Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! Let’s Combine the Imperfetto and Passato Prossimo

Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front
Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

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

Why not set a goal to learn Italian, starting today, for the year 2022? I will try to help you with this goal by posting a new blog every month in the series “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” With these blogs, I discuss how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing help you to “think in Italian.” 

If we learn how to combine “commonly used phrases” with the imperfetto and the passato prossimo, we will be able to speak about events in the recent past, just as we do in our native language!

In our most recent blog, Speaking About the Past: Imperfetto or Passato Prossimo? we discussed in detail adverbs and phrases of frequency used to signal when to use the imperfetto and when to use the passato prossimo. At the end of the previous blog is a short summary of how to combine the imperfetto and the passato prossimo in a two phrase sentence using the adverbs mentre and quando. This blog will build on the previous information we have learned about the imperfetto and the passato prossimo and demonstrate a step-by-step process that can be used to create compound sentences with two or more phrases that contain both past tenses.  

This post is the 60th 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

signal the intent of the speaker to use both

the imperfetto and the  passato prossimo.

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.

*The imperfetto is not only used with the passato prossimo. In fact, the imperfetto is the only past tense form that can be used in combination with every other Italian past tense — whether speaking about the recent past or the remote past.

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Choosing an Italian Past Tense

Let’s start our blog about how to combine the imperfetto and the passato prossimo by reviewing some general rules of Italian grammar. We learned in our last blog, on this topic, that the circumstances surrounding the event will determine which Italian past tense to use. Luckily, imbedded in many Italian sentences about past events are certain words and phrases that will  indicate whether the imperfetto or the passato prossimo is needed.  The intent of the speaker will be signaled by these phrases, which will then trigger use of the correct Italian past tense. 

To describe a past event in a complex way — in Italian as well as in our native language — we must create a compound sentence. Compound sentences contain more than one phrase separated by commas or conjunctions, such as: and, while, when, but, or. In Italian, to create a compound sentence about a recent past event, we will have to decide which verb tense to use — the imperfetto or passato prossimo. 

Of course, when speaking about an event of interest that happened in the recent past, a compound sentence can be created using only the imperfetto or only the passato prossimo, as noted in our last blog.  Our focus in this blog will be on the situations that require both the imperfetto and the passato prossimo.

 


 

Combine the Imperfetto and Passato Prossimo
with Mentre and Quando

One of the most common reasons to combine the imperfetto and the passato prossimo is to give background information for an action under discussion.  In this case, the imperfetto is the past tense of choice to describe the setting and the completed action is relayed with the passato prossimo.

 

What Italian words or phrases can I use to introduce the setting for a past event?

 

As every actor knows, the setting is defined as the time and place in which an action occurs. Since the imperfetto is used to describe the setting for a past event in Italian, expressions of time in the past are important triggers for the imperfetto.

Some common expressions of past time are given in the tables below using ieri (yesterday),scorso(a) (last), and the preposition da (for). (Note: There are, of course, other meanings for the preposition da. Also, these expressions can also be used with the passato prossimo, but generally additional, more specific information is required, as discussed in our last blog.)

Expressions of Time in the Past with Ieri

stamattina this morning
ieri yesterday
l’altro ieri the day before yesterday
ieri mattina
ieri pomeriggio
ieri sera
yesterday morning
yesterday afternoon
yesterday evening

Expressions of Time in the Past with Scorso

scorso(a) last
la notte scorsa last night
la settimana scorsa last week
il mese scorso last month
l’anno scorso last year
   
lunedì scorso last Monday
martedì scorso last Tuesday
mercoledì scorso last Wednesday
giovedì scorso last Thursday
venerdì scorso last Friday
sabato scorso last Saturday
domenica scorsa last Sunday

Use of “da…” in Italian

da tempo

for some time

da un’ora
da due ore
ecc.

for one hour
for two hours
etc.

da un mese
da due mesi
ecc.

for one month
for two months
etc.

da un anno
da due anni
ecc.

for one year
for two years
etc.

The description of the place in which an action occurred can include general interior or exterior surroundings, the weather, or even a prior event. Luckily, language students generally learn the vocabulary to describe various locations early on in their studies, which is also an important first step to learn about any culture. The larger cities and regions in Italy are important to commit to memory. Some common local places where events may take place include at home, at school, at work, or in one of the many shops in the piazza! 

 

How else can I start a phrase to talk about the setting of a past event with the imperfetto?

Mentre, which means “while” in Italian, is a specific sign that a setting or background action is to be relayed in a phrase. Mentre is not required in compound sentences that use both the imperfetto and passato prossimo, but when used it is very helpful. This is because mentre is only used with the imperfetto! 

 

How can use of the imperfetto affect the meaning of a descriptive phrase in Italian?

It is also important to remember that the imperfetto can be translated into English in three ways:  the simple past tense,  used to,” or “was/were-ing.” The translation “used to” refers to a habitual action in the the past that is no longer being done. The translation “was/were-ing” is used to describe an action that started in the past but may or may not have been completed. 

Just as the Italian present tense can be translated as “I go” or “I am going,” in the past tense, the imperfetto can be translated as, “I went” or “I was going.” For emphasis, one could use stare in both situations to create a compound verb with sto andando (I am going) or stavo andando (I was going). But it is so much easier and so much more common in Italian to use both the simple present tense or the imperfetto past tense without creating a compound verb!

 

Once I know the setting, about mentre, and about how to relay information using the imperfetto, am I ready to create a compound sentence about the past in Italian? 

With all of this in mind… the easiest way to create a compound sentence about the past in Italian is…

Start the first phrase with mentre and give the setting with a verb in the impefetto. Or, just refer to the general time, the weather, or to an action without giving a specific time frame. Note: the descriptive phrase with the imperfetto is often, but not always, the first phrase.

There are, of course, innumerable examples of introductory phrases one can create. Four examples are given below to get us started, with the imperfetto verb underlined.

  1. Mentre leggevo il giornale stamattina…           While I was reading the newspaper this morning…
  2. Mentre visitavo Firenze l’anno scorso…            While I was visiting Florence last year…
  3.  Lunedì scorso,  pioveva…                                  Last Monday, it was raining
  4. Da due anni abitavo con mia zia…                    For two years I lived with my aunt…

Now, let’s add a phrase with a completed action to each example above. The passato prossimo is required for this second phrase. See the previous blog on this topic for a short list of Italian verbs that are often used to describe completed actions.

If mentre is not used in the introductory phrase,  use quando (when) with the phrase in the passato prossimo. However, quando is not a specific trigger for the passato prossimo phrase, as quando can be used with either the imperfetto or the passato prossimo phrase. The completed action is often, but not always, the second phrase. 

 

Let’s complete the first two examples that start with mentre. The passato prossimo verb used in the completed phrase is in green.

  • 1. Mentre leggevo il giornale stamatina, la cameriera è arrivato.
        While I was reading the newspaper this morning, the maid arrived.
  • 2.  Mentre visitavo Firenze l’anno scorso, ho incontrato Maria per caso al Ristorante Paoli.   
         While I was visiting Florence last year, I happened to meet Maria at Ristorante Paoli.

Below is our third example that omits mentre in the imperfetto phrase. Notice how quando is used in the passato prossimo phrase that completes the sentence.

  • 3. Lunedì scorso, pioveva quando sono andato a trovare mia mamma.
        Last Monday, it was raining when I went to visit my mother.

An alternate rendition of the same phrase that uses quando with the imperfetto phrase:

  •    Quando pioveva lunedì scorso, sono andato a trovare mia mamma.
        When it was raining last Monday, I went to visit my mother.

Our final example in a completed sentence:

  • 4. Da due anni, abitavo con mia zia quando ho trovato un appartamento perfecto per me.
        For two years, I was living with my aunt when I found an apartment perfect for me.

This last example implies the speaker has not yet moved into her new apartment. Remember from our last blog on this topic that if those two years had been completed and the speaker was already in the new apartment, we would need to use the preposition per with the passato prossimo! The introductory phrases would read: “Per due anni, ho abitato con mia zia…” In short, the imperfetto was chosen to give the circumstances of the situation, so the speaker does not have to give the details of where he or she is currently living; this extra information is included with the use of the imperfetto!

 

Can I put the imperfetto phrase second and the passato prossimo phrase first in a compound sentence?

All four of the example sentences given above work with the phrases reversed. We have already done this with the third example. The first example sentence is reprinted here. Try the rest on your own if you like!

Mentre leggevo il giornale stamatina, la cameriera è arrivato.
 While I was reading the newspaper this morning, the maid arrived.

-or-

La cameriera è arrivato mentre leggevo il giornale stamattina.
The maid arrived while I was reading the newspaper this morning.

 

How do I create a compound sentence about the past in Italian using three phrases?

Of course, it is possible in Italian to create a compound sentence in the past tense with more than two phrases, as the case in English (and most every other language).  For Italian, just continue to follow the Italian grammar we have learned for the imperfetto and passato prossimo for each phrase in your sentence!

Remember that the imperfetto is also used to describe a state of being and it is common to describe how one feels about a situation that has occurred in the past. In fact, if the speaker has chosen to use the imperfetto in combination with the passato prossimo, this implies that the past event still affects their emotions or their life in some way. So in some cases, a sentence may start with the imperfetto, the second phrase use the passato prossimo, and the third phrase again use the imperfetto!

 

In short, any combination of phrases that use the imperfetto and passato prossimo is possible,
as long as the verb in each phrase follows the rules for each.

The circumstances surrounding each event and intent of the speaker
will determine which rules apply.

Let’s provide even more detail about the past situation in our original four examples above by adding a second completed or a description of how the speaker felt at the time.

  • 1. Mentre leggevo il giornale stamatina, la cameriera è arrivato e ha pulito tutta la casa.
    While I was reading the newspaper this morning, the maid arrived and cleaned the entire house.
  • 2. Mentre visitavo Firenze l’anno scorso, ho incontrato Maria per caso al Ristorante Paoli ma non abbiamo avuto tempo per cenare insieme.
    While I was visiting Florence last year, I happened to meet Maria at Ristorante Paoli but we didn’t have time to dine together.
  • 3. Lunedì scorso, pioveva quando sono andato a trovare mia mamma e mi sono bagnata molto!
    Last Monday, it was raining when I went to visit my mother and I got very wet!
  • 4. Da due anni, abitavo con mia zia quando ho trovato un appartamento perfecto per me e dopo ero molto contento.
    For two years, I was living with my aunt when I found an apartment perfect for me and afterwards I felt very happy.

In summary:

Mentre is only used with the imperfetto phrase!

Quando can be used with either the imperfetto or the passato prossimo phrase. 

 

When creating a compound sentence in Italian,
 simply remember the rules for the imperfetto and the passato prossimo.


 

Combine Imperfetto and Passato Prossimo
with Perché and Poiché

Another important reason to combine the imperfetto and the passato prossimo  is to describe the cause behind a past event. In this case, the element mentioned in the imperfetto phrase (the cause) is the reason behind the action/result (the effect) given in the passato prossimo phrase. This makes intrinsic sense, since the imperfetto is used for descriptive purposes and the passato prossimo is used to relate a completed event.

Cause/effect phrases that combine the imperfetto and passato prossimo often start with the effect in the first phrase (with the passato prossimo) and then give the cause behind the past event in the second phrase (with the imperfetto). The two phrases are usually linked with the conjunction perché, In this case, perché means because/since/so that.

However, an Italian sentence can also start with the cause for a completed event (effect) that will be mentioned in a second phrase. In this case the most common conjunction to use is poiché, which is translated as “considering that” or “because/since.” Even when poiché is translated as because/since, the meaning underlying poiché is “considering that” — the issue has been taken into consideration prior to  the response.

Although, to the outsider, this change in conjunctions to describe cause and effect may seem minor, it actually originates with an important rule of Italian grammar that determines how to use perché. Perché is used to start a sentence when one wants to ask the reason why.  Perché also means because when linking phrases. Perhaps to avoid confusion between these two definitions, perché can only be used at the beginning of a sentence with the meaning of because in direct answer to a question that starts with perché (why) or come mai (how come). In this case, the subject of the sentence is understood, and to repeat it would be unnecessary; this understanding effectively “bumps” perché from its usual role as a conjunction between to phrases to the beginning of the sentence!

An example of how perché can change its meaning with simple question/answer sentences:

Perché sei andato a Roma?
Why did you go to Rome?
 
(Sono andato a Roma) Perché avevo un meeting lì.
(I went to Rome) Because I had a meeting there.

 

In short,  other Italian conjunctions besides perché are required to start a sentence with a causation phrase, including when one combines the imperfetto and the passato prossimo. Poiché (considering that/seeing as how/because/since) is the most common conjunction used in conversation. Other options include: “per quale regione” (for that reason/because), and in a more formal situation or writing: siccome (given that/seeing as how/because), dato che (seeing as/since), visto che (given that/considering that/seeing that), dal momento che (seeing as/since). 

Now that we know some basic rules about Italian conjunctions used to describe causation, let’s finally combine the imperfetto and the passato prossimo to talk about the past. In the examples below, the cause behind a past event with the imperfetto is given in blue, the conjunction is in red, and the effect/completed event given in the passato prossimo is green. Notice how the imperfetto and the passato prossimo verbs (which are underlined) are linked to the cause and effect phrases.

Example 1:

Sono rimasto a casa ieri perché avevo la febbre alta.
I remained at home yesterday because I had a high fever.

-or-

Poiché avevo la febbre alta, sono rimasto a casa ieri. 
Because I had a high fever, I remained at home yesterday.

 

Example 2:

Maria ha comprato quel vestito nero ieri perché era in saldo.
Maria bought that dress because it was on sale.

-or-

Poiché era in saldo, Maria ha comprato quel vestito nero ieri.
Because it was on sale. Maria bought that dress yesterday.

 

An example in our last blog on this topic also combines the imperfetto and the passato prossimo in a sentence to describe causation, although this fact was not mentioned in the blog. Below is the scenario again, with the second sentence that begins with “subito dopo” serving as the cause/effect example.

Notice in the cause/effect example below that the passato prossimo is used in phrases both before and after the imperfetto phrase. In this example, we have combined three phrases that describe the past in one sentence!

The words “subito dopo” emphasize the short duration of the action in the first phrase. In  the second phrase. the imperfetto sets up the action for the third phrase; the cause is listed first with poiché. Of course, act of opening a door described in the third phrase is normally an event of short duration and so uses the passato prossimo.

Maria si è arrabbiata con Marco ed è andata a casa.
Mary became angry with Mark and Mary went home. 

Subito dopo, Marco è andato a casa di Maria e poiché bussava alla porta
continuamente, Maria ha aperto.
Shortly after, Mark went to Mary’s house and seeing as how he was knocking on the door continuously, Maria opened it.

 

 

Remember how combine imperfetto and the passato prossimo
and I guarantee
you will use these Italian past tenses every day!

 

Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! Italian Preposition “A” or “In”?

Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front

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

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

Why not set a goal to learn Italian, starting today, for the year 2022? I will try to help you with this goal by posting a new blog every month in the series “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” With these blogs, I discuss how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing help you to “think in Italian.” 

To speak fluently in another language, it is important to know how to introduce an object, or to describe direction, location or time. We do this naturally in our own language with prepositions — short words like of, to, at/in/from, and by. All languages use prepositions but the choice of preposition in a given situation will differ from one language to another. This is the case for English and Italian; English and Italian often use prepositions in a different way. Also, in some situations Italian sentence structure may require a preposition when English does not!

Let’s continue our series on Italian prepositions with the Italian prepositions “a” and “in.” Both prepositions can be used to describe where someone is going and where a person or thing is located. The Italian “a” can be translated as both “to” or “in” in English.  The Italian “in” is translated the same as in English — “in”! If we learn how to use the Italian prepositions “a” and “in,” we will truly sound like a native Italian!

This post is the 58th 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 prepositions “a”  and  “in.”

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.

*This material adapted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar 

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 Use the Italian “a” or “in”
for a Country, Region, or City

As mentioned in the introduction, both Italian prepositions “a” and “in” can be used to describe where someone is going, as well as their destination when they arrive. The Italian “a” can be translated as both “to” or “in” in English.  The Italian “in” is translated the same as in English — “in”! 

Americans and Italians use the prepositions that mean to and in differently. For instance, when Americans travel, they travel to a place – to Italy, to Tuscany, to Florence. American English speakers always use to as the preposition, whether they mention that they are traveling to a general region or a specific town. Of course, when an American reaches their destination, he or she will be located in that place and then say, “I am in Italy, in Tuscany, or in Rome,” meaning that he or she can be found there.

In Italian, however, the type of place is linked to the preposition used; there is no distinction made in Italian between traveling “to” a place or being “in” the place itself.

Italians travel directly into (in) a country, region, or large island,
but to (a) a city, town, or small island.

Once an Italian has arrived at a certain place, the same preposition that was used to describe traveling to that place applies. Or, if one is living in a place, the prepositions “a” and “in” will be used according to the size of the place, as described in the rule in quotes above. Again, the Italian prepositions “a” and “in” are linked to the place that is being described.

Let’s see how an Italian would answer the polite question, “Dove va per il suo viaggio?” “Where are you going on your trip?” The answer in Italian for someone taking a trip to America, depending on how specific they would like to be, is as follows: “Vado in America, in Illinois, e a Chicago.” “I am going to America, to Illinois, and to Chicago.” Notice that the English prepositions are the same, although the Italian prepositions change, depending on the size of the place that the preposition is linked to.

Also, what we call “states” in America are treated as the same as “regions” in Italy when assigning a preposition in Italian. Simply use the Italian preposition in prior to describing an American state. Notice that  “in Illinois” is given in the example above. 

New York State is the only exception in the United States of America to the Italian rule used to describe regions in other countries. The reason for the exception is that the Italian focus tends to be on New York City, rather than the rural areas that make up most of in New York State. But, as in America, the word “city” is left out of ordinary conversation.  “Vado a New York,” means, “I am going to New York City.”  To emphasize that one is traveling to the state of New York, i.e. somewhere outside of New York City, by convention the phrase would be, “Vado allo stato di New York,” for “I am going to the state of New York.” In this case, the preposition a is combined with the definite article lo to make “allo, according to the usual rule [a+lo = allo].

The polite question, “Dove abita?” forWhere do you live?” when answered uses the same prepositions for each location as described above. Here is an answer someone who lives in Italy might give, with the different options: Abito in Italia, in Toscana, e a Firenze.” “I live in Italy, in Tuscany, and in Florence.” Notice that the Italian prepositions have not changed compared with our example in the last paragraph!

Islands have their own special preposition rules in Italian. One travels “into” the large islands — in Sicilia or in Sardegna — but “to” the smaller islands using “a.” For instance, to go to the small Italian island of Capri one would say, “a Capri.” When traveling to a group of islands, such as Hawaii, the convention is to use [alle + island], leaving out the plural noun isole that alle modifies. Example: “ Vado alle (isole di) Hawaii.” “I am going to Hawaii.” Of course, the same prepositions  apply if one is living on the islands mentioned. Notice again that with alle we have combined our preposition with a definite article. A  detailed explanation of the procedure used for all prepositions is found in the textbook Conversational Italian for Travelers and the reference book of the same series, “Just the Grammar.”  

Check out the table for a summary of the examples above. Of course, where someone is traveling to or is located at during a particular time comes up often in conversation, and there are many variations on these questions! The answers will, of course, follow the rules for Italian prepositions outlined above.

Dove va per il suo viaggio? Where are you going on your trip?
Vado in America. I am going to America.
Vado in Illinois/
allo stato di New York.
I am going to Illinois/
the state of New York.
Vado a Chicago/
a New York.
I am going to Chicago/
New York City.
Dove abita? Where do you live?
Abito in Italia. I live in Italy.
Abito in Toscana. I live in Tuscany.
Abito a Firenze. I live in Florence.
Abito in Sicilia. I live in Sicily.
Abito in Sardegna. I live in Sardinia.
Abito a Capri. I live on Capri.
Abito alle Hawaii. I live on (the islands of) Hawaii.

Italian Definite Article
with Countries

By convention, the definite article (the) (il, la, or l’) is used to refer to countries, except when talking about traveling directly into them!  So if someone should ask politely, “Da dove viene?” “Where are you from?” an Italian would answer, “L’Italia,” and an American would say, “L’America” or “Gli Stati Uniti.” 

Below is a table that lists many of the countries in the world and the Italian definite article that applies to each, along with the Italian names for several capital cities. To remember this important point, gather some friends and sit around a table in front of a map of the world. Take turns asking a question about each country’s location, such as, “Dov’è l’America?” A friend can answer, “Ecco l’America!” while pointing to America on the map. This exercise will also reinforce the idea that the word “ecco” for “here is/here are” is used to point out something in plain site.

Of course, there is no need to memorize this entire table. Just remember the correct definite article for where you and your family and friends are from for easy conversation!

Europe l’Europa Africa l’Africa
Austria l’Austria Asia l’Asia
Belgium il Belgio Central America l’America Centrale
 Brussels  Bruxelles Europe l’Europa
Denmark la Danimarca Middle East il Medio Oriente
England       l’Inghilterra North America l’America del nord
 London  Londra South America l’America del sud
France la Francia Australia l’Australia
 Paris  Parigi
Germany la Germania Argentina l’Argentina
 Berlin  Berlino Brazil il Brasile
Greece la Grecia Canada il Canada*
 Athens  Atene Chile il Cile
Holland l’Olanda China la Cina
 Amsterdam  Amsterdam Egypt l’Egitto
Ireland l’Irlanda Cairo  il Cairo**
 Dublin  Dublino India l’India
Italy l’Italia Indonesia l’Indonesia
 Rome  Roma Japan il Giappone
Norway la Norvegia Korea la Corea
Poland la Polonia Mexico il Messico
Portugal il Portogallo Pakistan il Pakistan
 Lisbon  Lisbona Russia la Russia
Scandanavia la Scandanavia Moscow  Mosca
Spain la Spagna Turkey la Turchia
 Madrid  Madrid United States gli Stati Uniti
Sweden la Svezia Viet Nam il Vietnam
Switzerland la Svizzera

*Il Canada uses the masculine definite article.

**In this case, il Cairo is the name of the city, rather than the noun Cairo alone, by convention.


Use the Italian “a” or “in”
for Places Around Town

As mentioned in the first section, in the Italian language, every place is linked to its own preposition, which describes both going to and being located in the place — either “a” or “in.” Remember, there is no distinction made in Italian between traveling “to” a place or being “in” the place itself. This rule is important when inviting someone to join you for activities around town.  In Italian, you’ll need to ask someone if they want to go to a certain place, with “a,” or in a certain place, with “in.”

When using the Italian preposition “a,” the preposition a must be combined with the Italian definite article (il, lo, la, l’) that precedes the noun for the name of the place. The only exceptions to this rule are the Italian words for theater and house or home, which do not take a definite article. For all other nouns of place, the best way to remember the Italian preposition and definite article is to memorize both when learning the meaning of the noun. 

It is tempting to try to find a pattern for preposition use for Italian stores and other venues around the piazza. But there is no grammatical rule to fall back on in this instance.

It should also be noted that many verbs of going and returning, such as andare and venire, are automatically followed by the Italian preposition a when linked to another verb (see the next section).

Use the common phrases below  to invite a friend out for a good time in order to remember which preposition to use! They have been reprinted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers “Important Phrases” Section of Chapter 11, entitled “Making Friends.”  Included are several helpful introductory lines that can be used prior to the invitation. As you can see, knowing your Italian prepositions can even help to build a closer friendship!

Perché non ci vediamo? Let’s get together.
(lit. Why don’t we get together/see each other?)
Hai tempo domani? Do you have time tomorrow?
Posso rivederti domani? May I see you again tomorrow?
Sei libera(o) domani, Are you free (to female/male) tomorrow,
domani sera, tomorrow night,
la settimana prossima? next week?
Posso invitarla/ti a cena? May I invite you (pol.)/(fam.) to dinner?
al bar? to a (coffee) bar?
al caffé? to a cafe?
in pizzeria? to a pizzeria?
a casa mia? to my house?
Ti piacerebbe/Vuoi… Would you like to/Do you want to…
andare in piazza? go to the piazza?
andare in chiesa? go to church?
andare al cinema?
andare a teatro?
go to the movies?
go to the theater?
andare al concerto? go to the concert?
andare allo spettacolo? go to the show (performance)?
andare alla mostra? go to the show (exhibit)?
andare al museo? go to the museum?
andare a ballare? go dancing?
andare in ufficio? go to the office?
 
Ti piacerebbe/Vuoi … Would you like to/Do you want to…
venire con noi… come with us…
in spiaggia / al mare? to the beach / to the sea?
in montagna? to the mountains?
in campagna? to the countryside?

When to use “a”
to Link Italian Verbs

There are some Italian action verbs that need to be followed by the preposition a before an infinitive verb is added to complete the sentence. This may seem a little redundant to the English speaker, since in English infinitive verbs already include the word “to.”  For instance, the translation of the Italian infinitive verb andare is “to go.” To the Italian speaker, though, it is natural to insert the preposition a between certain conjugated verbs and an infinitive verb — Italian phrases just sound correct this way!

As examples, remember the important phrases “andare a trovare” and “venire a trovare” that mean “to go to visit” and “to come to visit.”  These phrases are used to describe visiting people; to visit a place, use visitare.  Riuscire is also used on a daily basis to describe the effort one has been putting into a specific action. Try to listen for the “a” when you hear the verbs in the list below and soon it will become natural for you, also, to combine these verbs correctly.

aiutare to help
Aiuto mia mamma a.…cucinare la cena.
I help my mother to cook (the) dinner.
 
andare to go
Mamma va a.…fare la spesa ogni mattina.
Mother goes grocery shopping every morning.
cominciare to start
Comincio a.…cucinare la cena.
I start (am starting) to cook (the) dinner.
divertirsi to enjoy onself
Mi diverto a…suonare il violino.
I enjoy playing the violin.
imparare to learn
Tutti imparano a.…parlare italiano.
Everyone learns to speak Italian.
insegnare to teach
Lei insegna a.…scrivere la lingua francese.
She teaches (how to) write French.
invitare to invite
Lui  mi invita a…mangiare al ristorante.
He invites (is inviting) me to eat at the restaurant.
mandare to send
Io mando Pietro a…prendere una pizza.
I send Peter to get a pizza.
prepararsi to get ready
Mi preparo ad…andare in Italia.
I am getting ready to go to Italy.
riuscire to be able to/manage
Non riesco a… trovare le chiavi.
I can’t manage to find the keys.
venire to come
Caterina viene a… trovare i suoi cugini.
Kathy comes to visit her cousins.

Use the Italian “a” or “in”
in Reference to Time

In a previous blog in this series, “How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian, we discussed that the preposition di is used to refer to the general time of day with the phrases di mattina, di pomeriggio, di sera, and di notte.

We also mentioned in the same blog that both di and in are used to refer to the seasons: d’estate, d’inverno, in primavera, in autunno.

The Italian prepositions a and in also have a role to play when describing units of time.

When referring to the month that something is going to happen, either a or in can be used. English always uses in.


Andiamo a Roma a giugno / in giugno.
We will go to Rome in June.

The question, “A che ora succede (qualcosa)?” “At what hour does (something) happen?” is answered with the phrase [alle + number]. In this case, the Italian “a” means “at.” If you need a refresher on how to tell time in both the present and the past, visit the numbers section of our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook or the Just the Verbs” and Just the Grammar” reference books. 

Andiamo alle sei e trenta. / Andiamo alle sei e mezzo.
Let’s go at 6:30.


When “a” Means “By”

Sometimes the Italian preposition “a” is translated into “by” in English. For instance, we say that an article of clothing is made “by hand” to refer to human, rather than machine labor. In Italian, the phrase is “a mano.” A similar phrase is “fatto a casa” for “homemade.” 

To learn something “by heart” is to “imparare a memoria.” 

Also use “a” in Italian to describe what type of energy something “runs by/on.”

Quest’orologio funziona a batteria. 
This watch runs by battery.

Other types of combustible energy a machine can run on include: a energia solare, a benzina, a gas, a legno forby… solar energy, benzine, gas, wood.

One can also run on “people energy” when walking by foot (a piedi) or take advantage of an animal’s energy when riding a horse (a cavallo).

Note: electric energy does not require a preposition! L’elettricità = the electricity and una macchina elettrico = an electric machine.


When “in” Means “Made of”

In the previous blog, “How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian, we discussed how to use the preposition di to describe what something is composed of, as well as the exception with materials that require “in” as the preposition. To repeat, by convention, for all metals that are not gold (oro) and for the cloth velvet (veluto) use the Italian preposition in prior to mentioning the material.

Questa è una scultura in bronzo.
This is a sculpture made of bronze.

La vecchia poltrona è stata rivestita in velluto.
The old chair was restored with velevet cloth.


Using “a” to Refer to Age

In a previous blog in this series, “How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian, we discussed that the preposition di is used to state the age of an acquaintance or even a bottle of wine; Use di as part of a phrase before the number of years as in  una signora di 82 anni.” 

One can also simply say, “at [number of] years,” in Italian, just like in English, by using the preposition “a” for “at.”

Pietro si è laureato all’Università a ventidue anni.
Peter graduated from college at 22 years.

Mi sono sposata a venticinque anni.
I got married at 25 years old.

Remember when saying the specific phrase, “at your age” that Italian requires the “a” for “at” to be combined with the definite article to make the possessive “your.”

Per favore, nonna, alla tua età, non lavorare più!
Please, grandma, at your age, don’t work any more!


Getting  “in” and “out”
of Transportation

Note that different prepositions are used for cars vs. other forms of transportation when using the Italian verb salire to describe getting in. Salire has an irregular conjugation, with two forms given below. Note also and how the preposition su (on) is combined with the different forms of the (il, la, l’).

Salgo in macchina.                               I get into the car.
Sali in macchina                                 Get into the car! (fam. command)

Salgo su                                            I get on/I board/I go aboard…

Salgo… sull’autobus, sul treno, sulla motocicletta, sulla bicicletta, sull’areo.

I get onto… the bus, the train, the motorcycle, the bicycle, the airplane. 

Remember how to make comparisons with
the Italian preposition “di” in conversation
and I guarantee you will use the Italian “di” every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers books are shown side by side, standing up with "Just the Verbs" on the left and "Just the Grammar" on the right
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com

The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Let’s talk about… Making reservations in Italian

Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

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

I hope you are on your way to meet this goal! I will try to help you by posting a new blog every month in the series “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” With these blogs, I describe how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing  help you to “think in Italian.” 

As of this writing, it is easier to travel to Europe than it has been for the last two years. But of course, even if travel becomes restricted again, it is never to early to start to learn Italian travel phrases. In fact, the earlier the better! So for this blog I focus on Italian phrases for making reservations at a restaurant or hotel in Italy.

Prior to beginning the lesson for this blog, I acknowledge that in the larger cities of Italy it is not usually necessary to make reservations completely in Italian; the Italian staff usually speak basic English and often the languages of their European neighbors, French, Spanish or German.  Also, of course, most times reservations can now be made over the internet on one’s computer or smart phone, without any human interaction at all! But I’ve found that a few phrases in Italian are always warmly welcomed by Italian servers and hotel receptionists, even in the larger cities, and can serve to put the traveler at ease in their new surroundings. In the smaller  Italian towns, basic Italian expressions can still be essential when relating one’s needs in family-run restaurants and hotels.

In short, if we learn the few phrases needed when making reservations in Italian, we will feel more comfortable during our stay in the “bel paese.” 

This post is the 57th  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”
describe

  making reservations in Italian

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… Making Reservations in Italian

La prenotazione means “the reservation.” The Italian verbs prenotare and riservare translate into English as: “to make/book a reservation.”  The use of these Italian verbs varies with the situation.

Most commonly, when asking to make a reservation at a restaurant or a hotel, Italians use the noun prenotazione with the verb fare and “make a reservation,” which is “fare una prenotazione.”

It is customary to start a request with either vorrei (I would like) or desidero (I desire/want/wish). Notice that vorrei is the conditional form of volere (to want). It is also possible to use the first person present tense form volgio (I want) but vorrei is considered more polite and is the preferred conjugation to use. The phrase “ho bisogno di” for “I need” is yet another way to introduce any request made in Italian.

Some example sentences to get us started making a reservation:

Vorrei fare una prenotazione. I would like to make a reservation.
Desidero fare una prenotazione. I desire/want/wish to make a reservation.
Ho bisogno di fare una prenotazione. I need to make a reservation.

Once we have stated our desire to make a reservation, three important pieces of information will need to be relayed to the receptionist: the number of people, the date and the time.

Generally, the receptionist will ask: “Per quante persone?” “For how many people?” 

For a restaurant reservation, it will be important to state how many adults (adulti) as well as how many children (bambini) will be dining. A simple answer for a family of two adults and two children would be: “Due adulti e due bambini.” The receptionist may ask if a child seat (una sedia speciale) is needed. A table will be chosen next to other families dining in the restaurant; this ensures that adults who are without children and want a more intimate dinner will not be disturbed.  

An interesting note about children and Italian culture: a child is considered a bambino or bambina (baby/ child) in Italy until about 14, when he or she can then be called a ragazzo or ragazza (young man/young woman). The appellation ragazzo(a) lasts into the 20s. The usual Italian masculine and feminine  endings need to be applied to these nouns; the “o” ending signifies a male child and the “a” ending a female child. For the plural, the usual “i” ending is used for a group of all males or a mixed group and “e” for an all female group.

Remember also that the Italian number “one” changes when modifying a noun. So a family may have un bambino or una bambina. 

To make a reservation in an Italian restaurant, it is not necessary to differentiate the bambini from the ragazzi. But Italian hotels do differentiate between children of different ages when booking a room. Most Italian hotels have a room rate that will vary depending on the number of adults who occupy the room. Families traveling with children between the ages of 12-14 (and even up to16 years of age) may be able to receive a family discount (uno sconto famiglia). 

In short, it is helpful to memorize the correct Italian for the children in your family when making reservations at a restaurant and hotel to be comfortable and to be sure you are not overpaying for accommodations!

Some variations on the simple conversation we have created so far:

Vorrei fare una prenotazione. I would like to make a reservation.
Per quante persone? For how many people?
Un‘adulto/Due adulti  One adult/Two adults 
Un bambino/Una bambina
Un ragazzo/ Una ragazza
One baby or young child (male/female)
One young man/ One young woman
Due bambini/ Due bambine Two children (group of males or males+females/
group of all females)
Due ragazzi/ Due ragazze Two boys or [1 boy + 1 girl]/ Two girls

By the way, if you need to cancel a reservation, use the same sentence structure as when you have made the reservation. However, use the verb annullare, and say, “Vorrei annullare una prenotazione,” for “I would like to cancel a reservation.”

Or, if a reservation needs to be changed, use the verb cambiare, as in, “Vorrei cambiare una prenotazione.”


Stating the date in Italian:

To state the date and time of a reservation, we will need to know how to say numbers in Italian up to 31 (assuming reservation is in the present year). If you still need to learn how to count in Italian, purchase my Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook or download the PDF for tips on how to remember Italian numbers into the billions.

Below is the sentence structure needed to state the date.

definite article + number + di +month

This is actually a lot easier than it may look! Below are a few examples. You will notice that in English we say, “January second,” for “January 2,” while in Italian the phrasing and word order reads: “the two of January.”

The exception to the above rule is the first day of the month. In this case, the word primo, which means first, must always be used, instead of uno (one).

When writing the date, remember the order of the day and the month are reversed in Italy (as in Europe): dd/mm/yyyy. The days of the week and the months of the year are not capitalized in Italian.

Oggi è il due di gennaio. Today is January 2.
Domani è il tre di gennaio. Tomorrow is January 3.
Dopodomani è il quattro di gennaio. The day after tomorrow is January 4.
Oggi è il primo di agosto. Today is August 1.

Finally, in everyday conversation, to say, “On Mondays…” referring to something that happens every Monday, just use the definite article il (the) at the beginning of the sentence for all the masculine weekdays ending in ì and la for the feminine Sunday (domenica).

Il lunedì vado al lavoro. / La domenica vado in chiesa.
On Mondays, I go to work. / On Sundays, I go to church.


Stating the time when making a reservation in Italian:

Expressions used to tell time in Italian are given below up to 12 o’clock. For a more detailed explanation of the Italian sentence structure used when telling time, purchase my Conversational Italian for Travelers  textbook or download the PDF.  Note: there is no “o’clock” in Italian. Simply state the hour “it is” for one o’clock or the  number of hours “there are” from two o’clock onward. You will need to learn Italian numbers up to 24 to understand the time tables for Italian trains, buses and airlines, which are given in “military time” with the 24 hour clock. Italian museums and theaters also operate based on the 24 hour clock.

È l’una.                                    (It is)              one. (1 o’clock)

Sono le due.                           (They are)      two. (2 o’clock)

Sono le tre.                            (They are)      three. (3 o’clock)

Sono le quattro.                    (They are)      four. (4 o’clock)

Sono le cinque.                      (They are)      five. (5 o’clock)

Sono le sei.                             (They are)      six. (6 o’clock)

Sono le sette.                         (They are)      seven. (7 o’clock)

Sono le otto.                          (They are)      eight. (8 o’clock)

Sono le nove.                         (They are)      nine. (9 o’clock)

Sono le dieci.                         (They are)      ten. (10 o’clock)

Sono le undici.                       (They are)      eleven. (11 o’clock)

Sono le dodici.                       (They are)      twelve. (12 o’clock)

One can emphasize the time of day, such as morning, afternoon, evening, or night, by adding the following expressions after the numerical time: di mattina, di pomeriggio, di sera, or di notte, as below.

1,00 (AM)                           È l’una di mattina.                 It is one in the morning.

1,00 (PM)                            È l’una di pomeriggio.          It is one in the afternoon.

6,00 (PM)                           Sono le sei di sera.                It is six in the evening.

10,00 (PM)                          Sono le dieci di notte.          It is ten at night.

When the receptionist at a restaurant asks what hour you wish to dine, the question will usually be phrased as such:
A che ora…?                                       (At) what time…?

The response to the question will also use the word at, which will be attached to the definite article (the).  Use (l’) for one o’clock and (le) for all other hours to agree with the number of hours in the answer.

A mezzogiorno                                  At noon

A mezzanotte                                    At midnight

All’una.                                               At one o’clock.

Alle sette.                                           At seven o’clock.

All’una e cinque.                               At 1:05 AM.

Alle sette e mezzo.                            At 7:30 AM.


Making a Reservation in Italian: Restaurants and Hotels

Now that we know an introductory sentence and how to tell the receptionist at a restaurant or hotel the date and time of our appointment, we can summarize this information in the short conversation below:

Vorrei fare una prenotazione. I would like to make a reservation.
Per quante persone? For how many people?
Quattro.
Due adulti e due bambini.
Four.
Two adults and two children.
Data e ora/orario? Date and time?
Ristorante:
Il cinque di giugno alle otto di sera.
Restaurant:
July 5th at 8 PM.
Hotel:
Dal cinque al sette di giugno.
Hotel:
From the 5th through the 7th of June. 

Restaurants in Italy normally open for dinner at 7 PM and most Italians go out to eat at 8 PM or later. After making a reservation, when one enters the restaurant, all the information the receptionist needs to know can be conveyed in two easy lines:

Buona sera.
Good evening.

Abbiamo una prenotazione per quattro persone alle otto di sera. 
We have a reservation for four people for 8 PM.

In colloquial Italian, it is also considered correct to say:
Abbiamo una prenotazione per quattro persone per le otto di sera. 
We have a reservation for four people for 8 PM.

For just one person, the following is fine:
Ho una prenotazione alle otto/ per le otto.
I have a reservation for 8 PM

Additional requests may need to be made for hotel reservations.  When asking a question of the receptionist, use the “you all” form of avere, which is avete, since you are asking the representative of the hotel if they have what you need. The receptionist will answer in the noi form, and mention “we have” or “we don’t have” what you are requesting.

Example:

Avete una camera singola?
Do you all have a room with a single bed?

Mi dispiace, non abbiamo una camera singola disponibile. 
I’m sorry, we don’t have a room with a single bed available. 

Siamo al completo/ tutti prenotati stasera.
We are full/completely booked tonight.

Below is a list of vocabulary that includes the type of Italian hotel (l’albergo) you may want to choose and the type of room (la stanza) you may need. A few hotel amenities one might ask about when making a reservation are also included.

Almost all hotels in Italy provide breakfast for their guests gratis (free), so it is not usually necessary to ask if la prima colazione (breakfast) is included in the fee for the room. However, it can be helpful to check the internet for images of the dining room and the food served (along with the types of rooms available) prior to making reservations at a hotel. Italian hotels offer a wide range of morning meals — from a simple continental breakfast of coffee, juice and a pastry, to a large buffet with specialty breads and pastries, eggs, cereal, yogurt, lunch meat and cheeses to choose from.

And just in case things are not quite what you expected during your stay at an Italian hotel, you can always ask for l’albergatore or l’albergatrice (hotel manager, masculine and feminine). If you need help choosing where to make dinner reservations, call la reception (reception/front desk) or visit il concierge (the concierge).

l’albergo hotel
la pensione
il bed and breakfast
boarding house
bed and breakfast
l’ostello (della gioventù) youth hostel
il pernottamento overnight stay
la pensione completa room and board (includes three meals a day)
la mezza pensione room, breakfast, and one meal (half board)
la camera/la stanza room
la camera singola room with a single bed
la camera matrimoniale room with a double bed
le camere adiacenti adjacent rooms
il letto bed
il letto supplementare additional bed
la culla crib
servizio in camera room service
la piscina swimming pool
la sauna sauna
la vasca idromassaggio Jacuzzi*
il campo da golf golf course
il campo da tennis tennis court

*Italian-American history: Jacuzzi Brothers was a company founded in 1915 by seven Italian-American brothers with the surname Jacuzzi, whose family origins were in Casarsa della Delizia in Northern Italy. They initially developed propellers for the military and experimented with the manufacture of aircraft. In 1956, the company developed a pump that could be submerged under water to provide hydrotherapy.  Candido Jacuzzi, third generation in the family, invented the whirlpool bath using the company’s hydrotherapy pump to treat his young son’s rheumatoid arthritis. The Jacuzzi tubs we know today were trademarked in 1968.


Making a Reservation in Italian: Train or Theater

Remember that reservations for the train or theater in Italy are made using the military, or 24 hour clock. Once  you have made a reservation, here are a few tips on how to proceed when arriving at your destination:

When boarding a train or entering a theater with a ticket that has a reserved seat, one would have “un biglietto con la prenotazione” or “a ticket with the reservation.”

To say you are checking your seat, use the phrase, “Controllo il biglietto con la prenotazione,” for “I am checking the ticket with the reservation.”

However, the actual seat on a train or theater is referred to as “reserved” as in, “Il posto è riservato.” The seat or room has been booked, and no one else can use it. If someone else has made a prenotazione before you, your request might be denied due to un posto riservato.

Remember to use the verbs cambiare and annullare to change or cancel a reservation, as mentioned in the very first section!

Remember that making reservations in Italian
can enhance your experience every day while visiting Italy!

For “All the Italian you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy,” click on the links below to purchase my Conversational Italian for Travelers books – Kathryn Occhipinti

Conversational Italian for Travelers books are shown side by side, standing up with "Just the Verbs" on the left and "Just the Grammar" on the right
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com

The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to Make Comparisons in Italian with “Di”

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases
Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

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

Why not set a goal to learn Italian, starting today, for the year 2022? I will try to help you with this goal 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.” 

To speak fluently in another language, it is important to know how to make comparisons. Every day we all compare the characteristics of one thing to another — larger vs. smaller, better or worse — often to describe what we prefer.  The Italian language uses precise sentence structures and specific prepositions when making comparisons that are not always identical to English. The good news is that Italian is consistent, and it is easy to learn the “Italian way” of thinking to compare the things in the world we live in!

In a prior blog  in this series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian,we learned that the Italian preposition di can mean “of, from, or by.” Now, we will put di to use in another way — to replace the English word than when making comparisons! 

Let’s continue our new series on Italian prepositions with another blog about the essential Italian preposition “di.” If we learn how to use the Italian preposition “di” to make comparisons, we will truly sound like a native Italian!

This post is the 56th 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 preposition “di”
to make comparisons

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.

*The material in this blog has been adapted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and  the reference book “Just the Grammar.”

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

 Use “Di” to Compare
Italian Nouns and Verbs

To speak fluently in another language, it is important to know how to make comparisons. Every day we all compare the characteristics of one thing to another — larger vs. smaller, better or worse — often to describe what we prefer.  The Italian language uses precise sentence structures and specific prepositions when making comparisons that are not always identical to English. In this blog, we will explore several ways to make comparisons that use the Italian preposition di.  The good news is that Italian is consistent, and it is easy to learn the “Italian way” of thinking to compare the things in the world we live in!

To compare two different nouns — people, places, or things — where one has a superior or inferior characteristic, use the following Italian phrases below. Note that the Italian preposition di will combine with the definite article the (il, la, lo, l’, etc.) according to the usual rules, if a definite article is needed in the sentence.

In this case, the Italian preposition di is translated into English with than. Notice that “the” is often used in Italian but is not needed in English, due to the different way the two languages express possession (see the first example below). If you need a refresher on the Italian preposition di, visit a prior blog in this series, “How to Use “Di” in Italian.”

Also, the translation into English will not match the Italian word for word when making comparisons. English uses the irregular “larger” and “smaller” and therefore the Italian “more large” and “more small” cannot be translated directly into English.

Comparison of Two Different Nouns

 

più… di more… than
meno… di less… than

Comparison sentences with two different nouns (person, place, or thing) are given below. The nouns that are being compared are red.

Pietro ha più soldi
di Caterina.
Peter has more money
than Kathy.
Caterina ha meno soldi di Pietro. Kathy has less money than Peter.
   
La casa di Pietro è più grande
del
la casa di Caterina.
Peter’s house is larger
than Kathy’s house.
Firenze è più piccola di Roma. Florence is smaller than Rome.

This Italian sentence structure using di also works
when making comparisons with verbs, adverbs, and adjectives
that have different characteristics.

Let’s look into how to make comparisons with the verb piacere.  Piacere is how Italians say they like something. (If you need a refresher on how to conjugate the verb piacere, visit our blog, “Piacere — How Italians Say, ‘I like it!'”)  

Piacere often comes into play to describe how much we like doing something compared to something else. For instance, in a prior blog, “Let’s Talk About… TV and Movies in Italian.” we discussed how to state a preference for one film over another. The two lines below give the correct Italian sentence structure and again use più di and meno di. 

Mi piace… (film)  più di + definite article… (film).
Mi piace…
(film) meno di + definite article…
(film).

Mi piace La Vita è Bella più del Commissario Montalbano.
I like Life is Beautiful more than Detective Montalbano.
 
Mi piace Pane e Tulipani meno di La Vita è Bella.
I like Bread and Tulips less than Life is Beautiful.

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Use “Di” with
Irregular Adverbs

Comparative sentences that use adverbs are common, since people often discuss how well (bene) — or how badly (male) — something is going. To compare how one action is better or worse compared to another, use the irregular comparative adverbs meglio and peggio with the preposition di and the same sentence structure described in the last section of this blog.

In the examples below, the adverb that is used in the comparison is in brown and its verb in green. 

Caterina parla italiano bene.        Kathy speaks Italian well.    
Caterina parla italiano meglio di Francesca. Kathy speaks Italian better than Frances.
   
Francesca parla italiano male.    Frances speaks Italian badly.    
Francesca parla italiano peggio di Caterina.  Frances speaks Italian worse than Kathy.

                           

To express the relative superlative “the best” or “the worst” in Italian, one can simply use the comparative sentence structure we have learned with the Italian phrases “meglio di tutti” or peggio di tutti.”

Caterina parla italiano meglio di tutti Kathy speaks Italian better than  everyone.
  Meaning: Kathy speaks Italian the best.  
   
Francesca parla italiano peggio di tutti. Frances speaks Italian worse than everyone.
  Meaning: Frances speaks Italian the worst.

Meglio is used in the same way when talking about a thing, rather than a person. For instance, to compare a recent film with a well-known TV series, see the example below from our blog “Let’s Talk About… TV and Movies in Italian.”

This film is better than…

Questo film è meglio di + definite article…

Questo film è meglio del Commissario Montalbano, sono sicuro!
This film is better than Detective Montalbano, I am sure.

                

Equally important are comparisons made with the adverbs very (molto) or little (poco). People have a tendency to make comparisons between doing something more (più) or doing something less (meno). We have seen the Italian adverbs piu and meno in action in the first section as part of the sentence structure for making a comparison. When used with the meaning of “more” or “less,” piu and meno are considered irregular adverbs. 

However, when making a comparison in Italian using più or meno with the meanings of more or less, speakers often don’t mention the second term.  This is common in every day conversation when both speakers already know the topic under discussion. When the second term in the comparison is omitted, the preposition di is added before più or meno to complete the sentence.

Use di più or di meno, rather than simply più or meno
when the second term of the comparison is not stated.

In the examples below, the adverb used in the comparison is in brown and its verb in green. 

Pietro ha mangiato molta pizza. Peter ate a lot of pizza.
Pietro ha mangiato più pizza di Michele. Peter ate more pizza than Michael.
Pietro ha mangiato di più.    Peter ate more.
   
Michele ha mangiato poca pizza.  Michael ate a little pizza.
Michele ha mangiato meno pizza di Pietro. Michael ate less pizza than Peter.
Michele ha mangiato di meno.  Michael ate less.

To express “the most” or “the least” in Italian, one can simply use the comparative sentence structure we have learned with the Italian phrases “più di tutti” or meno di tutti.”

Pietro ha mangiato più di tutti. Peter ate more than  everyone.
                                                                      Meaning: Peter ate the most.
   
Michele ha mangiato meno di tutti. Michael ate less than everyone.
                                                                      Meaning: Michael ate the least.

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Use “Di” with
Irregular Adjectives

See the irregular comparative adverbs we have just discussed in the previous section in the table below, along with their relative superlative adjectives and phrases.

Adverb   Comparative
Adverb
  Relative Superlative Adjective/Phrases  
bene well meglio better
il migliore
the best
male badly peggio   il peggiore the worst
molto very più

 

di più

more più
la maggior parte di
il maggior numero di
the most
poco a little meno

 

di meno

less meno
il minimo di
la minima parte di
the least

  

Now let’s talk about the relative superlative adjectives in the third column of our table above.

The Best and the Worst in Italian:

Earlier in this blog, we mentioned that to express the relative superlative adjective “the best” in Italian, one can simply use the Italian phrase “meglio di tutti” to state “better than everyone.” 

However, when we use the irregular adjective “il migliore” to state someone or something is “the best,” a different sentence structure is required. One might say Italian is more precise than English since Italian expresses the difference between Frances the person and Frances’ knowledge of Italian. In English, this difference is simply understood. (If you need a refresher on how to state possession with the Italian preposition di, visit a prior blog in this series, “How to Use “Di” in Italian.”) 

In short, an Italian sentence that uses the adjective migliore must start with the noun that migliore modifies. Once again, we encounter differences in the English and Italian way of thinking — in this case about how to be the best!

Below are examples from the prior section again, with the addition of a sentence with “il migliore” for comparison. The last example also includes “the worst,” or “il peggiore,” which follows the same sentence structure. The adverb that is being compared is in brown and its verb in green. The noun described as “the best” or “the worst” is in red.

Caterina parla italiano meglio di tutti Kathy speaks Italian better than  everyone.
  Meaning: Kathy speaks Italian the best.
L’italiano di Caterina è il migliore. Meaning: Kathy’s Italian is the best.
   
Francesca parla italiano peggio di tutti. Frances speaks Italian worse than everyone.
  Meaning: Frances speaks Italian the worst.
L’italiano di Francesca è il peggiore Meaning: Frances’ Italian is the worst.

 

The Most in Italian:

Previously in this blog, we mentioned that to express the relative superlative adjective “the most” in Italian, one can simply use the Italian phrase “più di tutti” to state “more than everyone.”  

We can also use più in a sentence that starts with a noun followed by quello(a,i,e) to express the idea of “the most.” Use this Italian way of speaking to refer to the greatest quantity of something, measure of something (tangible or intangible), or number of something. The Italian sentence structure is similar to the examples given for how to use migliore and peggiore. English speakers tend to express the same idea in a different way, as noted by the translations below. 

Il bicchiere di Marco è quello che ha più vino.    Mark has the most wine in his glass.
Anna è quella della famiglia che è più bella.  Ann is the most beautiful of all of us in the family.
Quest’albero è quello che ha più mele.    This tree is the one with the most apples. 

 

Two other phrases, la maggior parte di” and “il maggior numero di” can also mean “the most,” regarding “the greatest quantity” and “the greatest number” of something.

Also, “Per la maggiore parte…” is commonly used to say, “For the most part…”

Our original examples are listed below again, with additional ways to say “the most.” Notice how the meaning changes with the use of the last two phrases. Also that “fetta di” is itself a separate phrase, so that di is not combined with the definite article.

Pietro ha mangiato più di tutti.
Peter ate more than  everyone/the most.

Pietro ha mangiato la maggior parte della pizza.
Peter ate most (the most part of) of the pizza.

Pietro ha mangiato il magior numero di fette di piazza.
Peter ate most (the most number of) of the pieces of the pizza.

 

The Least in Italian:

Finally, to say “the least,” one can use “meno” with quello(a) and the same sentence structure as described above for più.

Michele è quello della famiglia che ha mangiato meno pizza.
Michael has eaten the least pizza of all of us in the family.

 

“Il minimo di” and “la minima parte di” can also be used to describe “the least.” See examples below. Remember to change the ending of minimo(a) to match the gender of the noun that is modified.

Michele ha mangiato meno di tutti.
Michael ate less than everyone/the least pizza.

 

Michele ha mangiato la minima parte della pizza.     Michael ate the least (amount of) pizza.

Michele ha mangiato il minimo del pane.                  Michael ate the least (amount of) bread.

 


Remember how to make comparisons with
the Italian preposition “di” in conversation 
and I guarantee you will use the Italian “di” every day!

 

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Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to Use the Preposition “Di” in Italian

Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front
Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

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

Why not set a goal to learn Italian, starting today, for the year 2022? I will try to help you with this goal by posting a new blog every month in the series “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” With these blogs, I discuss how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing help you to “think in Italian.” 

To speak fluently in another language, it is important to know how to introduce an object, or to describe direction, location or time. We do this naturally in our own language with prepositions — short words like of, to, at/in/from, and by. All languages use prepositions but the choice of preposition in a given situation will differ from one language to another. This is the case for English and Italian; English and Italian often use prepositions in a different way. Also, in some situations Italian sentence structure may require a preposition where English does not!

Let’s start our new series on Italian prepositions with the essential Italian preposition “di.” If we learn how to use the Italian preposition “di,” which can be translated into the English prepositions “of, from,” and “by,” we will truly sound like a native Italian!

This post is the 54th 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 preposition “di”

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.

*This material adapted from the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar 

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

 Use “Di” to Say
Where You are From

One of the most frequent questions asked during polite conversation is, “Where are you from?” This is expressed in Italian with the verb to be (essere) and di, which is translated in English to the preposition from in this situation. The Italian sentence structure is, “From where are you?”

di + dove + essere from + where + to be

In proper English, of course, we would say, “Where are you from?” Although the Italian sentence sounds awkward in English, the rule in Italian is never to end a sentence with a preposition; in effect, the English sentence likely sounds awkward to Italians!  The answer in Italian will also use di and is followed by the town of one’s birth. Notice that the subject pronoun io (I) is usually left out of the answer, as it is understood from the ending of the verb. For instance:

Di dov’è Lei?

Where are you (polite) from?

Di dove sei?

Where are you (familiar) from?

Sono di Chicago.

(I) am from Chicago.

Note: there is another way of asking where someone is from in Italian — the phrase, “Da dove viene?” This phrase uses the conjunction da with the verb venire, and is a more general reference to where one has been living in prior years. The answer is “Vengo da…” for “I am from…” This phrase will be discussed in more detail in a future blog about the preposition da.


 

Expressing Possession with “Di”

In Italian, the word di is used to expresses possession, and in this situation, di means of. To describe ownership of a car in Italian, for instance, one would use di to create the sentence: “Questa è la macchina di Pietro.”

We can translate the Italian way of thinking into English with the following sentence: “This is the car of Peter.”  To the American ear, though, this sounds formal and too wordy. We have the option of expressing this thought with [apostrophe + the letter s] (‘s) tacked onto the name of the person doing the possessing. The English version of our example above would be, “This is Peter’s car.”  In Italian, though, if we want to use someone’s name to describe possession, we have only the very first sentence structure: “Questa è la macchina di Pietro.” 


 

General Uses for “Di”

1. In order to express authorship of a work, Italians use di, which in this case corresponds to the English word by.  Also use di with the verb conoscere to describe “knowing someone by” their appearance or their name. Notice we may render these ideas a bit differently in English.

8 ½ è un film di Frederico Fellini.

8 ½ is a film by Fredrico Fellini.

Conosco Marco di vista, ma non ci siamo mai incontrati.

I know what Mark looks like, but we have not (ever) met.

Conosco Marco di nome, ma non ci siamo mai incontrati.

I know Mark’s name, but we have not (ever) met.

2. In order to express what something is composed of, Italians use di. In English, we say “made of,” and in Italian the past particle fatto can be used as an adjective to make the corresponding phrase fatto(a,i,e) di.” However, in Italian the adjective fatto is optional and the entire meaning of the phrase is usually conveyed just with the preposition di.  This is why it is so important to learn how to use Italian prepositions correctly. A short, simple preposition can change the meaning of an entire sentence! 

Note: for all metals that are not gold (oro) and for the cloth velvet (vellutouse the preposition in instead of di. These exceptions are simply by convention.

Questa sedia fatta di legno è dura.

This chair made of wood is tough.

Ho comprato un camicia di seta oggi.

I bought a silk blouse today.

Mio marito mi ha regolato un’anello d’oro.

My husband bought me a ring made of gold.

—–but-—-

Questa è una scultura in bronzo.

This sculpture is made of bronze.

La vecchia poltrona è stata rivestita in velluto.

The old chair was restored with velvet cloth.

There are also many descriptive nouns in English that are composed of two nouns, one of which acts as an adjective to describe the other. Some of these descriptive noun/adjectives must be linked with di in Italian if the descriptive term represents what the main item is made of. For instance the two English words that represent one item from the example silk blouse given above is translated  into Italian as camicia di seta. The single English word sandcastle is il castello di sabbia in Italian, or “the castle made of sand.”  Descriptive nouns will be covered in more detail in a future blog about da.

3. In order to relate that a topic is being talked about, or discussed/argued about, Italians use di to link certain verbs with the subject matter under discussion. The most common verbs used in this way are: parlare (to talk), discutere (to discuss) and trattarsi, (concerning or regarding).   

For the verb parlare, the Italian preposition di is translated as “about” in English. When a verb follows parlare di or discutere di to complete the sentence, Italian simply adds an infinitive verb after di. English uses [about + gerund of the verb]. You remember, of course, that the gerund is the commonly used “-ing” form of a verb in English. Below are two examples using parlare and discutere. 

Caterina parla di viaggiare, non di politica.

Kathy talks about traveling, not about politics.

Marco discute di politica troppo!

Mark discusses/talks about politics too much!

Trattarsi di is generally used in the third person as “Si tratta di…” to ask and answer the question “What is this regarding?” Parlare often starts a conversation of this type, when one person asks to speak to another about something, someone, or an action. Two example conversations are below; the first could take place between a boss and a worker, the second perhaps between two family members. To add a feeling of urgency or importance to the conversation, the examples start with “devo” for “I have to.”  Notice again how  the Italian preposition di is always placed at the beginning of a question, just like in the first section examples that ask where someone is from.

Devo parlarti.

I have to talk to you.

Di cosa si tratta?

What is this regarding?

Si tratta del tuo stipendio.

It is regarding your salary.

Devo parlarti di una cosa importante;

I must speak to you about something important;

…si tratta di Paolo.

…it’s concerning Paul.

…si tratta della mia macchina vecchia.

…it’s regarding my old car.

…si tratta di viaggiare in Italia insieme.

…it’s regarding traveling in Italy together.

To complete our discussion, note a change in use of the preposition di required in Italian that is not evident in English: when talking about a person or something by name, the Italian preposition su is used in the following construction: [su + definite article + noun]. The English translation “about” is the same.

Sto leggendo un bel libro su DaVinci.
Ho guardato un bel film su DaVinci.

I am reading a good book about DaVinci.
I watched a good film about Da Vinci.

Ho imparato molto sul Rinascimento all’Università.

I’ve learned a lot about the Renaissance at college.

4. The verb pensare has a special relationship with the preposition di.  When saying, “I think so,” to agree with someone, or “I don’t think so,” to disagree, one might say pensare is being used as a verb of discussion, as in #3 above. In this situation, the conjugated form of pensare is followed by “di si” or “di no.”

Also use [pensare di+ infinitive verb] when thinking about an action you may want to carry out.  But, use [pensare a +noun] when thinking about a person, place, or thing. 

For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that [pensare che + subjunctive mood verb] is used to link to phrases with different subjects in a single sentence. However, use of the subjunctive mood is beyond the scope of this blog!

Penso di si.

I think so.

Penso di no.

I don’t think so.

Penso di viaggiare in Italia l’anno prossimo.

I am thinking about traveling to Italy next year.

                                                                  —–but-—-

Penso a te, a Rosa, e alla vostra famiglia.

I am thinking about you, Rose, and your family.

Penso a Roma ogni giorno.

I think about Rome every day.

Penso a tutti i bei vestiti fatti a Roma.

I am thinking about all the beautiful dresses made in Rome.

5. To mention an acquaintance’s age in conversation, use di as part of a descriptive phrase about the individual before giving their age in years. The phrases “all’età di (at the age of) or “a girl/woman, boy/man, etc. of precede the age type of sentence. This sentence structure also works for the age of an inanimate object, such as a bottle of wine!

Lei è una signora di ottantadue anni.

She is a lady of 82 years.

Ho una bottaglia di vino rosso di 10 anni.

I have a ten-year-old bottle of red wine.

6.  To say something happened “in” or “at” a particular time of day, use di before the Italian words for morning (mattina), afternoon (pomeriggio), evening (sera), or night (notte)

Ci vendiamo di mattina.

We’ll see each other in the morning.

Di pomeriggio, vado al lavoro.

In the afternoon, I go to work.

Io e mio marito ceniamo alle sei di sera.

My husband and I eat dinner at 6 in the evening.

“Buona notte!” dice mia figlia preciso alle undici  di notte.  

“Good night,” my daughter says at precisely 11 o’clock at night.

7. To say something happened “in” the summertime or wintertime, use di before the Italian words for summer (estate) and winter (inverno). Use the Italian preposition in for spring (primavera) and autumn (autunno).  This is by convention.

D’estate, andiamo spesso alla spiaggia.

In the summer, we go to the beach often.

Andiamo in montagne a fare sci d’inverno.

We go to the mountains to ski in the winter.

In primavera, tutti i fiori fioriscono.

In springtime, all the flowers are in bloom.

In autunno, le foglie cadono dagli alberi.

In autumn, the leaves fall from the trees.


 

Common Expressions with “Di”
Avere and Essere 

There are several Italian phrases used to express one’s feelings that require the preposition di to link the conjugated form of the verb avere with the infinitive form of the verb of action that will complete the sentence. In English, replacing the Italian preposition di with the translation of is variable. In some cases, the English infinitive verb will be used alone or the English expression may use a gerund instead of an infinitive verb. You must really learn to think in Italian to use these expressions! Some examples of how to use these phrases are given in the last column. How many more can you think of?

avere bisogno di

 to have need of

Ho bisogno di… riposare.

   

I need to rest.

avere paura di

to be afraid/have fear of

Ho paura di… guidare.

   

I am afraid of driving/to drive.

avere voglia di

to feel like

Ho voglia di… mangiare una pizza.

   

I feel like eating a pizza.

There are several expressions of feeling that use the verb essere and take the preposition di prior to adding an infinitive verb to complete a sentence. Again, in English, we do not always use an additional preposition for these phrases, aside from the word to that is already a part of the infinitive verb.  

essere certo di

to be certain of

Sono certo di… ricordare il tuo nome.

   

I am sure to remember your name.

essere sicuro di

to be certain of

Sono sicuro di… ricordare questo posto.

   

I am sure to remember this place.

essere contento di

to be happy to

Sono conteno di… stare qui.

   

I am happy to be here.

essere felice di

to be happy to

Sono felice di… incontrare mio cugino oggi.

   

I am happy to meet my cousin today.

essere fortunato di

to be lucky to

Sono fortunato di… mangiare questa cena.

   

I am so lucky to be eating this dinner.

essere libero di

to be free to

Sono libero di… viaggiare.

   

I am free to travel.

essere stanco di

to be tired of

Sono stanco di… volare.

   

I am tired of flying.


 

When to Use “Di”
to Link Italian Verbs

When we link two Italian verbs together in the present tense, the first verb, or helping verb, is conjugated and the second verb, or action verb, is left in the infinitive form. For instance, “Tomorrow, I have to go to work,” is a simple statement that can be translated as, “Domani, devo andare al lavoro.” “I have to” meaning, “I must,”  is the first person present tense of dovere, which is devo. Andare means “to go.”

Other helping verbs, such as potere and volere work the same way in the present tense. In fact, using the polite first person of potere, which is può, followed by an infinitive verb, is a simple way to ask for what you need while traveling in Italy. Once you remember “Mi può…” no further conjugation is necessary using this method Just tack on the infinitive verb for what you need and finish the sentence!

Some examples that use [può + infinitive verb] useful for traveling are given below:

Mi può portare a Piazza Navona?

Could you take me to Piazza Navona?

Mi può parlare in englese?

Could you speak to me in English?

Mi può chiamare un tassì?

Could you call a taxi for me?

Although the traveler to Italy can get by with simple phrases, it is important to understand how to create a more complex sentence if one truly wants to be fluent in Italian. This is where the preposition di becomes important. There are some action verbs that need to be followed by the Italian preposition di before an infinitive verb is added to complete the sentence.

Most of the verbs that must use di prior to an infinitive verb describe speaking, thinking, or an activity that needs to be completed. We have already discussed parlare and pensare. Other actions, such as  trying to (cercare di), finishing (finire di), and waiting (aspettare di) need the preposition di to join them to an additional verb of activity. 

In the case of cercare, the meaning will change when di is used to link this verb to another. By itself, cercare means to look for, but cercare di means to try to. For the Italian speaker, it is natural to insert the preposition di after certain verbs; it just sounds correct when one has grown up with the Italian language.  For the Italian student, listening to Italian will also be important. Listen for the word di when these phrases come up in Italian movies and songs and soon it will become natural to say these phrases correctly!

Accettare

to accept

Accetto di… lavorare duro perché è necessario.

   

I accept working hard because it is necessary.

Aspettare

to wait

Aspetto di… ricevere un regalo dal mio fidanzato.

   

I am waiting to receive a present from my fiancée.

Cercare di

to try to

Cerco di… studiare bene.

   

I am trying to study well.

Credere

to believe

Credo di… avere ragione.

   

I believe I am correct.

Decidere

to decide

Decido di… andare a visitare la mia amica mentre in giro.

   

I decide to visit my friend while I am out and about.

Dimenticare

to forget

Non dimenticare di… prendere la medicina! (command)

   

Don’t forget to take the medicine!

Dire

to say/tell

Dico di… no. Non sono d’accordo.

   

I say no. I don’t agree.

Finire

to finish

Finisco di… lavorare per oggi alle sei di sera.

   

I finish working every day at 6 PM.

Occuparsi di

to work at

Mi occupo di… medicina.

   

I work as a doctor/nurse/in the medical field.

Ordinare

to order

La mamma ordina ai bambini di… studiare.

   

The mother orders the children to study.

Pensare

to think

Penso di… si. 

   

I think so.

Pregare

to pray/beg

Prego di… andare in Italia l’anno prossimo.

   

I pray to go to Italy next year.

Ricordare
Ricordarsi

 to remember

Ricordati di… prendere la medicina! (command)

   

Remember to take the medicine!

Scegliere

to choose

Sceglo di... prendere un caffé con un biscotto ogni mattina.

   

I choose to take coffee with an Italian cookie every day.

Scrivere

to write

Scrivo di… viaggiare.

   

I write about traveling.

Smettere

to stop

Smetti di… bere il vino! (command)

   

Stop drinking the wine!

Sperare

to hope

Spero di… trovare la strada giusta.

   

I hope to find the right road.


Remember how to use the Italian preposition “di” in conversation 
and I guarantee you will use the Italian “di” every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers books are shown side by side, standing up with "Just the Verbs" on the left and "Just the Grammar" on the right
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com
The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! Impersonal Statements and Reflexive Verbs: “Come si dice…?”

Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front

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

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

Now that 2022 is upon us, why not set a goal to learn Italian, starting today, for the year 2022? I will try to help you with this goal by posting blogs that describe how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing  help you to “think in Italian.” 

For instance, did you know that Italians still use impersonal constructions? By “impersonal constructions” I mean sentences that describe what “one” is doing, in order to make a general statement.

A common example of an Italian impersonal construction is the phrase, “Come si dice…” This simple Italian phrase is used by every Italian student at one point or another when asking for help with their vocabulary.  The literal translation of “Come si dice…?” is, “How does one say…”  In spoken English, this construction is only rarely used today, and usually in formal situations. Instead, to generalize, English speakers often use the collective “you” — directed both at no one in particular and at everyone at the same time! Especially in an informal conversation, “Come si dice…” would be translated as, “How do you say…?” But in Italian, when one generalizes, he or she cannot replace the “si” for “one” with “tu” for “you” the way we do in English.

If we learn how to use impersonal phrases in Italian, with  Italian reflexive verbs, we will be able to ask general questions, give directions, and even express how mechanical objects work!

This post is the 52nd  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 are Impersonal Statements
that describe general interactions
and use

  Italian Reflexive Verbs 

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.

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Italian Reflexive Verbs

Knowing how to use Italian reflexive verbs is extremely important for conversation, since Italian reflexive verbs often describe activities and emotions that are encountered every day. Reflexive verbs are recognized by the –si ending of their infinitive form. Let’s review a bit about reflexive verbs before going on to discuss how they are used to make impersonal statements.

Direct reflexive verbs, as their name suggests, are used when an action refers back directly to the speaker in the subject of the sentence. For example, if one wants to describe the everyday act of falling asleep in Italian, they must use the reflexive verb addormentarsi. Italian reflexive verbs are also used to express the English concept of “to get,” as we’ve seen in a prior Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day blog. When one “gets mad,” they must express this concept in Italian with the verb arrabbiarsi. Consider also the every day activity of “getting dressed,” with mettersi, which was the focus of another blog in this series, How We Dress in Italian.

All Italian students are introduced  to a direct reflexive verb of the –arsi type at the very beginning of their studies, when they learn how to introduce themselves with the reflexive verb that means “to be named,” which is chiamarsi.  There are, of course, also reflexive verbs of the –ersi and –irsi types as well, such as mettersi (to put on clothes/to get dressed) and divertirsi (to enjoy oneself).

The necessary component of all reflexive verbs is the reflexive pronoun (myself, yourself,  himself, etc.), which is what actually  corresponds to and refers directly back to the subject.

To review, the reflexive pronouns are:

mimyself
ti – yourself (familiar)
si – yourself (pol.)/ herself, himself, itself, oneself

ciourselves
 vi – yourselves (familiar)
si – themselves

 

To conjugate a reflexive verb, start with the subject pronoun and follow with the corresponding reflexive pronoun. However, remember that for conversational Italian the subject pronoun is usually left out of the sentence and is only sometimes included for emphasis.

Our first table below starts us on our way to the complete conjugation of a reflexive verb by pairing each subject pronoun with its corresponding reflexive pronoun:

io mi I myself
tu ti you (familiar) yourself
Lei

lei/lui

si you (polite)

she/he

yourself

herself, himself,
itself, oneself

       
noi ci we ourselves
voi vi you all yourselves
loro si they yourselves (polite)
themselves

All we need to do now is to add our verb to create the action!  Notice that the English translation adds the reflexive pronoun after the verb, while in Italian the reflexive pronoun comes before the verb (except for familiar commands). This may take a little time to get used to!

Let’s conjugate divertirsito have fun / enjoy oneself — as an example:

io mi diverto I enjoy myself
tu ti diverti you (familiar) enjoy yourself
Lei

lei/lui

si diverte you (polite) enjoy yourself

she/he enjoys herself, himself

       
noi ci divertiamo we enjoy ourselves
voi vi divertite you all enjoy yourselves
loro si divertono they enjoy themselves

How to Make  Impersonal Statements
Italian Reflexive Pronouns

Generalizations in the third person, called impersonal statements, are used sparingly in English but are common in Italian. An Italian impersonal statement is created by using the reflexive pronoun si, along with a verb in the singular or plural third person (either the lei/lui or the loro form).

As noted from the conjugation tables from the first section…

  • when the reflexive pronoun si is used in the singular third person, the reference is to a single, unnamed person, and the subject can be translated as one.”
  • when the reflexive pronoun si is used in the plural third person, the reference is to a group of unnamed people and the subject can be translated as they.”

In both situations, the speaker is referring in general to someone,
without a individual or group of people in mind.
It makes sense, then, that these statements are called  “impersonal statements.”

A common example of an Italian impersonal statement is the phrase, “Come si dice…” This simple Italian phrase is used by every Italian student at one point or another when asking for help with their vocabulary.  The literal translation of “Come si dice…?” is, “How does one say…”  This construction is only rarely used in spoken English today, and usually in formal situations. Instead, when an English speaker wants to generalize, he or she often uses the collective “you” — directed both at no one in particular and at everyone at the same time! Especially in an informal conversation, “Come si dice…” would be translated into English as, “How do you say…?” But in Italian, when one generalizes, he or she cannot replace the “si” for “one” with “tu” for “you” the way we do in English.

Some generalizations that come up frequently in Italian conversation are listed below. The direct Italian translation is given first, with the English phrase more commonly used to express the same idea in the following translation. You may want to remember the first example when asking for help with your Italian!

Come si dice…? How (does) one say…?
How do you say…?
Come si dicono…? How (do) they say…
How (do) you all say...
In Italia, si parla italiano. In Italy, one speaks Italian.
In Italy, Italian is spoken.
In America, si parlano molte lingue. In America, they speak many languages.
In America, many languages
are spoken.
Si può fare? Can one do it?
Can it be done?
Can you do it?
Si sa che… One knows that…
You know that…
Non si sa mai! One never knows!
You never know!

Impersonal statements can also be used to describe a rule and are often found in Italian sayings or proverbs.

Si deve obbedire alla legge. One must obey the law.
You have to obey the law.
Non si paga per parcheggiare la domenica. One doesn’t pay for parking on Sundays.
You don’t pay for parking on Sundays.
Qualche volta, uno si trova a un bivio della propria vita. Sometimes, one finds himself at a crossroads of his life.
Vivendo s’impara. One learns by living.

Use Italian impersonal statements when giving directions, such as when talking a friend through a recipe for a favorite dish. For instance, to describe how to make your family’s Italian tomato sauce, use the common verbs aggiungere (to add) and mettere (to put) in the third person singular with the reflexive pronoun “si” to describe how “one” cooks. For examples, see the first table below. In English, of course, we default to “you” when giving directions to someone in conversation, and this is reflected in the translation. To follow are a few pointers about how to cook pasta to go with that delicious pot of tomato sauce!

Prima, si taglia a pezzi una cipolla e uno spicchio d’aglio. First, one chops an onion and a clove of garlic into small pieces.
First, you chop…
Poi, si mette la verdura in pentola  con l’olio di oliva. Then, one puts the vegetables in a pot with olive oil.
Then, you put…
Li si cuoce, si mescola bene, fino a quando tutti e due sono morbidi. One cooks them, sautéing well, until both are soft.
You cook them…
Si aggiunge la passata di pomodoro, l’acqua, e il basilico. One adds tomato puree, water, and basil.
You add…
Si agguinge un po’ di sale e pepe. One adds a little bit of salt and pepper.
You add…
Si cuoce la salsa per almeno un’ora, e si mescola bene. One cooks the sauce for at least one hour, stirring well.
You cook the sauce… and you mix…
Per la pasta perfetta, si deve seguire questo metodo: For the perfect pasta, one must follow this method:
For the perfect pasta, you must…
Si mette una pentola grande con tanta acqua sui fornelli. One puts a large pot with lots of water on the stovetop.
You put…
Si copre e si riscalda l’aqua fino a bollire. One covers it and heats up the water until it is boiling.
You cover it… you bring the water to boil…
Si aggiunge una manciata di sale, si ricopre la pentola, e si riscalda l’aqua fino a fare bollire di nuovo.  One adds a handful (lots) of salt, one covers the pot, and brings the water to boil again.
You add… you recover the pot… and you bring the water to boil…
Quando l’acqua sta bollendo, scoperchiare la pentola e aggiungere la pasta.
Si deve mescolare bene a questo punto.
When the water is boiling, uncover the pot and add the pasta.
One must mix well at this point.
You must mix well…
Si fa bollire la pasta secondo le istruzioni nella scatola della pasta. One must boil the pasta according to the directions on the pasta box.
You must boil the pasta…
Quando la pasta è al dente, scolare l’acqua e aggiungere la salsa! When the pasta is “al dente,” drain the water and add the sauce!

How to Describe Movement with
Italian Reflexive Verbs

When an inanimate object does something automatically, this idea is rendered in Italian using the third person of a reflexive verb. In many situations, Italian uses a reflexive verb to describe movement when English relays the same idea by combining the verb with a preposition, such as “on” or “up.” Note that in English, the preposition is added only to change the meaning of the verb. In the same way, Italian uses a reflexive verb, with its reflexive pronoun, to change the meaning of a verb.

Let’s take a simple, everyday situation at home for our first example: “Ann turns on the light.”  The verb that means “turn on” in Italian is accendere and the Italian translation is, “Anna accende la luce.” However, electric lights can be programmed to turn on automatically. In English, I can say, “The automatic light turns itself on when I enter the room.” Although the preposition “on” is required in English, the reflexive pronoun “itself” is optional. To convey the same idea, it is mandatory in Italian to use the reflexive verb accendersi: “La luce automatica si accende quando entro la stanza.” 

In short, English sometimes uses a third person reflexive verb to describe an automatic action but often does not, instead relying on the addition of a preposition.  Italian is more consistent, with a reflexive counterpart to most verbs of action that refer to mechanical movement.

Another simple action that requires a reflexive verb in Italian and a verb + preposition combination in English is that of  “rising up” or “going up.” The verb alzare means “to raise” or “to lift” something. “I lifted the box onto the table,” is a simple sentence that translates as, Ho alzato la scatola sul tavolo.” But if a person “gets up” in the morning, the action becomes reflexive and the verb alzarsi is needed. Similarly, a bird or an inanimate object such as a kite can “rise up” or “go up” into the sky and the verb alzarsi once again comes into play.

Below are some examples of how Italians use reflexive verbs to describe movement of inanimate objects. Notice exceptions to what we have just discussed: the verb cominciare (to start) and cadere (to fall) are not reflexive when speaking about an inanimate object. However, mettersi a followed by an infinitive verb can be used in the third person to describe an inanimate object or an act of nature starting to do something by itself. Also, the verb smettere (to stop) is not used in a reflexive way, although fermare, which also means to stop, does have a reflexive counterpart: the verb fermarsi.

La luce automatica si accende quando entro la stanza. The automatic light turns (itself) on when I enter the room.
Le luci della casa si accendono ogni sera. The house lights turn (themselves) on every night.
Le luci della casa si spengono ogni sera. The house lights turn (themselves) off every morning.
L’acensore si apre. The elevator opens.
L’acensore si chiude. The elevator shuts.
Il treno comincia l’itinerario.

Il treno si mette ad andare velocemente.

The train starts its route.

The train starts to go fast.

Il treno si ferma automaticamente. The train stops automatically.
Il gabbiano si alza e vola via. The sea gull rises up and flies away.
L’aquilone si alza nelle nuvole. The kite rises into the clouds.
Le foglie cadono per terra ogni autunno. The leaves fall to the ground every autumn.

How to Describe Nature and Life with
Italian Reflexive Verbs

We all know the forces of nature well, as they act every day to create the environment in which we live. Since nature is an inanimate being, the actions of the weather are often given with reflexive verbs in Italian. Listen closely to the Italian news and you will hear about how a volcano in Sicily finally stopped erupting, or  how the sea has begun to rise in the Venetian lagoon — all described in the third person with Italian reflexive verbs!

For the common phrases that describe what weather “it” is making, such as, “Fa caldo oggi” (“It is hot today”) or “Fa freddo oggi” (“It is cold today”), Italians use fare in the third person without an indirect object pronoun. But to say, “It is getting late,” or “It is getting dark,” we use the reflexive farsi for the phrases, “Si fa tarde” or “Si fa buio.” (For more of these common phrases, visit our blog in this series, “Lets talk about… the weather in Italian!”)

In the same way, it is often necessary to use Italian reflexive verbs when speaking about abstract forces that can “act” on our lives.  Life itself is often spoken of as “moving” slowly or quickly. However, there is no reflexive verb for passare, so time can be seen as “passing by” without the addition of a reflexive pronoun.  (For more ways to use passare, visit our blog in this series, “The Many Uses of Passare.” )

In short, to understand the nuances of how to use reflexive verbs to describe actions of the weather or make generalizations about life, it is helpful to listen to native Italians as much as possible. In this way, it will eventually become natural to use Italian verbs the way Italians do!

The examples discussed above are listed below.

L’eruzione del vulcano in Sicilia si è fermato. The eruption of the volcano in Sicily has stopped.
L’acqua a Venezia si è alzata due metri
e si sta alzando ancora! 
The water in Venice has risen 2 meters and is still rising!
Fa caldo oggi. / Fa freddo oggi. It is warm today. / It is cold today
Si fa tarde. / Si fa buio. It’s getting late. / It is getting dark.
Nella campagna, la vita si muove lentamente. In the country, life moves slowly.
Il tempo passa lentamente quando si aspetta. Time passes slowly for one who waits (when one is waiting for something.)

Listen carefully to Italians when they speak
and I guarantee you will hear
Italian impersonal statements and  Italian reflexive verbs
every day!

Conversational Italian for Travelers: “Just the Verbs”

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! — The many uses of the Italian verb “Tenere”

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

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2021? 

Many Italian verbs have a similar use to those in English, which simplifies translation from one language to the other. However, many times 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. Tenere (along with its reflexive form tenersi, and the pronominal verb tenerci) is one of those verbs that is used in many ways in Italian and is important to “keep in mind” if one wants to use it correctly.

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 tenere, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

This post is the 50th 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 conversation

use the Italian verb
tenere.

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.

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Let’s Talk About…

The Many Uses of the  Italian Verb

Tenere

The Italian verb tenere has a wide range of meanings and its use lends a bit of sophistication to one’s Italian. It is important to “keep in mind” the nuances of the verb tenere to create sentences as we would in our native language.

The Italian verb tenere is most often translated into English as “to hold” or “to keep.”  It can be used in a simple way, to describe holding an object or holding another’s hand. As in English, the verb tenere can also mean “to hold,” with reference to capacity, as in how many objects or people can occupy or be contained in a certain space or place. The word “hold” in English can also take on the connotation of “to support” something (as a column holds up a roof) or someone (as a fan supports his team). So it is with tenere, which can mean “to support.”

Tenere is an important verb to use when dining at an Italian restaurant to tell someone to “keep the change.” 

When the verb tenere is combined with the phrase “conto di,”  it takes on different shades of meaning. [Tenere + conto di] is used to describe the concepts of keeping something in mind, keeping track of something, or being aware of something. The phrase can also have the connotation of considering or taking to heart important issues.

Combining the verb tenere with conto che,as in [tenere + conto che],  adds yet another nuance to the original ideas of “to keep” or “to hold,” and is used to convey the idea of to consider. [Tenere in conto + noun] means to consider something.

Tenersi, the reflexive form of tenere, is also often used in the important everyday phrase “keep/stay in contact” and is a nice way to end a conversation or an email with a friend. Tenersi is often used when giving another instructions to hang/hold onto something or abide by/follow certain rules and regulations. If your emotions get the best of you and you can’t keep from laughing or crying, then use [tenersi + da] to get this point across!

There are many common Italian expressions that combine tenere with the preposition “a.” A few of these expressions will be listed in example sentences below.

When the verb tenere is combined with the preposition “a” and an adverb or adjective, as in [tenere +a +molto] the meaning changes once again. [Tenere + a] means to care about someone or something. You might think of using tenere in this way as being similar to the English phrase “to hold someone dear.” Consider also that the adjective tenero(a) is used to describe the following characteristics: tender, sensitive, or warm. For full emphasis, the pronominal verb tenerci followed by “a” [tenerci + a] can be used to stress the importance of something. A description of pronominal verbs and their uses is beyond the scope of this blog, but rest assured, if you add the pronoun “ci” before “tengo a,” you are telling someone that something is important to you!

Finally, in some important Italian phrases, tenere can be used interchangeably with the verb avere, and take on the meaning of “to have.”* Using tenere in this manner is a subtle way to emphasize that you are “keeping” or “holding close” the thing that you have.


Let’s talk about how to conjugate tenere in the present, past, and future tenses before using it in some example sentences. 

Present tense: tenere is an irregular -ere verb in the present tense, since it has an irregular stem in all forms but the noi and voi forms. The present tense conjugation is below. The irregular stem is in brown:

io

tengo

tu

tieni

Lei,lei,lui

tiene

noi

teniamo

voi

 tenete

loro

tengono

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

Tenere is regular in the imperfetto past tense (tenevo, tenevi, teneva, tenevamo, tenevate, tenevano).

Future tense: Tenere is irregular in the future tense due to it’s irregular stem. 

io

terrò

tu

terrai

Lei,lei,lui

terrà

noi

terremo

voi

 terrete

loro

terranno


 

1. Use tenere to describe the simple act of holding something or holding someone’s hand.

  • Tenere can also be used to refer to the capacity of something, or “how much” a certain thing or a place can hold.
  • Tenere can mean “to support” something or somebody.
Tieni stretto questo biglietto; tienilo in mano; non lasciarlo!
Hold this ticket tightly; hold it in your hand; don’t lose it!
 
Mi piace tenere la mano del mio fidanzato quando camminiamo in piazza.
I like to hold my fiance’s hand when we take a walk in the piazza.

    L’Allianz Stadium a Torino tiene 41,507 spettatori.*
    The Allianz Stadium in Turin holds 41,507 spectators.
     
    Ho raccolto tutti i fiori che posso tenere in una mano!
    I have collected all the flowers that I can hold in one hand!

    Vengo da Turino. Tengo per la Juve / Tifo per la Juve. **
    I am from Turin. I support/root for the Juventus soccer team.
     
    Le mure sono molto vecchie. Grazie di Dio le colanne tiene il tetto!
    The walls are very old. Thank goodness the columns support the roof!

    * Regarding the use of tenere with  the meaning of “to have/to own/to possess”: the verb tenere is used mostly in the south of Italy, while in the north they would simply use the verb avere (example: Lo stadio ha 41,507 spettatori.).

    **Regarding the use of tenere to describe support for a sports team: “tengo per” is used in the south of Italy. “Tifo per” is used in the north.

    2. Use tenere to mean “to keep” — the simple act of keeping something in a place. 

    • In a restaurant, a common phrase spoken by the customer to the waiter in both English and Italian is, “Keep the change!” In Italian, the polite command (subjunctive) form of tenere is used for this phrase, often with the addition of the Italian word pure which serves to encourage the server to keep the tip. Use of the subjunctive is beyond the scope of this blog. Just memorize this simple phrase, which should come up often!
      Tengo gli attrezzi per cucinare di là.
      I keep the cooking utensils over there.
       
      Tenga pure il resto!
      Keep the change, please!

      3. Use [tenere + conto di] with the figurative meanings listed below. 

      • to keep something in mind
        • [tenere a mente] also means “to keep something in mind”
      • to keep track of something
      • to consider (See also #4, listed below)
        • [tenere in conto + noun] and [tenere conto che] also mean “to consider”
        • “non tenere in sufficiente considerazione a…”  means
          not to give sufficient consideration to…
      • to take to heart
      Ho dovuto tenere conto di tutte le regole che tu mi hai detto al lavoro.
      I have to keep in mind all the rules you told me at work. 
       
      Tieni conto dei clienti e dagli quello che vogliono!
      Keep track of the clients and give them what they want!

       

      Terrò conto del fatto che il gruppo ha lavorato molto quando gli darò gli incentivi.

       I will consider that the group has worked hard when I give them the bonuses.

      Mi raccomando, tieni conto di quello che io ho detto!
      I insist/demand/ (that you) take to heart what I have said!
       
      Ho tenuto conto di tutto che tu hai detto. E sono d’accordo!
      I’ve considered all that you have said. And I agree!

       

      4. Use [tenere + conto che] or  [tenere in conto + noun]

      for “to consider.”

      • “non tenere in sufficiente considerazione a…”  means
        not to give sufficient consideration to
      • [tenere conto di] can also mean “to consider” (See #3).
      Devo tenere conto che ci sono molte opinioni in questo gruppo prima di prendere una decisione.
      I have to consider that there are many opinions in this group before making a decision.
       
      Devo tenere in conto anche le altre regole.
      I must also consider the other rules.

       

      5. Use the reflexive verb tenersi to ask someone to “keep/stay” in touch or give a command to “follow/abide by” a rule.

      •  Other translations of tenersi include “hang onto” and “hold onto”.
      • [Tenersi + da] can also be used to express the phrase “to keep from…” doing something, such as laughing or crying. In this case, tenere is often combined with the verb riuscire, which means “to manage to,” and further emphasizes the effort one has put into trying to “keep from” doing something.  To learn more about how to use the verb riuscire, visit another blog in this series: “The Many Uses of the Italian Verb “Ruscire.”
      Teniamoci in contatto!
      Let’s keep in touch (with each other)!
       
      Ragazzi, tenetevi al regolamento o non vincerete la partita!
      Boys, follow the rules or you all will not win the game!

       

      Tieniti il tuo cappello; è molto ventoso oggi!
      Hang onto your hat; it’s very windy today!
       
      Tieniti alla ringhiera bambini!
      Hold onto the handrail, children!

       

      Questo film è molto triste. Non riesco a tenermi dal piangere.
      This film is very sad. I can’t manage to keep from crying.
       
      Quello attore era molto divertente. Non riuscivo a tenermi dal ridere.
      That actor was very funny. I couldn’t keep from laughing.

       

      6. Common Italian phrases with [tenere + a] 

      Tenere a bada              =  Tieni a bada i tuoi animali domestici.
      To keep under control =  Keep your pets under control.
       
      Tenere a cavezza                                  = Marco tiene a cavezza i suoi figli.      
      To keep someone under one’s thumb =Mark keeps his children under his thumb.

       

       

      Tenere a freno              =  La famiglia di Anna tiene a freno tutte le ragazze.
      To keep a tight rein on = Ann’s family keeps a tight rein on all the girls.
      To hold back          
       
      Tenere a battesimo                       = Anna teneva a battesimo la sua nipote.
                                                                                                                                
      To sponsor a child at baptism       = Ann sponsored her niece at the baptism.                                               
      To be a godfather or godmother     Ann became her niece’s godmother.

       

       

      Tenere a distanza       =  Maria tiene a distanza da Marco perché non le piace.
      To keep at a distance =  Maria stays away from Mark because she doesn’t like him.
      Tenere a balia                           = Marco teneva a balia questo lavoro
                                                            perché lui è pagato a ore.                                                                      
      To drag out                               = Mark dragged out this job                                              
      To take longer than necessary     because he was paid by the hour.

       

       

      Tenere a pane e acqua                =Marco tiene a pane e acqua Maria oggi.
      To punish somebody                   =Marco punished Maria today.
      (lit. to keep somebody on bread and water)
       
      Tenere a pigione          = Caterina tiene a pigione la sua casa in campagna ai suoi cugini.      
      To have as tenants       =Kathy is renting her house in the country to her cousins.
      To rent 

       

       

      Tenere aggiornata                         = Marco tiene aggiornato Maria sulle notizie ogni giorno.
      To keep somebody updated         =Marco keeps Maria updated on the news every day.
      To keep somebody posted/in the loop about something
       
      Tenere all’oscuro di                                                 = Marco teneva all’oscuro Anna dalla notizia.   
      To keep somebody in the dark about something  =Mark kept Ann in the dark about the news.

       

      Tenere alto il morale                                      = Marco ha tenuto alto il morale della sua squadra anche
                                                                                 se stavano perdendo
      To lift up someone’s spirits                            = Mark lifted up the spirits of his team even when they were losing.
       
      Tenere alta la bandiera                                  = Teniamo alta la bandiera della nostra città.
      To honor your homeland or city              =      We honor/bring honor to our city.
      (lit. to hang the flag high)            

       

       

      7. Use [tenere + a + adverb/adjective] or [tenerci + a] to describe caring about something very much 

      • Remember another way to talk about platonic love and caring among family members and friends is to use the verb volerci, with the phrase, “Ti voglio bene.” For a review of the many ways to express one’s feelings of love, visit our blog in this series: “How to Talk About Relationships and Love in Italian.”
      • [Tenerci + a] can also be used in an introductory phrase when the speaker wants to emphasize the importance of what they will talk about or what they have done. Therefore, this phrase is often followed by the verb dire or fare.
      La mamma tiene molto ai suoi bambini.
      The mother cares very much for her children.
       
      La mamma ci tiene a loro.
      The mother cares very much for them.

       

       

      Ci tieni a me?
      Do you care about me?
       
      Si! Ci tengo a te! 
      Yes! I care about you! 

       

      Ci tengo a dire che studiare la cultura è l’unico modo di capire un altra lingua.
      It’s important to me to say that studying the culture is the only way to understand another language.
       
      Ci tengo a fare la cosa giusta. 
      It’s important to me to do the right thing.

       

       

      8. Use the tenere in place of avere for certain expressions. 

      Avere famiglia / tenere famiglia    = Ho/Tengo una famiglia con tre figli a Roma.
      To have a family                              =I have a family with three children in Rome.
       
      Avere sotto il braccio / tenere sotto il bracchio  =Ho/Tengo il pane sotto il braccio e cammino a casa.
      To carry underarm                                                 =I carry the bread underarm and walk home.

      Avere in serbo / tenere in serbo    =Ho/Tengo una speciale bottiglia di vino per te.
      To set something aside                  =I have set aside a special bottle of wine for you.
       
      Avere in serbo / Tenere in serbo                                 =Ho/Tengo una sorpresa per te!
      To have something in store for someone (figurative) =I have a surpise for you!


      Remember how to use the Italian verbs tenere, tenersi, and tenerci in conversation 
      and I guarantee you will use these verbs every day!

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      Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! How to Say, “I miss you…” with Mancare

      Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front
      Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
      1Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

      Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2021? 

      Then one verb you will need to learn how to use is mancare (to miss). This is the verb Italians use when they have not been able to visit a loved one. Of course it is important to be able to tell those we care about that we miss them!

      In this blog, we will discuss how to use the verb Italian mancare, which part of a group of Italian verbs that always take an indirect object pronoun and therefore “work” differently from your typical Italian verb.  

      Previously, we have spoken about piacere (to like), the prototype for this unique group of Italian verbs in our blog “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day: Piacere, How Italians Say, “I like it!.” We have also covered another verb of this type, servire (to need) in our blog “How to Say, “I need…” in Italian: Mi serve…”

      After this blog, we can add mancare to our list of important Italian verbs discussed that only take indirect object pronouns. Piacere, servire, and mancare all work in the same way, but we will go over once again how to conjugate and translate a verb of this type.

      Note: in our very last blog, we made a list of verbs of communication and giving that take an indirect object pronoun when referring to a person. These verbs are in a different group than piacere, servire, and mancare, since they take a direct object pronoun when referring to things, but are a very important group to understand as well!

      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 mancare, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

      This post is the 48th 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 conversation

      use the Italian verb
      Mancare

      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.

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

      Overview of Italian Verbs

      that take

      Indirect Object Pronouns

      A short review of Italian verbs that take indirect object pronouns:

      In our very last blog, we made a list of verbs of communication and giving that take indirect object pronouns when referring to a person.

      Previously, we have spoken about piacere (to like), the prototype for verbs that always take indirect object pronouns, in our blog “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day: Piacere, How Italians Say, “I like it!”  We have also talked about another Italian verb that uses only indirect object pronouns, the verb servire (to need), in our blog “How to Say, “I need…” in Italian: Mi serve…”

      After this blog, we can add mancare to our list of important verbs that only take indirect object pronouns. All three of these verbs work in the same way, but we will go over once again how to conjugate and translate a verb of this type with mancare. Full disclosure: there are other Italian verbs that only take indefinite articles, along with the three already mentioned! Below is a short list of the most important Italian verbs that only take indefinite articles.

      Piacere

      to like

      Servire

      to need

      Mancare

      to miss

      Mancare

      to miss

      Mancare

      to miss

      Mancare

      to miss

      A short review of the Italian indirect object pronouns and their meanings:*

      mi

      to me

      ti

      to you (familiar)

      Le

      to you (polite)

      le

      to her

      gli

      to him

         

      ci

      to us

      vi

      to you all

      gli

      to them

      *Of course, mi, ti, ci, and vi do double duty as direct object pronouns. Also, with reflexive verbs mi stands for “myself” and ti stands for “yourself, etc.

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

      How to Say, “I miss you!”

      with Mancare

      The Italian verb mancare has many meanings: to miss/to lose/to lack/to be lacking/to omit/to fail. Perhaps the most common way mancare is used is to convey the idea of “to miss someone,” so it is important to learn the conjugation and sentence structure for this verb for everyday conversation.

      To start off, you should know that the sentence structure used for mancare is the same as for the verb piacere, the prototype for Italian verbs that only take an indirect object pronoun. You should also realize that this group of Italian verbs works differently from its English counterparts. Therefore, the English translation will not match the Italian word for word. The idea will remain the same, however.

      In English, we say the subject of the sentence misses someone using the person who is missed as a direct object. Example: I (subject) miss (verb) John (direct object).

      In Italian,  however, there are two significant differences from the English way of thinking.  Below are English and Italian sentence structures with examples that have identical meanings. We will change the Italian sentences into the most commonly used Italian structure with an indirect object pronoun step by step, in order to aid in understanding how both languages can say the same thing in a different way. For these examples, the English translation is given in the Italian way of thinking, and is in parentheses. Notice the color coding that follows throughout the examples: subject in brown, verb in green, direct object pronoun in blue, and indirect and stressed object pronouns in red.

      First, let’s look at the English way of thinking. The subject is the person talking and the direct object is who they miss:  

      English: [subject: person missing someone+ mancare conjugated to reflect subject + direct object: person missed]

                    I         +     miss      +      John.

      Now, let’s turn this English idea around to make an Italian sentence. To Italians, the person who is being missed is the subject of the sentence.  With this logic in mind, the person missing someone must be expressed by a stressed object pronoun or an indirect object pronoun. The sentence with a stressed object pronoun:

      Italian:  [subject: person missed +  mancare conjugated to reflect subject + stressed object pronoun: person missing someone]

                  Giovanni   +    manca    +    a me.
                  
      (John           is missing          to me.)

      Although our Italian example above is grammatically correct, those conversing in Italian most commonly use an indirect object pronoun instead of the stressed pronoun,* and place the indirect object pronoun pronoun before the verb.

      Italian:  [indirect object pronoun: person missing someone mancare conjugated to reflect subject + subject: person missed]

                  Mi        +         manca      +    Giovanni.
                  
      (To me             is missing           John).

      To make matters more confusing to the English speaker, the subject of the sentence — which in this case is Giovanni — can be left out entirely as long as the person who is being discussed is known from the context. But, in most cases the subject is then added to the end of the sentence for clarification.

      *The stressed pronoun is handy to use for emphasis, as its name suggests.

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

      Below is the present tense conjugation of mancare. Notice that the tu and noi forms have irregular spelling to keep the hard “c” sound that we hear when we pronounce the infinitive verb. These are marked with an asterisk.

      Mancare = To Be Missing (To)

      io

      manco

      I am missing (to…)

      tu

      manchi*

      you (fam.) are missing (to…)

      Lei

      lei/lui

      manca

      you (polite) are missing (to…)

      she/he/it is missing (to…)

       

       

       

      noi

      manchiamo*

      we are missing (to…)

      voi

      mancate

      you all are missing (to…)

      loro

      mancano

      they are missing (to…)

      The sentences below give some common examples of how to use the verb mancare in the present tense. To aid the English speaker in understanding this Italian way of thinking, the Italian subject pronouns are included in parentheses. But remember that Italian subject pronouns are usually left out of a sentence, unless needed for clarification. Also, the word-for-word Italian to English translation is given in parentheses, with the correct English translation in the third column in bold black.

      If the idea behind how to use mancare seems too complicated at first, just memorize the first four examples, as you will likely use these the most!

      Example Sentences with Mancare 

      (Tu) Mi manchi.

      (You are missing to me.)

      I miss you.

      (Lei/Lui) Mi manca.

      (She/he is missing to me.)

      I miss her/him.

       

      (Io) Ti manco?

      (Am I missing to you?)

      (Do you) miss me?

      (Lei/Lui) Ti manca?

      (Is she/he missing to you?)

      (Do you) miss her/him?

       

      (Io) Gli manco.

      (I am missing to him.)

      He misses me.

      (Io) Le manco.

      (I am missing to her.)

      She misses me.

      (Tu) Gli manchi.

      (You are missing to him.)

      He misses you.

      (Tu) Le manchi.

      (You are missing to her.)

      She misses you.

      Gli manca (Maria).

      (Maria is missing to him.)

      He misses Maria.

      Le manca (Maria).

      (Maria is missing to her.)

      She misses Maria.

      Gli manca (Paolo).

      (Paul is missing to him.)

      He misses Paul.

      Le manca (Paolo).

      (Paul is missing to her.)

      She misses Paul.

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

      Mancare is often used in the past tense. Consider the phrase “I missed you!” This implies that a definite period of absence has passed, and now the individuals are finally together and are able to talk about their feelings. The past tense of mancare is regular in the passato prossimo and takes essere. This is the past tense form for mancare that is most commonly used during conversation.

      See below for the passato prossimo conjugation of mancare:

      Singular forms: sono sei, è, + mancato(a)

      Plural forms: siamo, siete sono + mancati(e)

      The imperfetto form of mancare is regular as well, and is used most often for narration. Remember when telling a story about something that has happened without mentioning a specific period of time to use the imperfetto past tense.  If you need a refresher on when to use the passato prossimo and imperfetto, refer to our previous blogs about the Italian past tense.  In the case of mancare, the reference is often to a nonspecific amount of time that people missed each other in the past. 

      See below for the imperfetto conjugation of mancare:

      Singular forms: mancavo, mancavi, mancava

      Plural forms: mancavamo, mancavate, mancavano

      Find four common examples below of how to use the verb mancare, in past tense, with the passato prossimo. As in the examples for the present tense, the subject pronouns are included in parentheses, but remember that they are usually often left out of a sentence unless needed for clarification. Also, the direct Italian to English translation is given in parentheses, with the correct English translation in the third column in bold black. How many more examples can you think of?

       

      (Tu) Mi sei mancato(a).

      (You were missing to me.)

      I missed you.

      (Lei/Lui) Mi è mancato(a).

      (She/he was missing to me.)

      I missed her/him.

       

      (Io) Ti sono mancto(a)?

      (Was I missing to you?)

      (Did you) miss me?

      (Lei/Lui) Ti è mancato(a)?

      (Was she/he missing to her/him?)

      (Did you) miss her/him?

      Remember how to use the Italian verb
      mancare in Italian
      when missing someone dear to you!


      Conversational Italian for Travelers books are shown side by side, standing up with "Just the Verbs" on the left and "Just the Grammar" on the right
      Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com
      The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
      Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com

      Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – “He Said/She Said” and Object Pronouns

      Colorful homes on a block in Burano with a garden and a park bench out front

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

      Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2021? 

      Two of the most popular every day phrases are, “He said to me… ” or  “She said to me…” In fact, the equivalent phrase in Italian, “Mi ha detto.”  is used so often that it usually comes out in quickly, in one breath! 

      In this blog, we will discuss the popular phrase “Mi ha detto,” and use it as a springboard into a discussion of indirect object pronouns that can be used with the verb dire and many other Italian verbs as well.

      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 dire, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language!

      This post is the 47th 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 conversation

      use the Italian past tense verb + indirect object pronoun
      Mi ha detto…

      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.

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

      What He Said… What She Said…

      in Italian with Object Pronouns

      Let’s begin by looking at the verb dire — to say — in our important phrases “he said” and “she said” for discussion in this blog. The past tense for “he said” and “she said” in Italian, a one-time event, uses the passato prossimo, and is “ lui/lei ha detto.” This Italian past tense verb also translates into the less commonly used English past tense, “he has said” and “she has said.” 

      Since the subject pronoun is generally left out of an Italian sentence, we are left with “ha detto” to describe both what he said and what she said. The subject pronouns lui (he) or lei (she) may be added before the verb for emphasis in this case, but generally those having a conversation know who they are talking about.

      Because the phrases “he said” and “she said” are used frequently in everyday conversation, we should commit the Italian passato prossimo verb “ha detto” to memory. 

      To make a complete sentence using the verb dire to describe what was said, use either “di” or “che  to link the subject  and verb to the topic that was discussed. Di is used as the conjunction in the examples in the table below to answer a question in the affirmative or negative. Of course, even though our focus in this blog is on how to use the verb ha detto, it should be noted that one usually answers “yes,” or “no,” for themselves with ho detto, although they can also relay someone else’s answer using a different conjugation of dire, such as ha detto, abbiamo detto, etc. In all situations, when answering “yes” or “no” in Italian, the conjunction di is required.  

      Ho detto di si.

      I said yes.

      Ho detto di no.

      I said no.

         

      Ha detto di si.

      He/She said no.

      Ha detto di no.

      He/She said no.

       

       

      Abbiamo detto di si.

      He/She said yes.

      Abbiamo detto di no.

      He/She said no.

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

      Adding an indirect object pronoun before the verbs ho detto, abbiamo detto, or ha detto will allow the speaker to describe to whom something was said.  For this section, though, our discussion will focus only on “ha detto” and  Italian indefinite articles.

      Why focus on “ha detto? One of the most popular every day phrases is, “He/She said to me,” which is, “Mi ha detto”  in Italian. In fact, the phrase “mi ha detto” is  used so often that it usually said in one breath! We can build on this simple, easy to remember phrase to describe more complex situations.  For instance, we can substitute other indirect object pronouns for mi (to me), such as ti (to you), gli (to him), or le (to her).  

      In English, when we use the indirect object pronouns “to me,” “to you,” “to him/her,” they are placed after the verb, while in Italian, they are placed before the verb.  This may take some time to get used to. In the summary table below, the indirect object pronouns are in red.

      Ha detto

      He said / She said

      Mi ha detto

      He said / She said to me

      Ti ha detto

      He said/ She said to you

      Gli ha detto

      He said / she said to him

      Le ha detto

      He said / She said to her

      The next table uses our verb ha detto and indirect object pronouns in example sentences.  For these examples (and for  all other instances in Italian except those given in the table in the previous section regarding a “yes” or “no” answer), “che is used as the conjunction.

      The subject pronoun is included in some of the examples in the table below for clarity. Again, the Italian and English indirect object pronouns are in red. In all cases except the first, when the subject is directly quoting what someone else has said to them, English uses a direct object pronoun, and this is given in green. Notice how many permutations of the same sentence are possible with only the singular indirect object pronouns! 

      Lui ha detto che il film era bello.
      Lei ha detto che il film era bello.

      Mi ha detto: “Il film era bello.”   

      He said that the film was good.
      She said that the film was good.

      He/She said to me: “The film was good.”

      Mi ha detto che il film era bello.

      He/She told me that the film was good.

      Ti ha detto che il film era bello?

      Has he/she told you that the film was good?

       

       

      Giovanni gli ha detto che il film era bello.

      John told him that the film was good.

      Anna gli ha detto che il flim era bello.

      Ann told him that the film was good.

       

       

      Giovanni le ha detto che il film era bello.

      John told her that the film was good.

      Anna le ha detto che il film era bello.

      Ann told her that the film was good.

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

      Our example sentence, Mi ha detto che il film era bello,” and its translation, “He/She told me that the film was good,” brings up an important difference between Italian and English verbs and object pronouns; not all Italian verbs that take indirect object pronouns do so in English!

      We have just seen the the Italian verb dire takes an indirect object pronoun that goes before the verb, whereas its English counterpart “to say,” in general conversation usually takes a direct object pronoun that goes after the verb. We would not say, “He told to me that the film was good,” although this is correct in Italian!

      This adds to the difficulty in choosing when to use an Italian indirect object pronoun, since the correct English translation will not always reflect the indirect object pronoun choice in Italian. 

      The difference in the Italian and English [object pronoun-verb] combination may not be immediately apparent in the phrase “mi ha detto,” since the Italian pronoun mi plays double duty as both an indirect and direct object pronoun! The Italian pronoun mi can be translated as both “me” (direct object pronoun) and “to/for me” (indirect object pronoun).*

      The same goes for the Italian pronoun ti, which is translated as “you”(direct object pronoun) as well as “to you (indirect object pronoun).

      Choosing between an indirect and direct Italian object pronoun when conversing about others in Italian becomes important in the masculine third person, as one must decide between lo (him) and gli (to him). For females, the choice is between la (her) and le (to her).

      So how does an English speaker know when to choose an indirect object pronoun in Italian?

       Italian verbs of communication and giving
      take indirect object pronouns
      when referring to a person.

      The table below is a short list of the verbs of communication that take Italian indirect object pronouns when referring to other people in conversation. You will recognize the example verb in this blog, dire, at the top of the list.

      Note that if one of these verbs is followed by a person’s name, the Italian pattern to follow is [verb + a + name].  The Italian indirect object pronoun can be though of as substituting for the a placed before a person’s name. 

      In some cases, both Italian and English verbs take an indirect object pronoun but in other cases the English translation uses a direct object pronoun, as we’ve already mentioned. Unfortunately, there is no rule that connects the Italian way of speaking to the English way, so the Italian verbs that take [a + name] or indirect object pronouns just need to be memorized. In short, in order to speak Italian, we must think in Italian!

      *And, of course with reflexive verbs mi stands for “myself” and ti stands for “yourself.” 

      Some Italian verbs of communication that take indirect object pronouns:

      Dire

      to say

      Parlare

      to talk

      Telefonare

      to call

      Scrivere

      to write

         

      Domandare

      to ask

      Chiedere

      to ask

         

      Insegnare

      to teach

      Spiegare

      to explain

      Consigliare

      to give advice

      Examples that use Italian verbs of communication with indirect object pronouns are given below. The indirect object pronouns are in red, the direct object pronouns are in green, and the person to whom the object pronoun refers to is underlined. Of course, there are a infinite number of combinations! Try to create your own sentences, taking situations from your own life!

      Ho detto a Maria che…                  I told Maria that…
      Le ho detto che…                           I told her that…

      Ho domandato a Franco se…            I asked Frank if…
      Gli ho domandato se…                      I asked him if…

      La Signora Rossi ha spiegato a me che…   Mrs. Rossi explained to me that…
      La Signora Rossi mi ha spiegato che…       Mrs. Rossi explained to me that…

      Some Italian verbs of giving that take indirect object pronouns:

      Dare

      to give

      Offrire

      to offer

      Regalare

      to gift

      Mandare

      to send

      Portare

      to bring/deliver

      Examples that use Italian verbs of giving with indirect object pronouns are given below. The indirect object pronouns are in red, the direct object pronouns are in green, and the person to whom the object pronoun refers to is underlined. Of course, there are a infinite number of combinations! Try to create your own sentences, taking situations from your own life!

      Ho dato a Maria il vino.                 I gave Maria the wine.
      Le ho dato il vino.                          I gave her the wine.

      Ho offerto a Franco un lavoro.      I offered Frank a job.
      Gli ho offerto un lavoro.                I offered him a job.

      La Signora Rossi ha mandato a me…  Mrs. Rossi gave me…
      La Signora Rossi mi ha mandato…      Mrs. Rossi gave me…

      *And, of course with reflexive verbs mi stands for “myself” and ti stands for “yourself.” 

      Remember how to use the phrase
      “mi ha detto” in Italian and I guarantee
      you will use this phrase every day!

      Conversational Italian for Travelers books are shown side by side, standing up with "Just the Verbs" on the left and "Just the Grammar" on the right
      Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com

      The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
      Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com