Saturday
Dec292007

italian relative pronouns 2: preposition + cui

OK guys, we saw last time that you use che to replace subjects or direct objects. With verbs that take indirect objects (usually a noun preceded by a preposition) use the preposition + cui. In English this is rendered by expressions like “to which,” “with whom,” etc.

For example:

C’è un negozio qui vicino.

Sono stato altre volte in questo negozio.

=

C’è un negozio qui vicino in cui sono stato altre volte. (There’s a store near here I’ve been to before.)

Ti faccio conoscere una ragazza.

Ti parlavo della ragazza ieri.

=

Ti faccio conoscere la ragazza di cui ti parlavo ieri. (I'll let you meet the girl I was talking to you about yesterday.)

This can be a bit tricky for English speakers because we now just tack the preposition onto the end of such a sentence – “What’s the name of that place we went to?” (Instead of, "What's the name of that place to which we went?")

When forming these types of sentences in Italian, translate from a stiff prissy Victorian English version of what you want to say.

Preposition + definite article + quale means the same as preposition + cui, but is more clear and specific.

For example:

Ecco Marco e Maria con cui ho seguito un corso di matematica. (Here are Marco and Maria with whom I took a math class.)

Ecco Marco e Maria con la quale ho seguito un corso di matematica.

In the first sentence you took math with both, in the second with Maria only.

As usual, hopefully some practice in the activities section will help you get it. If not, feel free to email! C4N.

Saturday
Nov172007

italian relative pronouns 1: che

First of all, let's goof-proof this week's grammar topic - what is a "relative pronoun"? Well, like all pronouns it's a short word that stands in for a noun (a person, place or thing).

We've seen quite a few other pronouns already...

Subject pronouns (io, tu, lui, lei, etc.) that stand in for a noun doing an action...

Direct object pronouns (mi, ti, lo, la, etc.) that stand in for a noun receiving an action...

Reflexive pronouns (mi, ti, si, ci, vi, etc.), that stand in for a noun that both does and receives an action at the same time.

But what are relative pronouns? Pronouns that stand in for an aunt or uncle? No!

When you have two simple sentences...

in which a single noun gets repeated...

you use a relative pronoun to replace one instance of the noun, so that you avoid the repetition...

while at the same time joining the two choppy sentences into a single more fluid one, so you sound smoother and more articulate.

For example...

This is a house.

Jack built this house.

Here we have two short choppy sentences in which the noun "house" clumsily gets repeated. By using the English relative pronoun"that," we join them into a single smoother, more fluid sentence and eliminate the repetition...

This is the house that Jack built.

See that? One sentence, one use of "house" - nice and smooth and efficient. That's a Toyota Way sentence vs the U.S. Big Three. Let's see some more examples...

I read a book. My friend Lenny wrote the book.

I read a book that my friend Lenny wrote.

I bought a Ford. The Ford doesn't run.

I bought a Ford that doesn't run.

My friend drives a '94 Tercel. The '94 Tercel runs great.

My friend drives a '94 Tercel that runs great.

Get the picture?

Now, it's important to realize that "that" isn't the only English relative pronoun - there are many. But it's the one we're going to learn the Italian equivalent of today, which is "che."

So how do you know when to use "that" (or che) vs another relative pronoun? Well, when the repeating noun you're replacing is either the subject or the direct object of the clause, you use che.

Doesn't matter if the noun is masculine or feminine, singular or plural, a person or a thing - as long as it's a subject or direct object, you replace it with che. Let's see some examples...

Ho conosciuto una ragazza italiana. La ragazza italiana parla cinese.

Ho conosciuto una ragazza italiana che parla cinese. (OR - La ragazza italiana che ho conosciuto parla cinese.)

Siamo andati a vedere un film. Il film non mi è piaciuto.

Siamo andati a vedere un film che non mi è piaciuto. (OR - Il film che siamo andati a vedere non mi è piaciuto.)

Tua mamma ci fa la pizza. La pizza fa schifo.

La pizza che ci fa tua mamma fa schifo.

Hopefully you get it! Next update we'll tackle another relative pronoun. C4N!

Thursday
Oct252007

uses of the infinitive in italian

The present infinitive or “dictionary form” is the form ending in -are, -ere or -ire in Italian, and preceded by “to” in English (to eat, to run, etc.).

To form the past infinitive, you use the infinitive of avere or essere + the past participle.

avere mangiato (also aver mangiato)

essere venuto (also esser venuto)

As always, the participle of essere verbs agrees with the subject.

Maria è contenta di essere venuta. (Maria is happy to have come.)

These verb forms (present and past infinitive) occur in many constructions in Italian.

Infinitive – Uses

Subject or Direct Object

In Italian, the infinitive serves as the subject or direct object of a sentence, whereas English uses the infinitive or gerund (the -ing form).

Imparare il cinese è molto difficile. (subject) Learning Chinese is very hard.

È vietato fumare. (direct object) Smoking is prohibited.

With Modals

You may know the infinitive follows so-called modal verbs – volere, potere, dovere.

Voglio uscire ma devo studiare. Posso aver sbagliato.

Other verbs that function a bit like modals and precede infinitives:

sapere – Non so ballare.

piacere – Mi piace cantare.

preferire – Preferisco restare a casa.

desiderare – Desidero uscire con gli amici.

amare – Amo suonare il flauto.

Note that the infinitive is only used with modals when the subject of both the modal and the infinitive is the same. Compare:

Voglio uscire. (same subject – infinitive)

Voglio che tu esca. (Here the person wanting is not the same as the person going out, so we use the subjunctive.)

With a verb + “a” or “di”

Apart from the above modals, most Italian verbs take “a” or “di” + infinitive.

Some verbs that take “a” + infinitive:

abituarsi a – to get used to (Mi abituo a partire più presto.)

aiutare a – to help (Ti aiuto a fare i compiti.)

cominciare a – to begin

continuare a – to continue

convincere a – to convince

fermarsi a – to stop oneself

forzare a – to force

imparare a – to learn

incoraggiare a – to encourage

insegnare a – to teach

invitare a – to invite

mandare a – to send

obbligare a – to oblige

passare a – to pass

persuadere a – to persuade

preparare a – to prepare

riuscire a – to succeed

spingere a – to push

venire a – to come

Most other verbs take “di”. Some common examples:

accettare di – to accept

avere bisogno di – to need

avere paura di – to be afraid of

avere voglia di – to feel like

cercare di – to try

chiedere di – to ask

credere di – to believe

decidere di – to decide

dimenticare di – to forget

dire di – to say

domandare di – to ask

finire di – to finish

ordinare di – to order

pensare di – to plan

permettere di – to permit

proibire di – to prohibit

promettere di – to promise

ricordare di – to remember

smettere di – to stop

sperare di – to hope

In these constructions, you use the present infinitive when the action expressed by the infinitive is taking place at the same time as the main verb or after. If the action expressed by the infinitive occurred prior to the main verb, use the past infinitive. Compare:

Lucio dice di vedere Mario. – Here Lucio is seeing Mario (present infinitive) while saying so (main verb), or will see him after.

Lucio dice di aver visto Mario. – Here Lucio saw Mario (past infinitive) prior to saying so (main verb).

Mario crede di capire tutto. – Here the understanding (present infinitive) and the belief (main verb) are simultaneous.

Mario crede di aver capito tutto. – Here the understanding (past infinitive) took place prior to the main verb.

Mario dice di fare tanti viaggi. – Travels take place at same time as speech or after.

Mario dice di aver fatto tanti viaggi. – Travels took place prior to speech.

In Place of Imperative in Official Settings

You will often see the infinitive used in place of the imperative (command form) in official settings (such as signs, directions, instructions, cookbooks, etc.)

Ritirare lo scontrino alla cassa. (Get a receipt at the cash register.)

The infinitive is also used for negative imperatives (commands) in the “tu” form. Some examples:

Non dire sciocchezze! – Don’t talk foolishness.

Non ridere! – Don’t laugh.

With Impersonal Expressions

These include…

È bene imparare una lingua straniera.

È giusto aiutare gli amici.

Non è possibile ricordare tutto.

Bisogna sapere le regole.

Basta studiare un’ora.

But only when no subject is explicit. Compare…

È bene imparare una lingua straniera. (no explicit subject – infinitive)

È bene che tu impari una lingua straniera. (explicit subject – subjunctive)

With Per to Convey Purpose

In Italian, to convey purpose (“in order to”) you use per + infinitive.

Ho telefonato per salutarti. (I phoned to say hi.) Notice English uses the infinitive alone, with no equivalent of “per”.

Infinitves are extremely useful in Italian, as common as water to a fish and so, easy to overlook. But once you start noticing them they seem to pop up everywhere. So it's good to get a handle on them. C4N!

Wednesday
Oct102007

gerunds vs. present participles in italian

Gerunds in English end in -ing.

to talk - talking

to read - reading

to leave - leaving

In Italian the ending depends on the verb type. For verbs that end in -are, the gerund ends in -ando. For -ere and -ire it’s -endo.

parlare - parlando

leggere - leggendo

partire - partendo

The only irregular gerunds are…

bere - bevendo

dire - dicendo

fare - facendo

porre - ponendo

soddisfare - soddisfacendo

tradurre - traducendo

trarre - traendo

All of this is known as the “gerundio semplice” in Italian. But there is also a “gerundio composto.” To form the gerundio composto, you take the gerund of avere or essere and add the past participle (form ending in -ato, -uto or -ito) of another verb. The same verbs that take essere in the passato prossimo take essere in the gerundio composto.

avendo parlato

avendo letto

essendo partito

English has this too – having talked, having read, having left.

So what do gerunds do?

When you have a sentence consisting of a main clause and a dependent or subordinate clause, and the verbs in both clauses have the same subject, you can often replace the verb in the dependent clause with a gerund. For example…

When I make mistakes [dependent clause], I learn [main clause].

=

By making mistakes [dependent clause verb replaced by gerund], I learn.

While I write, I think. = While writing, I think.

While he read, he ate an apple. = While reading, he ate an apple.

While they ate, they talked. = While eating, they talked.

Notice the gerund doesn’t change forms to reflect different subjects or tenses. It’s “writing” whether the subject is he, she, I or we, and whether the tense of the main clause verb is present, past or future.

All of this is true in Italian too.

Quando sbaglio, imparo. = Sbagliando, imparo.

Mentre scrivo, penso. = Scrivendo, penso.

Mentre leggeva, ha mangiato una mela. = Leggendo, ha mangiato una mela.

Mentre cenavano, parlavano. = Cenando, parlavano.

As long as the two clauses have the same subject you’re good to go. Conjunction and conjugated verb or gerund – the choice is yours. The difference is purely stylistic. Some people find conjugated verbs more clear and specific, others find gerunds more fluid and concise.

So when do you use a gerundio composto? When the verb in the dependent clause took place before the verb in the main clause.

Ha dormito male perché aveva mangiato troppo.

=

Avendo mangiato troppo, ha dormito male.

The eating too much took place prior to the sleeping badly so we use the gerundio composto.

Pronouns stick onto the end of gerunds.

Copiandolo ho sbagliato. (While copying it I made a mistake.)

Parlandogli, lo ho persuaso. (By talking to him, I persuaded him.)

It’s important to note that the relationship between the gerund and the main clause verb isn’t always temporal.

Sometimes it’s causal

Siccome è malata, non viene. = Essendo malata, non viene.

Dato che non ho capito la domanda, non ho potuto rispondere. = Non avendo capito la domanda, non ho potuto rispondere.

Poiché era indisposto, non è intervenuto al dibattito. = Essendo indisposto, non è intervenuto al dibattito.

Sometimes the dependent clause gerund describes the means by or manner in which the main clause verb is performed.

Ha attraversato il fiume a nuoto. = Ha attraversato il fiume nuotando.

Si tiene su di morale con il canto. = Si tiene su di morale cantando.

And sometimes the gerund sets up a concession in spite of which the main clause verb holds true.

Benché sia piccolo, capisce tutto. = Pur essendo piccolo, capisce tutto.

Sebbene mangi molto, non ingrassa. = Pur mangiando molto, non ingrassa.

Nonostante abbia promesso di venire, non è ancora qui. = Pur avendo promesso di venire, non è ancora qui.

One last important note about the gerund before we move on to the present participle: in Italian (unlike English) it can never be a subject or direct object. For this, Italian uses the infinitive.

Learning a language well is not easy. (English uses gerund.)

Imparare bene una lingua non è facile. (Italian uses infinitive.)

Do you prefer singing or dancing? (English uses gerund.)

Preferisci cantare o ballare? (Italian uses infinitive.)

So what does all this have to do with “present participles”? Nothing! The two are completely separate and unrelated. Beginners sometimes confuse them only because they look similar (e.g. andando / andante), and because both often end in –ing in English. But grammatically the two couldn’t be less alike.

So what is a present participle? The short answer: a present participle is a verb made into an adjective.

By adding -ante to -are stems and -ente to -ere or -ire ones, you create an adjective. As such it must agree in gender and number with the noun it modifies.

In agosto ci sono molte stelle cadenti. (from cadere - to fall)

Per cuocere la pasta ci vuole l’acqua bollente. (from bollire - to boil)

D’inverno si usano vestiti pesanti. (from pesare - to weigh)

L’ebreo errante (from errare - to wander) è una figura leggendaria.

Some present participles (like many adjectives in general) have become nouns over time. A good example of a present participle that became a noun is Sabrina, because she is una bravissima insegnante (from insegnare – to teach)!

Important note: not all Italian verbs have a present participle. For instance, you can’t say, “Il ragazzo mangiante.” Or, “Jung Hoo è una persona molto studiante.”

Often to get around this you use the relative pronoun “che” – il ragazzo che mangia, Jung Hoo è una persona che studia molto, etc.

Hope this is clear! C4N.

Wednesday
Sep262007

having people do things - il fare causativo

The verb fare followed by an infinitive renders the idea of “having something done.”

Ha fatto lavare la macchina.

He had the car washed.

Questa volta, mi farò tagliare i capelli più corti.

This time, I’ll have my hair cut shorter.

Note fare can be in any tense. The thing you’re having done is in the infinitive.

It also expresses the idea of making someone specific do something. The person you’re making do the action is an indirect object, and takes the preposition “a”. The thing you’re making them do the action to is a direct object. The action itself is still in the infinitive.

Domani, faccio pulire la camera a Maria.

Tomorrow I’ll have Maria clean the room.

Domani le faccio pulire la camera.

Tomorrow I’ll have her clean the room.

The usual rules apply to pronouns in this construction. They go before the verb (before fare to be exact).

Facciamo riparare la macchina.

We’re having the car repaired.

La facciamo riparare.

We’re having it repaired.

Facciamo riparare la macchina al mecanico.

We’re having the mechanic repair the car.

Gliela facciamo riparare.

We’re having him repair it.

Remember, as always, if the direct object is a pronoun, and the sentence is in the past, the past participle agrees with the direct object pronoun.

Gli abbiamo fatto riparare la macchina.

We had him repair the car.

Gliela abbiamo fatta riparare.

We had him repair it.

And, again as always, pronouns get attached to informal imperatives.

Fagliela riparare!

Have him fix it!

But precede formal ones.

Gliela faccia riparare.

To express the idea of having someone (specific or not) do something specifically for you (or for anyone specific), make fare reflexive. Farsi fare qualcosa da qualcuno (no longer a qualcuno). Since the verb is reflexive now, it conjugates with essere in the past, and the participle agrees with the subject.

Some examples.

Mario si fa fare un vestito dal sarto.

Mario is having the tailor make him a suit.

Mario se lo fa fare dal sarto.

Mario is having the tailor make it for him.

Mario si è fatto fare un vestito dal sarto.

Mario had the tailor make him a suit.

Maria se lo è fatta fare.

Maria had it made for her.

To my knowledge, there’s no way to say, “He had him make it for him” (three pronouns, indirect, direct and reflexive). But even in English this sounds like gobbledygook.

A common Italian expression using the fare causativo is, “Chi me lo fa fare!” (Or, in the past, “Chi me lo ha fatto fare!”) You use it to express exasperation when some attempt is going badly. C4N!

Thursday
Sep202007

il passato remoto - the past absolute

So far when referring to actions that began and ended in the past we have used the passato prossimo. But Italian also has another way to describe past actions, the passato remoto. This one isn’t as common in everyday speech, except maybe in the south, but occurs quite commonly in written Italian, so you'll need it if you want to read. Here’s how it’s formed…

lavorare

lavorai
lavorasti
lavorò
lavorammo
lavoraste
lavorarono

credere

credei (or credetti)
credesti
credé (or credette)
credemmo
credeste
crederono (or credettero)

finire

finii
finisti
finì
finimmo
finiste
finirono

So you just remove the –are, –ere or –ire and substitute the endings shown in bold.

The problem with the passato remoto is that it has too many irregularities! Let’s start with the usual suspects…

essere
fui
fosti
fu
fummo
foste
furono

dare
diedi
desti
diede
demo
deste
diedero

dire
dissi
dicesti
disse
dicemmo
diceste
dissero

fare
feci
facesti
fece
facemmo
faceste
fecero

stare
stetti
stesti
stette
stemmo
steste
stettero

But it doesn’t end here. Most –ere verbs are irregular in the passato remoto. The irregularity takes the form of a change in the stem of the io, lui / lei and loro forms.

Most stems of –ere verbs whose accent falls on the –ere ending (like “avere”) double their final consonant.

Most stems of –ere verbs whose accent falls on the stem (like “leggere”) change their final consonant to s, ss, ns or rs.

But again, this stem change only affects the io, lui / lei and loro forms. The following conjugations of avere and leggere will illustrate.

avere

ebbi
avesti
ebbe
avemmo
aveste
ebbero

leggere

lessi
leggesti
lesse
leggemmo
leggeste
lessero

Like avere:

bere – bevvi
cadere – caddi
piacere – piacqui
sapere – seppi
vedere – vidi
venire – venni
volere – volli
conoscere – conobbi
nascere – nacqui

Like leggere:

chiedere – chiesi
correggere – corressi
decidere – decisi
dipingere – dipinsi
discutere – discussi
perdere – persi
piangere – piansi
prendere – presi
ridere – risi
rispondere – risponsi
scrivere – scrissi
sorridere – sorrisi
succedere – successi
vincere – vinsi

Wednesday
Sep122007

how to use the word molto in italian

Ciao guys. This week's tutorino Italian grammar lesson is devoted to a simple-seeming word that gives a lot of beginners headaches: molto.

Molto can mean very, much, many, a lot or a lot of. In other words, "molto" ha molti significati! This is part of what makes it tricky. But the really hard part is knowing when to make it agree.

In layman's terms, molto agrees when it comes before a noun. It doesn't agree before an adjective or adverb or after a verb.

Before a noun it means many, much or a lot of, and is an adjective, so it agrees. Leggo molti libri. I read a lot of books (masculine noun). Canto molte canzoni. I sing a long of songs (feminine noun).

Before an adjective or adverb or after a verb it means very or a lot, and is an adverb, so no agreement. Sei molto bella. You are very beautiful. Balli molto bene. You dance very well. Mangio molto. I eat a lot.

But what about when it's used on its own and doesn't modify a noun, verb, adverb or adjective? Well then it's a pronoun - it's standing in for a noun and is acting as the subject or object of the sentence. In this case it takes the gender and number of the noun it's replacing. Quante donne hai? - Ne ho molte. How many ladies do you have? - I have many.

And there you have it. A quick and easy lesson that should forever clear up the confusing word molto.

Try the exercises in the activities section to make sure you get it. C4N!

Monday
Aug272007

italian disjunctive or "stressed" pronouns: i pronomi tonici

Ages ago we learned the direct and indirect object pronouns - mi, ti, lo, la, gli, le, etc. Unlike English, Italian has another version of these which you use after a preposition or verb, often for greater emphasis (hence the name "stressed pronouns"). First we'll learn what these pronouns are, then we'll see how to use them.

Stressed Pronouns

me (me)
te (you)
Lei (you formal)
lui (him)
lei (her)
sé (yourself, himself, herself, oneself - reflexive)
noi (us)
voi (you plural)
Loro (you plural formal)
loro (them)
sé (yourselves, themselves - also reflexive)

So they look like a hybrid of direct or indirect object pronouns and subject pronouns. But take note: although Lei, lui, lei, noi, voi and loro look like subject pronouns, when used disjunctively they are not subjects!

So how are they used?

1) after a preposition

Questo libro è per te. (This book is for you.)
Siamo usciti con loro. (We went out with them.)
Pensa sempre a . (He always thinks about himself.)
Studiano sempre da . (They always study by themselves.)
A me non piace questo vino. (I don't like this wine - a more emphatic way of saying, "Non mi piace questo vino.")
Andiamo da lui. (We're going to his place.)

2) after a verb to give the direct or indirect object greater emphasis

Lo amo. - Amo lui. (I love him.)
Ti cercavo. - Cercavo te. (I was looking for you.)
Mi abbraccia. - Abbraccia me. (She hugs me.)

The above pairs of sentences have the same meanings, but the second in each pair is more emphatic. For even greater emphasis, use anche, proprio or solamente - e.g. Cercavo proprio te. Abbraccia solamente me.

3) after a verb to distinguish between multiple objects

Riconosce me ma non lui. - He recognizes me but not him.
Ha invitato noi e loro. - He invited us and them.

4) in comparisons

Marcello è più alto di me. (Marcello is taller than me.)
Loro sono meno paurosi di noi. (They are less fearful than us.)
Tuo fratello non era intelligente quanto te. (Your brother wasn't as smart as you.) 

A very common Italian idiomatic expression that uses stressed pronouns is, "Tocca a me!" - It's my turn! Of course, you can use it with the other disjunctive pronouns too - Tocca a te, tocca a noi, etc. So when the waiter brings you the bill and someone asks, "Chi paga oggi?" just say, "Eh purtroppo oggi tocca a te!" (Who's buying today? - Unfortunately today it's your turn!) C4N!

Wednesday
Aug222007

more on negatives: compound tenses

We learned last week that double negatives in Italian are totally kosher. But using them with "compound tenses" - tenses made up of avere or essere plus a participle (e.g. "ho mangiato") - can be a little tricky. Specifically most beginners wonder where to put the negative terms. This week's lesson will try to clarify.

But before we get to that, let's learn a few more useful negative expressions.

non...ancora
not yet

non...più
no longer

non...affatto
not at all

non...mica
not in the least

non...punto
not at all

The "non" part of pretty much any negative expression always goes before the helper verb (avere or essere), or before any direct or indirect object pronoun or reflexive pronoun. It's the second part that hops around a bit.

Nessuno, niente, nulla and né...né always follow the participle.

Non hanno visto niente.
Non ha trovato nessuno.
Non abbiamo mangiato nulla.
Non hai comprato il pane il formaggio.
Non ho scritto nessuna lettera.

Mica and punto always go between the helper and participle.

Non ha mica parlato.
Non è punto arrivato.

Affatto, ancora, mai, neanche, neppure, nemmeno and più can go either between the helper and participle or after the participle.

Non si sono svegliati ancora.
Non si sono ancora svegliati.

Non ha viaggiato mai.
Non ha mai viaggiato.

Non mi ha salutato nemmeno.
Non mi ha nemmeno salutato.

There's not nothing more to it. C4N!

Wednesday
Aug152007

italian double negatives

Ciao guys. We're going to take a break from the irregular nouns for a while and tackle a new Italian grammar topic this week (and sorry I'm late by the way) - the double negatives.

In English we learn from a young age that double negatives are verboten - you know, "I don't see no one", or "I don't have no money." In Italian however this is not the case - double negatives are completely kosher. So let's see how to use them. First, some common negative expressions. You already know the big ones (no and non). Here are some more.

nessuno
no one, nobody, anyone, anybody

niente / nulla
nothing, anything

mai
never

né...né
neither...nor

nessun
any (agrees)

neanche, nemmeno, neppure (interchangeable - opposite of anche)
not even

Now let's see them in action.

Non parla nessuno. / Nessuno parla.
No one is speaking.

Non vedo nessuno.
I don't see anyone.

Non voglio niente.
I don't want anything.

Non mi piace niente. / Niente mi piace.
I don't like anything.

Lui non va mai al bar. / Lui mai va al bar.
He never goes to the coffee shop.

Non ho né soldi né amici.
I have neither money nor friends.

Non compro nessun libro oggi.
I'm not buying any books today.

Non ho ricevuto nessuna lettera. (notice agreement)
I didn't receive any letters.

Neanche tu (nemmeno tu, neppure tu) lo fai.
Not even you do it. / You don't do it either.

Carlo non dice mai niente a nessuno. (a quadruple negative!)
Carlo never says anything to anyone.

Notice nessuno can be either a subject or a direct object.

Notice as well that with certain expressions (e.g. nessuno, mai, niente) you can omit non. When used this way these expressions go before the verb. Otherwise they go after.

And I don't think I'm forgetting nothing so C4N! (Ciao for now!)

Tuesday
Aug072007

irregular italian nouns 3: nouns that change gender in the plural

Continuing our odyssey through the weird realm of irregular Italian nouns we come to those that change gender in the plural. Here is a list of the more common ones.

il carcere (prison) - le carceri
il paio (pair) - le paia
il riso (laughter) - le risa
l'uovo (egg) - le uova
il centinaio (hundred) - le centinaia
il migliaio (thousand) - le migliaia
il miglio (mile) - le miglia

The noun eco (echo) can be masculine or feminine in the singular, but is always masculine in the plural:

l'eco stupendo / stupenda - gli echi stupendi

Now for a really tricky set. These nouns change gender in the plural unless you're using them figuratively, in which case they remain masculine! For simplicity I'm going to leave out the figurative uses. Just remember, whenever you see a masculine plural form of these nouns, it's figurative.

il braccio (arm) - le braccia
il cervello (brain) - le cervella
il ciglio (eyelash) - le ciglia
il corno (horn of animal) - le corna
il dito (finger) - le dita
il labbro (lip) - le labbra
il membro (member, as in body part) - le membra
l'osso (bone) - le ossa
il lenzuolo (bed sheet) - le lenzuola
il budello (bowel) - le budella
il fondamento (foundation of house) - le fondamenta
il muro (wall) - i muri (of a house) / le mura (of a city)

And these nouns have both masculine and feminine plurals which can be used interchangeably.

il ginocchio (knee) - i ginocchi / le ginocchia
il grido (shout) - i gridi / le grida
l'orecchio (ear) - gli orecchi / le orecchie
l'urlo (shout) - gli urli / le urla

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Tuesday
Jul312007

irregular italian nouns 2: feminine nouns that end in -o

There are far fewer feminine nouns ending in -o than masculine ones in -a, but these really common ones are worth knowing:

l'auto
la foto
la radio
la moto (motorcycle)
la mano (hand)

All are invariable in the plural. La radio, le radio. La foto, le foto.

The exception is la mano, which becomes le mani in the plural. Ciao for now!

Tuesday
Jul242007

irregular italian nouns 1: masculine nouns that end in -a

We learned early on that masculine nouns end in -o and feminine ones in -a, and that in the plural, masculine and feminine nouns end in -i and -e respectively. Well, not always! For the next few weeks we're going to learn a few "rebel nouns" who thumb their noses at this.

Masculine Nouns That End in -a

Most of these are Greek in origin and end in -amma, -emma, -ama, -ema, -oma, -sma or -eta. Some examples:

il diaframma
il diagramma
il dramma
l'epigramma
il melodramma
il programma
il telegramma

il dilemma
lo stemma

l'aroma
il diploma
l'idioma

il cataclisma
lo fantasma
il prisma

l'esteta
il pianeta
il poeta
il profeta

il poema
il problema
il sistema
il tema (theme)
il teorema

il panorama
il clima (climate)

A few more (that aren't necessarily Greek and don't follow the patterns above):

il papa (Pope)
il pigiama (PJs)
il paradigma
il cobra
il coma
il cruciverba (crossword)
il gorilla
il cinema (short for the obsolete "cinematografo")

Take note that all these nouns have regular masculine plurals (e.g. i pianeti, i problemi, i programmi, etc.).

Nouns that end in -ista can be masculine or feminine, depending on the biological gender of the person they refer to. Only the article differentiates. So il dentista is a male dentist, la dentista a female one. And so on for farmacista, giornalista, artista, etc. The plurals of these nouns however do reflect their grammatical gender (as well as the sex of their referents). So i dentisti is a group of dentists that includes at least one male, le dentiste a group of female dentists only.

Nouns that end in -cida or -iatra behave the same. So il suicida is a male who kills himself, la suicida a female (i suicidi a group with at least one male, le suicide all females). Other nouns in this category include fratricida, matricida, omicida and parricida. The most common -iatra noun is lo/la psichiatra (psychiatrist), which becomes gli psichiatri / le psichiatre in the plural. There's also pediatra and a few more less common ones.

Other nouns (harder to lump into categories) whose gender in the singular changes according to the sex of the person the noun refers to, and whose singular gender is denoted by the article only, include (but are not limited to)...

il/la cineasta
il/la collega
il/la ginnasta
l'idiota
l'ipocrita
il/la patriota
il/la pilota

Next week we'll look at some feminine nouns that end in -o. Ciao for now!

Tuesday
Jul172007

the italian passive voice - la voce passiva

Our lessons so far have focused only on one characteristic of verbs: tense. The tense of a verb tells us when an action takes place (past, present, future, etc.).

But all verbs in both English and Italian also have another characteristic: voice. The two voices of verbs are active and passive. So far we’ve learned verbs in the active voice only, in the present, present perfect (passato prossimo), imperfetto and future (and conditional but that’s not exactly considered a tense I don’t think).

Today we’ll learn the passive voice.

In an active voice sentence (as we’ve already seen), the subject does the verb and the object receives it.

In a passive voice sentence, these functions are reversed. The subject of the sentence now receives the action and the former object does it.

Watch this:

The dog [subject] bites [active voice verb] the boy [object]. (Subject does the biting.)

The dog [subject] is bitten [passive voice verb] by the boy. (Subject receives the biting. Former object does it.)

With a bit of recasting you can change the voice of a verb from active to passive without changing the meaning of the sentence. (This is not true of tense.)

A dog bit [active] the boy.

The boy was bitten [passive] by a dog.

See? Simply by recasting the sentence slightly you can change from active to passive without changing the meaning of the sentence. Rather the change is merely stylistic. It shifts our focus. In the passive sentence we focus more on the boy. You as the writer or speaker must decide which voice to use based on the stylistic effects you want to achieve. There’s no clear cut right or wrong. But how is the passive formed?

Simple. To form the passive voice you use essere plus the past participle of the verb denoting the action. The tense of essere matches the tense of the active voice verb. Watch:

Presente
Mario mangia la pizza.
La pizza è mangiata da Mario.

Passato Prossimo
Mario ha mangiato la pizza.
La pizza è stata mangiata da Mario.

Imperfetto
Mario mangiava la pizza.
La pizza era mangiata da Mario.

Futuro
Mario mangerà la pizza.
La pizza sarà mangiata da Mario.

Notice that, as with all participles used with essere (the participle is the word ending in -ato, -uto or -ito, "mangiata" in the examples above), participles in the passive agree in gender and number with the subject of the passive sentence (as indicated by the bold letters). And whereas English uses "by" (The pizza was eaten by Mario), Italian uses da.

And that’s the long and short of it! You've just been taught the Italian passive!

Wednesday
Jul112007

the conditional in italian - il condizionale

Formation

parlare

prendere

sentire

parlerei

prenderei

sentirei

parleresti

prenderesti

sentiresti

parlerebbe

prenderebbe

sentirebbe

parleremmo

prenderemmo

sentiremmo

parlereste

prendereste

sentireste

parlerebbero

prenderebbero

sentirebbero

Conditionals have the same irregular stems as the future. For example, the future of andare is andrò, andrai, etc. The conditional is andrei, andresti, etc. Also, notice the -are and -ere endings are indentical.

Uses

The most common use of the conditional for beginners is making polite requests – the so called softening effect – or expressing wishes.

Examples

Vorrei una bottiglia di acqua per favore. (I’d like a bottle of water please.)

Verrei volentierei! (I’d gladly come.)

Preferirei il vino rosso. (I’d prefer the red wine.)

It’s also used to make contrary-to-fact statements.

Uscirei ma fa freddo. (I’d go out but it’s cold.)

Here what you’re in fact saying is you’re not going out, even though you’re using the verb “to go out” without a negation.

Some more examples:

Scriverei una lettera a la nonna, ma non ho tempo. (I’d write a letter to grandma, but I don’t have time.)

Mi comprerei una casa nuova, ma non ho i soldi. (I’d buy myself a new house, but I don’t have the money.)

Tuesday
Jul032007

la particella ne

Ne is used as a pronoun to replace di + noun or di + infinitive. Its rough meaning is of or about it, them, him, her, etc., though often in English we leave these terms out.

Examples:

Parli di tua sorella? - Certo, ne parlo spesso. (= Certo, parlo spesso di mia sorella.)
Do you talk about your sister? - Of course I talk about her often.

Hai paura dei topi? - Ma no, non ne ho paura. (= Non ho paura dei topi.)
Are you afraid of mice? - No, I'm not afraid of them.

Hai bisogno di riposarti? - No, non ne ho bisogno. (= Non ho bisogno di riposarmi.)
Are you in need of rest? - No I'm not in need of it.

You also use ne to replace nouns that come after a number or an expression of quantity like molto, quanto, troppo, un po’ di, un chilo di and so on.

Examples:

Quanta birra bevi? - Ne bevo molta. (= Bevo molta birra.)
How much beer do you drink? - "I drink a lot of it."

Quanti figli ha? - Ne ha tre. (= Ha tre figli.)
How many kids does he have? - "He has three of them."

In the examples above, we would probably omit the “of it” and “of them” in English, but ne in Italian is mandatory in this context.

Like any pronoun, ne goes before the conjugated verb, bumping non back in negations, or attaches to the end of infinitives.

Non ne parlo perchè non voglio parlarne. (or non ne voglio parlare)
I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to talk about it.

When ne is used in the past to replace a noun used with an expression of quantity, the past participle agrees in gender and number with the noun ne is replacing.

Quante birre hai bevuto? - Ne ho bevute tre. (“Bevute” is feminine plural to agree with “birre”.)
How many beers did you drink? - I drank three of them.

You also use ne to express the date:

Quanti ne abbiamo oggi? - Ne abbiamo otto.
What’s today’s date? - It’s the eighth.

Another place where you’ll commonly find “ne” is in the special verb “andarsene” (to go away).

Andarsene is made up of the verb “andare” (to go) + the reflexive pronoun “si” + “ne”. As you may know, when combining direct and indirect object pronouns, mi, ti, ci and vi become me, te, ce, ve when followed by lo, la, li or le - e.g. Me lo dai. Similarly the reflexive pronoun becomes me, te, se, ce, ve or se when followed by ne. It’s important to point out that andarsene is purely idiomatic. The si is not reflexive in this case, and the ne is not playing any of its usual roles (described above). They are just for emphasis. As a substitute for andarsene, you can always use “andare via.” Now let’s see it in action.

io me ne vado, me ne sono andato/a, me ne andavo, me ne voglio andare, etc. 
tu te ne vai, te ne sei andato/a, te ne andavi, te ne vuoi andare...
lei se ne va, se n’è andato/a, se ne andava, se ne vuole andare...
noi ce ne andiamo, ce ne siamo andati/e, ce ne andavamo, ce ne vogliamo andare...
voi ve ne andate, ve ne siete andati/e, ve ne andavate, ve ne volete andare...
loro se ne vanno, se ne sono andati/e, se ne andavano, se ne vogliono andare...

And the imperative:

Vattene! (Go away!)
Se ne vada!
Andiamocene!
Andatevene!

A verb similar to andarsene is fregarsene (used mainly in the negative to mean “not to care about something,” a bit rude). Other verbs that always go with pronouns (though not ne) include…

cavarsela - to get by. Parli l’italiano? – Me la cavo. (I get by.)

farcela - to succeed at something. When Italy won the World Cup '06, a lot of fans exclaimed, “Ce l’abbiamo fatto!” You also often hear it in the negative as a term of exasperation: “Non ce la faccio più!” (I can’t take it anymore!)

averci - to have. All over Italy, in speech especially, not in writing, Italians use “averci” as a variant of “avere.” “C’ho fame. C’ho un motorino. Che c’hai?”

Tuesday
Jun262007

another two uses of ci

We saw last week that ci replaces preposition plus noun referring to place, or a + infinitive. Well it also replaces preposition + noun referring to things or ideas after certain verbs. The two most common verbs used with ci in this way are credere a (to believe in) and pensare a (to think about).

Credi agli UFO? - No, non ci credo. (= Non credo agli UFO.)
Do you believe in UFOs? - No I don't believe in them.

Pensi spesso al futuro? - Ma no, non ci penso mai! (= Non penso mai al futuro.)
Do you often think about the future? - No I never think about it!

There you have it - two more valuable uses of ci. Not bad for a two-letter word!

Wednesday
Jun202007

two more uses of ci

You have seen ci used as a direct object pronoun:

Luigi ci porta in banca. - Luigi is bringing us to the bank.

You have also seen it used as an indirect object pronoun:

Cameriere, ci porta il pane? - Waiter, will you bring us the bread?

And lastly you have seen it used with essere as the equivalent of the English “there is” or “there are”:

C’è una banca qui vicino? - Is there a bank nearby?

Ci sono molti turisti a Roma. - There are many tourists in Roma.

Today’s tip is going to teach you two more very valuable uses of ci: replacing a noun referring to a place that is preceded by a, in, da or su, and replacing a + infinitive.

Vai al mercato?

No, non ci vado oggi (= Non vado al mercato, a noun referring to a place preceded by a).

Andate in Italia quest’estate?

Sì, ci andiamo a giugno (= Sì andiamo in Italia, a noun referring to a place preceded by in).

Vanno da Mario venerdì? (Although “Mario” is not really a place noun, when introduced by “da” it carries the meaning “Mario’s place or house”.)

Sì, ci vanno.

Replacing these nouns with “ci” makes you sound much less choppy and repetitive.

Quando vai a ballare?

Ci vado domani (= Vado a ballare domani, an infinitive preceded by a).

So in these examples ci means “there” (We are going there in June), or “to do it” (I am going to do it tomorrow). In English we can leave these terms out but not in Italian. You cannot say, “Vado domani,” in this context, you have to say, “Ci vado domani.”

So there you have it, two more very important uses of ci. Next week we’ll learn another two.

Tuesday
Jun122007

il futuro anteriore (the italian future perfect)

Today's Italian grammar topic comes up a lot in our live lessons in Toronto and builds on last week's topic. The futuro anteriore (or future perfect in English), expresses a future action which is completed before another future action. In other words, it's a past future event - an event which will be over and done with before another future event occurs. Or to put it yet another way, it's a future event that's in the past from the perspective of a later future event. (So from the perspective of the present it's in the future but from the perspective of a later future event, it's in the past!)

The problem most English-speakers have with this tense is that in everyday English we don't use it! We either use the the present or the past. For example...

When you finish your peas I'll give you dessert. (present)

Or...

When you've finshed your peas I'll give you dessert. (past)

A more formal way to say this would be...

When you will have finished your peas, I'll give you dessert. (future perfect)

Again...

We'll leave as soon as he calls. (present)

We'll leave as soon as he's called. (past)

We'll leave as soon as he will have called. (future perfect)

All of these sentences describe a future action (giving dessert, leaving) occurring after an earlier future action has been completed (finishing peas, calling). The tense of choice for this in Italian is always the futuro anteriore.

So how is it formed? A lot like the passato prossimo, except you take the future (not present) of avere or essere plus the past participle (form ending in -ato, -uto or -ito) of the verb describing the action.

leggere (to read) - avrai letto (you will have read)

fare (to make or do) - avranno fatto (they will have done)

As with the passsato prossimo, the participle of essere verbs agrees with the subject in gender and number.

uscire (to go out) - Mario sarà uscito. (Mario will have gone out.) BUT - Luisa sarà uscita.

Another neat use of the futuro anteriore is conjecture about the past.

Gina sarà tornata dal suo viaggio. - Gina must have returned from her trip!

Saranno state le sei quando siamo tornati. - It must have been 6:00 when we returned.

Quando avrai fatto i compiti, capirai meglio quest'argomento!

Tuesday
Jun052007

the future - il futuro semplice

Ciao amici. This week's Italian grammar lesson is going to make the visionaries happy - we're going to learn the future tense. First the regular formation.

parlare

rispondere

finire

   

parlerò

risponderò

finirò

parlerai

risponderai

finirai

parlerà

risponderà

finirà

parleremo

risponderemo

finiremo

parlerete

risponderete

finirete

parleranno

risponderanno

finiranno


Things to watch out for:

One m in first person plural (noi). (You’ll see two in another tense later on.)

Two n’s in 3rd person plural. (You might be used to one in this form from tenses so far.)

Verbs ending in –are and –ere are identical.

Irregularities

These occur in the stem, not the endings. A few verbs change their stem in the future. Here are some of the more common ones:

andare - andr
avere - avr
dovere - dovr
potere - potr
sapere - sapr
vedere - vedr
vivere - vivr
bere - berr
venire - verr
volere - vorr
dare - dar
dire - dir
fare - far
stare - star

It’s easy to get venire (verr), vedere (vedr) and volere (vorr) mixed up. Even to an extent vivere (vivr).

essere

sarò

sarai

sarà

saremo

sarete

saranno

Uses

Similar to English except:

For the near future, you can use the present.

Domani non lavoro. (I will not work tomorrow.)

And you can use the future to indicate conjecture or probability. (“It must be…” or “It’s probably…”)

Dov’è Giorgio? – Sarà ancora al lavoro.

Where is George? – He must still be at work.

Tip du jour: To help you remember the io form in the future, think of the famous song, "Con te partirò." Or the famous Nessun dorma aria, "Vincerò, vincerò, vinceroooooooò!"