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Learning Italian: a friendly glance at “avercela”

Posted on the May 8th, 2010

The Italian pronominale verb — avercela has been on my mind lately. A friend is angry with me, it seems. I say it seems because she hasn’t actually said anything, but it seems to me that a mildly coldish wind has been blowing from her direction to mine in these past days.

Which is what got me to thinking about avercela. The pronominale verbs have been slow to come into focus for me, I admit. In my slow-ish trudge toward learning Italian, it has been bloodchilling to realize how many of these verbs there are, and how popular they are in daily usage. Not to mention that they usually are idiomatic in meaning, rather than a case of simple translation. Pazienza, pazienza.

What does avercela mean? It’s the verb that Italians use more often than not to say someone is angry with them. Examples: Ce l’hai con me? (Are you angry with me?) Ce l’ha con me. (He/she is angry with me.)

Today, over lunch, I quizzed Franco about the use of avercela, especially in comparison to another verb for anger, arrabbiare. What’s the difference between the two, I asked, and which one do the Italians most often use?

We dealt first with arrabbiare and its reflexive form, arrabbiarsi. If I say, Lei è arrabbiata con me or, alternatively, Lei si è arrabbiata con me, what’s the difference?

Saying “Lei è arrabbiata con me” is a simple statement of fact — the fact that someone is angry with me. The reflexive form Lei si è arrabbiata…, on the other hand, is used in reference to a previous statement, or one that is implied, Franco explained. Example: Sono arrivato tardi stamattina e lei si è arrabbiata con me. (I arrived late this morning and (therefore) she is angry with me.)

If the reflexive form is used without a previous statement, according to Franco, it implies that, yes, the person is angry with you but it is about something silly, playful or unjustified.

So, I plodded on, how is avercela different? It’s not, Franco said, it’s equivalent, an alternative verb form for saying the same thing.

Which do Italians use more often? Avercela, Franco opined.


It’s more simpatico. He went to explain that, as is generally evident, Italians are preferring to move away from the more formal forms and attitudes that have characterized their language in the past. Arrabbiare is a serious word, he said. Avercela, in contrast, is smoother, a less dramatic, more friendly way of expressing oneself.

For a formal grammatical presentation of the pronominal, go here.

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