Why bother to learn Italian? After all, unlike some other languages you won't find much use for Italian outside the boundaries of a single nation, so unless you plan to sing opera it hardly seems necessary. However, I have found it very useful indeed when travelling around Italy as people frequently opened up more and were pleased to see a visitor make a decent effort with their language. Besides, Italian is just such a beautiful and mellifluous language. I hardly think it's a coincidence that Italian was once the universal language of music.
Before we begin, please note that when it comes to languages nearly every rule has an exception, and I am only including some of those here. Also, there are many more verb tenses and other points of grammar that I won't go into. My intention is to provide an introductory summary that could serve as a supplement to a phrase book if you're travelling in Italy and might perhaps inspire you to study the language more extensively, in which case you should seek out a language course or a good textbook.
2. Personal pronouns
3. Verb "to be"
4. Indicative tense verbs
5. Irregular indicative tense verbs
6. Nouns, singular and plural
7. Definite articles
8. Indefinite articles
12. Descriptive adjectives
13. Indefinite adjectives
15. Direct object pronouns
16. Indirect object pronouns
17. Combining direct and indirect object pronouns
18. Possessive pronouns and adjectives
19. Demonstrative adjectives
20. Demonstrative pronouns
22. Disjunctive pronouns
23. Reflexive pronouns
25. Time expressions
26. Pronoun review
27. Special pronoun "ne"
28. Special pronoun "ci"
29. Special pronoun "si"
30. Comparison of adjectives
31. Comparison of adverbs
32. Present perfect verb tense
33. Imperfect tense
34. Simple future
35. Days and months
36. Interrogative pronouns
37. Interrogative adjectives
38. Interrogative adverbs
40. Conditional tense
41. Modal verbs
42. Infinitive verbs
43. Verb "piacere"
44. Idiomatic expressions with "avere"
45. Weather expressions
Italian pronunciation is very regular, and once you know a few simple rules you should be able to pronounce any word with authority. Of course, the only way to really get down the sound of the language is to listen to a native speaker or use an audio study tool. In general, consonants are pronounced more tensely than in English, and vowels should be expressed as a single sound without the "off-glide" common in English vowels.
A: Like the "a" in "father."
C: Like the hard "c" of "car" before a, o, u, or a consonant (including the marker "h"). Like the "ch" of "chess" before e or i. Also pronounced like "ch" of "chess" when written as "ci" before a, o, or, u; in this case, the "i" is silent.
D: Like the English "d" with the tip of the tongue firm against the back of the upper front teeth.
E: Like the "e" of "bet" with stressed syllables. Like the "a" of "fate" with unstressed syllables.
G: Like the hard "g" of "got" before a, o, u, or a consonant (including the marker "h"). Like the "g" of "gem" before e or i. Also pronounced like "g" of "gem" when written as "gi" before a, o, or, u; in this case, the "i" is silent.
GLI: Generally like the "lli" of "million," but in certain words like "anglicano" and "negligere" it is pronounced like "glee."
GN: Like the "ny" of "canyon."
H: Always silent, the Italian "h" frequently comes after "c" or "g" to indicate that the consonant is to be prounced hard.
I: Like the "e" of "bee" with the tongue pressed against the lower front teeth.
L: Like the English "l" with the tip of the tongue firm against the back of the upper front teeth.
N: Like the English "n" with the tip of the tongue firm against the back of the upper front teeth.
O: Like the "o" of "ought" with stressed syllables. Like the "o" of "no" with unstressed syllables.
P: Like the English "p" with the lips pressed together more tightly and without aspiration (a puff of air).
R: When "r" appears as the first letter of a word or as a double "rr," it is pronounced with the tip of the tongue vibrating strongly against the gum ridge behind the upper front teeth. In other cases, it is pronounced with a tap of the tongue on the gum ridge as in the "t" of "butter."
S: In most cases "s" is pronounced like the English "s." However, between vowels; before "b," "d," "g," "l," "m," "n," "r," and "v;" and in the endings "-esimo" and "-sione," it is pronounced as a "z."
SC: Like the "sc" of "scope" before a, o, u, or a consonant (including the marker "h"). Like the "sh" of "shore" before "e" or "i." Also pronounced like "sh" of "shore" when written as "sci" before a, o, or, u; in this case, the "i" is silent.
T: Like the English "t" with the tip of the tongue firm against the back of the upper front teeth.
U: Like "oo" of "too."
Z: Generally pronounced like "ts" of "bats" with the tongue touching the upper front teeth. Sometimes pronounced like the "ds" of "leds" with the tongue touching the upper front teeth.
Double consonants: Except for the double "rr," double consonants are generally pronounced with two distinct sounds. For example, the double "pp" should be pronounced like the last and first letters of the phrase "top pizza."
Double vowels: "Strong" double vowels ("a", "e," or "o") strung together are pronounced as individual syllables. "Strong" vowels in combination with other vowels are pronounced as one syllable.
Accent: The accent is generally on the next-to-last syllable, though there are many exceptions. An accent mark is sometimes used to indicate the stressed syllable.
The simplest place to start is how to say "I," "you," etc. Note that French has both a formal way of saying "you" and a familiar way. Generally, it is best to use the formal form when first meeting someone. Also note that these are the pronouns for the subject, or nominative, case. We will get into direct object and indirect object pronouns later.
|First person||I||je||we||nous||Second person||you (familiar)
Now let's learn how to say the simplest declarative sentences: "je suis" ("I am"), "tu es" ("you are"), etc.
|Personal pronoun||Verb "to be"|
The "to be" verb ("être" in French) we have just learned is irregular in conjugation. Luckily, most verbs in French have predictable endings. In the indicative tense, most verbs fall into three broad classifications according to their infinitive endings: "-er" verbs, "-ir" verbs, and "-re" verbs. To conjugate, simply lop off the infinitive ending and replace it with the appropriate conjugation ending.
The chart below shows the complete conjugations for three sample verbs, each with one of the three infinitive endings. So to conjugate another "-er" verb like "manger" ("to eat"), just follow the pattern shown by "parlare" in the chart: "je mange," "tu manges," "il mange," "nous mangons," "vous mangez," and "ils mangent."
The indicative tense is used for making simple statements about the present. For example, the phrase "je mange" can be translated into English as either "I eat" or "I am eating."
Although most verbs fall into the chart above, many of the most common verbs are irregular. We've already learned the most popular irregular, the verb "e^tre" ("to be"). Some other common ones are included in the chart below.
Note that in the first person singular of "avoir" ("to have") the pronouns elides with the verb to form "j'ai" instead of "je ai." Also note that two forms for the first person singular of "pouvoir" ("to be able to") are included. The first, "peux," is used for statements such as "je peux" ("I can"), whereas the second, "puis," is used for questions such as "puis-je?" ("can I?).
"to be able to"
"to do, to make"
Isn't it nice to be able to make simple sentences like "je vois" ("I see") or "nous voulons" ("we want")? But what do I see? What do we want? To take the next step we need to start learning about nouns. The first and most important point about French nouns is that, like the other romance languages, French has two genders for nouns: masculine and feminine. In case you don't have much experience with non-English languages, I should advise you to not get caught up with these terms as for the most part they are fairly arbitrary.
Most nouns are easy to form plurals from as they simply add "-s" to the end as in English. However, there are numerous exceptions. If a noun already ends in an "-s" or in an "-x" or a "-z," no additional ending is added. Nouns that end in "-eu" or "-eau" add an "-x" to make a plural. Some nouns that end in "-ou" add an "-x" instead of an "-s." Nouns that end in "-al" or "-ail" generally change to "-aux" in the plural.
Here are some examples:
Billet ("ticket") → billets ("tickets")
Bus ("bus") → bus ("busses")
Nez ("nose") → nez ("noses")
Bateau ("boat") → bateaux ("boats")
Genou ("knee") → genoux ("knees")
Cheval ("horse") → chevaux ("horses")
However, there are many exceptions to these general guidelines, and some nouns do not change form
at all in the plural.
A few of the most common irregular plurals include:
Oeil ("eye") → yeux ("eyes")
Ciel ("sky") → cieux ("skies")
To put a definite article, or "the," in front of a noun, you need to take into account gender, what kind of letter a noun begins with, and whether a noun is singular or plural. The rules are simple and can be described best in a chart:
|Noun starting with vowel or mute "h"||l'||les|
Remember from our pronunciation section that there are two forms of the initial "h"? Though both are silent, the mute "h" elides with the preceding word and takes the "l'" definite article, whereas the aspirated "h" does not elide and takes the "le" or "la" definite article.
Le billet ("the ticket") → les billets ("the tickets")
La bouteille ("the bottle") → les bouteilles ("the bottles")
L'ami ("the friend") → les amis ("the friends")
L'homme ("the man") → les hommes ("the men")
La halle ("the market") → les halles ("the markets")
The indefinite article, "a" or "an" in English, is equally simple. The plural forms listed in the chart are usually translated into English as "some":
Le billet ("the ticket") → un livre ("a ticket")
La bouteille ("the bottle") → une bouteille ("a bottle")
Les verres ("the glasses") → des verres ("some glasses")
We can now use nouns with either definite or indefinite articles to make complete sentences:
Nous avons le vin ("we have the wine")
Je mange une pomme ("I am eating an apple")
At this point, we can make some pretty useful declarative sentences, but what if we want to ask a question instead? It's really much too simple: to say "do you speak English?" instead of "you speak English," simply reverse the order of the subject of the verb. So "vous parlez anglais" becomes "parlez-vous anglais?"
The basic way to express a negative sentence in french is very straight-forward. Simply add
"ne" in front of the verb and "pas" after it:
Nous n'avons pas le vin: "we don't have the wine"
Je ne mange pas une salade: "I am not eating a salad"
It might seem a little excessive to use two words just to express a negative, and you will find that frequently in conversation the "ne" part is omitted. You might hear "je ne sais pas" ("I don't know") spoken as simply as "sais pas," just as an English speaker might squash the phrase into "dunno."
The partitive plus a plural noun only works when the noun expresses a number of items, such
as books, glasses, etc. However, in some cases you would need to use a singular noun with a
partitive, particularly when discussing food and drink, which you will undoubtedly want to do
frequently while in France. For example, in English you would generally
say "I want some wine" and "we have some bread" instead of "I want some wines" or "we have some
breads." Similarly, the French equivalent combines "de" with the singular definite
article and singular noun:
du (combination of de + la): "je veux du vin" ("I want some wine")
de la: "nous buvons de la biè" ("we are drinking beer")
de l': "il apporte de l'eau" ("he is bringing some water")
The definite article portion of the partitive is omitted in negative sentences, so that "we don't have any wine" would be simply "nous n'avons pas de vin."
Now that we have the basic sentence structure down, we can start adding modifiers. In French, adjectives are a little trickier than they are in English because the endings change according to gender and number of the noun modified, but the rules are not that complicated and can be summarized in a chart:
However, when an adjective ends in "-e," the feminine and masculine forms are identical. For example, the adjective "rouge" ("red") has the same form in the feminine and takes and "-s" ending in both the masculine and feminine plural.
Vin rouge ("red wine")
Lait froid ("cold milk")
Pommes chères ("expensive apples")
Some common adjectives have irregular forms in the feminine, including the following:
Heureux ("happy") → heureuse
Cher ("dear," "expensive") → chère
Gentil ("nice") → gentille
Bon ("good") → bonne
Note that most descriptive adjectives come after the noun, but frequently those that describe
inherent qualities of a noun tend to come before, including:
Occasionaly, an adjective changes meaning according to whether it comes before or after the noun. "grand" is one common one. "Une grande femme" means "a great woman" but "une femme grande" indicates a tall woman.***
Some others that work similarly include:
mon ancienne école my old (former) school mon école ancienne my old (aged) school un cher ami a dear friend un pull cher an expensive sweater la dernière semaine the last week (of the year) la semaine dernière last week un gros problème big problem un homme gros fat man un nouveau produit a new, alternative product un produit nouveau a new, original product
A few of the most common adjectives have irregular endings:
|Singular noun beginning with a vowel or mute "h"||bel||nouvel||vieil|
When the same adjective modifies two nouns, the adjective is in the plural. If both nouns are feminine, the feminine ending is used: "lui vende buone mele e pere," ("he sells good apples and pears"). However, if at least one of the nouns is masculine, a masculine ending is used: "che bei pomodori ed olive," ("what lovely tomatoes and olives").
Indefinite adjectives differ from descriptive adjectives in that they tend to indicate quantity or indefinite quality rather than specific quality.
Some of these are invariable.
Note that among these, "qualche" and "qualunque" are always used with a singular noun and verb.
Qualche ("some," "a few"): qualche camera è libera ("a few rooms are free")
Qualunque ("any"): qualunque tipo di vino va bene ("any type of wine is fine")
Ogni ("each," "every"): vado a Roma ogni primavera ("I go to Rome every spring")
Other indefinites vary like regular adjectives. Note that "tutto" is separated from the noun
by a definite article.
Tutto ("all"): lui lavora tutto il giorno ("he works all day")
Molto ("many," "a lot"): molti alberghi sono cari ("a lot of hotels are expensive")
Altro ("other"): cerco un altro albergo ("I'm looking for another hotel")
Troppo ("too much"): bevi troppo caffè ("you drink too much coffee")
Adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs are easily formed from adjectives by adding "-ement" to the ending of an adjective. For example, "lent" ("slow") becomes "lentement" ("slowly"). If an adjective ends in an "-e" just add "-ment," so "facile" ("easy") becomes "facilement" ("easily").
Though the "-ment" ending is a typical attribute of adverbs, many of the most common
adverbs are not based on adjectives and do not possess the ending:
Parfois ("sometimes"): Souvent ("often"): Toujours ("always"): Bien ("well"): Mal ("badly"): Vite ("quickly"): Beaucoup ("a lot"): Peu ("few"): Trop ("too much"): Très ("very"):
Adverbs that modify verbs generally come after the noun: "il parle lentement" ("he speaks slowly"). For negative constructions, the adverb comes after "pas": "il ne parle pas lentement" ("he does not speak slowly"). However, an adverb that is modifying an adjective or another adverb comes before the adjective or adverb: "il parle très lentement" ("he speaks very slowly").
A direct object pronoun replaces a noun. In French, direct objects are placed before the verb that act upon them rather than after. The chart below summarizes both direct object pronouns that replace inanimate nouns and personal pronouns:
|First person||me||me||us||nous||Second person||you (familiar)
|Third person||him / it
her / it
Examples of nouns replaced by direct object pronouns:
Je veux le verre ("I want the glass") → je le veux ("I want it")
Vous achètez la carte postale ("you are buying the postcard") → vous l'achètez ("you are buying it")
Elle a les timbres ("she has the stamps") → elle les a ("she has them")
Ils apportent les pommes ("they bring the apples") → ils les apportent ("they bring them")
Examples of direct object personal pronouns:
Vous me voyez ("you see me")
Je te connais ("I know you")
Nous le suivons ("we are following him")
Il la crois ("he believes her")
Ils vous regardent ("they are watching you")
Tu nous montres ("you show us")
Vous les dites ("you tell them")
Indirect object pronouns are similar to direct object pronouns as they stand in for a noun, but they are used in an indirect sense. For example, in the sentence "I am writing him a letter," the letter is the direct object as it is being written, and "him" is the indirect object as he is an indirect recipient of the action of the verb.
In English, indirect objects are often indicated by the prepositions "for" or "to." But this rule does not always translate as some verbs that take the indirect object in English take a direct object in French.
The following chart lists the indirect object pronouns, and you should note that many are identical to direct object pronouns.
|First person||me||me||us||nous||Second person||you (familiar)
|Third person||him / her/ it||lui||them||leur|
Examples of indirect object personal pronouns:
Tu me parle ("you are speaking to me")
Je te donne le verre ("I am giving you the glass")
Il vous écrit une lettre ("he is writing you a letter")
Vous lui achètez le vin ("you are buying her the wine")
Elles nous rendent visite ("they are visiting us")
Vous leur téléphonez ("you are telephoning them")
Possessive pronouns replace nouns used in a possessive sense, as in the pronoun "la mia" in the sentence "la casa è la mia" ("the house is mine"). Possessives modify a noun when used as adjectives, as with the adjective "la mia" in the sentence "la mia casa è vecchia" ("my house is old"). Luckily, the pronoun and adjective forms of the possessive are identical:
|Masculine or before vowel singular||Masculine plural||Feminine singular||Feminine plural|
|Your (familiar singular)||ton||tes||ta||tes|
|Your (formal singular)||votre||vos||votre||vos|
|His, her, its||son||ses||sa||ses|
|Masculine singular||Masculine plural||Feminine singular||Feminine plural|
|My||le mien||les miens||la mienne||les miennes|
|Your (familiar singular)||le tien||les tiens||la tienne||les tiennes|
|Your (formal singular)||le vo^tre||les vo^tres||la vo^tre||les vo^tres|
|His, her, its||le sien||les siens||la sienne||les siennes|
|Our||le no^tre||les no^tres||la no^tre||les no^tres|
|Your (plural)||le vo^tre||les vo^tres||la vo^tre||les vo^tres|
|Their||le leur||les leurs||la leur||les leurs|
Reflexive pronouns are equivalent to the English "myself," "yourself," etc. and appear in phrases like "je m'amuse" ("I am enjoying myself"). Note, however, that the reflexive is used more often in French, as in the phrase "je me couche" ("I am going to bed"). Reflexive pronouns are also used to express reciprocal action: "elles se parlent" ("they are speaking to each other").
|First person||myself||me||ourselves||nous||Second person||yourself (familiar)
The reflexive comes in especially handy when you want to tell someone your name. The most common way of doing so uses the verb "chiamere" ("to call") with a reflexive pronoun: "je m'appelle le léopard" ("my name is the Leopard"), which literally means "I call myself the Leopard."
Here some other common reflexive verbs. Note that in the infinitive form
a reflexive verb is
indicated with a "se" in front of it:
S'asseoir: "to sit down"
Se baigner: "to bathe, to swim"
Se doucher: "to shower"
Se fa^cher: "to get angry"
S'habiller: "to get dressed"
Se laver: "to wash"
Se lever: "to get up"
Se réveiller: "to wake up"
The verb "se laver" ("to wash") is used to indicate the washing of body parts. For example, the phrase "je me lave les mains" would be translates "I am washing my hands." Note the use of the definite article instead of the possessive pronoun in front of the verb.
Yes, prepositions are vital to a language. How else could you say where you're going to
or where you're coming from? Some of the most common prepositions in Italian include:
a ("to," "at"): vado a Londra ("I am going to London"), although "a" can also mean "in" when used with the name of a city: abito a Londra ("I live in London")
di ("of"): lui è il figlio di Gianluigi ("he is Gianluigi's son")
da ("from"): vengo da Londra ("I come from London")
su ("on," "over"): dormo su quello letto ("I am sleeping on that bed")
in ("in," "to," "into"): il vino è in un bicchiere ("the wine is in a glass")
per ("for"): questo caffè è per Maria ("this coffee is for Maria")
con ("with"): faro un viaggio con Gennaro ("I am taking a trip with Gennaro")
The preposition "da" has a number of uses besides "from":
"since": sono qui da lunedì ("I have been here since Monday")
"at the place of": andiamo da Andrea ("we are going to Andrea's place")
"to": una macchina da vendere ("a car to sell")
"as": te lo dico da amico: ("I'm telling you as a friend")
Note that when the first five prepositions on the list above precede definite articles, they combine to form new words:
|a||au||a la||a l'||aux|
|de||du||de la||de l'||des|
Il caffè è nella tazza ("the coffee is in the cup")
Ritorno all'albergo ("I am returning to the hotel")
Gianluigi è il padre del ragazzo ("Gianluigi is the boy's father")
Escono dalla chiesa ("they are coming out of the church")
The odd pronoun "y" is a very versatile one. Once you get down its usage, you can use it to substitute for a number of nouns in different situations.
"Y" is often used to replace "there." For example, the question "allez-vous au hotel?" ("are you going to the hotel?") can be answered "oui, j'y vais" ("yes, I am going there"). The pronoun is similarly used in the common stock phrase "il y a" ("there is" or "there are"): "Il y a trois hommes dans la voiture" ("there are three men in the car"). The negative equivalent is "il n'y a": "il n'y a pas de vin dans la bouteille." When employed in a question, a "t" must be added to the inverted phrase: "y a-t-il un hotel pres d'ici?" ("is there a hotel near here?")
"Y" can also replace the preposition "à" plus a noun. This usage is probably one of the most confusing as it doesn't easily translate into "there" as the others do, but it can come in very handy once you get it down. Try this exchange as an example: "Pensez-vous à ta voiture?" ("are you thinking of your car?"); "oui, j'y pense" ("yes, I'm thinking about it").
Another fun multi-use pronoun is "en." It is frequently used as a substitute for a noun with a partitive article: "avez-vous du vin?" "oui, j'en ai" ("do you have any wine?" "yes, I have some"). It can also replace a noun of definite quantity: "avez-vous deux livres?" "oui, j'an ai deux" ("do you have two books? yes, I have two (of them)").
The scene gets a little more complicated when both a direct and an indirect object pronoun are used in the same sentence, but only a few simple rules need to be applied:
The demonstrative adjectives "questo" and "quello" are the equivalents of the English words "this" and "that," respectively. "Questo" is used to indicate something close, whereas "quello" is used for things farther away.
"Questo" has the following forms:
|Masculine||Masculine before a vowel or mute "h"||Feminine|
Ce verre est le mien ("this glass is mine")
Quel treno arriva presto ("that train is arriving soon")
A demonstrative pronoun replaces a noun phrase containing a demonstrative adjective. For example, the phrase "ce verre" in the sentence "je veux ce verre" ("I want this glass") can be replaced by "celui": "je veux celui" ("I want this one"). The suffixes "ci" and "la," indicating "here" and "there" respectively, can be added to add specificity: "je veux celui-ci" ("I want this one here").
"Questo" has the following forms:
Disjunctive pronouns come after instead of before a verb and are most commonly used after prepositions, as in the sentence "je viens avec toi" ("I am coming with you").
Disjunctive pronouns are also used for more precision in a sentence. For example, the sentence "glielo do" could mean "I am giving it to you," "I am giving it to him," or "I am giving it to them." A disjunctive pronoun clarifies the meaning, so you could say "lo do a Lei" ("I am giving it to you"), "lo do a lui" ("I am giving it to him"), or "lo do a loro" ("I am giving it to them").
Finally, disjunctive pronouns are used when there are two direct or indirect pronouns in a sentence: "telefono lui e lei" ("I am phoning him and her").
|First person||me||moi||us||nous||Second person||you (familiar)
Of course, few things are as essential as numbers as even if other words fail you, many situations can be resolved simply by pointing and stating a number. The table lays out the numbers from 1 to 100. Note that all you really need to memorize are the numbers 1 to 20 and every 10 after that as the others are fairly regular.
|1: un||21: vingt et un||41: quarante et un||61: soixante et un||81: quatre-vingt-un|
|2: deux||22: vingt-deux||42: quarante-deux||62: soixante-deux||82: quatre-vingt-deux|
|3: trois||23: vingt-trois||43: quarante-trois||63: soixante-trois||83: quatre-vingt-trois|
|4: quatre||24: vingt-quatre||44: quarante-quatre||64: soixante-quatre||84: quatre-vingt-quatre|
|5: cinq||25: vingt-cinq||45: quarante-cinq||65: soixante-cinq||85: quatre-vingt-cinq|
|6: six||26: vingt-six||46: quarante-six||66: soixante-six||86: quatre-vingt-six|
|7: sept||27: vingt-sept||47: quarante-sept||67: soixante-sept||87: quatre-vingt-sept|
|8: huit||28: vingt-huit||48: quarante-huit||68: soixante-huit||88: quatre-vingt-huit|
|9: neuf||29: vingt-neuf||49: quarante-neuf||69: soixante-neuf/td>||89: quatre-vingt-neuf|
|10: dix||30: trente||50: cinqante||70: soixante-dix||90: quatre-vingtdix|
|11: onze||31: trente et un||51: cinqante et un||71: soixante et onze||91: quatre-vingt-onze|
|12: douze||32: trente-deux||52: cinquante-deux||72: soixante-douze||92: quatre-vingt-douze|
|13: treize||33: trente-trois||53: cinquante-trois||73: soixante-treize||93: quatre-vingt-treize|
|14: quatorze||34: trente-quatre||54: cinquante-quatre||74: soixante-quatorze||94: quatre-vingt-quatorze|
|15: quinze||35: trente-cinq||55: cinquante-cinq||75: soixante-quinze||95: quatre-vingt-quinze|
|16: seize||36: trente-six||56: cinquante-six||76: soixante-seize||96: quatre-vingt-seize|
|17: dix-sept||37: trente-sept||57: cinquante-sept||77: soixante-dix-sept||97: quatre-vingt-dix-sept|
|18: dix-huit||38: trente-huit||58: cinquante-huit||78: soixante-dix-huit||98: quatre-vingt-dix-huit|
|19: dix-neuf||39: trente-neuf||59: cinquante-neuf||79: soixante-dix-neuf||99: quatre-vingt-dix-neuf|
|20: vingt||40: quarante||60: soixante||80: quatre-vingt||100: cent|
Now that Italy uses the euro, travellers don't have to worry about too many large numbers. When I was last there, the lira was still the currency, and it exchanged at about 1,800 lira to the dollar. Thus, the word "mille" ("thousand") was important. You might still have to use it and perhaps even "millione" ("million," plural "millioni"). How do you say the current year? "Due mille sei."
Numbers are invariable before nouns except for the number "uno," which changes like the
indefinite article. Also, the ordinal numbers ("primo," "secondo," "terzo,"
"quinto," "sesto," "settimo," "ottavo," "nono," "decimo," "undicesimo,"
"dodicesimo," etc.) agree with nouns like
adjectives, as in the phrase "il primo treno" ("the first train")
Now that we have learned our numbers, what better way to use them than to learn how to tell time? Generally, train schedules, open hours, and such are listed in 24-hour time, but in conversation people are likely to use more casual time expressions.
The equivalent of "it's one o'clock" is simply "il est une heure." After that, "heure" ("hour") is in the plural: "il est deux heures" (it's two o'clock").
The French equivalents of a.m. and p.m. are "du matin" ("in the morning"), "de l'après-midi" ("in the afternoon"), and "du soir" ("in the evening").
"A quarter after" is expressed with "un quart," the half hour as "et demie," and times before the hour are expressed with "moins" ("less"). Noon is "midi" and midnight is "minuit."
Let's put them all together with some examples:
Il est sept heures du matin ("it's 7:00 a.m.")
Il est onze heures un quart ("it's 11:15")
Il est midi ("it's noon")
Il est une heure et demie ("it's 1:30")
Il est trois heures de l'après-midi ("it's 3:00 p.m.")
*A six heures moins un quart ("at 5:45")
Il est douze heures moins dix du soir ("it's 10:50 p.m.")
Il est minuit ("it's midnight")
Now that we have met all of the pronoun forms, let's put them all together in one table to make it easy to compare. To save space, only the masculine singular form of the possessive pronouns are included.
|Second person||tu (familiar)
|Third person||il (masculine)
|Third person||ils (masculine)
The pronoun "si" acts as an impersonal pronoun and is equivalent to the word "one" in English, as in the sentence "si mangia bene in Italia" ("one eats well in Italy"). Because "si" is impersonal and doesn't necessarily indicate singular or plural, the verb that follows "si" agrees with the predicate that follows the verb. For example, note that the verb is plural in the sentence "si mangiano molti panini in Italia" ("one eats a lot of sandwiches in Italy"). Similarly, a predicate adjective that follows a verb with "si" would be in the plural: "si è contenti in Italia" ("one is content in Italy").
Direct object pronouns are placed before "si": "lo si mangia" ("one eats it"). Finally, it would be silly to have two "si"'s in a row if the impersonal pronoun "si" were used with the reflexive pronoun "si," so in this case the pronoun "si" changes to "ci": "ci si diverte in Italia" ("one enjoys oneself in Italy"). See?
Comparisons and contrasts are essential to good conversation, particularly when offering critiques on all the food and drink you are sure to try in Italy. To express equality between two adjectives, use the expression "così . . . come": "questo vino è così splendido come quel vino" ("this wine is as splendid as that wine").
To express one adjective as greater in quality, use "più . . . di": "questo vino è più secco di quel vino" ("this wine is drier than that wine").
To express one adjective as lesser in quality, use "meno . . . di": "questo vino è meno caro di quel vino" ("this wine is less expensive than that wine").
To express the superlative degree as an adjective, as in the best, the greatest, the strongest, etc., use the definite article with "più" or "meno": "questo vino è il più caro del ristorante" ("this wine is the most expensive in the restaurant"). However, the definite article is not used if it already appears in front of a noun: "questo Chianti è il vino più caro del ristorante" ("this Chianti is the most expensive wine in the restaurant").
If two adjectives are compared with a noun, use the construction "più . . . che" or "meno . . . che" as in the sentence "questo vino è più fruttato che dolce" ("this wine is more fruity than sweet").
A few adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms:
|buono ("good")||migliore||il migliore|
|cattivo ("bad")||peggiore||il peggiore|
|grande ("big")||maggiore||il maggiore|
|piccolo ("small")||minore||il minore|
Adverbs are compared in exactly the same way as adjectives, but two of them have optional irregular comparative and superlative forms:
|bene ("well")||meglio||il meglio|
|male ("badly")||peggio||il peggio|
Examples (not from personal experience, I assure you):
Francesco gioca meglio di me ("Francesco plays better than I do")
Gioco peggio di tutti ("I play the worst of all")
Though we have learned a lot so far, all of our sentences have been limited to the present tense. Of course, you may want to be able to tell someone what you did earlier or what you intend to do later, so we will start to learn other verb tenses. The first is the present perfect tense, which is used to express simple past actions. The present perfect is a compound tense, meaning it has two elements.
The first element is the
appropriate form of the verb "avere" ("to have"). Recall that "avere" is an
The second element is the past participle of the main verb. To form the past participle for
most verbs, simply
change the ending of the infinitive form of the verb according to the following rules:
"-er" verbs take the ending "-é": parler → parlé
"-ir" verbs take the ending "-i": finir → fini
"-re" verbs take the ending "-u": vendre → vendu
Because the present perfect uses the auxiliary verb "to have," it is tempting to think of a
sentence like "io ho parlato" as the equivalent of the English "I have spoken." Though that may
be a convenient way to remember the construction, it is important to note that the Italian
sentence can also translate into "I spoke" or "I did speak." The following examples should help to
Ho perduto il libro ("I have lost the book")
Hai detto qualcosa ("you did say something")
Lei ha veduto il gatto ("she saw the cat")
Abbiamo portato i bicchieri ("we brought the glasses")
Avete prenotato una camera? ("did you reserve a room?")
Loro hanno aprito il negozio ("they have opened the store")
When a direct object noun following a past perfect verb is substituted with the direct object pronouns "lo," "la," "li," or "le," the past participle must agree with the direct object, meaning that the ending changes to conform with the ending of the pronoun, as in the sentence "le ho vedute" ("I saw them"). This rule also applies to the pronoun "ne." Thus, if we replace the noun in the sentence "ho mangiato tre biscotti" ("I ate three cookies") with the pronoun "ne," the sentence would become "ne ho mangiati tre" ("I ate three of them"). Agreement with the direct object pronouns "mi," "ti," "ci," and "vi" is optional, so if the "you" in the sentence "I saw you" is a female, the sentence can be rendered either "ti ho veduto" or "ti ho veduta." There is no agreement with indirect object pronouns.
The pronouns "lo" and "la" as well as the combined direct-indirect pronouns "glielo," "gliela," "glieli," and "gliele" can be elided with the "ho," "hai," "ha," and "hanno" conjugations of "avere" in the compound tense, as in the sentences "lui l'ha venduto" ("he sold it") and "lui gliel'ha comprati" ("he bought them for you").
You probably already think the past perfect is complicated enough, but there is an additional
and significant level of complexity to add. Certain verbs, which tend to deal with motion
or changes in state of being, are conjugated using the verb "essere" ("to be") instead of
"avere" as the first element in the compound form. The most common of these verbs are:
Andare ("to go")
Arrivare ("to arrive")
Cadere ("to fall")
Entrare ("to enter")
Essere ("to be")
Diventare ("to become")
Morire ("to die")
Nascere ("to be born")
Partire ("to leave")
Stare ("to stay")
Sembrare ("to seem")
Tornare ("to return")
Uscire ("to go out")
Venire ("to come")
And if that's not enough to throw you off, the past participles of these verbs must agree with
the subject. Some examples should help clarify matters:
Non sono nato ieri! ("I wasn't born yesterday!")
Sei andata a Roma ("you went to Rome")
Lei è arrivata ieri sera ("she arrived last night")
Lui è entrato in casa ("he has come into the house")
Siamo partiti ieri mattina ("we left yesterday morning")
Luca e Gennaro sono tornati in ritardo ("Luca and Gennaro returned late")
Renata e Mirella sono venite da Londra ("Renata and Mirella have come from London")
Finally, in compound tenses, all reflexive and impersonal ("si") pronouns are conjugated with essere as the auxiliary: "ci siamo divertiti in Italia" (“we enjoyed ourselves in Italy”).
At this point, you might feel a little discouraged at having to master so many new rules just to be able to speak of things in the past tense, but I can assure you that learning new verb tenses actually does get easier from here once you have mastered the compound form.
The imperfect should convince you that not all of the verb tenses are as difficult as the past perfect. The imperfect is another past tense, but it is used in a different sense. Whereas the Italian past perfect sentence "ho parlato" indicates "I spoke," "I have spoken," and "I did speak," the imperfect sentence "parlavo" indicates "I was speaking" or "I used to speak." More precisely, the imperfect expresses an action that is habitual, repeated, or continuing for an indefinite period of time or describes characteristics that used to be true in the past. The examples following the chart below should help clarify.
Examples to contrast the two tenses:
Compare "Cecilia mi ha parlato ieri" ("Cecilia spoke to me yesterday") with "Cecilia mi parlava molto" ("Cecilia used to speak to me a lot")
Compare "l'ho veduto ieri" ("I saw him yesterday") with "lo vedevo ogni autunno" ("I used to see him every fall")
Now that we have the present and the past covered, it is time to look to the future. In addition to indicating future actions, the simple future also expresses probability, so the sentence "costerà molte lire" could mean both "it will cost a lot of lira" and "it must cost a lot of lira." The future tense is conjugated according to the chart below:
Prenoterò una camera domani mattina ("I will rent a room tomorrow morning")
Gli parleremo presto ("we will speak to him soon")
Now that we can talk about the future and the past, we should learn the days
of the week and the months of the year. First, the days:
La dimanche ("Sunday")
Il lundi ("Monday")
Il mardi ("Tuesday")
Il mercredi ("Wednesday")
Il jeudi ("Thursday")
Il vendredi ("Friday")
Il samedi ("Saturday")
Now the months:
The preposition "a" is used to indicate when something will happen: "andrò a lunedì" ("I will go on Monday"). The prepositions "tra" and "fra" are used to indicate a span of time before something will happen: "lei verrà in Italia tra due mesi" ("she will come to Italy in two months"). The preposition "fa" is used to talk about the past in a similar way: "lui è venuto tre giorni fa" ("he came two days ago"). Need to express the complete date? Here's an example: "oggi è il cinque ottobre, 2006" ("today is the 5th of October, 2006").
Let's take a break from the verb tenses to talk about interrogative pronouns. These pronouns
replace nouns or noun phrases and are very useful for posing questions:
Che, che cosa, cosa ("what"): che dice? ("what are you saying?"), che cos'è questo? ("what is this?")
Quali ("which"): quali vuole? ("which do you want?")
Quanti ("how many"): quanti ha comprato? ("how many did you buy?")
Chi ("who," "whom"): chi viene da Londra? ("who comes from London?")
Di chi ("whose"): di chi è questo bicchiere? ("whose glass is this?")
A chi ("to whom"): a chi parli? ("to whom are you speaking?")
Da chi ("from whom"): da chi ha comprato il vino? ("from whom did you buy the wine?")
Some adjectives can also come in handy for posing questions, but you need to be more careful with
these because they vary like regular adjectives:
Quale (singular), quali (plural) ("which"): quale treno viene? ("which train is coming?")
Quanto, quanta, quanti, quante ("how much," "how many"): quante mele vuole? ("how many apples do you want?")
Finally, let's throw in some adverbs to round out our set of extremely useful question words:
Come ("how"): come stai? ("how are you?")
Dove ("where"): da dove viene? ("where do you come from?")
Perchè ("why"): perchè non andiamo? ("why aren't we going?")
Quando ("when"): quando arriva il treno? ("when does the train arrive?")
Now back to some more verb tenses. The imperative is used to issue commands, including the ever popular "mangi!" ("eat!") and "andiamo!" ("let's go!"). And do you know the refrain from the drinking song in La Traviata? Of course, it's "beviamo!" ("let's drink!"). The chart below shows all of the conjugations:
The negative imperative is formed by adding "non": "non dorma" ("don't sleep"). However, the second person singular imperative uses the infinitive for the negative. Thus, you would say "parla" ("speak") but "non parlare" ("don't speak").
Object pronouns are attached to the first and second person singular and plural forms of the imperative. Thus, you would say "parlami" ("speak to me") and "mangiamolo" ("let's eat it"). But the object pronouns are not attached to the polite forms: "signore, mi parli" ("sir, speak to me").
"M'" and "t'" are used before "y" and "en."
The conditional is used to express possibility. For example, the sentence "io parlerei" can be translated as "I could speak" or "I would speak."
At first glance, it might not seem like the most useful tense for the casual speaker of Italian. However, the conditional is also used for issuing polite requests and orders. For example, instead of using the imperative tense to say "parli" ("speak"), you can combine the infinitive form of the verb "parlare" with the verb "potere" ("to be able to") to form a more polite command: "potrebbe parlare?" ("could you speak?").
The conditional can be used in a similar fashion with the verb "volere" ("to want"). If, as you very likely will, you wish to order a glass of wine you could say "voglio un bicchiere di vino" ("I want a glass of wine"), but it is more polite and well-mannered to put "volere" in the conditional tense and say "vorrei un bicchiere di vino" ("I would like a glass of wine"). The chart below shows the conjugations of the three verb endings as well as "potere" and "volere," which are irregular.
In the section on the conditional tense, we saw a modal verb in action in the sentence "potrebbe parlare?" In this case, the verb "potere" functions as what is called a modal verb, which mainly means that it is followed directly by a verb in the infinitive form. Another common modal verb is "volere," as in the sentence "voglio andare a Roma" ("I want to go to Rome"). The third common modal verb is "dovere" ("to have to"), as in the sentence "devo partire" ("I must leave").
A direct object used with a modal verb can either be placed before the modal, as in the sentence "lo devo fare" ("I have to do it"), or attached to the infinitive, as in "devo farlo."
As noted above, the modal verbs "potere" and "volere" have special uses in the conditional. The verb "dovere" also has a special usage and indicates "should": "dovrei mangiare qualcosa" ("I should eat something").
A special rule applies to modals used in compound tenses. Although all of the modal verbs would normally be combined with the auxiliary verb "avere" for a compound tense, they are instead combined with "essere" if the infinitive that follows would be combined with "essere." For example, one would say "ho voluto mangiare" ("I wanted to eat") but "sono voluto andare" ("I wanted to go") because "andare" is combined with "essere" in a compound tense.
The previous section on modal verbs introduced the use of verbs in the infinitive form, but infinitives are used in other situations as well. When used with verbs that are not modal verbs, infinitive verbs frequently need to take prepositions, generally the prepositions "a" or "di." Which preposition a verb takes depends on the preceding conjugated verb. For example, the verb "cominciare" ("to begin") takes the preposition "a": "lui comincia a parlare" ("he is starting to speak"). However, the verb "finire" ("to finish") takes the preposition "di": "abbiamo finito di parlare" ("we stopped speaking"). A good dictionary is the best way to determine exactly which preposition a particular verb requires. Direct object pronouns normally follow and attach to an infinitive: "ho cominciato a mangiarlo" ("I started to eat it").
The verb "piacere" ("to be pleasing") is invaluable for expressing likes and dislikes and is very common, but its construction is a bit odd. For example, the simplest way to say "I like this wine" in Italian is "mi piace questo vino," but notice that the verb is in the third person instead of the first person conjugation and the personal pronoun is in the indirect object instead of the subject form. In fact, the sentence literally says "this wine is pleasing to me."
Once you get the hang of it, the construction becomes second nature, but you especially need to be careful of expressing like or dislike of plural objects as the verb has to be in the third person plural, as in the sentence "no mi piacciono questi biscotti" ("I don't like these cookies"). In compound tenses, "piacere" is combined with "essere" and the past participle agrees with the thing liked or disliked: "lei mi è piaciuta" ("I liked her").
Now that we're on common but odd constructions, we may as well discuss some unusual
expressions using the verb "avere." For example, in English one would say "I am hungry" using
the verb "to be," but in Italian the verb "to have" is used instead: "abbiamo fame" ("we are
hungry"). Other similar constructions include:
Avere sete ("to be thirsty")
Avere caldo ("to be hot")
Avere freddo ("to be cold")
Avere sonno ("to be sleepy")
Avere ragione ("to be right")
Avere fretta ("to be in a hurry")
Avere torto ("to be wrong")
Avere bisogno (di) ("to need")
Avere l'occasione (di) ("to have the opportunity to")
"Avere" is also used to indicate age, so if someone asks you the question "quanti anni ha?" ("how old are you?"), subtract the appropriate number from your actual age as I always do and respond "ho trentadue anni" ("I am thirty-two years old").
Finally, we can't leave our Italian lessons without learning some vital expressions for one of the
small-talk. Many weather phrases use the verb "fare" ("to do") in an idiomatic
sense, as in these examples:
Che tempo fa? ("how's the weather?")
Fa bel tempo ("it's beautiful")
Fa brutto (cattivo) tempo ("it's awful")
Fa caldo ("it's hot")
Fa freddo ("it's cold")
Fa molto caldo (freddo) ("it's very hot (cold)")
Fa un po' caldo (freddo) ("it's a bit hot (cold)")
Fa fresco ("it's cool")
Others are simpler:
Piove ("it's raining")
Nevica ("it's snowing")
Tira vento ("it's windy")
è nuvoloso ("it's cloudy")
So I think that should do it for a quick survey of the basics. If you have questions or if I haven't been clear about anything, don't hesitate to write me: email@example.com. I'm certainly not fluent, but I will do my best to find you the answer. Also write me if anything I put on here is just plain wrong.
Last update for this page: 8 May 2007