Alimenti: Food and fuel
In the latest episode of Commissario Manara, someone is worried about having to pay alimenti (alimony).
Sto aspettando il divorzio dalla mia ex moglie e... conoscendola quella... veniva a saperlo, poi mi tartassava con gli alimenti.
I'm waiting for a divorce from my ex-wife and... knowing her, that one... if she found out, she would have hit me hard for alimony.
Captions 66-67, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio VerdePlay Caption
But there’s much more to this word than supporting one’s ex. The various forms of the word have to do with fuel, energy, food, and nutrition. Here are a few related terms:
And speaking of alimentazione sana...
Elegant finger food
In an episode of La Ladra, there’s a discussion about pinzimonio between Eva and her new cook, Dante.
Come vuole Lei, solo pensavo che con il suo pinzimonio una salsa in più ci stesse bene. Eh?!
As you wish, I just thought that with your raw vegetable dish one more sauce would fit in well. Huh?Play Caption
There’s no good one-word translation of pinzimonio, but it’s certainly worth explaining (and tasting). Basically, it’s an elegant method (called in pinzimonio) of eating plain raw vegetables by dipping them into a little dish filled with good olive oil and salt. Pepper, vinegar, and other ingredients may be added at the diner’s discretion. You can’t get simpler than pinzimonio, but if the olio extravergine d’oliva is of good quality, and the vegetables are fresh and appealing, then it’s a wonderful way to eat a light second course, side dish, or appetizer.
Vegetables used for la verdura in pinzimonio are, to name a few: carote (carrots), cipolla fresca (fresh spring or green onions), finocchio (fennel bulbs), young tender carciofi (artichokes), cetrioli (cucumbers), il sedano bianco (white celery), la belga (Belgian endive), peperoni (bell peppers), and ravanelli (radishes).
The verb pinzare means “to clamp” or “to pinch closed,” so it’s easy to visualize holding a piece of carota or sedano between thumb and fingers in order to dip it in the olive oil.
And for those (like most Italians) who love their pasta...
Yabla has a series about cooking called L'Arte della Cucina (the art of cooking) and in a segment about chef Gualtiero Marchesi, he talks about il raviolo. Usually we see this word in the plural, i ravioli, because there’s usually more than one of them sul piatto (on the plate). In this particular case there was just one large beautiful raviolo on each plate.
Un giorno, sentendo un'amica che diceva che aveva mangiato dei ravioli tutti aperti, sai, quando stanno [ci sono] i banchetti, così, mi venne in mente così di fare il raviolo aperto, è stato un tutt'uno.
One day, talking with a friend who said she had eaten ravioli all opened, you know, when there are banquets, and such, that's how it came to mind to make an open "raviolo," it was all one thing.
Captions 26-28, L'arte della cucina - I Luoghi del Mondo - Part 17Play Caption
We’re talking here about pasta ripiena (filled pasta). With the exception of Marchesi’s “open” raviolo, there are normally two layers of la sfoglia (fresh egg pasta dough) with a ripieno di carne (meat filling) or ripieno di spinaci e ricotta (spinach and ricotta filling), but there are many variations.
Ravioli, tortelli, tortelloni, agnolotti, or pansotti each have their traditional forme (shapes), ripieni (fillings), and condimenti (sauces), which range from simple burro e salvia (butter and sage) to an elaborate ragù (meat sauce). Tortellini and cappelletti are filled pasta, but are bite-sized, and almost exclusively made with a ripieno di carne. One favorite way to eat them is in brodo (in broth). Don’t forget the parmigiano!
Ravioli and other types of filled pasta are best eaten in restaurants where they’re a specialty. There are plenty of calories in pasta, and especially in pasta ripiena, so why not follow it (or precede it) with a pinzimonio to maintain un’alimentazione sana!
When Italians want to wish someone luck, or just express their good wishes, one word they use is buono (good):
Buon compleanno! (Happy birthday!)
Buon natale! (Merry Christmas!)
Buon anno! (Happy New Year!)
They often add auguri (best wishes), which comes from the verb augurare (to wish):
Buon anno a tutti! Auguri!
Happy New Year everyone! Best wishes!
Caption 31, Orchestra Pit Pot - Buon anno e buona fortunaPlay Caption
Whatever someone is about to do, buono is a way of hoping it goes well. Note that when the object is masculine, buono gets shortened to buon, and when the object is feminine, it becomes buona.
Buon lavoro. (Good luck on your job.)
Buon viaggio. (Have a good trip.)
Buona dormita. (Have a good sleep.)
Buon appetito. (Have a nice meal.)
Buon ascolto. (Enjoy the concert/lecture/CD.)
Buona visione. (Enjoy the show/film.)
Buona notte. (Good night.)
Buona giornata. (Have a nice day.)
...and plenty more!
You may be wondering what the difference is between giorno and giornata. They both mean “day” and although there are no hard and fast rules, there are conventions in using one or the other. In deciding whether to use giorno or giornata, think of the calendar. As a general rule, use giorno when talking about the calendar, where a day is a unit in a larger block of time (week, year, month).
Il giorno di natale i negozi sono chiusi.
On Christmas day the stores are closed.
Sarò via per due giorni.
I’ll be away for two days.
Giorno is used in opposition to notte (night):
Di giorno sgobbavo in un cantiere e di notte sui libri.
By day I slogged away at a construction site and by night with my books.Play Caption
When you greet someone in the morning, you'll say buongiorno (good morning, hello). After noon, you’ll greet them with buonasera. But when saying goodbye, buona giornata (have a nice day) and buona serata (have a good evening) are commonly used to wish someone well.
Giornata (day) is more subjective and approximate than giorno. It describes the time between morning and night. Think about the quality of your day or someone else’s: the weather, your mood, your health, your workload.
What a day!
Oggi ho deciso di passare una giornata diversa dal solito.
Today I've decided to spend the day differently from usual.
Caption 1, Francesca - sulla spiaggiaPlay Caption
Whatever your level of Italian is, it’s always nice to be able to say something nice, and to understand when someone is saying something nice to you! In a nutshell, giorno and sera are used when you arrive, while giornata and serata are used when you leave. And when you’re wishing someone well in whatever they may be doing next, buono is your friend!
In foreign languages, gender (in its grammatical sense) goes way beyond the masculine, feminine (and sometimes neuter) equivalents of “the.” Gender affects not only articles, but pronouns, adjectives, and participles of verbs as well. Added to this is the fact that certain nouns take a masculine article even though they might apply to a woman and vice versa. Over the years, some denominations have changed based on women filling roles previously held only by men, and vice versa, and also by simple changes in usage. It can be daunting.
For starters, let’s talk about a word that’s feminine but applies to everyone: la persona (the person). However masculine a person might be, he’s a person, and persona is feminine! For Italians this doesn’t cause any psychological problems... it’s just a matter of grammar. In the following example, Charles is clearly un uomo (a man), but he’s a persona, too. We can’t see the ending of the article, because it’s elided, but we know it’s “la” because the adjective ultimo (last) has a feminine “a” ending to agree with its feminine noun, persona. In fact even questa (this) as a modifier has to agree with the feminine persona.
Charles Ferrant. Questa è l'ultima persona che ha visto il Conte.
Charles Ferrant. This is the last person who saw the Count.
Captions 22-23, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardivaPlay Caption
There’s a fun example of gender ambiguity in the very first episode of Commissioner Manara, Part 4. At police headquarters, Manara is told that the new inspector is in the other room. What makes it fun is that “inspector” is a masculine noun in Italian. The viewer is led to expect a man, not only because ispettore takes a masculine article, but because, at least in the past, it’s always been a position more often filled by men than women (although in part 3 we are introduced to ispettore Sardi, a woman). Ispettrice as a feminine form of ispettore does exist, but Sardi doesn’t use it, and it doesn’t appear in the dictionary.
È arrivato il nuovo ispettore, l'esperto di scena del crimine.
The new Inspector has arrived, the crime scene expert.Play Caption
The noun esperto is also masculine (although some dictionaries do admit the feminine version esperta). In fact, if we use esperto as a noun, it’s masculine (most of the time, even referring to women) but if we use it as an adjective, it must agree with the person. So, if we’re talking about a woman, we’ll say:
È molto esperta.
She’s very skilled.
To add to the ambiguity, much of the time pronouns are left out altogether, so it’s impossible to say whether the inspector is a he or a she.
Ma adesso è di là e sta familiarizzando con i colleghi.
But now he's in there getting to know his co-workers.Play Caption
Yabla has chosen to have the translation pronoun agree with ispettore, to maintain the dramatic surprise upon discovering that the inspector is a woman, but it could just as well have agreed with the person the speaker knows is a woman, and been translated as “she.”
For some simple but thorough explanations of grammatical gender see this article. Have another look at Lesson 15, A Few Words About “Some” (Qualche and Alcuni) where, towards the end, there’s some talk of gender when using modifiers. Grammatical gender is a subject that will keep coming up, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, when you learn a new word, learn its article at the same time. In most cases the vocabulary reviews connected with the video include the articles with the nouns. Approfittane! (Take advantage of it!)
Sometimes saying you’re sorry is a quick thing, because you did something like bumping into someone by accident. In Italian, depending on how you say it, you might have to make a quick decision: How well do I know this person, and how formal should I be?
The familiar form is scusami (excuse me), or simply scusa. Grammatically speaking, we’re using the imperative form of scusare (to excuse). If you look at the conjugation of scusare, you’ll see that it’s conjugated like other verbs ending in -are (soon to be explained by Daniela in her popular grammar lesson series!). You’ll also see that it’s easy to get things mixed up.
Learning conjugations can be daunting, but it’s worth learning the imperatives of scusare, since it’s a verb you’ll need in many situations. While you’re at it, you might do the same with perdonare (to pardon, to forgive), which conjugates the same way, and can have a similar meaning, as in the following situation where Marika is pretending to be distracted.
Perdonami, scusami tanto, ma ero sovrappensiero.
Forgive me, really sorry, but I was lost in thought.
It can be helpful to remember that in the familiar form, the mi (me) gets tacked onto the end of the verb: scusami, perdonami (and in the familiar second person plural: scusatemi, perdonatemi). But when using the polite form you need to put the mi first, making two words: mi scusi, mi perdoni.
Signora mi scusi, Lei è parente della vittima?
Excuse me ma’am, are you a relative of the victim?
Attenzione! If you ask a friend to forgive you, the question is: mi perdoni? If instead you’re saying “pardon me” to a stranger, it’s mi perdoni (and is not a question, but a command). It all has to do with inflection and context.
Sono in ritardo, mi perdoni?
I’m late. Will you forgive me?
Mi perdoni, non ho sentito il Suo nome.
Pardon me, I didn’t hear your name.
In many cases, you can use the generic chiedo scusa (I ask for pardon, I ask forgiveness). This way, no worries about complicated conjugations!
On Italian TV interviews are conducted using the polite form of address, but in this case the intervistatore (interviewer) knows the intervistato (interviewee) Tiziano Terzani very well, and would like to make an exception.
Chiedo scusa ai telespettatori se userò il "tu" con lui.
I'll ask the television audience for forgiveness if I use the "tu" form with him.
Captions 23-24, Tiziano Terzani: Cartabianca - Part 1 of 3
Another way to say you’re sorry is mi dispiace (I’m sorry), often shortened to mi spiace (I’m sorry), which is a bit weightier than “excuse me” and doesn’t necessarily involve the other person pardoning you.
Mi spiace, ma qualcuno doveva pur dirvelo. Questa è la realtà.
I'm sorry, but someone had to say it to you. This is the reality.
Mi dispiace is used even when it’s not at all a question of asking pardon, such as when we hear about a disgrazia (adversity, terrible loss). In the following example, the father is using lasciare (to leave) to mean his daughter has died. Notice the plural ending of the participle (normally lasciato) that agrees with ci (us).
Angela ci ha lasciati. -Mi dispiace.
Angela's left us. -I'm sorry.
There’s much more to say about being sorry, and about using the verb dispiacere. Ci dispiace (we’re sorry), but it will have to wait for another lesson. A presto!
L’alfabeto telefonico (The telephone alphabet)
Speaking on the phone in a foreign language can be quite a challenge. As Marika spells out in a lesson for beginners about the alphabet, Italians use the names of cities (for the most part) when they need to be crystal clear in spelling a name or a word.
The Italian way is to use the name of a city directly, leaving out the letter itself completely, once it’s clear you’re using this system. Notice how Marika does it, as she makes a phone reservation for a friend. The person taking the call asks her to spell the name, or fare lo spelling (to do the spelling). Spelling is a word taken pari pari (exactly as it is) from the English, except that it’s used as a noun, with its article lo.
Claudia Rossi. -Mi può fare lo spelling?
Sì, certo! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.
Claudia Rossi. -Can you spell that for me?
Yes, of course! Como, Livorno, Ancona, Udine, Domodossola, Imola, Ancona.
Captions 10-11 Marika spiega: Fare lo spelling
The spelling for Yabla would be: ipsilon, Ancona, Bologna, Livorno, Ancona.
Here’s the complete list of the cities generally used for spelling:
• A: Ancona
• B: Bologna
• C: Como
• D: Domodossola
• E: Empoli
• F: Firenze
• G: Genova
• H: acca, or hotel
• I: Imola
• J: i lunga, or Jolly, Jersey
• K: kappa
• L: Livorno
• M: Milano
• N: Napoli
• O: Otranto
• P: Palermo
• Q: Quarto, Quadro
• R: Roma
• S: Savona
• T: Torino
• U: Udine
• V: Varese, Venezia
• W: vu doppia, doppia vu, or Washington
• X: ics, or di raggi x (x rays)
• Y: ipsilon, y greca, or di Yacht, di York
• Z: zeta or Zara
Learn to spell your name and address using the alfabeto telefonico! Some of these cities, such as Udine, Otranto, Imola, Empoli, and Napoli are pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. Domodossola is accented on the third syllable. Domodossola happens to be one of the important frontiere (border crossings) on the train line between Italy and Switzerland. Pronunciation aids along with the list (with some alternate city names) can be found here. Knowing what cities to associate with letters is especially handy if you intend to travel in Italy, so memorizing this list can be fun and useful.
When speaking a foreign language, the important thing is to make yourself understood. Sometimes, however, unless someone makes a point of correcting you, you might spend years saying something that sounds right to you and gets the appropriate result or response. Then un bel giorno (one fine day) you realize with horror that you’ve been using the wrong word all this time and no one has ever corrected you because they understood anyway. This can easily happen with common words like fare (to make, to do) and prendere (to take, to have), because Italian and English have different conventions about how they get paired with nouns to mean something specific. It’s easy to fare confusione (get mixed up).
For example, you or I might make an appointment, but when Francesca gets serious about buying a new car, she “takes” an appointment:
Dobbiamo prendere quindi un appuntamento per andare dal notaio.
So we have to make an appointment to go see the notary.
Caption 27, Francesca: alla guida - Part 1 of 4
And while most English speakers make decisions, Italians “take” decisions:
Siamo preoccupati, perché dobbiamo prendere delle decisioni molto importanti.
We're worried, because we have to make some very important decisions.
Caption 41, Marika spiega: Proverbi italiani - Part 2 of 2
Do you take a nap in the afternoon? Well, the nonno in Medico in Famiglia “makes” a nap.
Io ho fatto solo venti minuti di pennichella...
I took a nap for just twenty minutes...
You want to take a trip to Sicily, but if you call an Italian travel agent, remember that Italians “make” trips.
Salve, vorrei fare un viaggio alla Valle dei Templi ad Agrigento.
Hello, I'd like to take a trip to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.
Caption 2, Pianificare: un viaggio
All this talk about fare brings to mind a popular Italian proverb:
Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare.
Between saying and doing, there’s an ocean in the middle. [Things are easier said than done.]
Bearing this proverb in mind, we could say that repeating a list of which verbs to use when and where is il dire (saying). It will only get you so far. Fare is a catch-all word, a little like “have” or “get,” having so many shades of meaning that you can’t possibly absorb them all in un colpo solo (in one fell swoop). Fare means “to do,” “to make,” “to give” (see the lesson on Gifts and Giving), “to be,” and more (see the lesson on Making It Happen). Prendere is less of a catch-all verb, but also has several meanings like “to get,” “to catch,” “to have,” and “to receive.” So when you are watching Yabla videos and come upon the verb fare or prendere, pay special attention to how the verb gets paired with the noun in the specific context, and then make it your own: Listen for it, repeat it, write it, conjugate it, make up sentences with it. This is il fare (doing). It will gradually start to feel right.
The following are just a few more examples in which fare and prendere are paired with nouns in ways we might not expect:
Ce la farai! (You’ll get it!)
For more on proverbs see:
This lesson is aimed at beginners, but even more advanced students might learn something they didn't know before.
English consonants are typically written out as the letters themselves (B, C, D) rather than as words approximating their pronunciation (we don't write "bee" when we mean "B"). Yet Italian consonants do have words that represent them, which you'll learn by following along with Marika.
A, bi, ci, di, e, effe, gi, acca, i, i lunga, cappa,
elle, emme, enne, o, pi, qu,
erre, esse, ti, u, vi, doppia vu, ics, ipsilon, zeta.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J (long I), K,
L, M, N, O, P, Q,
R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.
Captions 5-7, Marika spiega - L'alfabeto
Another distinction is that while many English words end in consonants, it's rare that an Italian word does. If you look at Marika’s list of words, those ending in consonants are “loan words” from other languages. Because it’s much more common for an Italian word to end with a vowel than a consonant, Italian consonants themselves (except for X) are all written and pronounced ending in a vowel, and sometimes they begin with a vowel, too. The word for the letter may be more than one syllable in length. Let’s take the letter “S” for example. Listen to how Marika says it: esse: two syllables. As a matter of fact, in the commercial world, Italians sometimes use this way of spelling a letter to come up with clever names of companies, stores, or products. A well-known example in Italy is the supermarket called Esselunga (Long S).
The native Italian alphabet contains 21 letters. With language becoming more and more international, Italian has adopted five new letters to spell the foreign “loan words.” These are:
• J- i lunga (“long I”)**
• K- kappa
• W- vu doppia, or doppia vu (“double V”)**
• X- ics
• Y- i-greca (Greek “I”) or ipsilon (upsilon)
**These names make more sense if you think that before semi-modern times, I and J were considered variant forms of the same letter, same as U and V.
Once you've repeated after Marika in the video, and you've done the exercise she suggests, try spelling some Italian words you know out loud, and, of course, try spelling your name.
When spelling out loud, pay careful attention to “A,” “E,” and “I” because in Italian the vowel “E” is pronounced not unlike the English “A,” and in Italian the vowel, “I” is pronounced not unlike the English pronunciation of “E,” so, to avoid confusion, it’s always important to establish what language you're spelling in! And of course when you get to “R” try rolling that “R!” In the Italian spelling of this letter (erre) there are indeed 2 of them, so they need rolling.
In a previous lesson we discussed addressing people formally or informally, using Lei or tu. Deciding which is appropriate has to do with the degree of conoscenza (knowledge, acquaintance, familiarity). Conoscenza comes from the verb conoscere (to know, to be acquainted with). (For the other kind of knowing — sapere — see the previous lessons, Sapere: Part 1 and Sapere: Part 2.)
Conoscere is worth a closer look, because although it’s used to mean “to know, to be acquainted with,” Italians also use it to mean “to meet, to get acquainted with, to get to know.” In the following example from one of Daniela’s Italian lessons, it’s clear she means “to know, to be acquainted with.”
Se io per esempio non conosco Alex, Alex è il mio vicino di casa, o una persona che ho incontrato per la strada, voglio sapere come si chiama, io do del Lei.
If, for example, I don't know Alex, Alex is my next door neighbour, or a person I've met on the street, I want to know his name, I give the "Lei."
Captions 18-21, Corso di italiano con Daniela Tu o Lei?Play Caption
In the same lesson, Daniela is talking about meeting someone for the first time, and she uses the same verb, conoscere. The context tells us what she means.
Dobbiamo sapere, quando conosciamo una persona, se darle del Tu o del Lei.
We have to know, when we meet a person, whether to give him the "tu" (informal "you") or the "Lei" (formal "you").
Captions 2-3, Corso di italiano con Daniela Tu o Lei?Play Caption
In a previous lesson, Making It Happen, we talked about combining fare (to do, to make) with other verbs to make things happen, or get things done. Fare gets combined with conoscere to make introductions: fare conoscere (to make someone or something known, or to introduce someone or something).
Francesca is going to her first riding lesson at a nearby stable, and she tells us:
Ehm, questo ragazzo che mi accoglierà, e che vi farò conoscere...
Uh, this fellow who will receive me, and to whom I'll introduce you...
Caption 8, Francesca Cavalli - Part 1Play Caption
When you talk about when and where you met someone for the first time, use conoscere:
Ho conosciuto Alberto solo oggi. Conosce molto bene i suoi cavalli.
I met Alberto today [for the first time]. He knows his horses very well.
Now that Francesca has heard all about these horses from Alberto, she’s ready for a closer look.
E quindi va bene, ne andiamo a conoscere qualcuno. -Andiamo a conoscerne un bel po'. -OK.
And so all right, let's go to meet some of them. -We're going to meet a lot of them. -OK.
Caption 63, Francesca Cavalli - Part 1Play Caption
In case you’re wondering why ne is attached to the end of conoscere the second time it appears, it’s because it means “of them.” Like ci, as we’ve already seen in Ci Gets Around, ne is a particle that can either be separate, as in the first sentence, or can become part of the verb, as in the second. You’ll find more information on ne here.
To sum up, here’s a list of variations of conoscere, including a few new ones:
• conoscere (to know, to be acquainted with, to be familiar with)
• conoscere (to get acquainted with, to meet for the first time)
• fare conoscere (to introduce, to make known)
• conosciuto (well known)
• conoscenza (knowledge, acquaintance, awareness, consciousness)
• a conoscenza (aware)
• delle conoscenze (knowledge, influential people, connections)
• fare la conoscenza (to get acquainted)
• riconoscere (to recognize)
• un conoscente (an acquaintance)
• the reflexive form: conoscersi (to know oneself, to know each other/one another)
• riconoscente (appreciative, grateful)
• uno sconosciuto (a stranger)
• sconosciuto (unknown, little known)
And putting them all together, just for fun, here’s what we get:
Se finora non eri a conoscenza del sistema Yabla, probabilmente non conoscevi questo trucco: clicchi su qualsiasi parola sconosciuta, o su una parola che non riconosci, e puoi subito conoscerne il significato nella tua lingua, perché si apre il dizionario. O forse te l’aveva detto un conoscente, e sei stato riconoscente. Tu ti conosci meglio di chiunque altro, e quindi saprai tu se vuoi vedere i sottotitoli o no. Tutti gli utenti Yabla conoscono questo trucco. E a proposito, come hai conosciuto Yabla? C’è qualcuno che te l’ha fatto conoscere, o l’hai conosciuto per caso? A che livello è la tua conoscenza o a che livello sono le tue conoscenze dell’italiano? È vero che noi non ci conosciamo, ma per convenzione, ci diamo del tu.
Before sneaking a peek at the English translation, see how much you understand of the Italian!
If, up until now, you were not aware of the Yabla system, you probably weren’t familiar with this trick: click on any unknown word, or on a word you don’t recognize, and you can immediately find out (get acquainted with) the meaning of it in your language because a dictionary opens up. Or maybe an acquaintance had already told you that and you were grateful. You know yourself better than anyone, so you must know if you want to see the captions or not. All Yabla users know this trick. And by the way, how did you learn about Yabla? Was there someone who introduced you to it, or did you know about it already? What’s your level of knowledge in Italian? It’s true that we don’t know each other, but by convention we use the familiar form of address.
Italy is known for its three-course lunches and dinners, but in most cities and towns, there’ll be a more casual type of place where you can get take out, eat at a little table, or mangiare in piedi (eat standing up).
Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) is very popular all over Italy, especially in Rome. As Anna explains, prices vary according to size and what’s on the pizza.
Tu scegli il pezzo di pizza, viene pesato, a seconda del tipo di pizza. Ha un prezzo diverso al chilo, e paghi a seconda della grandezza e del peso di pizza che hai scelto.
You choose the piece of pizza, it's weighed, depending on the kind of pizza. It has a varying price per kilo, and you pay depending on the size and the weight of the pizza you've chosen.
Captions 69-72, Anna e Marika: Pizza al taglio romana - Part 1 of 2
You can certainly find pizza al taglio in Tuscany, but in addition, and baked in the same oven, you’ll often see la cecina, made from farina di ceci (chickpea flour). Learn more here. Liguria and Tuscany, as well as Puglia have focaccia, in some areas called schiacciata, which is made with flour, water, oil and yeast, like pizza, and often takes the place of bread. You’ll find it in bakeries, bars, and pizzerie. As a quick snack, Romagna has the piadina, a flat bread made with lard rather than olive oil, which gets filled with cured meats or cheese. Learn more here.
A way for people to get together socially, without having to spend lots of money on dinner, is to have drinks before they go home for dinner: fare or prendere l’aperitivo (to have an aperitif). As we’ll see, aperitivo has different sfumature (shades of meaning).
Prima di andare a cena, quindi verso le sei o le sette, gli italiani fanno un aperitivo.
Before going to have dinner, so, around six or seven o'clock, Italians have cocktails.
Captions 1-2, Corso di italiano con Daniela: L'aperitivo
Adriano, in describing his day, includes an aperitivo, at least on the weekend.
Mi rilasso e mi sfogo con gli amici dopo una lunga giornata di lavoro.
Mi concedo qualche aperitivo e poi anche qualche cocktail alcolico.
I relax and I let off steam with my friends after a long day of work.
I allow myself some aperitifs and then also a few cocktails.
Captions 44-46, Adriano: Giornata
It’s pretty clear that Adriano considers aperitivo in its broader sense, and he uses qualche aperitivo here to mean a few appetizers. For an explanation of how to use qualche, see this previous lesson. For the drink itself, Adriano uses "cocktail.” As with most English words integrated into the Italian language, "cocktail" will remain in the singular no matter how many he has.
While the aperitivo, usually served with patatine (potato chips) or olive (olives), is an established ritual in most parts of Italy, one of the latest trends is the apericena. If you combine aperitivo (drinks) with cena (dinner), you get apericena. What is it? It’s drinks and appetizers, both savory and sweet, that are varied and abundant enough to replace dinner, served buffet style. The apericena exists both in bars about town, offering an alternative to a costly tab in a restaurant, and in homes, making for a relatively low-budget, flexible, and fashionable alternative to a sit-down dinner. It encourages mingling, conversation, and allows for guests to just stop by. These light buffet dinners are becoming more and more popular all over Italy.
All over the world there's a tendency to take foreign words and knowingly or unknowingly give them a meaning different from the original. So, be aware that in bars, the apericena or the aperitivo (depending on how much there is to eat) is sometimes called a “happy hour,” which in Italy is not about discounts on drinks as in the United States, but rather having drinks accompanied by a small buffet of stuzzichini (appetizers) for a fixed, though variable, price. More about the Italian happy hour here. The word for “toothpick” in Italian is stuzzicadenti. Little bite-size appetizers are often served with toothpicks, thus the term stuzzichini. If you travel to Venice, you'll want to check out the Venetian version of stuzzichini: cicchetti.
Learn more here. This is an important tip, given that it’s quite a challenge finding good food at reasonable prices in Venezia.
In a previous lesson we talked about beccare which in colloquial speech is often used in place of prendere (to take, to catch, to get, to have): For instances of prendere see previous lessons as well as Yabla videos. But let’s focus on a variation of prendere: riprendere (to take up again, to retake, to take back, to film). The same word, meaning two very different things, appears at a distance of just a few lines in the same video.
Ti dispiace se oggi riprendo la nostra seduta? No, mi va bene. Allora, sei a tuo agio? Sì. Riprendiamo da dove eravamo rimasti l'ultima volta.
Do you mind if I film our session today? No, it's OK with me. So, are you at ease? Yes. Let's take up where we left off last time.
Captions 1-5, Fabri Fibra In Italia ft. Gianna NanniniPlay Caption
In the first instance we’re talking about filming or shooting: riprendere. It’s also common to use the noun form of riprendere: ripresa. Fare una ripresa is “to make a video/film recording” or “to shoot.” So una ripresa is “a shot.” And you might easily jump to the conclusion that “to take a picture” in Italian would be prendere una foto. But no! Sbagliato (wrong)! We have to say fare una foto (to make a picture).
In card playing, prendere is “to draw,” so riprendere in this context means “to draw again!” or “to take again.”
Ora riprendiamo le carte. -Esatto, la riprendo io, perché sono stata l'ultima, -Bene. -che ha preso.
Now we draw cards again. -Exactly, I draw another, because I was the last one, -Good. -who took [the cards].
Captions 32-33, Briscola Regole del gioco - Part 2Play Caption
If you’re having a second helping, you might say:
Riprendo un po’ di pasta.
I’ll have a second helping of pasta.
To end on a melancholy note, here’s Alice singing to her (ex) boyfriend, who is quite preso da (taken by) another woman, Elisa.
Lei ti lascia e ti riprende come e quando vuole lei
She leaves you and takes you back however and whenever she wants
Caption 13, Alice: Per Elisa
The simple, clear, and easy-to-relate-to lyrics may not be exactly uplifting, but this ripresa video of a live performance vi prenderà (will get to you).
Just as “get” in English serves many purposes, and has many shades of meaning, there are words in Italian that work in a similar way. One of these is beccare. It comes from becco (beak) and means “to peck,” but it’s used in colloquial speech to mean “to take,” “to catch,” or “to get.” It’s often used reflexively (for more on reflexives, see this lesson), and that’s how Manara uses it as he questions an uncooperative witness:
Se non vuoi beccarti un'incriminazione per complicità in omicidio...
If you don't want to get yourself an indictment for complicity in murder...
Here’s one more example from a Yabla video:
I fotografi! -C'hanno beccato!
The photographers! -They got us!
Caption 3, Trailer: Paparazzi
If you get caught doing something you shouldn’t, that’s when you say mi hanno beccato (they caught me)! You might use beccare if you get caught in the rain without an umbrella: mi sono beccato [or beccata] un raffreddore (I caught a cold), or if after dialing someone’s number many times, they finally answer: finalmente t’ho beccato (I finally got you)!
It's not always easy to know when using beccare would be appropriate, but by listening for it and repeating it to yourself when you hear it, little by little you'll find it on the tip of your tongue at just the right moment. More meanings and examples can be found here.
When you arrive in a new country, one of the first challenges is to find your way around. Asking directions is one thing. Understanding them is another!
A destra (to the right) and a sinistra (to the left) are pretty basic, but when someone starts saying in fondo (at the end, in the end, at the bottom), there may be some confusion as to exactly what’s meant.
Fondo has to do with distance and depth. Let’s first look at its literal, physical meaning.
Ha bisogno di qualcosa? Sì, sì, un bagno. È in fondo a destra. -Scusi.
Do you need anything? Yes, yes, a bathroom. It's at the end of the hall, to the right. -Excuse me.
Captions 40-42, Il Commissario Manara S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di Leopardi - Part 5Play Caption
The above is a very typical answer to the question, “Where is the restroom?”
In fondo may indicate the furthest point (at the end) or the lowest point, as in in fondo alle scale (at the bottom of the stairs). If you’re late for a movie, you will probably sit in fondo (at the back).
Fondo often has to do with long distance, as in sci di fondo (cross-country skiing). A long-distance bicycle race will be il gran fondo. Note that the word profondo (deep) contains the root fondo! A very low bass singer will be a basso profondo.
Ed ecco davanti a noi, nel blu profondo, una forma scura come quella di un grosso pesce adagiato sul fondo.
And here, in front of us, in the deep blue, a dark form shaped like a big fish lying on the bottom.
Captions 38-39, Linea Blu Sicilia - Part 5Play Caption
Italians often use piatti fondi (soup plates) for eating pasta or brodo (broth). They’re deep enough to hold liquids.
Note that fondo is used both as a noun and as an adjective! Un fondo can be a fund, it can be a storage area, it can be a backdrop or background. It can be a piece of land. In makeup, fondotinta is your makeup base or foundation.
Turning now to concepts rather than physical things, fondo, preceded by the preposition a (to, at, in), takes on the idea of “in depth,” or “thorough.”
In bagno, è molto importante pulire a fondo.
In the bathroom it's very important to clean thoroughly.
Caption 34, Marika spiega Le pulizie di primavera - Part 1Play Caption
If you think about getting “to the bottom” of things, a fondo makes sense.
If you want to go all the way, vai fino in fondo (you go all the way), both literally and figuratively.
In fondo is used to mean “in the end,” or “after all is said and done,” or “deep down.”
Per questo preferisco i gatti. E poi, i gatti in fondo hanno sempre sette vite.
That's why I prefer cats. And then, after all, they always have seven lives.
Captions 30-31, Escursione Un picnic in campagna - Part 1Play CaptionThen there’s a popular expression in fondo in fondo (deep down) used primarily in talking about people:
Insomma, sai che ti dico, zia? Che come commissario, in fondo in fondo, non è poi così male...
All in all, you know what I have to say, Aunt? That as a commissioner, deep down, he's not really so bad...
Captions 11-12, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 17Play Caption
It wouldn’t hurt to approfondire (to go into things more thoroughly, more deeply) a bit regarding the word fondo. There are plenty of examples in Yabla videos, and there are plenty of examples on WordReference.com. Remember that context is key! In fondo in fondo, è una parola molto utile! (All in all, it’s a very useful word!)
It's very important to be able to say what you like and what you don't like. In English, “to like” is an active verb, as in “I like strawberries.” Italians use the verb piacere (to be pleasing, to delight) to say they like something. But attenzione! In Italian it gets turned around like this:
I like snow. (To me snow is pleasing.)
Mi piace la neve.
"Snow" is singular, so piace is singular. If what we like is in the plural, like "strawberries," piacere will get conjugated in the plural (in this case, third person plural).
Mi piacciono queste fragole.
To me these strawberries are pleasing [I like these strawberries.]
This can all be very confusing for new Italian speakers, but if you think about the fact that when you like something, it’s pleasing to you, it will make more sense.
So "I like" becomes mi piace. In her lesson on mi piace Daniela explains that mi (to me) is really just a contraction of a me (to me). A me is used when we want to emphasize the person, as opposed to the object the person likes, as in this hit song by Nina Zilli, Cinquantamila lacrime (Fifty thousand tears).
A me piace così -A me piace così
I like it like that. -I like it like that
Caption 7, Nina Zilli 50 milaPlay Caption
Remember that mi is an indirect object meaning "to me." Whatever or whoever is doing the pleasing (for example, strawberries) on the other hand, becomes the subject of the sentence (and governs the conjugation of piacere).
You may hear Italians say: a me mi piace. Now that you know that mi is short for a me, you may sense that it's wrong because it's a repetition. In fact, it's bad grammar. Still, people say it because it emphasizes just about everything in the sentence. It's sort of like saying, "Me, I like it."
So, what if I want to tell a person I like him or her?
You please me. [I like you.]
Although mi piaci or mi piace can just refer to liking someone in general, more often than not, it’s about finding the other person attractive. To say that someone is generally likable or agreeable without alluding to their attractiveness, Italian uses a word that doesn’t have a direct English equivalent: simpatico (agreeable, likable).
If you say mi sei simpatico or, as is more common in the south, mi stai simpatico (you're agreeable to me, you’re likable to me), you’re essentially telling the person you like him! It’s safer than mi piaci in many situations.
Let’s take an example from our favorite commissioner, Manara. He’s convinced his new colleagues don’t like him, but there’s a job to do.
Sentite, che io non vi sto simpatico l'ho capito perfettamente. Però abbiamo un caso molto complicato da risolvere,
Listen, I understand perfectly that you don't like me. However, we've got a very complicated case to solve,
Captions 43-44, Il Commissario Manara S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto - Part 8Play Caption
In a nutshell:
In English, the person doing the liking is the subject, and the thing or person one likes is the object. In Italian, the person or thing that pleases is the subject, and the person who does the liking, or who’s pleased, is the object!
Look around you and see what you like and what you don’t like. Saying it out out loud in Italian will give you practice conjugating the verb piacere. Remember that when you don’t like something, just put non in front of mi: Non mi piace questo vino (I don’t like this wine).
-This article will help you get the grammatical lay of the land regarding liking things in Italian.
-This article provides some extra input on using piacere.
During the summer, one nice thing to do on a hot afternoon is prendere un gelato (go for ice cream), especially if you’re with friends and you happen to pass una gelateria. You might want to be the one to treat everyone. If so, then the verb you need here is offrire (to offer).
Allora, sai che facciamo? Per festeggiare, ti offro un gelato.
So, you know what we'll do? To celebrate, I'll treat you to an ice cream.
Caption 28, Francesca: alla guida - Part 3 of 4
When somebody looks ready to pull out his wallet, that’s the time to say, offro io! (I’m buying!)
In a gelateria, there are various prices relating to how many scoops, or palline (little balls), of gelato you get on your cono (cone) or in your coppetta (little cup), and the good news is that each scoop can be a different gusto (flavor).
As far as gusti go, rarely will you find vaniglia (vanilla), but you will find fior di latte or fior di panna (or even panna fredda in the Bologna area). Why these names? Fiore (flower) can be used as an adjective, fior, to describe something as being special, of the best quality, in this case latte (milk) or panna (cream). Think of something flourishing or blossoming. In fact, fior fiore is an expression used outside the realm of gelato to mean “the cream of the crop” (la crème de la crème). So we’re talking about the best quality milk, the best quality cream. Theoretically, that’s what goes into this kind of gelato, which, whatever the gelataio chooses to call it, (fior di latte, fior di panna, or panna fredda), refers to gelato with no added flavoring, just the taste of the milk, cream, and sugar. It’s white in color, and naturally, this “neutral” flavor goes well with all the other gusti.
Gelato alla crema, on the other hand, is made with the above ingredients, plus eggs, and because of this, is rich, yellow, and more custardy. It’s probably the closest you’ll get to “vanilla.” It’s the kind of gelato that ends up on top of fragole (strawberries) or macedonia (fruit salad).
Una macedonia con il gelato alla crema. -Ok, alla crema, perfetto.
A fruit salad with vanilla ice cream. -OK, vanilla, perfect.
Caption 28, Una gita: al lago - Part 4 of 4
Apart from the ever popular cioccolato, other well-loved flavors are:
...and many more! Italians like to combine the flavors on the same cone or in the same little dish. They may even use a little spoon to eat the ice cream off the cone!
If you’re invited to someone’s home for dinner in the summertime, it’s rarely a mistake to bring, as a gift, a vaschetta (little tub) of gelato. Pick a variety of gusti so there’s something for everyone. The gelataio will give you a polistirolo (styrofoam) container so it stays cold.
Summer can be a great time to reinforce a foreign language experience. If you’ve already seen the Yabla offerings of Italian TV episodes like Medico in Famiglia or Commissario Manara, try watching an entire puntata (episode) from start to finish without the captions. You might be surprised at how much you understand!
For a greater challenge, watch some classic Italian movies with (or without) subtitles, such as:
Fellini films like La Strada or La Dolce Vita, which are mentioned in the interviews with Fellini on Yabla, and Lina Wertmüller’s Pasqualino Sette Bellezze from which Yabla featured the ironic and humoristic opening song from the soundtrack. See also the interview with Lina Wertmüller.
The future tense with conjunctions: A will-will situation
In a previous lesson, we discussed how Italian uses the future tense to express probability, as well as the future itself. Now, getting back to the normal use of the future tense, we’re going to see how it works when using conjunctions such as se (if), quando (when), appena (as soon as), non appena (as soon as), finché (as long as), and finché non (until) to connect two parts of a sentence. Italian and English have two different approaches to this. In Italian the future tense has to be present on both sides of the conjunction, while in English the future tense appears on only one side. Consider the following example, where Francesca is telling us about what she is going to wear when she goes skiing:
Questa la indosserò quando sarò in prossimità dei campi da sci.
This I'll put on when I'm close to the ski slopes.
Caption 27, Francesca: neve - Part 2 of 3
Translated literally, this would be: This I’ll put on when I will be close to the ski slopes.
What we we need to remember is that in Italian the future tense will appear on both sides of these conjunctions—a “will-will” situation.
One important conjunction frequently used with the future is appena (as soon as). Attenzione! Appena by itself is also an adverb meaning “barely,” “scarcely,” or “just.”
Ho appena finito.
I just finished.
Si vedeva appena.
One could barely see it.
When used as a conjunction meaning “as soon as,” appena will often be preceded by non, which, depending on the context, can give it an extra bit of urgency or emphasis. (Note that non in this case has nothing to do with negation.) In English we might say “just as soon as” for that same kind of emphasis.
Mi chiamerà appena starà meglio.
She’ll call me as soon as she’s better.
Mi chiamerà non appena starà meglio.
She’ll call me as soon as she’s better.
She’ll call me just as soon as she’s better.
We can put the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, but il succo non cambia (the “juice” or gist doesn’t change).
Appena starà meglio, mi chiamerà.
[It could also be: Non appena starà meglio mi chiamerà.]
As soon as she's better, she’ll call me.
Just as soon as she’s better, she’ll call me.
Two more related conjunctions used with the future are finché (as long as) and finché non (until). While appena can appear with or without “non” preceding it and mean pretty much the same thing, with finché and finche non, we have two related but distinct meanings. Finché by itself means “as long as,” but if we negate it with non, it becomes “until.” Let’s see how this works.
In the following example, Manara’s boss is warning him about his unconventional behavior. Grammatically speaking, he uses the futuro anteriore, but the key here is that he uses the future, where in English “until” calls for the present perfect (“have shown”) here.
Lei non se ne andrà da qui finché non avrà dimostrato di essere un vero commissario.
You' won’t leave here until you've shown yourself to be a true commissioner.
Translated literally: You won’t leave this place until you will have shown yourself to be a true commissioner.
Or, to understand how finché non becomes “until”: You won’t leave this place as long as you will not have shown yourself to be a true commissioner.
Attenzione! Occasionally finché non will be used in speech without “non,” but will still clearly mean “until.” The context will clue you in. If you watch this video about Fellini, you’ll come across an example of this in caption 13.
As you watch Yabla videos, pay special attention to the conjunctions mentioned above when they crop up. It’s worth spending some time understanding first hand how this works in Italian, so why not try making up some sentences using these conjunctions and the future tense? To get started:
Non appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.
Just as soon as I’m finished eating, I’ll do my homework.
Appena avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.
As soon as I’ve finished eating, I’ll do my homework.
Non farò i compiti finché non avrò finito di mangiare.
I’m not going to do my homework until I’ve finished eating.
Finché starò a tavola, non penserò ai compiti.
As long as I’m at the dinner table, I’m not going to think about my homework.
Se non avrò finito di mangiare, non potrò cominciare.
If I haven’t finished eating, I won’t be able to start.
Quando avrò finito di mangiare, farò i compiti.
When I’ve finished eating, I’ll do my homework.
In this lesson, we're going to talk about the future tense in Italian, and how it's used, not just for the future, but also for probability.
In our first example, Federico Fellini is talking about a future meeting with Ingmar Bergman, and as you can see from the translation, he uses the verb essere in its future tense in a straightforward way. He has no doubts about the outcome: It’s going to be stimulating!
Io penso che l'incontro fra lui e me sarà veramente molto stimolante.
I think that the encounter between him and me will be really very stimulating.
In this next example, however, the verb essere is again used in the future tense, but here it means something completely different! In fact, one of the uses of the future tense in Italian is to express a supposition, probability, uncertainty, or doubt. In this case, the element of time is no longer taken into consideration and is replaced by a kind of conditional mood (appunto, the future is now—probably).
Guarda, stamattina ho appetito. Sarà l'aria di campagna.
Look, this morning I have an appetite. It must be the country air.
Although this special use can be applied to any verb, it’s most common with essere and avere. In Un medico in famiglia, Lele is reassuring his daughter, Maria, about the future. He’s sure!
Sono sicuro che ti piacerà la nuova scuola e avrai un sacco di nuovi amichetti.
I’m sure you will like the new school and you’ll have a lot of new playmates.
Captions 9-10, Un medico in famiglia - 1: Casa nuova - Part 7 of 16
But here, the signora is just making a good guess as to how hungry her passenger Alessio is.
Avrai fame immagino, sì? Andiamo?
You must be hungry, I imagine, right? Shall we go?
In her Yabla newscast, Marika is giving us some very suspicious news from another planet, and she expresses her consternation:
Could it be true?
Another way to ask the above question would be: potrebbe essere vero? (could it be true?) or even può essere vero? (can it be true?). But more often than not, the future tense will be used when talking about probability in the present, or even in the past (together with a participle), as in the following example, where there’s uncertainty in retrospect.
Non lo so. Sarà stata una buona idea farlo venire qua?
I don't know. Was it such a good idea to have him come here?
Here are a couple more examples to give you an idea.
In an episode of Un medico in famiglia, the family members are wondering what Cetinka is about to take out of her suitcase:
Che è, che sarà? -Non lo so!
What is it, what could it be? -I don't know!
Captions 36-37, Un medico in famiglia - 2: Il mistero di Cetinka - Part 9 of 12
In a lively discussion between Lara and her zia about Ginevra, the attractive medical examiner, the aunt defends Commissario Manara, which infuriates Lara even more.
E Luca la sta coprendo! -Avrà le sue buone ragioni, eh!
And Luca is covering for her! -He must have a good reason, huh!
As you watch and listen to Yabla videos, notice how the future tense is used. You may be surprised at how often it is used to express probability, supposition, or uncertainty. And as you go about your day, maybe talking to yourself in Italian, use the future tense of essere or avere to wonder about things and their probability. Sometimes you may really be wondering about the future, as in:
Sarà una bella giornata?
Will it be a nice day?
But other times you may just be conjecturing:
Sarà una brava persona, ma dal suo comportamento non sembra proprio.
He may be a good person, but from his behavior it certainly doesn’t seem like it.
Sento bussare alla porta. Sarà il postino.
I hear someone knocking at the door. It’s probably the postman.
Perché non è ancora arrivato? Avrà avuto un contrattempo!
Why hasn’t he come yet? He must have had a setback.
So as you can see, in Italian, the future can be right now!
As we saw in a previous lesson, Italians are very conscious of formal and informal greetings, and will say hello in different ways depending on the situation. But there’s more. When speaking or writing to someone they must, or want, to treat with respect, they’ll use the polite form of “you”—Lei. This happens to be identical to the word for “she,” lei. For a fascinating explanation, see this article and its continuation here. To show respect, Lei gets capitalized, together with its possessive pronouns Sua, Sue, Suoi (your, yours) and its object pronouns La and Le (you). Although the capitalization of these pronouns is going out of style, it can be helpful for figuring out who is being talked about. Using the formal “you” is called dare del Lei (giving the formal “you”). The opposite is called dare del tu (giving the informal “you”).
In Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui (But What Am I Doing Here?), Alessio finds himself in an embarrassing situation. (Yes, he’s about to fare brutta figura!) Things have gotten decidedly intimo, but Alessio da ancora del Lei (is still giving the formal “you”) to this woman, and she calls him out on it.
Ma che fai, mi dai ancora del Lei?
What are you doing, you still address me formally?Play Caption
In an episode of Commissario Manara, Lara is trying to get some information from a woman in shock over the death of her employer. Lara uses Lei since she is addressing someone older than her, and whom she doesn’t know. Lara sees the woman is touchy on the subject at hand so she immediately apologizes, even though she’s done nothing wrong.
When the personal pronoun in question is an object, either direct or indirect, it can become part of the verb, as we’ve talked about in a previous lesson. In the example below, the polite “you” is a direct object of the verb offendere (to offend), and becomes part of it (with a respectful capital letter in this case).
Mi scusi, non volevo offenderLa.
I'm sorry, I didn't want to offend you.Play Caption
In another episode, Luca Manara is being polite to his boss, but only on the surface. In this case, the indirect object pronoun is part of the compound verb, riferire a (to report to).
Ma, come, purtroppo Lei mi ricorda, io devo riferirLe tutto, no? -Si aspetta magari che le dica bravo?
But, since, unfortunately you remind me, I have to tell you everything, don't I? -Maybe you're expecting me say, "Good work?"
Captions 25-26, Il Commissario Manara S1EP2 - Vendemmia tardiva - Part 17Play Caption
In the concluding segment of “Vendemmia tardiva,” la zia, as usual, uses her powers of conversazione and intuizione femminile to help solve the crime:
Avevo capito che, in tutti questi anni, è stata innamorata di lui. E per trent'anni gli ha dato del Lei, ma ti rendi conto?
I'd figured out that, for all these years, she'd been in love with him. And for thirty years she addressed him formally, can you imagine that?Play Caption
Dare del tu (to address informally) or dare del Lei (to address formally) is an important aspect to settle in a new relationship. A common question to ask is: ci possiamo dare del tu? (can we give each other the informal "you?") or, ci diamo del tu? (shall we give each other the informal “you?”). The answer is almost always: sì, certo!
In certain situations, it’s important to put one’s best foot forward, to make a good impression. In Italian, that’s fare bella figura, or simply, fare figura. For example:
Le sue scarpe sono costate poco, ma fanno figura.
Her shoes didn’t cost very much, but they make her look good (or, “they make a good impression”).
Fare bella figura (making a good impression) isn’t always possible though. Sometimes, without meaning to, you botch it and make a bad impression, or worse, are embarrassed by something you did or said. And that’s when you use brutta figura (bad impression). Just as bella is often left to our imagination, in this case, too, it’s common to leave off the brutta. To determine whether someone’s talking about a good or bad figura, pay close attention to the context, as well as to the speaker’s inflection and facial expression.
O mamma mia! Mamma mia, che figura che ho fatto.
Oh dear! Oh dear, what a bad impression I've made.Play Caption
Note: The fact that there’s no article here is normal for this idiom, but in some cases an article or other modifier will be included for clarity or emphasis.
What about when someone puts you in an embarrassing situation, or makes you look like a fool? Ti fa fare brutta figura (he/she makes you make a bad impression).
In an episode of Medico in Famiglia, Maria has gone missing, and her parents call her supposed boyfriend to find out where she is. He’s not her boyfriend, though, so just imagine how embarrassed she is upon discovering they’d called him.
Mi avete fatto fare questa figura?
You made me make a bad impression? [Did you make me look stupid?]Play Caption
Maria’s brother has a retort ready with a play on words. He uses a more neutral definition of figura (figure, person, appearance, impression):
Non hai fatto nessuna figura perché quello, a te, non ti vede proprio! -Eh, bambini...
You made no impression at all because that one doesn't even see you! -Uh, kids...
Captions 63-64, Un medico in famiglia s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova - Part 13Play Caption
Another expression that’s used a lot in relational conversations comes from the verb figurare (to appear, to be, to show). This expression can be used as a sort of antidote to someone’s feeling as if they’re making or have made a brutta figura. It uses the reflexive form figurarsi (to imagine).
If you apologize for being late, or if you ask if you are disturbing someone, the response might likely be figurati! (of course not!). The person saying it is attempting to put you at ease, for example after you forgot a dinner date.
E tu lo trovi leale accettare un invito a cena e poi non presentarsi? -Non ti ho avvertito? Scusami. Ci sei rimasto male? -Figurati, la cena era ottima.
And do you find it loyal to accept a dinner invitation and then not come? -Didn't I let you know? Sorry. Did you feel hurt? -Of course not, the dinner was excellent.
Captions 6-9, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 3Play Caption
At the same time, it can mean something like “no way!” or “yeah, right!” or “don’t count on it!”:
C'hai paura? Paura io? Ma figurati.
What, are you scared? Scared, me? Don't count on it.
Captions 44-46, Il Commissario Manara S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu - Part 17Play Caption
Watch and listen to the Yabla videos where these expressions are present (do a search of both figura and figurati). Hide the translation. Listen for the inflection. Is the speaker trying to put someone at ease, or being ironic? When no adjective is present for describing the figura, which do you think it is?
Meanwhile, imagine a situation—invent a dialogue. Here’s something to get you started.
Ti ho fatto fare brutta figura? -Ma figurati, ho fatto la figura dello scemo tutto da solo.
Did I embarrass you? -Of course not, I came off as an idiot all by myself.
Devo dire che quegli orecchini da due soldi fanno figura! -Grazie, ma questa giacca vecchissima, che figura fa? -Beh, per me, fai sempre una bellissima figura.
I gotta say, those cheap earrings happen to look really nice! -Thanks, but this super old jacket, how does that make me look? -Well, to me, you always look great!
Che figura! Quando sono arrivata alla cassa, non avevo abbastanza soldi per pagare.
How embarrassing! When I got to the check out, I didn’t have enough money to pay.
Il capo mi darà un aumento, sicuro! -Figurati!
The boss is going to give me a raise, for sure! -Yeah, right. (or, “Don’t count on it!”)
Divertitevi! (Have fun!)