a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

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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Want to keep up with the news and practice your Italian at the same time?

Posted on the February 17th, 2010

Last spring when I was traveling to Rome every week day to study Italian, I always stopped by a newsstand on Wednesday to pick up the latest copy of Internazionale.

As the website’s about page says:

Every week Internazionale publishes in Italian the best of the world’s press, covering politics, economics, culture, science, and technology. All the articles, chosen by a team of experts, appear unabridged from over 300 daily, weekly, and monthly publications.

The magazine offers a good amount of online content gratis.

It’s an excellent magazine.  Many of the articles are translated from English (Western) publications, but Internazionale also includes a good sampling from publications in other languages, which is a very good thing, I think. Not to mention, it’s a great and informative way to practice your Italian reading skills, if that’s your interest.

And, no, they’re not paying me to for this endorsement. It’s just one reader’s natural enthusiasm for a good thing found.

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Learning Italian: Roberto Benigni translated

Posted on the July 17th, 2009

A few days ago I came across an in-depth interview with Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni published last August on i-Italy.org — “Benigni the Poet Makes Life Even More Beautiful.” The impressive website is by a group of academics, journalists and intellectuals, according to its About page. The website’s subhead is an Italian/American Digital Project.

Benigni’s interviewer is Grace Russo Bullaro, a City University of New York professor.  Although the interview was in Italian, Bullaro translated it into English for the i-Italy website. The original Italian version is here on the Italian-language magazine OGGI 7 website (“Benigni poeta e la vita è più bella” July 16, 2008).

I’m a fan of Benigni’s and wrote another post about him a couple of years ago (“Roberto Benigni: Speaking in Second”). That post featured a 1998  interview Benigni did with the Guardian, and on that occasion he did the whole thing in English.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Benigni’s “The Tiger and the Snow,” I think you’ve missed one of his best works. As discussed in the interview with Bullaro, the movie bombed at the box office. Who knows why exactly, but a rash of lunk-headed reviews of the film at the time certainly didn’t help.

For a more favorable and informed review, see Deborah Young’s piece in Variety (“The Tiger and the Snow”/”La Tigre e la Neve”  Oct. 12, 2005).

And as one more plug for the film, here’s the trailer.

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Learning Italian: Uffa! Those vowels!(Not to mention double consonants)

Posted on the July 5th, 2009

Carinissimo!  “Sorry…I’m still learning Italian”  at openfilm.com

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Learning Italian: emozioni

Posted on the July 4th, 2009

Lucio Battisti “Emozioni” (bio)

Seguir con gli occhi un airone sopra il fiume e poi
ritrovarsi a volare
e sdraiarsi felice sopra l’erba ad ascoltare
un sottile dispiacere
E di notte passare con lo sguardo la collina per scoprire
dove il sole va a dormire
Domandarsi perche’ quando cade la tristezza
in fondo al cuore
come la neve non fa rumore
e guidare come un pazzo a fari spenti nella notte
per vedere
se poi e’ tanto difficile morire…

Full lyrics here – lyricsmania

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Learning Italian: Weaning Venice from the bottle

Posted on the June 15th, 2009

This week Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote an informative and interesting article for the New York Times about official efforts underway in Venice to persuade the locals to drink tap water rather than bottled (“City Known for Its Water Turns to Tap to Cut Trash” June 11, 2009).

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually…

My translation

Questa settimana Elisabeth Rosenthal ha scritto un articolo molto informativo e interessante sul New York Times riguardo sforzi ufficiali in corso persuadere i veneziani bere acqua dal rubinetto invece dell’acqua in bottiglia.

“Gli italiani sono i consumatori principali nel mondo dell’acqua in bottiglia, bevendo più di 151.6 litri per persona annualmente…”

Franco’s correction of my translation

Questa settimana Elisabeth Rosenthal ha scritto un articolo molto informativo e interessante sul New York Times riguardo agli sforzi che il Comune sta facendo per persuadere i veneziani a bere acqua di rubinetto invece che dell’acqua imbottigliata.

Gli italiani sono i principali consumatori nel mondo di acqua imbottigliata, con una media annuale procapite di più di 150 litri…

Related article on Ariannaeditrice.it here (“Acqua in bottiglia: la vergogna dei canoni di concessione
by Claudia Pecoraro, April 2, 2009).  Italian only.

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Learning Italian: “Che cos’è Roma?” mused Fellini

Posted on the May 26th, 2009

Last week our Conversation class reading was an excerpt from Federico Fellini‘s 1993 book, “Fare un film“:

“‘Che cos’è Roma?’ Tutt’al più posso tentare di dire che cosa penso quando sento la parola ‘Roma’. Me lo sono spesso domandato. E più o meno lo so. Penso a un faccione rossastro che assomiglia a Sordi, Fabrizi, la Magnani. Un’espressione resa pesante e pensierosa da esigenze gastrossessuali. Penso a un terrone bruno, melmoso; a un cielo ampio, sfasciato, da fondale dell’opera, con colori viola, bagliori giallastri, neri, argento; colori funerei. Ma tutto sommato è un volto confortante. Confortante perché Roma ti permette ogni tipo di speculazione in senso verticale. Roma è una città orizzontale, di acqua e di terra, sdraiata, ed è quindi la piattaforma ideale per voli fantastici. Gli intellettuali, gli artisti, che vivono sempre in uno stato di frizione fra due dimensioni diverse — la realtà e la fantasia — trovano qui la spinta adatta e liberatoria delle loro attività mentali: con il conforto di un cordone ombelicale che li tiene saldamente attaccati alla concretezza. Giacché Roma è una madre, ed è la madre ideale, perché indifferente. E’ una madre che ha troppi figli, e quindi non può dedicarsi a te, non ti chiede nulla, non si aspetta niente.  Ti accoglie quando vieni, ti lascia andare quando vai, come il tribunale di Kafka. In questo c’è una saggezza antichissima; africana quasi; preistorica. Sappiamo che Roma è una città carica di storia, ma la sua suggestione sta proprio in un che di preistorico, di primordiale, che appare netto in certe sue prospettive sconfinate e desolate, in certi ruderi che sembrano reperti fossili, ossei, come scheletri di mammut.”

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Learning Italian: Passato Remoto, more or less

Posted on the May 20th, 2009

This week in class, we’ve spent a couple of days studying the Italian verb form Passato Remoto. The conjugation of the verb essere (to be)  in present tense, as an example, is  sono, sei, è, siamo, siete, sono. In Passato Remoto, the conjugation transforms into fui, fosti, fu, fummo, foste, furono.

When and how to use Passato Remoto?

Well, I did try and write a paraphrase of what the teacher told us today but, with only a half-formed understanding, I failed miserably.  Looking for help,  I did a quick online search for Passato Remoto (English-language websites) and discovered I had a lot of company in my confusion.

So, I decided the safest thing to do is post an excerpt from an Italian textbook I’m using: (“Grammatica avanzata della lingua italiana” Alma Edizioni – Firenze, 2007 edition )

“Il passato remoto, rispetto al passato prossima, ha la caratteristica di essere più utilizzato nella lingua scritta. Per quanto riguarda il parlato la sua diffusione é piuttosto alta nel sud, scarsa nel centro Italia (a parte la Toscana) e praticamente nulla nell’Italia del nord…

“Al di là delle sue caratteristiche stilistiche e geografiche il passato remoto rende un discorso lontano non tanto nel tempo quanto nella sua percezione psicologica: una favola, una novella, un racconto, anche il testo di una canzone o di una ballata, al passato remoto collocano la narrazione in una dimensione epica, lontana dalla realtà di tutti i giorni.”

Rough translation:

Passato Remoto, respective to passato prossimo, has the characteristic of being more utilized in written language. As regards the spoken language, its diffusion is rather high in the south of Italy, scarce in central Italia (apart from Tuscany) and practically non-existent in northern Italy…

Aside from some of its stylistic and geographic characteristics, passato remoto is used to express distance not so much in time as in a psychological perception: a fable, a novel, an account or story, also the text of a song or of a ballad, in the passato remoto place the narration in an epic dimension, far from the reality of the everyday world.

Verb humor

Our teacher also told us about the common use of passato remoto in spoken Italian in south Italy and in Tuscany. For example, if a Tuscan is talking about a trip to the beach over the past weekend, he or she likely will prefer to use passato remoto, even though in time, the trip happened only the day before.

In Napoli, our teacher said, the use of passato remoto is so favored in everyday speech, that Italians share a longstanding joke about it: In Italy when someone knocks on a front door, or rings the doorbell, the standard response from the person inside is “Chi é?” (Who is it?). But in Napoli, so the joke goes, when the knock or doorbell ring happens, the response is “Chi fu?” (Who was it?).  Because you see, it already happened… ahem… so it’s past tense.

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Learning Italian: dreaming in another language

Posted on the May 17th, 2009

Just before waking this morning, I had a dream during which a woman speaking to me used an Italian phrase that I myself don’t know. Doing a quick search online after I got up, I found that people often report circumstances of speaking or hearing foreign languages in dreams.

The most interesting, and authoritative, information I found is  a moderated page on linguistlist.org –” Foreign languages in dreams” (1996).

Another page of comments related to the topic is on answerbag.com — “Do multilingual people think in different languages all the time?” (2006).

I’m sure there’s a lot more — will try and find more later.

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Learning Italian and blogging about it

Posted on the May 12th, 2009

No one is going to shoot me because I don’t understand how to use the Italian imperfect verb form.

This was my comment to the worried face looking back at me from the bathroom mirror a couple of weeks ago, as I tried to ease a minor anxiety attack after laboring through a homework assignment.

But today in class, grazie a Dio, we’re enjoying a brief respite from wrestling with the criminally high number of verb forms in the Italian language. Today we’re being pummeled by the pronouns. As I sit around a conference-size table with a half dozen other students from various countries across the globe, I’m feeling more or less relaxed. Finally, it seems to me, I’m making some headway with the usually vertigo-inducing  pronouns.

Not so, however, for a couple of my co-students. They’re struggling and I recognize the symptoms — a kind of numbed mumbling coming from their dry lips as all they think they’ve learned about Italian to this point now whirls bumper-car crazy in their brains. Oh, I know this condition well. I’ve been there myself. And I’ve not a doubt in the world I’ll be there again.

So today for these two unfortunates, no matter how many times our teacher repeats the grammatical admonition that the second person singular (tu) in the imperative negative always is formed by placing non before the infinitive, they stare back at him through glazed eyes. And they repeat, ever again, the wrong conjugation. Eventually, they will get it, eventually it will click. But not today.

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