì.

Were you on duty three nights ago? -Yes.

Caption 3, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 10

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When asking for someone on the phone, Italians use c’è. Remember that unlike English, questions and statements in Italian have the same word order, but the inflection changes.

Pronto. -Salve, c’è Susanna?
Hello. -Hello, is Susanna there?


When asking what’s wrong, it’s easy to say:


Che c'è? -Niente.

What's the matter? -Nothing.

Caption 7, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 5

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In this case, translating literally (what is there?) does not work at all!


Lastly, let’s not forget the popular song by Nek, "Laura non c'è". Note again the fact that ci (here, there) is inserted before the verb “to be.”


Laura non c'è, è andata via

Laura's not here; she's gone away

Caption 1, Nek - Laura non c'è

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We’ll often come back to the word ci in lessons, since it really does get around, and can be tricky. For more about ci, see these lessons.

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Conjugated Verbs + Infinitives Part 1

Conjugated verbs have different endings depending on the type of verb, the tense, and the person carrying out the action. Daniela has taught video lessons on the different conjugations of Italian verbs. Un verbo all’infinito (a verb in the infinitive), on the other hand, is the basic verb, with nothing done to it. It always ends in “e.”


Conjugated verbs combine with verbs in the infinitive in different ways. Sometimes a preposition (to, at, of) is needed and sometimes not. Let's talk about the cases in which no preposition is needed between the conjugated verb and the verb in the infinitive.


No preposition needed!

In these cases we have the formula:

conjugated verb + verb in the infinitive


Modal verbs

In the following example, the conjugated verb is the modal verb volere (to want). Let’s quickly review what modal verbs are. They generally combine with verbs in the infinitive and normally don’t stand alone. Another word for verbo modale is verbo servile (servant verb) because these verbs serve another verb. The modal verbs in Italian are potere (to be able to), volere (to want to), sapere (to know how to), and dovere (to have to). See this video lesson about modal verbs.


Voleva entrare dalla finestra all'alba.

He wanted to come through my window at sunup.

Caption 15, La Tempesta - film Part 3

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Let it happen

But here is a non-modal verb that works the same way. The verb lasciare (to leave, to let) is conjugated, and it's followed by a verb in the infinitive entrare (to enter), with no preposition between the two verbs.


Non ti lasciamo entrare in casa.

"We won't let you come in the house."

Caption 4, Ti racconto una fiaba - I tre porcellini

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An adjective in the middle

The second formula Daniela talks about is:

conjugated verb essere (to be) + adjective + verb in the infinitive


E per lei non è stato difficile conoscere tanti nuovi amici.

And it hasn't been hard for her to get to know a lot of new friends.

Caption 24, Adriano - la sua ragazza

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Mix and Match

The following are some examples of the two different formulas Daniela has explained. They don’t correspond in meaning exactly, but are close enough to give you a visual idea of how these two combinations of verbs work.


verbo essere + aggettivo + verbo all'infinito (verb “to be” + adjective + verb in the infinite)
verbo coniugato + verbo all’ infinito (conjugated verb + verb in the infinitive)


È bello parlare con te (it’s nice talking to you).

Mi piace parlare con te (I like talking with you). 


È noioso fare i compiti a casa (it’s boring to do homework).
Non mi piace fare i compiti a casa (I don’t like doing homework).


Non è sano mangiare troppo (it is not healthy to eat too much).
Non si dovrebbe mangiare troppo (one shouldn’t eat too much). 


Sarebbe preferibile prendere un'altra strada (it would be preferable to take another road).
Preferirei prendere un'altra strada (I would prefer to take another road).


Per me è stato molto faticoso camminare fin qua (it was very tiring for me to walk here).
Non ho potuto camminare fin qui senza stancarmi. (I couldn’t walk here without getting tired).


È brutto parlare male degli altri (it is bad to speak badly about other people).
Non dobbiamo parlare male degli altri (we shouldn’t speak badly about other people).


È facile parlare italiano (It's easy to speak Italian).
So parlare italiano (I know how to speak Italian).


Sarà importante andare a letto presto stasera (it will be important to go to bed early tonight).
Devo andare a letto presto stasera (I must go to bed early this evening).


In part 2, we talk about formulas where we need the preposition between the conjugated verb and the infinitive.

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Using the Subjunctive in Conversation

Let's have a quick look at some of the ways the subjunctive has been used in a few of some recent Yabla videos.

One way Italian uses the subjunctive is when invoking some higher power.

In our first example the verb is assistere (to assist) which is a synonym for aiutare (to help).


Che Dio ci assista.

May God help us.

Caption 65, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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In the following example the verb is proteggere (to protect).


Che Dio mi protegga,

God may protect me,

lo devo riportare dove l'ho preso.

I have to take it back to where I got it.

Captions 30-31, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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We have mentioned before, but it bears repeating, that the formal imperative actually uses the third person singular subjunctive. Here Lara is using the formal imperative with the woman she is questioning.The verb is stare.


Stia tranquilla, Iolanda, lo scopriremo.

Be calm,[don't worry], Iolanda, we'll find out.

Caption 17, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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The next example is clearly subjunctive since it is used in the English as well. The verb is essere (to be). The subjunctive deals with hypothetical situations, and come se (as if) is the signpost.


E io l'ho cresciuta come se fosse mia figlia.

And I brought her up as if she were my daughter.

Caption 62, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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In the following example, the subjunctive is used after the word che (that), and involves doubt.
The verb is essere (to be).


Ho pensato che fosse già uscita,

I thought she had already gone out,

o che non fosse tornata per nulla.

or that she hadn't come home at all.

Captions 82-83, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP10 - Un morto di troppo

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Attenzione! Our last example is actually one of incorrect Italian. Lots of Italians get this wrong, sometimes by choice because it’s easier to say (and has become acceptable in very informal situations), but also because of ignorance.


This is a classic case where correct Italian requires one part of the phrase to be in the subjunctive, and the other part in the conditional.


In the following example, the verb that should be in the subjunctive is essere (to be). Manuela instead used the imperfetto (simple past tense). The other verb is sposare (to marry). She used the imperfetto once again, when she should have used the condizionale (conditional).


Cioè, se eri [fossi stato] più grande ti sposavo [avrei sposato]!

That is, if you were older, I would marry you!

Caption 79, La Tempesta - film - Part 5

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If Manuela had wanted to use correct grammar, she might have said:

Cioè, se fossi più grande ti sposerei.


Learn more about the Italian subjunctive here and here.

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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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Accents Make the Difference

In a recent video, Marika talks about accents. But attenzione! She is talking about pronouncing the grave and acute accents, not about writing them (except when necessary for clarity). Sometimes the accents are actually written in a word, and have become part and parcel of it, like in è (is), sarò (I will be), farà (he/she will do), or (yes), but much of the time we just have to learn and remember whether a vowel is open or closed.


Marika explains about the difference between the word for “peach” and “fishing.” To the naked eye, “peach” and “fishing” look exactly the same: pesca. For learning purposes, in the context of the lesson, you will see the accents in the words, but in real life, it’s the context that tells you which one it is, and you are the one who has to know which one gets an open “e” and which gets a closed “e.” Aside from cases in which their absence would be cause for confusion, the accents mentioned by Marika in pesca or botte are absent in written Italian.
In speaking, If you’re not sure about whether a vowel is open or closed, say the word anyway, and don’t worry too much about it. Not all Italians respect the rules, and if the context is clear, you will be understood. It’s not the end of the world. 

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Understanding the Reciprocal Reflexive Form

To understand the reciprocal reflexive, it’s good to have a grasp of the reflexive itself. To review, see this Yabla lesson.


A reflexive verb is used when an action is performed upon the same person who’s performing it. We recognize these verbs because they will be in the presence of an indirect object pronoun, or pronominal particle like mi, ti, ci, vi, si to indicate where the action is reflected.


In her video lesson Marika talks about the close relationship between the reflexive and the reciprocal.


La forma di questi verbi è uguale a quella dei verbi riflessivi.

The form of these verbs is the same as that of the reflexive verbs.

Caption 26, Marika spiega - I verbi riflessivi e reciproci

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Quasi tutti i verbi italiani possono avere una forma riflessiva o reciproga.

Almost all Italian verbs can have a reflexive or reciprocal form.

Caption 32, Marika spiega - I verbi riflessivi e reciproci

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The reciprocal involves two or more people or things, so we’ll need one of the plural pronominal particles: ci (to us, ourselves, each other), vi (to you, yourselves, each other), or si (to them, themselves, each other). As you can see, these particles have more than one function. To learn more, see these lessons about ci.


In two recent Yabla videos, the non reflexive transitive verb capire (to understand) is used a number of times, and there’s one instance where it’s used with ci, so it’s a good opportunity to look at how the reciprocal reflexive works. The reciprocal form is in the category of what’s called a forma riflessiva impropria (improper reflexive form). What makes it “improper” is that, though it works just like a reflexive verb, it isn’t truly reflexive because it doesn’t fill the requirements mentioned above.


In English we use one form for the reflexive (myself, yourself, himself, herself, yourselves, themselves, oneself) and another for the reciprocal (each other, one another), but Italian makes use of the same pronominal particles used in the true reflexive, which can cause some confusion.


Let’s use the verb capire (to understand) to illustrate how it works. We’ll stick with the first and second persons to keep it simple.

Capisco (I understand).
Capisci (you understand).
Ti capisco (I understand you).
Mi capisci (you understand me).
Ci capiamo (we understand each other). Note that this is reciprocal, not reflexive.
Vi capite (you understand each other). This is also reciprocal, not reflexive.


Now, let’s put the above sentences into the passato prossimo (which uses a past participle like the present perfect in English, but translates in different ways). Keep in mind that Italian commonly uses the passato prossimo with capire, when in English, we would more likely use the present tense.

Ho capito (“I have understood,” “I understood,” or more commonly, “I get it”).
Hai capito (“you have understood,” “you understood,” or more commonly, “you get it”).
Ti ho capito or t’ho capito (I understood you).
Mi hai capito or m’hai capito (you understood me).


Thus far, it’s pretty straightforward. But now, as we get into compound tenses, the ones that need auxiliaries or helping verbs, it gets a little more complicated, because as Marika mentioned above, in Italian, “reciprocals” look just like reflexives. Capirci (to understand each another) is “improperly reflexive” but works like a true reflexive and so the rule for reflexive reigns, meaning that we need to use the auxiliary essere (to be) rather than avere (to have). Marika explains this rule in Marika spiega - I verbi riflessivi e reciproci.

Ci siamo capiti (“we have understood each other,” or, “we’re clear”).
Ci siamo capite (“we [two women] have understood each other,” or, “we [two women] are clear”).
Vi siete capiti (you have understood each other).
Vi siete capite (you [two women] have understood each other).


Let’s look at some practical examples from recent videos.


Ho capito. -Vuoi la mia casa a Milano?

I get it. -Do you want my house in Milan?

Captions 11-12, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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Non ti capisco.

I don't understand you.

Caption 42, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

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Ce simm capit' [Ci siamo capiti]?

Do we understand each other?

Caption 53, L'oro di Scampia - film

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In the following example, just the past participle is used, and the person is implied. We often omit the person in English, too.


Capit' [capito]? Ma poi torno.

Got it? But I'll be back later.

Captions 60-61, L'oro di Scampia - film

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Further practice:
Se hai capito tutto (if you’ve understood everything), try using the above model with other verbs like vedere (to see), sentire (to hear, to feel), baciare (to kiss), abbracciare (to hug, to embrace), incontrare (to meet). Se ce la fai (if you are able), use the other persons as well (he, she, they).


Here’s the verb aiutare (to help) to help you get started.

Aiuto (I help).
Aiuti (you help).
Ti aiuto (I help you).
Mi aiuti (you help me).
Ci aiutiamo (we help each other).
Ho aiutato (I helped).
Tu hai aiutato (you helped).
T’ho aiutato (I helped you).
Mi hai aiutato (you helped me).
Ci siamo aiutati (we helped each other).


You may notice below that there are some tricky cases of verb-complement agreement that haven't yet been covered. We will get to these prickly matters in a future lesson.

Aiuta (he/she/it helps).
Aiutano (they help).
L’aiuta (he/she/it helps him/her/it).
Si aiutano (they help each other).
Ha aiutato (he/she/it helped).
Li ha aiutati (he/she/it helped them). 
Hanno aiutato (they helped).
L’hanno aiutato (they helped him). 
L’hanno aiutata (they helped her)
Li hanno aiutati
 (they helped them). 
Le hanno aiutate (they helped them [fem]). 
Si sono aiutati (they helped each other).
Si sono aiutate (they helped each other [fem]).

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The Passato Remoto in Basilicata

The following passage was inscribed on a stone plaque in the city of Valsinni, in the Basilicata region. The plaque introduces a video about Basilicata, and merits a few words.


Questo castello che vide nascere,

This castle, which saw the birth,

vivere e morire la poetessa Isabella Morra,

life, and death of the poet Isabella Morra,

dal De Gubernatis tolta dall'oblio,

by De Gubernatis lifted from oblivion,

fu visitato nel 1928 da Benedetto Croce che ne illustrò la storia.

was visited in 1928 by Benedetto Croce who illustrated its history.

Captions 1-4, Basilicata Turistica - Non me ne voglio andare

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Grammatically speaking, and despite its archaic language, the plaque is a good example of when to use the passato remoto (remote past tense), and indeed describes events that took place well in the past.


We have the verb vedere (to see), whose third person passato remoto is vide.


Next, we have an example of the passive voice made up of the verb essere (to be) in the third person singular remote past: fu, plus visitato (past participle of the verb visitare [to visit]). It's visitato, not visitata or visitati, because we are talking about un castello (a castle), a masculine noun. It was visited by Benedetto Croce who has given his name to streets in many Italian cities.

The last verb in the inscription is illustrò, passato remoto of illustrare (to illustrate, to depict). Croce was a philosopher and historian, and sometimes a politician, but he was not an artist, so we can infer that he described with words, rather than with design, the history of the city he visited in 1928.


On the other hand it must have been Angelo de Gubernatis who saved, or took away (tolto) Isabella Morra from oblivion, since he was responsible for publishing some reference works about Italian literature and poetry, and evidently included her name among poets.

The verb togliere is used here in its past participle tolto. Once again, this is an example of the passive voice, but the verb essere (to be) is omitted, and this time the past participle has a feminine ending, tolta, because it refers to Isabella. For more on participles and their agreement in gender and number with the subject of a passive sentence, see this article.


Tragic stories aside, this three-part video about the Basilicata region of Italy has sparked the interest of many who would love to be able to visit this beautiful region. See more Yabla videos about Basilicata here.  


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More Ways to Translate the Imperfetto

In a recent lesson we talked about the imperfetto, a simple past tense that has various ways of being translated into English. In this lesson we’ll discuss more ways we can translate the imperfetto.


In this gripping film about people trying to live out their lives in the rundown suburb of Scampia, near Naples, a husband and wife are discussing the difficult situation of being threatened by the Camorra almost daily.

Che dovevo fare? Dovevo accettare?

What should I have done? Should I have accepted?

Caption 19, L'oro di Scampia - film - Part 15

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It’s good to know that this is not actually correct Italian. Nevertheless, it’s quite common in colloquial speech to skip complicated structures and use the simple past instead. If, as a foreigner, you know how to use the conditional and the subjunctive, it’s never wrong to say things correctly, just in case. At the same time, it’s essential to understand what someone is talking about. The conditional and past subjunctive need more words and take longer to say, and are complex as well, so more and more, in conversation, people take a shortcut and use the imperfetto.


Before reading further, can you put the above questions into correct Italian?


Here’s the answer:

Che avrei dovuto fare? Avrei dovuto accettare?


What’s needed grammatically is the conditional, but the imperfetto has become an acceptable alternative in casual conversation. This marital discussion was not the time to worry about grammar!


Here are two other examples where the imperfetto is used in place of the conditional, which would have been grammatically correct, and in any case necessary in English.

Però me la potevi passare, no?

But you could have passed her to me, no?

Caption 84, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 12

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Sai che potevo fare un viaggio per il Brasile?

You know, I could have gone on a trip to Brazil?

Caption 33, Francesca e Marika - Il verbo potere

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Here are the grammatically correct versions:

Però, me l’avresti potuta passare, no?

Sai che avrei potuto fare un viaggio per il Brasile?


And here’s still another way to translate the imperfetto! The following example is a classic use of the imperfetto in place of a past subjunctive tense, in this case the trapassato congiuntivo. Again, it’s grammatically incorrect, but lots of people use it. The key word is se (if), which can signal a hypothetical situation and consequently the use of the congiuntivo (subjunctive).

Se sapevo che l'era l'ultima volta che lo vedevo...

If I had known that it was the last time I would see him...

Caption 50, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 14

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What makes sentences like this complicated is the presence of se (if) and che (that, what), which both often take the subjunctive and/or the conditional. And there are a good two instances of che!


Here’s the more grammatically correct, but rather complex version:

Se avessi saputo che sarebbe stata l’ultima volta che l’avrei visto...


Mamma mia, it's super complex. Fortunately the imperfetto has become more and more acceptable. For more about the subjunctive and conditional see this lesson


Continua a leggere

Perfecting the Imperfetto

This week, Michela starts a three-part lesson on the imperfetto. She makes use of a timeline which should help you get the picture. But let’s take a look at the imperfetto from an English language perspective.


The imperfetto, or “imperfect” past tense is just one of the several past tenses in Italian. As we can see from its name, it’s not perfect, meaning it doesn’t use an auxiliary verb like essere (to be) or avere (to have) plus a participle. It stands alone as a verb and is conjugated, and so it is similar in structure to the simple past in English. Attenzione! Knowing when to use it is not always clear-cut, and usage differs from region to region. There may also be more than one possible English translation in a given case.


Perhaps the easiest way to get a feel for this tense is to use it when comparing the past to the present: the way it was then, and the way it is now. Be aware that there are three basic ways to translate the imperfetto into English. One way is with the simple past tense.

Ma certo che lo conosco. Io venivo sempre qui in vacanza!

But of course I know him. I always came here on vacation!

Caption 79, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 4

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In the above example, we’re talking about something in the past. The adverb sempre (always), indicating a repetitive action in the past, along with the fact that it is no longer true, help us understand that we need the imperfetto.


It wasn’t a one-time, specific action in the past. If it had been, we might have used the passato prossimo:

Sono venuto qui l’anno scorso in vacanza.
I came here on vacation last year.


And if we mention the specific times in the past rather than a span of time, we also use the passato prossimo.

Sono venuto qui tante volte in vacanza.
I have come here many times on vacation.


Note that in the above examples, we use the passato prossimo in both cases, but the English translation changes!


Another way we translate the imperfetto in English is with “would” plus the infinitive, when describing the past as opposed to the present.


In the following example, Marika is explaining how people mopped the floor in the past.

Un tempo si usava un'asta di legno con uno strofinaccio...

In the past one would use a wooden pole with a floor cloth...

Si prendeva lo strofinaccio, si metteva in un secchio.

You would take the floor cloth, you would put it in a bucket.

Captions 20-23, Marika spiega - Le pulizie di primavera - Part 1

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A third way the imperfetto can be translated is with the English past continuous tense. 

E allora che cosa ci faceva nel nostro giardino?

And so what were you doing in our garden?

Cercavo un posto sicuro per passare la notte.

I was looking for a safe place to spend the night.

Captions 3-4, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena - Part 12

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The past continuous exists in Italian, too, as the passato progressivo. Much of the time, it’s interchangeable with the imperfetto, and perhaps a bit more specific in pinpointing the moment of speaking in the  timeline.


In the above example, the Italian passato progressivo could have been used with same result in English:

Allora che cosa stava facendo nel nostro giardino?
Stavo cercando un posto sicuro per passare la notte.


So these three ways of translating are important for understanding Italian, and just as important when trying to think and speak in Italian.


Learning suggestions:
To get an overview of this tense in context, do a Yabla search of various verbs in their imperfetto conjugations and see all the examples.

See Marika and Anna talk about their childhoods using the imperfetto!

Can you compare your childhood or youth to the present using the imperfetto as opposed to the presente?


Here’s an example.

Quando ero più giovane avevo più capelli.
When I was younger, I had more hair.
Ora sono quasi senza capelli del tutto.
Now I have almost no hair at all.

Continua a leggere

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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Continua a leggere

Direct Object Pronouns - Part 2

Direct Object Pronouns - Part 1

Direct object nouns and pronouns are used with transitive verbs, meaning that the verb and the object have a direct relationship—no prepositions are involved. Here’s an example:

I carry the ball. The object “ball” is acted on directly by the verb “to carry.”


Once we know what object we are referring to, we can replace the noun with a pronoun:

I carry it.

If I have more than one ball, I use the plural:

I carry the balls.
I carry them.


That’s what direct object pronouns are all about. In Italian we have to form the pronouns not only according to their number, but also according to their gender.


In this lesson we cover the feminine direct object pronouns in both the singular and the plural. For the masculine pronouns, see this Yabla lesson as well as the video Corso di italiano con Daniela: Pronomi oggetto diretto - Part 1 of 2.


As Daniela mentions in part 2 of her lesson on direct object pronouns, the feminine direct object pronouns are easier than the masculine ones, because the pronoun is the same as the article in both the singular (la) and the plural (le), respectively.


To distinguish between la the article and la the pronoun, just remember that a direct object pronoun will come before a conjugated verb, and an article will come before a noun or adjective. The following example contains both the article and the pronoun la.

La pasta fresca mi piace talmente tanto, che la mangio anche cruda.

I like fresh pasta so much, that I eat it raw, too.

Caption 9, Anna e Marika - La pasta fresca

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In the example below, we have both a feminine noun in the plural (le lettere) and its relative direct object pronoun (le). Note that in the second half of the sentence, potere (to be able to) is the conjugated modal verb*, which is followed by the verb scambiare (to exchange) in the infinitive.

Non aveva le lettere e non le poteva scambiare con nessuno.

He didn't have the letters and he couldn't exchange them with anyone.

Caption 8, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 12

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Pronouns are often attached to verbs, especially when we have a conjugated modal verb*. In the example below, bisogna, an impersonal verb functioning like devi (you must), or è necessario (it’s necessary) bumps the verb portare (to take) into its infinitive form. The final e of the infinitive is then dropped, making room for the pronoun le (them) to be attached to it.

Una volta raccolte le olive, bisogna portarle al più presto al frantoio.

Once the olives have been picked, you have to take them to the mill as soon as possible.

Caption 18, L'olio extravergine di oliva - Il frantoio

 Play Caption


Once you have seen Daniela’s videos about direct object pronouns, see Marika’s video Marika spiega: Pronomi diretti where she gives plenty of examples.


*Daniela explains about modal verbs in Corso di italiano con Daniela: Verbi modali.  
Here are two lessons about using modal verbs in Italian.


In a future lesson, we’ll cover indirect object pronouns, where le takes on still another role.

Continua a leggere

Direct Object Pronouns - Part 1

Direct Object Pronouns - Part 2

This week Daniela introduces a very pesky topic indeed: direct object pronouns. Simply put, it’s when you replace a name or a noun with a pronoun, when it’s the object of the verb. We’re talking about words like “it” (which is the same as a subject and as an object), “me” as opposed to “I,” “us” as opposed to “we,” “them” as opposed to “they,” “him” as opposed to “he,” and “her” as opposed to “she.”


Object pronouns, both direct and indirect, are hard for just about anyone trying to learn Italian. This is partly because the position of the pronoun is different from that of the actual word it is replacing (as Daniela explains), and because these pronouns can so easily end up as part of a compound word, or worse, part of a contraction, especially in perfect tenses. And to make matters even more complicated, they can attach themselves to an indirect pronoun. So these short words can be hard to distinguish! (Yabla captions can be very useful in locating them!)


Learners know all too well that the gender of a word can be a challenge in itself, and we need to know the gender first of all. And even within the gender, we need to know what kind of article to use (illo, or l + apostrophe in the masculine, for example). So there’s lots to remember. But let’s take things one step at a time.


A very simple sentence with the verb leggere (to read) and the object noun il libro (the book) might be:

Leggo il libro.
I read the book.

The object pronoun in the masculine singular is always lo (it), so if we replace the object noun with an object pronoun, it becomes:

Lo leggo.
I read it.

Note that the pronoun in this case is placed before the conjugated verb. This is a very important rule.


In the following example, the verb is leggere as in the above example. The object is i nomi (the names) and is plural.


Se leggo i nomi, mi vengono subito le facce.

If I read the names, the faces come to me immediately.

Caption 52, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 5

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If we go on to talk about these names, we can replace i nomi (the names) with a pronoun. We’ll need an object pronoun that’s plural, and masculine, since il nome is a masculine noun. The direct object pronoun for the masculine plural is li (them). If you’ve watched Daniela’s lesson, or if you think you know, try to construct a phrase on your own with the object pronoun of i nomi before looking at the example below. Attenzione! The object pronoun goes before the verb!

Se li leggo, mi vengono subito le facce.
If I read them, the faces come to me right away.


Thus far, we’ve looked at the masculine singular direct object pronoun lo (it, him) and the masculine plural direct object pronoun li (them). When Daniela talks about the feminine singular and plural direct object pronouns, we’ll cover them, too, so stay tuned!


Can you change the following nouns to pronouns?

Quando leggo il giornale, mi devo concentrare.
When I read the newspaper I have to concentrate.

Sposto lo sgabello in cucina.
I move the stool to the kitchen.

Cambio l’orologio per l’ora legale.
I change the clock for legal time [daylight savings time].

Porto Francesco quando è troppo stanco per camminare.
I carry Francesco when he’s too tired to walk.

Cucinerò tutti i pomodori prima che vadano a male.
I’ll cook all the tomatoes before they go bad.


Nel frattempo (in the meantime) why not do a Yabla search to distinguish lo as a masculine singular definite article—lo studente (the student), lo specchio (the mirror), etc.—from the masculine singular direct object pronoun, as discussed in this lesson and in Daniela’s video lesson.


Below are suggested solutions for the above exercise.

Quando lo leggo, mi devo concentrare.
When I read it, I have to concentrate.

Lo sposto in cucina.
I move it to the kitchen.

Lo cambio per l’ora legale.
I change it for daylight savings time.

Lo porto quando è troppo stanco per camminare.
I carry him when he’s too tired to walk.

Li cucinerò prima che vadano a male.
I’ll cook them before they go bad.


Continua a leggere

Essere or Avere?

Daniela has concluded her three-part lesson on the passato prossimo (present perfect) tense. Get caught up here! She gives us some very important information about its construction, but what’s difficult for many of us is just knowing which auxiliary verb to use—essere (to be) or avere (to have)—when using the passato prossimo.


In fact, there’s plenty of gray area, which we’ll delve into further on, but very generally speaking, when the verb is transitive (can take a direct object), the auxiliary verb is avere (to have) and when the verb is intransitive (cannot take a direct object), the auxiliary verb is essere (to be).


The following example contains the direct object film (movie). So we use avere.


Hai guardato il film?

Did you watch the movie?

Caption 15, Marika spiega - I pronomi diretti con participio passato

 Play Caption


In the next example the first verb venire (to come) is intransitive, has no direct object, and thus takes the auxiliary verb essere. The second verb portare (to bring, to carry) is transitive, having a direct object, and thus takes avere. Note that acqua (water) is the direct object of the verb portare.


Il cameriere è venuto e ci ha portato dell'acqua naturale.

The waiter came and he brought us still water.

Caption 20, Anna e Marika - Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere - Part 1

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What about if Anna and Marika had had a cameriera (waitress)?*


In the example below, there’s a direct object (Lara) in the first part, and a verb (intransitive) that can’t take an object (arrivare) in the second part. Lara is a woman, so the ending of arrivata has the feminine singular ending -a.


Hai visto Lara? -Lara non è ancora arrivata, no.

Have you seen Lara? -Lara hasn't gotten here yet, no.

Caption 38, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 13

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Can you make up a sentence changing the person to Luca (a man)? The first part with avere will not change, but the second part with essere will!**

Can you change the person to two people?***


Attenzione! Intransitive verbs have a great many exceptions to the general rule. Strange as it may seem, some of these verbs have to do with movement:


Camminare (to walk), correre (to run), sciare (to ski), and nuotare (to swim), among others, are intransitive action verbs, but nevertheless take avere when referring to the activity itself.

Ho camminato tutto il giorno.
I walked all day.

Loro hanno corso tre chilometri.
They ran three kilometers.

However, when correre is used to mean “to hurry,” “to rush,” then it takes essere!

Io sono corsa a casa.
I rushed home.

See this resource (in Italian) for a list of intransitive verbs and the auxiliaries they use.


There are two other important situations to be aware of, requiring the use of the auxiliary essere in “perfect” tenses: reflexive verbs and verbs in the passive voice. We’ll have a closer look at them in another lesson.




La cameriera è venuta e ci ha portato dell'acqua naturale.
The waitress came and she brought us some still water.


Hai visto Luca? -Luca non è ancora arrivato, no.
Have you seen Luca? -Luca hasn't gotten here yet, no.


Hai visto Luca e Lara? -Loro non sono ancora arrivati, no.
Have you seen Luca and Lara? -They haven't gotten here yet, no.


Further Resources:

For an explanation of verbi transitivi e intransitivi in Italian, see this article.
Here is a text with many examples of il passato prossimo, and a fill-in-the-blank quiz following it.



- Have a look at some Yabla video transcripts or other Italian written text, and try to identify the two kinds of verbs and their auxiliaries in any given situation.


- Do a Yabla video search of the participle of a transitive verb, such as visto, the past participle of vedere (to see), and you’ll see a list of examples from videos containing compound tenses with this participle. Go to the videos, or just read the examples out loud to get a feel for the auxiliary verb avere.


- Be aware that there may be some exceptions in the list: a passive voice, a noun form, a reflexive form in the masculine, a transitive verb used intransitively, an adjective form of a participle.


- For intransitive verbs taking essere, try doing a search on the participles of these verbs: andarevenirepartirearrivarediventare. Remember that their endings will change depending on gender and number. You’ll see right away that the auxiliary is essere, conjugated per the person and the tense (it might be past perfect).


Continua a leggere

More Examples of the Impersonale

We have talked about the impersonal form of verbs in previous lessons. There's a great example in Marika's video about the entrance to her apartment. Note that she uses the plural form of the verb because the objects, giacchegiubbotticappotti (jackets, windbreakers, coats) are plural. 


E quindi si usano giacche, giubbotti, cappotti. Ma dove si mettono, una volta che si tolgono?

And so we use jackets, windbreakers, coats. But where do we put them once we take them off?

Captions 49-50, Marika spiega - L'ingresso di casa

 Play Caption



Review the impersonale here.


Another instance of the impersonale can be found in a video interview with Monica Bellucci. She's talking about the huge blow-ups of some of her photos.


Ah, questa era, l'ho fatta in America, ero giovanissima, si vede.

Ah, this one was, I did it in America, I was very young, you can tell.

Caption 35, Che tempo che fa - Monica Bellucci

 Play Caption



Continua a leggere

Modal Verbs in Italian

To get the basics about why and how we use modal verbs in Italian, and how they are conjugated, see Daniela's video lesson about modal verbs. The modal verbs are: dovere (to have to, must), potere (to be able to, can), and volere (to want to, would).

Italian modal verbs have some similarities with English modal verbs, because they are used together with verbs in the infinitive, but there are differences, too. In English, for example, we can use "to be able to," which does get conjugated, or "can," which doesn't get conjugated. Italian modal verbs are conjugated and are irregular, so as Daniela says, you just have to learn them. These verbs are used so often that you're bound to learn the principle conjugations just by listening. Here's a quick conjugation chart for the present tense, plus a few tips.


There are other verbs like sapere (when it means "to be able to") that are also considered to be modal.

Non lo so spiegare.
can't explain it [I don't know how to explain it].

When in the regular present tense, using modal verbs is mostly trouble free, as long as you've learned the irregular conjugation. The easy part (handy for when you're not sure of the conjugation of another verb) is that the other verb is going to be in the infinitive!

Note that both volere (to want) and dovere (to owe) have uses that aren't modal. All three modal verbs are also nouns, so, occhio al contesto (keep an eye on the context)! 


Let's look at some practical examples. Look for an infinitive verb in the vicinity of the modal verb, to put the modal picture together. 


Zia, che cosa devo fare?

Aunt, what should I do?

Caption 25, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a Catena

 Play Caption

Alex vuole imparare il tedesco.

Alex wants to learn German.

Caption 22, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Domande

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Alle mie spalle, potete vedere la statua del Cristo di Maratea.

Behind me you can see the statue of Christ of Maratea.

Caption 1, Antonio - Maratea, Il Cristo Redentore

 Play Caption


Let's remember that the verb in the infinitive might actually be missing from the sentence itself, but it can easily be imagined, just like in English.

Non posso!

One very common way modal verbs are used is with the impersonal. See these lessons about the impersonal, which uses the third person, as in the example below.


Si può aggiungere il caffè, si possono aggiungere tanti ingredienti.

One can add coffee, one can add many ingredients.

Caption 10, Andromeda - in - Storia del gelato - Part 2

 Play Caption



So far we've been looking at the present tense. A bit further along the line, we'll get into modal verbs with compound tenses, which is a bit more complex. Hope to see you then!

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Tris di Assaggi (Three Tidbits)

In a previous episode of the series on food, Gianni Mura talked about trends in restaurant dining. He talked about what quickly caught on as a popular way of getting a little taste of everything. Instead of a primo (first course), secondo (main dish), contorno (side dish), and dolce (dessert), a restaurant would offer a tris di assaggi (three "tastes," or miniature servings) of primi piatti (first courses). This became, and still is, a great way for tourists, or anyone else, to find out what they like. Depending on what's offered, and on the kind of restaurant, the three servings may arrive all on the same plate at the same time, or on separate plates, one after the other. 



At the end of concerts, audiences ask for an encore. In Italian, this is called a bis. It comes from the Latin for "twice." It has come to mean "again" or "more" in a concert setting, where people want to hear a piece played a second time, or something extra once the programmed performance is over. If you're dining with friends at home, and would like another helping, you can use bis:

Posso fare il bis?
Can I have a second helping?

In rare cases you can ask for a bis in a restaurant, but usually in a restaurant setting, bis will indicate two small servings of two different dishes, rather than one normal one. Likewise, a tris (coming from the Latin for "three times") denotes three small servings of a dish rather than one normal serving.

Now that you know what tris means, here's a tris of tidbits about Italian.

1) Past meaning present


In some cases Italian uses il passato prossimo (constructed like the English present perfect) to express an idea that in English would use the present tense. Here's an example. Luca is telling the doctor that Lara will promise to take care of him. She hesitates but then agrees. She uses the past participle of promettere (to promise) rather than the present tense, as we would in English.


Dottore, che... che devo fare? -Senta, se lo dimetto, mi promette di non lasciarlo solo neanche un attimo? Promette, promette... -Eh... sì! Promesso.

Doctor, what... what should I do? -Listen! If I release him, do you promise not to leave him alone, not even for an instant? She promises, she promises... -Uh... yes! I promise.

Captions 47-49, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

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Capire (to understand) is another word that often gets used in its passato prossimo tense to mean what we think of as being in the present.


Ho capito, ma adesso, qua in mezzo alla campagna... con le mucche, che facciamo?

I get it, but now, here in the middle of the countryside... with the cows, what are we going to do?

Captions 10-11, Francesca - alla guida - Part 3

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As a question tag, the person and auxiliary verb are often left out:


Tiziana, calmati. Ho già fatto richiesta per farti scarcerare, però mi devi dare una mano. Mi devi aiutare, capito?

Tiziana, calm down. I've already put in a request for you to be released, but you have to give me a hand. You have to help me, do you understand?

Captions 21-22, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP9 - L'amica ritrovata

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Ho capito (I understand [literally "I've understood"]) is what you commonly say to let someone know you're listening, much like "I see," "I get it," or even "uh huh." 


2) A common modo di dire


E poi eravamo in giro tutte le notti, perché a quei tempi gli artisti andavano ad alcool e quindi...

And then, we were out and about all night because in those times, artists were fueled by alcohol, and so...

Captions 3-4, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá

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In giro is a very general way to say "out" or "around," when you ask or say where someone is, or where someone has gone. There are many ways to use this expression, so check it out here.


3) Hidden vowels and silent consonants


In an online video lesson, Marika talks some more about object pronouns, this time with the participio passato (past participle). One important thing that can be difficult to grasp is that when the pronoun is used, the object (in the form of a pronoun) comes first. Let's look at this example.


Hai guardato il film? Sì, l'ho guardato.

Did you watch the movie? Yes, I watched it.

Captions 15-16, Marika spiega - I pronomi diretti con participio passato

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We also need to remember that the "h" in ho is silent. L'ho sounds like "lo," but the apostrophe is there to tell us that it's really lo (it) ho (I have). We have "l" + silent  "o" + silent "h" + "o."


One extra tidbit concerning the passato prossimo: While constructed like the present perfect, it often translates with the English simple past tense, just as in the above example. 


That's it for the tris!

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

L'impersonale - Nothing Personal! - Part 1

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


There's still a lot more to talk about regarding the impersonale. Review previous lessons here.  

Sometimes the verbs we use in the impersonal form, happen to be reflexive verbs as well. Before tackling reflexive verbs in the impersonal, it's a good idea to be familiar with how reflexive verbs work. But we're in luck because this week, Daniela happens to be talking about just that in her video lesson!  

As also mentioned in previous lessons, reflexive verbs have si attached to them in the infinitive, for example, lavarsi (to wash oneself). When conjugated, the verbs are commonly separated into si + verb root: 

Mario si lava ogni mattina.
Mario washes [himself] every morning.

Daniela explains that if you know how to conjugate the verb root, then you know how to conjugate the reflexive verb.

In the above example, Mario is the subject, and Mario is also the object (si), which is what reflexive verbs are all about. 

So we've seen that the reflexive form uses si, (as part of the infinitive, and in the third person singular conjugation) but it's not the same as the si in the impersonal, so this is where things get a bit tricky. To avoid using si twice in a row, we use ci for the impersonal.

Marika gives us the rule:


La forma impersonale dei verbi riflessivi invece si forma con:

The impersonal form of reflexive verbs on the other hand is made with:

"ci "più il verbo alla terza persona singolare.

"ci" plus the verb in the third person singular.

Per esempio: in Italia ci si sposa sempre più tardi,

For example: In Italy one gets married later and later,

quindi il verbo sposarsi più "ci", più "si".

so the verb to get married plus "ci" plus "si."

Captions 45-48, Marika spiega - La forma impersonale

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So where you might think: si (impersonal) si (reflexive) sposa (verb in the third person), you need to use ci in place of the impersonal si. Here's a practical example:


Con loro non ci si annoia mai.

With them you are never bored.

Caption 41, Acqua in bocca - Un amico per Pippo - Ep 1

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Attenzione! Ci also has a long list of uses, which you can check out in these lessons.

The good news is that you can get by most of the time without using the impersonal plus reflexive. Don't let it prevent you from trying to express yourself in Italian. One workaround is to avoid using too many pronouns at once. Common expressions using both can be learned one by one, con calma (without rushing it).


You could say for example, remembering that "people" is singular in Italian (the si is reflexive):

La gente si sposa sempre più tardi.
People get married later and later.

For more about what’s been discussed in these lessons, see these very helpful blog entries:

Si impersonale part 1
Si impersonale part 2

We're still not entirely finished with the impersonal, but there's already plenty to digest.
We'll be back!

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