Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – The many uses of the Italian verb “Mettere”

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently in 2022?

 Have you set a goal to learn Italian? I will try to help you by posting a new blog every month in the series “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” In these blogs, I discuss how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing help you to “think in Italian.” 

For instance, many Italian verbs have a similar use to those in English, which simplifies translation from one language to the other. However, often the meaning of an Italian verb will vary  from the usual English connotation.  And in many situations, the same verb can have several different meanings in both languages, depending on the context. Mettere (along with its reflexive form mettersi) is one of those verbs that is used in many ways in Italian and is important to “put to” good use if you want to speak like an Italian.

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  when use the Italian verb mettere, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 55th  in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian
use the verb

  Mettere 

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

************************************************

Let’s Talk About…

The Many Uses of the  Italian Verb

Mettere

The Italian verb mettere and its reflexive counterpart mettersi are used in many colloquial expressions in Italy today.  It is important to “put in” the time to learn how to use mettere, both literally and figuratively, if one wants to speak Italian like a native!

The Italian verb mettere is most often translated into English as “to put” or “to place.”  It can be used in a simple way, to describe moving an object from one place to another.

Mettere is commonly used with the prepositions a, da, in and su  in many Italian expressions that have the connotation of “putting” or “placing” something or someone in a place or situation. One commonly heard expression is, “Metti su l’acqua!” for “Put on the water!” which, of course refers to boiling a pot of water in preparation for making pasta! The Internet also provides another  opportunity to use mettere su.

Mettersi a and mettere in are used to relay that an individual is “going to” initiate an action  such as starting to cook dinner or starting a car. Mettersi a can also be used in the impersonal third person to describe an act of nature starting up on its own. Finally, use mettere in to describe the emotional state or situations you have been “put into.”

Italian uses mettersi to describe the act of getting dressed. In English, we combine the verb “put” with the preposition “on” to make “put on” with reference to clothing. The preposition “on” does not have any other purpose than to change the meaning of the verb “put,” in the same way that the reflexive form of an Italian verb is used to modify or even change that verb’s original meaning. Messo, the past participle of mettere, is important to describe what one was wearing in the past. Several examples of how to use mettere and mettersi to describe getting dressed will be given in the next section.  For additional information on this topic, visit a previous blog in this series: How We Dress in Italian.

Mettere can be used in the figurative sense, meaning, “I suppose” or “I presume.” Mettere can also be used figuratively to ask how something “looks.” If you are more sure of yourself, use ammetere and admit/confirm whatever is under discussion at the moment.

Use the pronominal verb phrase “mettercela tutta” as an informal way to describe that you’ve “put in” the most effort you can/are doing your best, or to encourage another to “give it their all.”

Finally, many Italian sayings incorporate mettere.  Some of the most popular have been listed at the end of this blog.

 

******************************

Let’s talk about how to conjugate mettere in the present, past, and future tenses before using it in some example sentences. Luckily, mettere is regular in all tenses except for the passato prossimo, due to its irregular past participle, which is messo.

Present tense: Mettere is a regular -ere verb in the present tense. The present tense conjugation is below.

io metto
tu metti
Lei/lei/lui mette
noi mettiamo
voi  mettete
loro mettono

Past tense: When used in the passato prossimo to describe a single event, avere is the helping verb and the past participle is messo.

Mettere has a regular conjugation in the imperfetto past tense (mettevo, mettevi, metteve, mettevamo, mettevate, mettevano).

Future tense: mettere is regular in the future tense (metterò, metterai, metterà, metteremo, metterete, metteranno). 


 

1. Use mettere to describe the simple act of moving an object from one place and “putting” or “placing” it in another place.

  • Mettere is commonly followed by a noun and then a preposition to describe the act of  “putting”  or “placing” an object somewhere in one’s household.
  • The singular familiar command form of mettere, which is metti is also important to remember when directing family or friends where to put an object.
  • The past participle messo is important when one has remembered (or is trying to remember) where they have put an object.
  • The direct object pronouns “them”(le) and “it”(lo) are red, so as not to confuse them with a verb ending. 
Ho messo i piatti sulla tavola per la cena.
I put the plates on the table for dinner.
 
Brava! Ora, pian piano, metti i bicchieri di cristalleria vicino a i piatti!
Great! Now, carefully place the crystal wine glasses next to the plates!
Ho messo le chiavi nella mia borsa, ma ora non riesco a trovarle!
I put the keys in my purse, but now I can’t find them!
 
Mettilo di là, in stanza mia. 
Put it over there, in my room.  

 

2. Use mettere su to describe “putting” food “on” the stove, to “put on” something in figurative sense, or to “put up a post on” the Internet

  • Mettere with the preposition su is a commonly used expression in home cooking. For instance, when a family is ready for dinner, one can direct another to “put” a pot of water “on” the stove to boil.  No other details are necessary, for every Italian knows that  boiling, salted water is essential for making pasta! Specific foods one would like to encourage another to cook can also follow mettere su, and one can be asked more directly simply to make la pasta. Of note: with expressions of this type, the preposition su is not combined with the definite article. 
  • Mettere su is used in common expressions to mean “to put on weight” or “to put (someone) on a pedestal,” just like in English.
  • Use mettere su in the figurative sense, as in to “put on a show” of something, or to “organize” or “create” an event.
  • To sound like a native Italian when speaking about the internet, use mettere su or mettere in rete instead of postare for “putting up” with the meaning of “posting” or “publishing on line. Along these lines, “mettere in coppia” means “to copy someone” on an email.
Sono arrivato! Metti su l’acqua! 
I’m home! Put on the (pot of) water (to boil to make the pasta)!
 
Metti su la pasta! / Metti su la carne! 
Start cooking the pasta! / Start cooking the meat!
Lui ha meso su pancia quest’anno.
He has put on belly fat this year!
 
Anna mette su un piedistallo il suo fidanzato Marco.
Ann puts her fiancé Mark on a pedastal.
Lui ha meso su uno spettacolo per tutti ieri sera con i suoi scherzi.
He put on a show for everyone last night with his jokes.
 
Marco ha messo su un bel viaggio per tutti.
Mark has organized a nice trip for everyone.

 

Metti su internet una foto del tuo viaggio!
Put up a photo of your trip on the Internet!
Post a photo of your trip on the Internet!
 
Lei ha messo su un blog su internet questa settimana.
She has put up/posted a blog on the internet this week.

 

3. Use mettersi a, mettersi in the third person, or mettere in moto to describe initiating an action

  • Mettersi a is used to tell someone you are “about to/starting to” do something, such as starting to cook dinner. The Italian phrase is [mettersi a + infinitive verb]. The English translation is  [to be + going to] when mettersi is used in this way.
  • Mettersi a followed by an infinitive verb can also be used in the third person to describe an inanimate object or an act of nature starting up something by itself.  There is a popular Italian saying, “Da Santa Lucia, il freddo si mette in via,” which means, “From Saint Lucia’s Day, the cold is on its way.” The two verbs that mean “to start,” cominciare and iniziare cannot be used in the third person this way.  For a more detailed discussion on the topic of how to use impersonal reflexive verbs, visit a previous blog in this series Impersonal Statements and Reflexive Verbs.: “Come si dice?”
  • Mettere in moto is a commonly used expression to describe starting a car but can also be used figuratively with the meaning of “to embark on” or “set off on” a journey.
Sono arrivato! Ora mi metto a cucinare la cena.
I’m home! Now I am going to cook dinner.
 
Finalmente lui si mette a lavorare con noi stamattina.
Finally he is going to work with us this morning.
L’eruzione del vulcano si mette a fare la terza eruzione oggi.
The volcano starts the third eruption today.
 
L’acqua si mette ad alzarsi a Venezia a febbraio.
The water starts to rise in Venice in February.
Michele mette in moto la macchina.
Michael starts the car.
 
Dopo aver lasciato Anna, Michele mette in moto una vita nuova.
After leaving Ann, Michael sets off on a new life.

 

4. Use mettere in and mettere a/di to describe negative or positive emotional states or figurative positions you have been “put into.”

  • Mettere is often used figuratively. There are many expressions that describe the negative emotions and situations one can be “put into” by completing the phrase “mettere in…” An Italian can be put into a difficult position, doubt, embarrassment, ridicule, risk, danger, or even “to their knees” or  “on the run”! On the other hand, to be saved is to be “mettere in salvo.” The phrase that means “to be quarantined” is “mettere in quarantena.”
  • Mettere a or mettere di, conversely, are used in many expressions that describe positive interactions, such as: putting someone at ease, putting things in order, being available to help out, and helping to reach an agreement. Mettere insieme means “to put together” but also “to bring together.” And remember to say, “Sono d’accordo!” for “I agree!” once you have come to an understanding with others!
  • When describing an event,  “mettere in…” can simply mean “to put into play” (gioco) or “to put on a show” (mostra).  “Mettere in vendita” means “to put up for sale.”
  • There are many other common Italian phrases that start with mettere! Listen for how Italians use this versatile verb and you will hear it often!
Mettere in…    
  difficoltà to put in a difficult position
to hinder
  dubbio to doubt
  imbarazzo to embarrass
to make someone uncomfortable
  ridicolo to ridicule
  rischio to put someone at risk
to put in danger
  ginocchio to bring someone to their knees
  fuga
quarantena
to put someone on the run
to put someone in quarantine

 

Mettere a… proprio agio to put somebody at ease
  posto to put in order
to clean up
to put away
  disposizione to make available
  servizio to put at one’s disposition
Mettere d’…
Sono d’…
accordo to help reach an agreement
I agree!

 

5. Use mettersi to describe the act of getting dressed

  • There are several Italian verbs that are used to convey the act of wearing clothing and getting dressed. Mettersi is an important verb to know in this regard. For more information on this topic, visit a previous blog in this series: How We Dress in Italian.

Mettersi can be used to convey three different types of English sentences: I put on my dress,” “I put my dress on,” and “I put on the dress.” In general, Italian uses reflexive verbs to describe daily actions we all must perform to keep up “la bella figura.” English instead uses a [verb + preposition +possessive adjective] sentence structure. Although the last English example is correct, we most often default to using the first two examples, with the possessive “my.”

Although the sentence structure that describes getting dressed differs in Italian and English, in both cases there is a straightforward formula to follow.  For Italian, the reflexive pronoun mi (myself) is placed before the conjugated form of mettersi and the article of clothing to be put on is then placed after the verb. The subject pronoun is omitted, as usual. So the final translation for “I put on my dress” is, “Mi metto il vestito.” 

Just remember the simple phrase “mi metto” and replace il vestito with your chosen article of clothing and you will be able to describe getting dressed!

To describe action in the tu (you) form, just conjugate mettersi normally and then add the article of clothing, as in “ti metti.” For the lei/lui (she/he) form, use “si mette,” and so on.

(Io) Mi metto il vestito. I put on my dress./I put my dress on./I put on the dress.
(Tu) Ti metti l’anello. You put on your ring.
(Lei/Lui) Si mette le scarpe. She/He puts on his shoes.

In order to describe what they have worn in the past, most Italians use mettersi and  its irregular past participle messo

Remember to use the helping verb essere for the passato prossimo with the reflexive verb mettersi.  And, of course the last vowel of the past participle must agree in gender with the person wearing the clothing, since we are using essere as the helping verb (see the red vowels in the examples). The table below shows how this all works:

Marco si è messo un completo oggi.

Mark wore a suit today.
Maria si è messa una gonna oggi. Maria wore a skirt today.

 

6. More figurative uses for mettersi and mettere

  • Mettersi can be used figuratively to ask how something “looks,” such as the weather or an interpersonal situation.
  • Mettere can be used in the figurative sense, meaning, “I suppose,” or “I presume” in a compound sentence with a subjunctive mood verb.  In the examples below, abbia is the subjunctive for avere and sappia is the subjunctive for sapere (singular first, second, and third persons). These are two helpful verbs to remember, even if one is not versed in the subjunctive mood. If you are more sure of yourself, use ammetere and admit/confirm whatever is under discussion at the moment, also with the subjunctive mood.
  • Remember that the noi conjugation of a verb is also used in the imperative to mean “let’s.” (See the last example.)
Come si mette il tempo oggi? 
How does the weather look today?
 
Come si mette la situazione con Clara?
How does the situation with Clara look?
Tu sai la situazione meglio di me.  Quindi, ammetto che tu abbia ragione.
You know the situation better than me. Therefore, I admit/confirm that you are right.
 
Mettiamo che Marco sappia più di noi.
Let’s presume that Mark knows more than us. 

 

7. Use the pronominal verb phrase mettercela tutta” as an informal way to describe that you have “put in your best effort.”

  • Mettercela is a pronominal verb, recognized by the ce and la tacked on to the end of metter, which is just mettere without the last “e.” Conjugate this verb exactly as you would mettere, then add the pronominal particles ce and la, following the usual rules for pronouns. 
  • The pronominal particles ce and la change the meaning of mettere.  “Mettercela tutta” means “to put in your absolute best effort” or “to give it your all,” as in strength and determination, in order to achieve a goal. 
  • The speaker can use the phrase “mettercerla tutta” in the present tense to describe an ongoing effort. “Ce la messo tutta…” means, “I am putting in my best effort.”  This phrase is also commonly used in the past tense when the speaker wants to emphasize that the outcome wasn’t for lack of trying. In this case, the passato prossimo conjugation for this completed event is, “Ce l’ho messa…”
  • Mettercela tutta can be preceded by devo, which means “I must” for an even more forceful statement. In this case, there is no need to conjugate mettercela. Just leave it in the infinitive form, as usual for verbs that follow dovere. 
  • Or, the speaker can encourage another to try as hard as they can and keep making their best effort.  Use the familiar command form of mettere, which is metti, and attach ce and la to the end of the verb for “Metticerla tutta!” To stress the importance of the effort needed, precede metticela tutta with, “Dai!” for “C’mon!”  
  • Notice another pronominal verb in our examples, farcela, which in this case means “to succeed.”
  • Follow these simple formulas for using mettercela to really speak like a native Italian!
Ce la metto tutta. Spero di farcela!
I putting in everything I have! I hope to succeed!
 
Devo mettercerla tutta questa settimana per trovare un cliente nuovo.
I must focus all my effort this week into finding a new client.
Ce l’ho messa tutta, ma non ho superato l’esame lo stesso!
I gave it my all but I failed (didn’t pass) the exam anyway!
 
Dai! Dobbiamo vincere questa partita. Metticela tutta!
C’mon! We have to win this match. Give it all you’ve got!

*To make sense of the construction “Ce l’ho messa,” we must remember that the l’ stands in for ” la”  and therefore is feminine. La drops its “a” in the passato prossimo before ho, to make l’ho, which is easier to say. Then, this dropped “a” reappears as the new ending for the past participle! These rules are explained in detail in our Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs” book.

 

8. Common Italian sayings that use mettere

Mettere i soldi in cassa = to make money (literally to put money in the cash register)

Mettere a pane e acqua = a harsh punishment (literally to give someone only bread and water)

Mettere i piedi in testa a = walk over/trample over somebody

Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi = put the cart in front of the horse

Mettere in piazza qualcosa = to be open about something/lay your cards on the table

Mettere in primo piano = make a priority of something/ emphasize/focus on

Mettere il becco in = to stick your nose in/interfere

Mettere bocca su tutto = always commenting on/have an opinion on everything

Mettere i puntini sulle “i” = dot your i’s/ be nitpicky

 

There are even more ways to use the Italian verb mettere than space in this blog! 
Practice listening for the Italian phrases that use mettere and
try them out in your own Italian conversations!

 

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.