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Two Oddball Words in Odd Contexts

In one of this week's videos, we find two words in contexts that could use a bit of explaining.  

We're watching the first segment of a new episode of L'Eredità (the inheritance). To start off the show, there's the usual banter between the host and the contestants with some introductions. It just so happens that one of the contestants has a last name prone to getting joked about.

Buonasera. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Good afternoon. -Massimiliano Scarafoni.
Caption 43, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

The name looks innocent enough, but scarafone (also scarrafonescaraffonescardafone,scordofone) is another word for scarafaggio (cockroach). There's an expression in Italian, and you will see this on the WordReference page for scarafaggioogni scarafaggio sembra bellosua madre (every cockroach is beautiful to its mother). There are other ways to interpret this, from "a face only a mother could love" to "even a homely child is beautiful to his mother." 

Pino Daniele, a famous Neapolitan singer-songwriter made this phrase famous in one of his songs. He used the Neapolitan variant, scarrafone, which is also the title: 'O Scarrafone, so when someone has a last name like that, it's almost impossible not to think of Pino Daniele's song if you've ever heard it. You can listen to the song here.  There is no actual video, just the album cover, but the text in Italian is there, too. 

 

Another word that is good to be able to recognize in a special context is culo. It is an informal word for buttocks, but Italians (informally only, prego!) use it to mean "luck."

Tirato a indovinare! Il solito culo!
Took a guess! The usual butt [luck]!
Caption 6, Il Commissario Manara: S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 2 of 16

 

But on TV, for example, such words might not be not acceptable, so the contestant's brother says il fattore C and everyone knows what he is talking about. The host then explains jokingly that "C" stands for culturale (cultural) not culo

Be', speriamo che il fattore ci [culo = fortuna] l'aiuta [aiuti] tanto. 
Let's hope that the “C Factor” [butt = luck] helps her out greatly. 
Caption 37-38, L'Eredità: Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 3 - Part 1

 

A common comment about someone with good fortune is:

Che culo!
What luck!

It can also be used sarcastically to mean "bad luck."

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Good News About Comparatives in Italian

Daniela is back with some more Italian lessons, classroom-style. This time she will be teaching us how to compare things. And the good news is that apart from a few exceptions like buono (good),  migliore (better), il/la migliore (the best), you won't have to learn the comparative forms of an adjective. Basically, you just have to use the adverb più (more) or meno (less). 

 

Sometimes this corresponds to the English, because in English, not all adjectives have a comparative form.

"Arrivederci" [quando vado via] è una forma di saluto più elegante, formale.
"Arrivederci" [when I leave] is a more elegant, formal form of saying "goodbye."
Caption 3, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Salutare - Part 1 of 2

 

But in many cases, there is a specific comparative form in English.

 

In the following example, a recipe is being described.

Si può personalizzare: più piccantemeno piccante.
You can personalize: sharper or milder.
Caption 3, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 1 of 2

 

So, if you are translating, you have to find the "right" word in English. But as you become more familiar with Italian, you will start thinking in Italian, and the English equivalent won't really come into play.

 

One tricky thing is that you have to take into account whether you are comparing things or actions. The preposition you use, di (than) as opposed to che (than), will change accordingly. 

Lucca è una città più piccola di Firenze (Lucca is a smaller city than Florence). Lucca è meno grande di Firenze (Lucca is smaller than Florence).

 

A Lucca, è più comodo girare in bici che girare in macchina (in Lucca, it's easier to get around by bike, than to get around by car).

 

Practice:

Watch Daniela's video, first of all. Then go around your house, or wherever you happen to be, and compare things. 

Questo libro è più grande di quel libro (this book is bigger than that book).

Gain confidence in comparing things using di (than). Then move on to comparing actions. It's a little trickier, with che (than).

Comprare online sarà più veloce che andare al negozio (purchasing online will be quicker than going to the store).

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A Few Unconventional Plurals

This lesson is based on the premise that you basically know how to form the plural of nouns. To help you get caught up, very generally, if a noun ends in "o," it's usually masculine and the plural usually will end in "i." If it ends in "e," the plural will also likely end in "i", and if a singular noun ends in "a," (usually feminine), the plural will most likely end in "e." To learn more, check out Daniela's lessons about plurals here and here.

 

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. In two different videos this week, we find unconventional plurals, one of which is well worth knowing, and one that you likely won't run into every day.

 

In one video, Arianna goes to Lucca. She learns that Lucca still has its ancient walls: le mura. The singular is il muro (the wall).

Le mura hanno tutto un percorso sopra che puoi fare.
The walls have a whole path on top that you can do.
Caption 63, In giro per l'Italia: Lucca

To help you remember the name for "wall," in Italian, think of a mural, which is a piece of art, like a painting or enlarged photograph, right on a wall. Or think of "intramural" — within the walls of a school or institution.

 

Anna and Marika are busy in the kitchen dealing with fish, and more specifically, anchovies. They are pretty small fish, so taking out the guts is a tedious job they gladly leave to the fish vendor.

 

You might be familiar with the adjective interiore (inside, internal, interior) but there is a noun, le interiora, which means "the guts," "the entrails," or "the internal organs," and is always in the plural: interiora.

Le alici dovranno essere senza testa e eviscerate...
The anchovies should be without their heads and gutted...
Quindi bisogna togliere le interiora.
Therefore, one needs to remove the entrails.
Caption 13 - 15, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a Tavola - Involtini di alici - Part 1

 

And let's not forget some other unconventional plurals that work pretty much the same way:

un uovo, due uova (one egg, two eggs)

Prendiamo una forchetta e iniziamo a sbattere le uova...
We take a fork and begin beating the eggs...
Caption 13, Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara - Part 2 of 2

 

un braccio, due braccia (one arm, two arms)

Ma com'è?
But what's she like?
E com'è? C'ha due gambe, due braccia, due occhi, come deve essere?
So what's she like? She has two legs, two arms, two eyes. What should she be like?
Captions 13 - 14, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP3 - Delitto tra le lenzuola - Part 4 of 14

 

un miglio, due miglia (one mile, two miles)

La Mille Miglia è la corsa più bella del mondo!
The "Mille Miglia" [one thousand miles] is the greatest race in the world!
Caption 33, La Mille Miglia: del passato per vivere quella di oggi - Part 3 of 3

 

un migliaio di, poche migliaia di (about a thousand, a few thousand)

Il debito era di poche migliaia di euro.
The debt was of a few thousand euros.
Caption 40, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero - Part 14 of 16

 

un paiodue paia (a pair, two pairs)

Ma quattro paia di scarpe vanno bene lo stesso.
But four pairs of shoes are fine, too.
Caption 52, Psicovip: I Visitatori - Ep 14

 

This list is not complete, but we'll look at other such nouns in a future lesson.

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2 Very Different Meanings of the Verb Investire

The verb investire has a cognate in English: "to invest." So if you are buying a house,stai investendo i tuoi soldi (you are investing your money).

E lui è così ricco, che pare che abbia investito i guadagni in lingotti d'oro.
And he is so rich that they say he invested his earnings in gold ingots.
Caption 21, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 2 

 

But there is another meaning of investire that is less easy to guess at: "to hit" (as in getting hit by a car), "to knock down," "to run over".

Però andiamo dove non puoi investire nessuno.
But let's go where you can't run anyone over.
Caption 47, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 7 of 13

 

This is also the meaning in Yabla's most recent video about Firenze, where the camera operator finds herself in danger of being investita (run over). Even pedestrian areas like the Ponte Vecchio require staying alert for stray taxis or delivery trucks.

Non preoccupatevi, la nostra cameraman non è stata investita dalla macchina.
Don't worry, our cameraman wasn't hit by the car.
Caption 46,  In giro per l'Italia: Firenze - Part 5 of 5

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A Righe or a Quadretti?

Lots of adjectives in Italian correspond to adjectives in English and vice versa, but sometimes an adjective form doesn't really exist in one language or the other, and a different form is used. One such form uses a (which is usually a preposition meaning "to" or "at") plus a noun. In this case, we might say this a stands for "in the manner of" or "with." It can be part of the answer to questions such as "What's it like?" "What kind is it?"

 

One example of this came up in this week's episode of La Ladra. It occurred in a rather banal exchange between Gina and her husband. He couldn't find his striped socks.

 

In English, we can say something is striped or it has stripes. In Italian, it's a bit different. We often use a

Come dove stanno i calzini righe?
What do you mean where are your striped socks?
Caption 3, La Ladra - Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 10 of 14

 

Potrebbe anche essere una tovaglia a quadretti bianchi e rossi, oppure bianchi e gialli o a grosse righe.
It could also be a red and white checked tablecloth, or else, white and yellow or with wide stripes.

Captions 4-5, Come preparare con creatività: una tavola per la campagna

 

In Italy, quaderni a quadretti (notebooks with grids or graph paper) are very popular. But in the U.S., unless you are using a grid for a specific purpose, like math or a making a chart, most notebooks are righe (lined). There doesn't even seem to be a standard translation for quadretti regarding paper. However, we asked readers to write in what they would call un quaderno a quadretti in English.

 

Update: Most of the people who have written in say that in English, they would call a quaderno a quadretti a "graph paper notebook." One person provided this interesting link.

 

Additional notes: Along with notebooks, we have notepads. The official word for this in Italian is taccuino but the more commonly-used term is a corruption of English: bloc-notes or even the pseudo-English block-notes. Make sure you pronounce the final e and s all'italiano! Let's remember that in Italian the adjective usually comes after the noun, and so notes is the kind of blocco (notebook or notepad for taking notes). A blocco is a group of similar items, so we use blocco or, when it's small, blocchetto for paper, for checks: blocchetto di assegni (checkbook).

 

In this lesson, we have talked about adjective equivalents. But there are adverb equivalents that use a, too, and we'll look at them in a future lesson.

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When Giallo is not Only a Color

This brings us to another word used in this week's segment of L'Eredità, the quiz show: giallo (yellow).

Ritenne che la maggior parte dei pendolari aveva una grande passione per i racconti gialli.
She found that the majority of commuters had a great passion for yellow [detective] stories.
Captions 36-37, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 Part 12

Here, although the color yellow does play an important role, un giallo is something specific: a crime, mystery or detective story. Note: The moderator of the quiz show uses giallo as an adjective: i racconti gialli (the detective stories) and it is common to say un romanzo giallo (a detective novel), to specify the format, but giallo as a noun encompasses any format and is widely used and understood by Italians. 

 

But what's this "yellow" business?

 

Here's the story. (click here for the extended Italian version).

 

In 1929, Mondadori, a major Italian publishing house, came out with a series of detective novels. They were tascabili (in paperback, literally "pocket-sized") and had a distinguishing yellow cover. They were called libri gialli della Mondadori (Mondadori's Yellow Books). In 1946, the name of these books changed to gialli Mondadori. The name giallo caught on, and has been used ever since to indicate a detective, crime, or police mystery, and can be applied to books, comic books (as in Diabolik mentioned on the quiz show), movies, or even news events. Giallo with this meaning has become a word everyone should know, especially if you like to read. And it can't be guessed at if you don't know the story. But now you know the story, too.

 

You may have heard of an American television series from the eighties and nineties called Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury. This series, dubbed into Italian, became extremely popular (and stilll is) as La Signora in Giallo (The Lady in Yellow). This play on words should make sense to you now!

 

Read this article (in Italian) for more information about the Italian version of the show, and, why not? Find it for streaming in Italian, just for fun.

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A Creative Italian Word for "Commuter"

Italian has a wonderful word for "commuter." It comes from the back and forth movement of a pendulum, and is, you guessed it: pendolare.

Ritenne che la maggior parte dei pendolari aveva una grande passione per i racconti gialli.
She found that the majority of commuters had a great passion for detective stories.
Captions 36-37, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 Part 12

Pendolare is originally a verb having to do with the movement of a pendulum, or pendolo, but it is now commonly used to mean "commuter." Italy is a long, narrow penisola (peninsula) with mountains in the middle. Many people live in one place but work in another. Rather than actually moving, they become pendolari (commuters). Being a pendolare is tough, and often complicated, so if you listen to the news, you'll hear the word pendolare often. A pendolare may travel by car (in macchina), by bike (in bici) by bus (in pullman), by train (in treno), or by plane (in aereo). Note the preposition in ! But generally, when we think of pendolari, we imagine them on trains. Nowadays, people have phones (cellulari), laptops (portatili), or tablets (tablet) to occupy them while traveling by train, but it wasn't always so. People used to read libri (books), riviste (magazines), or giornali (newspapers). A certain kind of book was particularly popular. Il giallo. See the lesson about it!
 

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Three Ways to Crush It: pestare , schiacciare , frantumare

This week, Anna and Marika finish explaining how to make pesto, the delicious Ligurian pasta specialty.

 

In part 1, they talked about why pesto is called pesto.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

The cooks also use two other verbs that have to do with breaking something down into smaller pieces. Let's look at each of these three words to see when we use them, and what the differences are among them.

 

Let's start with the word that gives its name to the dish. Pestare is the verb: to crush, to mash, to pound. We carry out this action when tenderizing meat, or when stepping on someone's toes.

Oh, scusamit'ho pestato il piede.
Oh, sorry, I stepped on your foot.

 

Pestare is the action someone or something carries out in order to crush something. Except for when it's someone's toes, we might think of a repeated action, such as in making pesto the old-fashioned way. Just keep pounding to break the material down little by little.

 

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A relative of pestare is calpestare (to tromp on, to trample, to step on), specific to using one's feet. You might see a sign that says:

Non calpestare l'erba
Do not walk on the grass.  

 

In some cities, you really have to look where you put your feet.

E... camminando camminando, ciak! Che cosa ti vado a calpestare?
And... walking along, splat! What do I go and step on?
Un escremento canino! -Bleah! -Una cacca bella fresca fumante!
Canine excrement! -Yuck! -Nice fresh steaming poop!
Captions 21-22, Francesca e Marika: Gestualità 

 

Here we might think of the action more than the recipient of the action.

 

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Schiacciare also means to crush, to smash, or to mash, and here we can visualize the thing we are crushing being crushed.  

The classic example is lo sciaccianoce. The nutcracker. One rather violent move, and the thing is cracked or crushed.

You crush a clove of garlic. Lo schiacciIt's less rewarding when it's your finger being crushed.

Mi sono schiacciato il dito nella porta. Aia!
smashed my finger in the door. Ouch!

 

Think of something being flattened by a heavy weight.

 

We can also use schiacciare when pressing a button on a machine.

Schiaccia il bottone rosso per fermarlo (press down on the red button to stop it).

 

Schiacciare is used figuratively, too.

Allora, signora, Suo marito ha una personalità dominante che schiaccia la Sua da anni.
So, ma'am, your husband has a dominating personality which has been crushing yours for years.
Captions 4-5, Stai lontana da me: Rai Cinema - Part 4 of 17 

 

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Lastly, we have frantumare. Here, we can visualize a mirror breaking and shattering into pieces or frantumi (fragments, smithereens). 

In making olive oil, grindstones crush the olives with their pits.

L'oliva viene frantumata intera.
The olive gets crushed whole.
Caption 23, L'olio extravergine di oliva: Il frantoio

 

Anna and Marika use all three of these verbs in their videos about pesto, so check them out! As you replicate the recipe, try using them yourself!

Ora sto pestando questi pinoli (now I am pounding these pine nuts).
Devo fare attenzione a non pestare anche le dita (I have to be careful not to pound my fingers, as well).
Forse sono sufficientemente frantumati (maybe they're fragmented enough). 
Se faccio cadere il piatto per terra, si frantumerà! È di porcellana (if I drop this plate on the floor, it will break into pieces. It's porcelain).
L'aglio lo posso schiacciare con un batticarne (I can smash the garlic with a meat mallet). 
Devo stare attento a non schiacciarmi le dita (I have to be careful not to crush my fingers).

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Asking Questions in Italian

In English we use "do," "did" or other question words to form questions. This is hard for Italians learning English because in Italian, to ask a question, all you have to do is change your tone of voice.

 

Here's an example from last week's lesson. Marika is telling us something.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato.
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed.
Caption 68, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola -Il pesto genovese - Part 1 of 2

 

But, with a little change of inflection, she could use the exact same words and ask a question.

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato?
Does "pesto" mean that it has been crushed?

 

The voice is raised at the end of the phrase, or, the voice stays the same, but "no" (with a raised voice) gets added on to make it a question:

Pesto vuol dire che è stato pestato, no?
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed, right?
"Pesto" means that it has been crushed, doesn't it?

 

With modal verbs, too, inflection is everything.

Posso offrirle uno "Spritz".
I can offer you a "Spritz".
Caption 10, Una pasticceria: al Lido di Venezia 

 

To turn this into a question, it remains the same in Italian. Only the inflection changes, and in writing it, we use a question mark rather than a period. 

Posso offrirle uno "Spritz"?
Can I offer you a "Spritz?" 

 

Try making statements into questions by changing your inflection, or adding "no?" at the end, to make it into a question. Pay special attention to how questions happen in videos with plenty of dialogue, such as La Ladra or Commissario Manara

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Becoming Familiar with the Passato Remoto

The passato remoto (remote past) tense in Italian may not be necessary to know in order to converse in the language, but we find it often enough in writing when the subject is history, so it's good to be familiar with it.

 

Daniela has recently finished talking about this tense in her Corso di Italiano, and in the final segment, she talks about when it is used.

 

Si usa, per esempio, per azioni che sono avvenute una sola volta nel passato.
You use it, for example, for actions that occurred once, in the past.
Captions 4-5, Corso di italiano con Daniela: Il passato remoto - Part 4 of 4

 

In this week's video about Pisa, we see it in action. Arianna is talking about medieval times.

 

Già dall'inizio ebbe dei problemi, perché fu costruita su un terreno instabile e per questo pende.
From the start, it had problems because it was built
on unstable terrain and because of this, it leans.
Captions 17 -18, In giro per l'Italia - Pisa e dintorni - Part 1 of 3

Another place we find the passato remoto being employed is in stories and fairy tales. In fact, reading fairy tales is an excellent way to gain familiarity with the passato remoto. The stories are usually repetitive and predictable with the verbs in the third person singular and plural.Yabla has quite a few animated fairy tales to choose from. 

 

Quindi aprì la porta e il ranocchio saltellò dentro.
So she opened the door and the frog hopped in.
Caption 52, Ti racconto una fiaba: Il Principe Ranocchio - Part 1 of 2

 

Further practice:
To make friends with the passato remoto, pick out a fairy tale and watch the video, paying extra attention to the verbs. Then open the transcript, pick the printer-friendly version so you can just see the Italian, and then read the story out loud (in Italian), as if you were reading it to a child. You will, of course, see verbs in other tenses like the passato prossimo and theimperfetto, too. As in English, a mixture of tenses renders the story more fluid and more interesting.

 

If you're not sure which tense you are looking at, click on the word, even when you are in theprinter-friendly version, and a dictionary will pop up to help you. Some verbs occur only occasionally, and don't really need to be assimilated, but other verbs like avere (to have) essere (to be), andare (to go), venire (to come), guardare (to look), and vedere (to see) will occur more often, and you can start adding them to the verbs you recognize, even in thepassato remoto. Reading out loud will make the verbs start feeling right on the tongue.

 

Hopefully, when you watch the video again, the verbs in the passato remoto won't seem so strange anymore.

 

WordReference has conjugation charts for most verbs. Try keeping the tab open so you can get to it easily when you need it.

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Dante and Dante

In a recent segment of La Ladra, Eva and Dante are in the kitchen of the restaurant. Dante is trying to win Eva's affections by cooking irresistible dishes. He makes a reference to the famous star-crossed lovers, Paolo and Francesca, mentioned in the fifth Canto of Dante's Inferno. In it, Francesca recounts that she and Paolo had been reading in the Arthurian legends about Lancelot and Guinevere and how they had fallen in love as if under a spell, helped along by Galehaut, or Gallehaud, and called Galeotto in Italian. The spell seemed to affect Paolo and Francesca, too, and they fell in love immediately, as if struck by the book itself.
 

Learn more about these stories here (in English). Following are the original lines from Dante

Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante».

The book and whoever wrote it was the matchmaker [what did it]:
That day, we read no further in it.

 

So, Galeotto is considered to be a sort of matchmaker, an intermediary in love matters, a cupid-type figure, we might say, but not necessarily a person or god. 

 

To add to the mix, galeottowith a lower case "g" is often used as an adjective, whose ending changes according to the gender of the noun it's modifying.

 

Here's a definition of galeotto from an Italian dictionary (De Mauro):

1 (aggettivo), che favorisceincoraggia l’amore fra due persone: motivo galeotto, canzonegaleotta 
(adjective), favoring, encouraging love between two people). 
2 (aggettivo, sostantivo maschile), intermediario d’amore (adjective, masculine noun), matchmaker, intermediary in love matters)

 

So when something is described with the adjective galeotto, it has the quality of being an amorous catalyst or agent, causing two people to fall in love.

 

Galeotto can describe a song, a kiss, a dance, some poetry, an action, and in the case of our chef, Dante, food, or at least, that's the way he sees it.

Hai presente il quinto canto dell'Inferno dove Paolo e Francesca vengono fatalmente attratti dalla galeotta lettura di un libro?
You know the fifth canto in the “Inferno,” where Paolo and Francesca are fatally attracted through the romance-inducing reading of a book?
Ecco, qui non c'è un libro galeotto, ma... un'alchimia di sapori, un amore e una passione per la cucina.
Well, in this case, there is no love-potion of a book, but...  an alchemy of tastes, a love and a passion for cooking.
Captions 20-24, La Ladra: Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 8 of 14

 

There have been plenty of discussions about the adjective galeotto on language forums and it's almost impossible to find an English adjective that fits the bill. So we thought it was worth discussing what this word is all about.

 

Have you ever fallen in love and blamed it on the le stelle (the stars), la luna (the moon), unacanzone (a song), una situazione (a situation), una parola (a word), un film (a movie)? That's what galeotto is about.

È stata la luna galeotta.
It was the romantic moon [that made us fall in love].

 

Attenzione, the noun galeotto also means "galley slave" and has come to mean "jailbird" or "inmate."

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Being Embarrassed in Italian

In this lesson, we’ll talk about a curious use of the noun imbarazzo (embarrassment). But first let’s look at another word associated with embarrassment: the noun la vergogna and the verb vergognarsi (to be ashamed, to be embarrassed). Here, you need context to help decide if someone is ashamed or embarrassed because they're closely tied.

Valeria, eri disperata, non è colpa tua.
Valeria, you were desperate. It's not your fault.
Però mi vergogno molto.
But I'm very ashamed.
Captions 6-7, La Ladra - Ep. 1 - Le cose cambiano - Part 8 of 17 

 

In the following example, the meaning is more of embarrassment. Note that the speaker is using the subjunctive.

Suo padre alleva pecore. È normale che se ne vergogni un po', no?
Her father raises sheep. It's natural for her to be a bit embarrassed about it, right?
Captions 69-70, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP4 - Miss Maremma - Part 2 of 14 

 

Italian often uses the noun form imbarazzo (embarrassment) with the preposition in (in) when expressing embarrassment, as in the following example.

Te ne sei andata come se avessi visto il diavolo.
You took off as if you'd seen the devil.
Scusami, non so che cosa mi è preso, forse mi sono sentita in imbarazzo.
Sorry, I don't know what came over me, maybe I felt embarrassed.
Captions 27-28, Il Commissario Manara - S1Ep5 - Il Raggio Verde - Part 12 of 14

 

In this week’s segment of La Ladra, Dante and Eva’s son are looking at bicycles, to replace Eva’s old bike, which Dante inadvertently wrecked. The bike store proprietor says:

Ecco, non c'è che l'imbarazzo della scelta.
Here you are. Nothing but an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Caption 37, La Ladra: Ep. 4 - Una magica bionda - Part 1 of 14  

 

The above translation uses an English idiom, which comes from an 18th-century French play. “Embarras” in French means “embarrassment” or “confusion.”  We could also say that the choice is overwhelming or almost embarrassing, because every item is worthy of being chosen.

 

L’imbarazzo della scelta is a great expression to be familiar with because it’s used quite often when someone is a presented with a vast choice of great things to choose from, for example: What Italian city would you like to visit? C'è solo l'imbarazzo della scelta. The problem is choosing one!

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Conjugating Verbs in the Subjunctive

In previous lessons, we’ve mentioned that the subjunctive is often used after the conjunction che (that). The congiuntivo (subjunctive) can be tricky for Italians, not only for non-native speakers, so it’s fitting that conjugating a verb in the subjunctive be used as a challenge in a quiz show such as the one featured this week on Yabla.

 

Allora, io dirò l'infinito, tu mi devi dire il congiuntivo presente.
Mostrare. -Che io mostri.
So, I'll tell you the infinitive, you have to tell me the present subjunctive.
To show. -That I show.
Captions 3-5,  L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei Puntata 2 - Part 5  

 

The contestant has to conjugate a verb in the present subjunctive, first person. Note that when Italians conjugate the subjunctive mood, they add che (that), the person, and then the subjunctive conjugation. That way, the subjunctive is distinguished from the indicative.

 

In the above-mentioned episode, we have the infinitive and the first person present subjunctive of several verbs. Can you provide the present indicative of the verbs mentioned? You can look up a verb’s conjugation here.

 

Some people are adept at memorizing lists of verb conjugations. Others might prefer to learn verbs in the subjunctive on a need-to-know basis, one by one. You will discover that certain verbs are used more often than others in the subjunctive, verbs such as:

andare (to go) - che io vada (that I go)
È meglio che vada a letto presto stasera (I should really go to bed early tonight).

 

fare (to make, to do) - che io faccia (that I do)
Cosa vuoi che faccia (what do you want me to do)?

 

essere (to be) - che io sia (that I am)
Pensi che io sia stupida (do you think I'm stupid)?

 

stare (to stay, to be) - che io stia (that I am, that I remain)
Non pretendere che io stia zitta (don't expect me to be quiet).

 

venire (to come) - che io venga (that I come)
È fondamentale che io venga alla riunione (is it necessary for me to come to the meeting)?

 

These are the verbs to learn early on. What verbs would you like to add to this list?

 

After practicing the first person subjunctive, move on to the other persons, one by one, and get the hang of them. In many cases, the third person is the same as the first person in the subjunctive. Using them in sentences will help you remember them.

To brush up or learn about the subjunctive, see Daniela’s lessons about the subjunctive here.

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Pronunciation Tips for Beginners

For English speakers, Italian can be difficult to pronounce, especially when reading. Watching, listening, and doing the exercises Yabla provides can all help reinforce correct pronunciation, but let’s zoom in on one of the basic sounds.

We’re not looking for the nuances here, of which there are plenty, but just the very bare bones.

In Italian, the vowels, in particular, sound so different from what they look like to an English speaker, so let’s start there.

Let’s have a look at pronouncing the letter "A."

To hear the Italian “A” click on the audio icon here, and you can hear the correct pronunciation and repeat it. Maybe you can find a word in English that you pronounce with this sound. Some people find the noun "father" helpful for this sound. But the Italian "A" sound has no diphthong in it, and never sounds like a long "A," as in April.

Let’s take the word naso (nose). If you pronounce the "A" as you do in "father," you will come pretty close!

Quindi ho bisogno di soffiare il naso tantissime volte.
So I have to blow my nose lots of times.
Caption 13, Marika spiega: Il raffreddore 

What are some other words with this sound?

How about pasta?

 

La pasta alla Norma è una pasta semplicissima da cucinare.
Pasta alla Norma is a very simple pasta dish to make.
Caption 5, Anna e Marika:  L'Italia a tavola - Pasta alla Norma - Part 1 of 2

 

In fact, if we look carefully,  there are plenty of words containing the letter "A" in this one sentence. Listen to the video, and you will hear that they are all pronounced the same way. Listen to how Marika and Anna pronounce each others’ names. It’s the same kind of "A."

Try pronouncing the title. Italia a tavola (Italy at the Table).

In this week’s segment of La Ladra (try pronouncing the title), there’s a word that’s very similar to its English counterpart, but the "A’s" sound a bit different.

Assassino!
Murderer (Assassin)!
Caption 9, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 13 of 13 

For more on the alphabet, see Marika's videos about the alphabet and about pronunciation.

Let us know if this was helpful, and we’ll talk about another vowel, soon. 

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Expressing Relief with Menomale or Meno male

Here's a great little expression of relief. Literally, it means "less bad." It's about the relief you feel when worse didn't come to worst! In English we usually say "good thing" or "it's a good thing." We might even say "luckily" or "thank goodness." In the example below, meno male is used with che in a sentence.

 

Meno male che non era un lingotto.
Good thing it wasn't a gold ingot.
Caption 23,  La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 8 of 13

 

It can also be used by itself, and is an easy comment to make in many situations. In the following example, Caterina is worried about Lara, but then Lara finally shows up. Meno male. Thank goodness! 

Ah! Meno malemeno maleecco Lara!
Ah! Thank goodnessthank goodness, here's Lara.
Caption 21,  Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 9 of 17

 

Note that sometimes it's used as one word menomale, and sometimes two: meno male. They're both correct, although some dictionaries will say the two-word version is more proper. 

 

Practice:

When you feel relief that something went better than expected or when you would say "whew!" having avoided a disaster, try saying menomale all by itself. For pronunciation help, listen to some examples by doing a search in the videos tab

 

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Roll up your Sleeves with Rimboccarsi le Maniche

Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work learning a new expression.

 

In a recent video, Marika and Anna show us how to make fricos, a local dish from northern Italy. They are made with humble ingredients, but take a bit of slicing and dicing. So Marika rolls up her sleeves. Italians use this expression both literally and figuratively, as we do in English.

 

In this first example, Marika is speaking literally, and uses the verb tirare (to pull). That's one way to describe the action of rolling up one's sleeves, and perhaps the easiest to pronounce.

Mi sono già tirata su le maniche, come vedi.
I've already rolled up my sleeves, as you can see.
Caption 4, Anna e Marika: L'Italia a tavola - Il frico friulano - Part 2 of 2

 

In the next example, however, the rolling up of the sleeves is figurative, and the classic expression is used:

Be', Claudio è un bravissimo ragazzo, prima di tutto, un vero amico e uno che sa rimboccarsi sempre le maniche.
Well, Claudio's a great guy, first of all, a true friend, and one who always knows how to roll up his sleeves [to pitch in and work hard].
Captions 14-15, L'Eredità -Quiz TV: La sfida dei sei Puntata 1 - Part 5 of 14 

 

Rimboccare (to tuck in, to turn) refers to the edge of something, like a sleeve, a hem, or a sheet, but it's very commonly used in the above-mentioned expression, especially when acknowledging a long job ahead.

 

Rimbocchiamoci le maniche e cominciamo a studiare (let's roll up our sleeves and start studying)!

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Finding Yourself with Trovarsi

When we look at a video about a place, the speaker often uses the verb trovare in its reflexive form trovarsi. Using trovarsi in this fashion might be hard to wrap our minds around, so let’s back up to the normal verb for a moment. Trovare means “to find” and is transitive, meaning it can take a direct object.

Per suo marito ha trovato una cintura marrone.
For her husband, she found a brown belt.
Caption 39, Corso di italiano con Daniela - I colori - Part 3 of 3  

 

We can use the verb with ourself as an object much as we do in English:

Io non sono affatto sicuro di me, e non mi sono mai trovato in una situazione come questa, va bene?
I'm not sure of myself at all, and I've never found myself in a situation like this, all right?
Captions 9-10, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 11 - Beato tra le donne - Part 4 of 12 

 

If Luca Manara spoke English, he’d probably say “I’ve never been in a situation like this before, OK?” He would have simply used the verb “to be.” But Italians often use trovarsi, so it’s a good verb to understand. Of course, if you do use the verb essere, people will understand you anyway menomale (luckily)!

 

But then it gets a bit more peculiar. Here is Arianna telling us where she is: where she finds herself. She wasn’t lost; she’s just giving us her location.

Eccomi. Qui mi trovo vicino alla stazione Santa Maria Novella, in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Here I am. Here I am near the Santa Maria Novella Train Station in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Captions 25-26, In giro per l'Italia: Firenze - Part 3 of 3 

 

 

Instead of just saying: sono vicino alla stazione (I am near the station), she is referring to her geographical or physical position in that moment with trovarsi. It’s a little more specific than simply using the verb essere (to be).

 

In the previous example, trovarsi refers to a person, but trovarsi can also refer to an object, a place. English gets specific in a similar way by using “to be located,” “to be situated.”

 

When Marika plays the professoressa (teacher), she uses trovarsi to interrogate poor Anna. She just wants to know where Sardinia is.

Dove si trova questa regione?
Where is this region located?
Caption 21, Anna e Marika: L’Italiana a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Sardegna 

 

Il porto di Maratea è un porto turistico. Si trova vicino alle isole Eolie, alla Sicilia, a Capri, all'i... a Sorrento.
The port of Maratea is a tourist seaport. It's situated near the Aeolian Islands, Sicily, Capri, the... Sorrento,
Captions 23-24, Antonio: Maratea, il porto 

 

It’s also very common to use trovarsi to describe feelings or conditions. This is a bit tricky.

Abito in campagna, e senza macchina, mi trovo in difficoltà.
I live in the country, and without a car, it's hard. I have trouble. 

 

Non mi trovo bene con questo telefonino.
I don’t like this phone. I don’t feel comfortable with this phone.

 

Ma per ora mi trovo bene qua, vediamo.
Well, for now, I'm happy here, we'll see.
Caption 97, Il Commissario Manara 1: Ep. 10 - Un morto di troppo - Part 2 of 12 

 

Ah, a proposito, come ti trovi da Ada?
Ah, by the way, how do you like it over at Ada's?
Caption 90, Il Commissario Manara 1 - Ep. 10 -Un morto di troppo - Part 4 of 12 

 

Trovarsi can also be used reciprocally.

Ci troviamo da Letizia alle otto.
Let’s meet up [with each other] at Letizia’s place at eight.

 

For more on reflexive and reciprocal verbs, see Marika's lesson about reflexive and reciprocal verbs, and the written lesson Understanding the Reciprocal Reflexive Form.

 

The more you watch and listen to Italian, either on Yabla or in real life, the more you will notice trovarsi in all of its shadings. It’s a very popular verb!

 

Come ti trovi con Yabla (how are you managing with Yabla)? Facelo sapere (let us know) at newsletter@yabla.com.

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How to Have Hindsight in Italian

If you want to talk about hindsight in Italian, you can't really use your intuition.

 

English uses the verb "to see," "to look back." Italian uses the noun senno (wisdom, good judgment, common sense) a not-so-common word outside of expressions such as the present one. It also uses poi, which as an adverb means "then" or "after" and as a noun means "the future," or "the hereafter." So we're talking about wisdom after the fact. 

 

Consider this dialog between Dante and Eva from a recent episode of La Ladra.

 

Ma ragiona. Che cosa potevo fare, eh?
But just think. What could I have done, huh?
Sceglierti meglio la fidanzata.
Choose a better girlfriend.
È facile parlare col senno del poi, ma io non avevo...
It's easy to speak [judge] with hindsight, but I hadn't... 
Captions 17-19, La Ladra: Ep. 3 - L'oro dello squalo - Part 10 of 13

There's a proverb:

Del senno di poi son piene le fosse 
Graves are full of hindsight.
Hindsight has 20/20 vision.

Note that the Italian expression uses the preposition con (with) plus the article il (the): col = con ilCol senno di/del poi (with the wisdom of what happens afterward). In English, we usually say "in retrospect," and "in hindsight," or "with [the benefit of] hindsight."

 

Col senno del poi is an expression we hear often in Italian, but it's just quirky enough that it's hard to guess its intuitively. Senno is a noun we rarely hear. That's why this lesson happened. Now you know!

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