Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! What I Saw…

Burano in Venice, Italy
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2017?

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 we speak Italian, we will be able to express ourselves more easily and quickly. We will be on our way to building complex sentences and speaking more like we do in our native language!

This post is the fourth in a series that will originate in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group. After our group has had a chance to use these phrases, I will post them on this blog for everyone to try.

Another of our “commonly used phrases,” that will help us talk more easily is
 “What I saw…”
leading into “I saw him,” “I saw her,” or “I saw it.”

 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.

This material and more on this topic are available in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference book Just the Grammar on and Learn Travel

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


What I Saw…

in Italian

The past tense for “I saw,” a one-time event, uses the passato prossimo past tense form, which is “ho visto.” This Italian past tense verb also translates into the less commonly used English form “I have seen.”  

Because the phrase “I saw” is frequently used in everyday conversation, we should commit the Italian verb “ho visto” to memory. We can then “build” on this simple, easy-to-remember verb to help us remember other more complex phrases.

A very common question/answer situation arises around “whom” we “have seen.” How many times in a family situation does one ask, Did you see/Have you seen…?” The subject in the question is now the familiar “you,” so the Italian phrase will change to “Hai visto…?”

Ho visto… I saw/I have seen…
Hai visto…? Did you see/Have you seen…?

The simple answer to the question “Did you see Peter?” is, of course, “I saw Peter.” But in conversation, we don’t like to repeat the same word over and over again. To make our conversation more interesting and flow more smoothly, we would more likely respond “I saw him” instead. We could also ask, “Did you see the movie?” and answer, “Yes, I saw it.”

In Italian, “lo” is the word for him or masculine it, and “la” is the word for her or feminine it. These direct object pronouns are placed before the verb in Italian, instead of after the verb, as we do in English, to make the sentences, “I saw him,” “I saw her,” or “I saw it.”



Grammar alert!*

(If you don’t like grammar rules, just skip to the end of the blog post, where we will summarize the important phrases to remember.)

To follow, I will show how to combine the Italian past tense verbs using avere with a direct object pronoun when we are talking about other people. There are three rules of grammar to follow that I have listed here from our Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Grammar book.

(1) The direct object pronoun is placed before the passato prossimo compound verb.
(2) The third person singular direct object pronouns (lo and la)
usually drop their vowel before the letter h in conversation.
(3) The last vowel of the past participle must agree in gender and number
with the object that it refers to when using the third person singular and plural.


So to ask and answer the question, “Have you seen Peter?” “Yes, I’ve seen him,” just follow rules (1) and (2) below.

Hai visto Pietro?   Have (you) seen Peter?
Lo ho visto. Rule (1) I saw him.
Lho visto. Rule (2) I saw him.


So far, so good. The words “L’ho” flow easily together and are spoken as one word, short and sweet. However, if we were looking for Caterina, we would need to also change the ending of the past participle of the verb to agree with the feminine direct object pronoun ending, which we have just dropped! So our phrase would instead be “L’ho vista” for “I saw her.” We have to follow rules (1), (2), and (3) to make one short sentence!

Hai visto Caterina?   Have (you) seen Kathy?
La ho vista. Rules (1) and (3) I saw her.
Lho vista. Rule (2) I saw her.


And, finally, for the plural forms, when referring to two males or a male and a female, we need to use the direct object li and the letter i for the past participle. If we should see two females, we would use the direct object le and the letter e for the past participle. These examples below follow rules (1) and (3).

Hai visto Pietro e Michele?   Have (you) seen Peter and Michael?
Li ho visti. Rules (1) and (3) I saw them.


Hai visto Caterina e Francesca?   Have you seen Kathy and Frances?
Le ho viste. Rules (1) and (3) I saw them.


Not a fan of grammar?

You don’t have to be! Let’s summarize the phrases used most often to describe what or who I saw.

Ho visto… I saw/I have seen…  
Hai visto…? Did you see/Have you seen…?  
L’ho visto. I saw him. I saw it.
L’ha vista. I saw her. I saw it.
Li ho visti. I saw them. (all male or male+female group)  
Le ho viste. I saw them. (all female group)  


Remember these phrases, and I guarantee you will use them every day!


*For those who like grammar, this passato prossimo verb is derived from
 avere (to have) + the past participle of the action verb vedere (to see).

All About Italian Movies and… Love

Italy, the town of Stresa
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

As the title suggests… this blog post is about how to speak in Italian about two of everyone’s favorite topics—movies and love! The idea for this post came to me after I finally watched an old Italian DVD that I’ve had in my collection for some time. I realized that this movie has many phrases about love and relationships that we don’t usually learn in textbooks, spoken in clear and (fairly) slow Italian.

The movie is called Violent Summer because it takes place at the end of World War II, but it is really a love story. The actors were famous at the time, and the movie has a lovely, lyrical feel to it. If you want to watch it, I have a spoiler alert—there is really not any violence in this movie because it is mostly about the privileged few who were able to escape the violence of war… until the end.

Visit the Learn Italian! blog post from April 18, 2017, to read the entire dialogue and get started with learning how to talk about movies… and love! Following is an excerpt:


Speak Italian: About Italian Movies and Love 

In the dialogue to follow,  we listen in on a telephone call between two good Italian friends who are sharing thoughts about a famous Italian movie. The movie is about a love story that takes place during World War II. Common idiomatic expressions used when talking with a friend, vocabulary related to the movies, and phrases about love have been underlined.

Listening to foreign films is a wonderful way to learn another language. The movie described contains short sentences spoken in clear Italian and is a good place to start to build a vocabulary about relationships and love. Spoiler alert: The only real violence is at the very end of the movie, although its title is Violent Summer.


Speak Italian: About Italian Movies and Love

Una sera, il telefono di Maria ha squillato. Era Francesca, la migliore amica di Maria.
One evening, Maria’s telephone rang. It was Francesca, Maria’s best friend.


“Maria! Sono io! Come stai? Puoi parlare per un attimo?”
“Maria! It’s me! How are you? Can you talk for a bit?”


“Ma, certo Maria. Che è successo?”
“But of course, Maria. What happened?”    Read more…

Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on Special thanks to Italian instructors Simona Giuggioli and Maria Vanessa Colapinto.

Traditional Sicilian Easter Cheesecake

Italian Easter Cheesecake from Ragusa, Sicily
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

Easter is a very special time for celebration in Italy, as most Italians are Catholics or Christians.

The Easter season begins with Carnevale, which technically starts in January the day after Epifania, followed by Ash Wednesday (Mercoledi delle Cenere) and Lent (la Qauresima).

The week before Easter is called Holy Week in the Catholic Church. During this week, processions are held in the streets, often re-enacting the story of Jesus Christ, and special Masses are held.  This culminates in Good Friday, or Venerdì Santo.  The national holiday is officially Easter Sunday or Pasqua, followed by Easter Monday, or Pasquetta.

The week before Easter, Italians will say their “good byes” when leaving a group with the phrase, “Buona Pasqua!”

The Italian Easter Sunday is a day for the family to gather and attend church, followed by a special meal that is rich in the eggs and dairy that families in the past centuries were obligated to “give up” during the Lenten period.

The method for making traditional Sicilian Easter cheesecake given here is made in my family hometown of Ragusa, Sicily, and was passed on from my grandmother to my mother here in America. It is a very rich dessert and is still a family favorite on Easter.

The recipe was originally posted on March 21, 2016, on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC, and Below is an excerpt.

I’d love to hear from you after your family has tried this recipe!  


Easter Cheesecake Recipe:
Traditional Sicilian Sweet Farro Wheat Pie

Italian Easter traditions are unique to each region of the country and have been lovingly handed down within families through the generations. Ricotta cheesecake, a version of which was first served by the Romans centuries ago, has come to play a part in the Easter celebration in Sicily as well.

The recipe given below is for a Sicilian Easter cheesecake—actually a “ricotta pie,” made with a sweet Italian pie crust and sweet ricotta and farro wheat filling.  It has been passed down through the years within my father’s family from the town of Ragusa in Sicily. If you would like to see how the lattice pie crust top is assembled, visit the Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.

Farro wheat is one of the oldest forms of natural wheat grown in southern Italy and has been enjoyed by Italians for centuries. This whole-wheat grain is added to the ricotta filling as a symbol of renewal, along with dried fruit left over from winter stores and traditional Sicilian flavorings, in order to create a rich texture and a perfectly balanced sweet citrus and cinnamon flavor. Try it this Easter for a taste of Italian tradition! —Kathryn Occhipinti

Click on the link here for the recipe: Traditional Sicilian Sweet Farro Wheat Pie    Buon apetito!


Learn Italian and Describe Your Needs!

Italian town of Stresa on Lago Maggiore, Italy

In the last few weeks in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group, we have been practicing how to use the phrase “Ho bisogno di,” which means “I need…” in Italian. This phrase is very useful in some situations, but in others, it is necessary to use the word “voglio” instead to express the same meaning.

Special thanks to Facebook group members Grace, Sandro, Rita, and Andu for providing some excellent examples and for reminding me that the phrase “Mi serve…” also means “I need…” This last phrase is very often used in Italy, and I have just heard this phrase twice on the latest Detective Montalbano episode I watched.

It is amazing how easy it is to hear phrases in Italian during normal conversation once we know them! Try it yourself and see how often you can hear these common phrases in Italian movies, TV series, or RAI.

Read on below from this excerpt published on July 17, 2016, on the blog to find out how to talk about what you need in Italian! Read the entire post for more on the subjunctive mode. Listen for the examples and try some from our group. Join our group if you like at Conversational Italian!


How to Use the Phrase “Avere bisogno di…” in Italian

Before we go on to discuss more complex uses of the phrases in the table below, here are a few words about the very popular phrase “ho bisogno di…,” which means “I need…” Any student of Italian no doubt has come across this phrase many times in general conversation and has needed to use it themselves to express what they want.

While I was learning how to use the subjunctive mode properly, I took the opportunity to learn how to use “ho bisogno di” properly as well. After many question-and-answer sessions with native Italian speakers, here is what I’ve found out about the different uses of this phrase in English and Italian.

First, use of the phrase “ho bisogno di” is limited to describing a need one has for a person, a thing, something, or a physical need. Remember to conjugate the verb avere used in this phrase (“ho” is the io form of avere) if someone else besides you needs something, of course! Leave out the word “di,” which means “of” in this phrase if it is used at the end of the sentence.

The phrases “Mi serve…” and “Mi servono…” can also mean, “I need…” and are often used in the negative sense. (This verb conjugates similar to piacere – see below.)

If a person needs to do something, but it is also necessary that he does it—if he has to do it—then the verb dovere is used. See some examples in the table below:

avere bisogno di… to have need of…  
…a person Ho bisogno di… te.
…a thing/ something Ho bisogno di… una macchina nuova.
  Ho bisogno di… prendere una vacanza.
…a physical need Ho bisogno di… riposare.
Mi serve…

Mi servono….

I need… Mi serve 1 millione di euro.

Mi servono tante cose.

dovere for what you have to do

(and need to do)

Devo cucinare il pranzo ogni sera.


When we come to more complex sentences and now must express what the subject would like another person to do, the phrase “ho bisogno di” is not used. In other words, if I want someone to do something, I must use the verb voglio with the subjunctive, as in “Voglio che tu…”  This was an important point for me to learn, because in English I am constantly asking my children or family to do things by saying, “I need you to…”

For instance, take the sentence “I need you to take care of the cats when I am on vacation.” I am not sure if the phrase “I need you to…” is used commonly in other parts of the America, but it has become habitually used in the Northeast and Midwest. The Italian translation would be “Voglio che tu ti prenda cura dei gatti quando io sono in vacanza.” So to use the phrase “ho bisogno di,” we must really learn how to think in Italian!

Enjoy some more examples for how to use our phrases to express a need or want in Italian, and then create your own!


Ho bisogno di un grande abbraccio! I need a big hug!
Abbracci e baci sono due cose che ho bisogno! Hugs and kisses are two things that I need!
Non mi serve niente. I don’t need anything.
Non mi serve nient’altro. I don’t need anything else.
Mi serve di più caffè. I need more coffee.
Devo andare al mercato. I need to/have to go to the (outdoor) market.

Non abbiamo  bisogno di giorni migliori,

ma di persone che rendono migliori i nostri giorni!

We don’t need to have better days; instead, we need people who make our days better!

One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine

One Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine

The perfect chicken dinner for those trapped indoors in the snowstorm that’s hit the country this weekend, or anytime! This is one of my family’s favorite suppers, and it is oh-so-easy to make.

The method for making Italian chicken in Marsala wine was originally posted on February 26, 2017, on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC, and Below is an excerpt.

I’d love to hear from you after your family has tried this recipe!  

One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine

The recipe title, “One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine” sounds rich… and it is! But it is also so easy to make! I am told that for many years in Italy, only relatively wealthy families had ovens (in the day of my great grandparents). As a result, many wonderful Italian meals were developed that could be made entirely on the stove top. This actually fits perfectly with the lifestyle we live today.

In this chicken in Marsala wine recipe, a whole cut chicken is cooked in one large skillet along with the wine and few other ingredients until a silky gravy forms. This hearty and fulfilling dish can be made during the week or served when friends are over on the weekend. Hearty, crusty Italian bread makes a perfect accompaniment. Add a salad or vegetable side dish (contorno) if you like.

So get out the largest skillet you have, and try our chicken in Marsala wine dish for your family tonight. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! —Kathryn Occhipinti

Click on the Learn Italian! link for the recipe!