Category Archives: grammar

Today’s Italian lesson : Lots of problems with prepositions!

Prepositions – those little words like di, per, a, in and da that join stuff in the sentence together, and you think might not matter that much : well actually it turns out that they really do matter quite a lot, and that there is no short cut to learning them. Which brings me to a new word (parola nuova) that I learnt in today’s lesson – una scorciatoia, meaning short cut!

Non c’è una scorciatoia. (There isn’t a shortcut). You pretty much just need to learn them by heart (a memoria!).

Here is the exercise, it’s simple, just fill in the blanks!!!

  1. Vado ….. scuola.
  2. Vado…… cinema.
  3. Vado …… pizzeria.
  4. Vado…..farmacia.
  5. Vado ….. dottore.
  6. Vado …..ospedale.
  7. vado …..mensa (canteen).
  8. Vado …. mio zio.
  9. Vado …. stazione.
  10. Vado ….supermercato.
  11. Vado ….giardini.
  12. Vado ….farmacista.
  13. vado ….bar.
  14. Vado …. banca.
  15. Vado….centro.
  16. Vado …. lui.
  17. Vado …. partita.
  18. Vado …. stadio.
  19. Vado ….. piscina.
  20. Vado ….. dentista.
  21. Vado …. pronto soccorso. ( A&E)
  22. Vado …. posta.
  23. Vado …. segreteria. (office)
  24. Vado …. Beppe.

Thinking that I had done quite well with my homework,  I merrily told my teacher all of my answers, and came bumping back down to earth when only 10 out of 24 were correct!!!

Here are the answers:

  1. Vado a scuola.
  2. Vado al cinema.
  3. Vado in pizzeria.
  4. Vado in farmacia.
  5. Vado dal dottore.
  6. Vado all’ospedale.
  7. Vado in mensa.
  8. Vado da mio zio.
  9. Vado in stazione.
  10. Vado al supermercato.
  11. Vado nei giardini.
  12. Vado dal / dalla farmacista (depending on gender of pharmacist)
  13. Vado al bar.
  14. Vado in banca.
  15. Vado in centro.
  16. Vado da lui. (to his house)
  17. Vado alla partita.
  18. Vado allo stadio.
  19. Vado in piscina.
  20. Vado dal / dalla dentista.
  21. Vado al pronto soccorso.
  22. Vado in posta.
  23. Vado in segreteria.
  24. Vado da Beppe (to Beppe’s house).

The rule for all the ones where in is used, such as “Vado in piscina” is that there is no article needed. Most of the ones I got wrong were for the same reason, this reason being that I inserted an article when it wasn’t needed and chose the wrong preposition as a result, for example saying “Vado alla piscina” which is wrong.

Here is one more nice preposition example to finish with : If you want to say, for example, the kitchen floor is dirty with tomato sauce, it would be “sporco di “…. as in “Il pavimento della cucina è sporco di sugo di pomodoro.”

I miei pantaloni sono sporchi di caffè : My trousers are dirty with coffee.

As with all things in language learning, repetition is the key to getting the hang of these troublesome prepositions. Keep saying it and listening to it until it sounds right…..

Hope this helps some other learners out there!



“Dolcetto o scherzetto ?” And other facts from today’s Italian lesson!

Just in time for Halloween here’s how to say “Trick or treat?” in Italian, “Dolcetto o scherzetto ?”.

You might want to talk about dressing up !

I bambini si vestono da scheletro, per esempio – oppure da fantasma.  (The kids dress up as skeletons, for example, or as ghosts !

Instead of using the verb vestirsi , you can say I bambini si mascheranno da…   (In Italian una maschera is a mask).

Where do you go trick or treating?? Perhaps just vicino alla casa (close to home), and not visiting gli sconosciuti (strangers). I love the word sconosciuti, however I always forget it which is really inconvenient. I also had a lot of problems with preposizioni (prepositions) in this lesson, such as when I said “in vicino alla casa” which was a bit wrong! AND when I said “In Berlino” instead of “ A Berlino”.

Another fact I discovered in this lesson is that lots of Italian kids at primary school (not every single school but it is common) have to wear an apron – il grembiule – instead of a uniform. The aprons look really funny. My kids would not be impressed! Also grembiule is the first Italian word I’ve come across which I don’t like the sound of. It sounds like gremlin, perhaps that is the reason??

More problems with piacere in this lesson as well. I was trying to describe something that used to happen in the past (but doesn’t happen any more) so I needed to use the imperfect tense. And I needed to say “ They didn’t use to like it.” “Non gli piaceva.”  I can’t remember what I actually said instead of this, but I don’t think I was anywhere close!

Finally when you are talking about something that happens at a certain time of year, you use periodo dell’anno, you would not use the word tempo, which is for weather, or the time of day! In the Italian city of Trieste there is a wind, with its own name, called the bora which blows a lot in questo periodo dell’anno! Which is a great fact.

In conclusion, I really need to practice prepositions, and I still haven’t got the hang of using piacere in anything other than the present tense. Perhaps I should write my next blog post about piacere???


How to say “I miss you” in Italian

In Italian ‘I miss you’ is ‘mi manchi‘, which literally translates as ‘You are missing to me’. If you are familiar with French this will be easy (easier?) as it is the same structure : ‘tu me manques‘. If you don’t know French this won’t help at all.

I have to think about this verb mancare every time I use it; it falls in with a group of tricky verbs including piacere (to like)volerci (to take), interessare (to interest) and servire (to need, to be useful) in which the phrases are formed in this same non-linear way.

To continue with some more examples of mancare, if you wanted to say ‘I miss my parents’ this would be ‘ Mi mancano i miei genitori’ – ‘My parents are missing to me’. Or to say ‘Do you miss your grandma ?’ you would say ‘ Ti manca la nonna ?‘.

Mancare can also pop up in other useful little phrases such as ‘ Ti manca qualcosa?‘ which means ‘ Do you need anything?’ For this you could also use ‘Ti serve qualcosa ? ‘ which would have the same meaning.

Other examples : Mancano le piante. ( There are no plants).  In questo libro mancano le didascalie a tutte le immagini. ( In this book the pictures have no captions).

One final example of how the verb mancare can be used comes from an article I read recently on the Il Post website, which incidentally I highly recommend for practising your Italian with easy news articles .  I came across the following headline about the forthcoming new Star Wars film :

Mancano due mesi all’uscita del nuovo film di Star Wars‘.  In this case you could translate the sentence as ‘ Two months to go until the new Star Wars film comes out’.  Or alternatively ‘Only two months to go….’

Possibly a little early to start getting excited ?!! Unless you are a huge Star Wars fan. But a great example of using the first verb on my tricky verbs list! More of these to come later.



Bei fiori, bei ricordi : using the word bello

“Bello!” The Italian word for “Beautiful” – One of the first words I learned in the language. So short and simple, right?
Or maybe not…
These are a few of the reasons why “bello” has caused me problems over the years…
It can go either before or after the noun , and depending on where it goes this can slightly alter the meaning of the whole expression.
Una bella persona (good natured person) versus una persona bella (good-looking person).

When placed before the noun, bello has FOUR different masculine forms and follows the same rules as the definite article,
Bel bambino / bei bambini / bell’attore / begli attori.

Bello isn’t used for talking about food. For example A nice meal should never be described as “bellissimo” – and it would be totally wrong to say , for example, “Ho mangiato un piatto di pasta molto bello” . I have definitely made this mistake!!

The photo of the flowers was taken in the garden of the cottage where we stayed on holiday – the bumblebees just loved big globe flowers so much – at any one time there could up to four or five bees on one globe! Bellissimo!!!

My phrases for the day:
Un tramonto bellissimo
Ho fatto una bella passeggiata
Begli occhi
Ho fatto molte belle foto.

Why you cannot forget ‘che’


Lately I’ve been reflecting on the effectiveness of how I teach myself Italian. I’m now into my tenth year of learning – there have been gaps along the way mind you, weeks, months where I haven’t studied. The longest gap was probably  a whole year following a holiday in Italy . During the trip I’d managed a few conversations in Italian and was thinking to myself I was making a bit of progress. We got back to the airport and I ordered a slice of pizza for lunch. The lady asked me if I wanted it heating up ( I think) and I completely failed to understand her. I was a bit frustrated, thinking the only way to get any better would be to stay there and practice….. The year later I got over myself and carried on!!!

So my approach is entirely scattered, and is not exactly following a syllabus (!!) – time is short and I’m not that disciplined. Some days I only learn (or only retain!) one word- for example the other day I learned lo scivolo ( pron. SHE-vo-lo) meaning ‘slide’ whilst I was playing in the park with the kids. Words for everyday things that I repeat often tend to stick better. Sometimes I label things round the house. That really works. Sometimes I give the kids instructions in Italian – lets go downstairs. Scendiamo per le scale! Let’s go- Andiamo!
As often as I can I listen to the language being spoken , I watch lucrezia’s videos on YouTube (learn Italian with lucrezia) – she is awesome, very clever at explaining things. And when I’m in the mood I read Italian novels very slowly : which brings me to the point at which I left off my last blog post “an astonishing lack of adjectives“…..
I am a few chapters into my book ‘Il Suggeritore’ translated in English as The whisperer, when I come across the following sentence :

“sono una che apprende in fretta.” (I’m a fast learner)

And because I am being perfectionist about understanding everything properly and not skimming along as I often do, I realise I don’t know why ‘che’ is being used here, in fact I’m puzzled why ‘chi’ is not in its place.
Which exposes a glaring hole in my grammar learning. Out come the grammar books.
I think this is the explanation: che is being used as a relative pronoun in this situation – it can be used to mean ‘who’ or ‘whom’ (in a statement); it can also mean ‘which’ or ‘that’ . And whilst it might be omitted from the equivalent English sentence, in Italian it cannot be forgotten.

another example : la prima volta che sono andata in Italia era nel 1996.  In English you can choose whether to leave out the equivalent of che or include it in the sentence – the first time (that) I went to Italy was in 1996. In Italian che cannot be left out. Shall I say that one more time?? Che has to stay.

I remember reading this same chapter about uses of ‘Che’ in my grammar book a few months ago and the ironic thing is that I clearly am not a fast learner because the subject was still a total blank.

Non sono una che apprende in fretta

Chi should not be confused with che. Chi is a question word, used to ask about people.
For example “Chi ha mangiato il gelato?” – Who has eaten the icecream?
In proverbs and generalisations it can be used to mean ‘he who, those who’, etc – for example “Chi va piano va sano e lontano “.

My favourite mix up of the past few weeks was regarding the word for chimney- camino– ten years of learning and I somehow hadn’t registered that one and had been translating it to myself as something to do with walking.
Cammino, I walk. Or, the path.
Il camino, the chimney.
Not the same, enough said.

An astonishing lack of Adjectives

imageFinally I am getting around to reading “Il suggeritore”  (translated in English as “the whisperer “) one of the books my friend brought back from Italy for me nearly a year ago. The pile of unread books by my bed is ridiculously high and there has been a lot of queue jumping in the meantime . This book should be labelled Rather too scary to read at bedtime – a team of police detectives is on the trail of a serial killer who has murdered 6 little girls and cut off their arms. Drafted in to help the team are the two main protagonists Dr Gavila , a criminologist with unusual methods, and Mila Vasquez, a specialist in the recovery of abducted children.

Progress has been slow even with the English translation alongside. When I say slow we are talking one sentence every 5 minutes whilst I stop to wonder about grammatical puzzles such as the following. Mila has just met 2 of the detectives from the team, one of whom is being distinctly unwelcoming to her. Mila tells her “sono  una che apprende in fretta ” (I’m a fast learner).and I need a grammar book to figure out why it isn’t “CHI apprende in fretta” ??? More about this in a future post.

The other thing which has become apparent to me is a total void in my knowledge of adjectives. From only  ONE page I learned two new words for “startled” – spiazzata and  Stordita.

Also ammirato (impressed) and indurita (describing the unfriendly look that the lady detective gives mila). I might stand a chance of remembering this as it contains Duro in the middle, the word for ‘hard’…

on the subject of adjectives I looked up the word for Sharp as in the context of Sharp teeth, and came up with  “affilato ” – but then whilst I was learning that I got 5 adjectives  for the price of one.

a sharp pointy nose or muzzle could be ‘aguzzo’ or ‘appuntito’.

a sharp cutting remark to somebody would be ‘tagliente’.

a sharp pain is un dolore acuto.

A sharp bend ” una curva brusca”

and sharp teeth are ” denti affilati ” or a sharp knife “un coltello  affilato “.

A sharp as a noun is un ago ( a needle)  plural Gli aghi

meanwhile back to my book one sentence at a time, estimated finishing time Natale !!!

a fox and a snake (and the meaning of ‘mica’)

Today I have learned a whole bunch of new words, some more likely to be useful in conversation than others – they include magnaccia (pimp), biscia (grass snake) and ‘mica’ which I will come back to in a minute. I am currently halfway through reading Gianrico Carofiglio’s “Testimone Inconsapevole” – in Italian- without an English translation to hand. It is one of a series of books about the lawyer Guido Guerrieri – SO, depending on the time of day I can follow it quite well (morning reading), or alternatively whole paragraphs can go by where I fail to understand a thing (bedtime reading!). I appreciate his writing style which is quite simple, but his books are clever and funny.
Anyways, after days of slooow progress all of a sudden (all’improvviso) I realised that I was reading quite fluently without having to stop and consult a dictionary every two minutes. The scenario was that a lawyer and a lady magistrate were chatting – neither one likes the other very much. the lawyer has told a ‘funny story’/ una storiella to the lady magistrate and made some disparaging remarks about lady magistrates. so the magistrate takes her turn to tell her storiella:

A fox and a grass snake are wandering through the forest (separately) when it starts to rain. they both happen to take shelter in the same tunnel (cunicolo) but it is buio pesto (pitch black) in there so they can’t see each other only sense that the other is there. the tunnel is too narrow to get past each other but neither wants to give way and move. Neither will risk attacking the other one because they don’t know how dangerous the opponent is. They decide to play a game where they each take a turn to guess what kind of creature the other is by feeling each other, and the loser will have to be the one to move. the grass snake goes first and easily guesses the fox’s identity (orecchie lunge, muso aguzzo). but the fox still wants a turn to even things up. so the fox has a feel of the snake and says:
“che testa piccolo che hai, non hai le orecchie, sei viscido (slimy), lungo. Non hai I coglioni?! E non sarai mica un avvocato?” The punch-line I attempt to translate as “You’re not a lawyer at all, are you?” This word ‘mica’ is a negative expression kind of like the word “affatto”… ( all). But I might need to acquire the English translation to check – and so I can cheat a bit at bedtime 🙂 I gather that ‘mica’ has quite a colloquial usage. a couple of common phrases where it is used:
mica male! – not bad!, not bad at all!
mica tanto – not really (for example someone asks you if you would be interested in reading a certain book. you’re not interested in the book, so you might reply “mica tanto” – not really (not interested).
In conclusion to the story, the lady magistrate is the winner. the lawyer tries to laugh but only manages a ‘ghigno forzato’.