The Italian language is very fond of suffix endings. A few letters added to the end of a word can expand the meaning of the word by degrees of smallness, largeness or extremes. Of course there are Italian words themselves that convey the same meaning as the modifying suffix but the economy of word usage by just slightly altering the ending of an Italian word is a fun way to express degrees or extremes. Some people use these nomi alterati frequently and others tend to use adjectives instead*. Sometimes these suffix endings are not acceptable substitutes for a descriptive adjective but when they are Italian “word changelings, the offspring of a noun or adjective with a modifying suffix, make the original word all the more melodious and sound so much better than their English counterpart. Italian word changelings intensify the meaning and when pronounced with the right inflection and tone make the Italian language that much more colorful and fun to speak.
For example the following suffix ending – ino (a) used to indicate a diminutive form or smallness.
a car – una macchina – (a small car) una macchinina
a piece – un pezzo – ( a small piece) un pezzino
a white cup – una tazza bianca – (a small white cup ) una tazzina bianca
*you can also use the word piccolo (a) to mean small or tiny.
Another common suffix ending in Italian used to indicate a superlative quality such as “extremely” or “very” is –issimo (a) and of course you can also use molto
bella (beautiful) – bellissima (very beautiful)
cara (dear) – carissima (very dear – dearest)
buono (good) – buonissimo (very good)
alto (tall) – altissimo (very tall)
*you can also use word molto to mean very much, a lot
The word ending – one is used to indicate largeness.
baci (kiss) – bacione (big kiss) ragazzo (boy) – ragazzone (big boy)
la porta (door) – la portone (the big/main door)
There are many ways to say “Thank You” in Italian. Italians by nature are a thankful people. Warm and hospitable and pleasing to be of help. They are thankful for their food, wine, art and design and the beautiful landscape of their country. They are thankful for surviving two World Wars, the Black Death, natural disasters, barbarians and at least six civil wars, unstable rulers and countless city-state skirmishes. So having multiple ways to express their gratefulness and thanks doesn’t seem a bit overdone but honest and true.
“Grazie” has become part of a international vocabulary of thanks and along with the corresponding reply “prego” is one of the first words students of Italian learn but there are other ways Italians say “thank you” including
- Molte grazie – “many thanks”
- Mille grazie or grazie mille – “thank you very much” literally translated to mean “thanks a thousand times” or “a thousand thanks”
- Ringraziare – a verb used to mean “to thank” or “to give thanks” conjugated with various pronouns*
And in response there is the ubiquitous, widespread and multi-contextual Italian word “Prego” the most commonly used way of replying to “Grazie“. However my favorite response is the use of the phrase “non c’è di che.” This response is used to say no need for thanks it was my pleasure to do it. Translated to “do not mention it”, the favor you are being thanked for was my pleasure to do.
||I thank you (singular informal)
||I thank you (singular formal)
||I thank you (plural)
There are many regional dialects in the Italian language. If you come from an Italian family you probably heard your parents and grandparents speak a little differently that what you learn in an Italian language class. That’s because you are learning classical Italian based on the Tuscan dialect popularized by Dante Alighieri.
Dante is credited for standardizing the Italian language and the dialect of Tuscany making it the basis for what would be the official language of Italy and making Dante the “Father of the Italian language”. That’s not to say everyone agreed with him. There was much debate over the centuries on what should govern the establishment of a modern Italian literary and spoken language. An intellectual debate between various scholars of the time (including Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolo Machiavelli) ranted on whether the standard or dialectical form of Italian should be the most accepted. Eventually standard Italian prevailed and the Accademia della Crusca, an official government institution established in1582, began overseeing the preservation of standard Italian. Shortly after that, the Accademia published the first official Italian dictionary, the Vocabolario della Crusca, which ultimately became the template for future language dictionaries.
One of my fellow travelers once asked me who”Louie” was. She said I talked about him a lot with my Italian friends and family. Not knowing the language she didn’t realize that “Louie” was actually spelled “Lui” and referred to the Italian personal pronoun for he or him. So when I would say “Mi piace Lui” I wasn’t saying “I like Louie” by rather saying “I like him”.
Listening to this conversation can be confusing for a non-Italian speaker. All the more reason to know a little Italian when traveling in Italy. Phrase book Italian is confining and a little like speaking from a script. Learning vocabulary alone is limited – a “speak and point” version of a language. Although both are good starting points for your first trip to Italy you will need to build on these rout sayings and idioms to carry on a conversation. Remember language is a form of communication with many dimensions and most languages spoken without proper grammar and conjugation won’t make much sense.
The Italian language is the most romantic language in the world. The high percentage of Italian words that end in vowels give the language a musicality with sounds overflowing into unrestricted puffs of air flowing over lips, teeth, tongue and throat. Italian is a phonetic language, which means that it is spoken the way it is written. Every vowel is pronounced no matter how many of them are in a row. Such as the word aiutare where each syllable is pronounced rapidly but distinctly (AH-EE-OO-TAH-RAY). Separately yet flowing into one another without any pause. A pretty romantic description of a language.
Today is St. Valentine’s Day, a day when love is in our hearts, minds and lips. Here are a few “love” phrases in Italian that you can use to create an Italian inspired Valentine’s Day.
Ti amo = I love you (To be used with your significant other)
Ti voglio bene = I love you/I like you very much (To be used with family and friends)
Mi piaci = I like you
Mi piaci tanto = I really like you
Ti adoro = I adore you
Tu sei il mio bello/la mia bella = You are my handsome/beautiful one
Sei l’amore della mia vita = You are the love of my life
(Warning – this blog entry by necessity is more than 30 seconds)
Once when I was lamenting about the time and effort it took for me to learn the Italian language, my Milanese cousin Ornella reminded me that I must learn to approach it like an Italian. She compared my studies to the building of Milan’s great Gothic cathedral, the Duomo.
The Duomo of Milan is monumental, second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is 515 feet long, 302 feet wide and 148 feet in height. There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with a capacity of 40,000. Inspiring and impressive, the art and altars, statues (3,400 inside and out), stained glass and reliquary of Milan’s domus Dei make it one of the greatest churches in the world. Ornella’s point was that the builders of the Duomo didn’t complete their project in a year or two. It took time. In the case of the Dumo it took more than 500 years and for most of the artists and craftsmen it was a lifetime’s work. I’m sure like me they were experiencing Information Fatigue Syndrome. The science and technologies of the time introduced new ideas and innovations that must have overwhelmed the builders of the Duomo. Managing all that information could not have been easy but they obviously found a formula for success.
The Italian language is my Duomo. It may take me a while to achieve the level of proficiency I hope for but in the meantime I’ve found 4 reasons and simple strategies for learning that motivate me both as a student and teacher.
- Knowledge brings value to your life – learning is a process that enhances the quality of your life; advocates for lifelong learning believe there are real benefits to continuous study and learning a language in particular compounds those benefits and gives you an opportunity to travel like a local
- Find a reason and interest – pursue your studies of the Italian language based on an interest. Art, architecture, history, travel, fashion, design; use your interest as a starting point with related vocabulary and grammar that will keep you engaged then branch out from there
- Collect, prioritize and process your learning – organize the information you’ve learned in a way that makes sense to you and in a way you can use it
- Practice active recall – your brain learns in many ways but needs to be stimulated; repetition with flash cards and audionyms (sound alike words) with related visual images that are familiar to the learner create a memory link. Here is an example from the Dean Vaughn Total Retention System I have used in teaching medical terminology to learn the meaning of the word root for stomach (gastr-). It sounds crazy but it works.
“Gastr-” sounds a lot like “gas truck,” which cues the learner to create the image of a gas truck in their “mind’s eye.” This image is then changed to a “gas truck with a stomach for a tank. The learner connects the illogical image of a “gas truck with a stomach for a tank” by the acoustical cue or sound-alike name for the Greek element “gastr-.”
You love Italy. You love Italian food. You drool over the fashions of Milan and sigh over the bridges in Venice. Your vino is rosso. Your blood boils at the sound of Ferrari and you dream of basking under the Tuscan sun. Oh and one other thing you’ve secretly thought it would be wonderful if you could learn Italian. Well at least a little so that when you’re traveling in Italy off the tourist radar (which you must do) you can order your favorite gelato and that special pasta the region is so famous for.
Well you’ll be pleased to learn that you already know or can guess at the meaning of many Italian words. They’re called cognates, look alike words with similar, though not always the exact, spellings and same meaning. Consider it an advantageous coincidence and begin to explore what you already know about the beautiful sound and meaning of the Italian language.
Here are 30 of my favorite Italian cognates to learn in 30 seconds.
- problema =problem
- lista = list
- persona = person
- famoso = famous
- appartamento = apartment
- importante = important
- gruppo = group
- artista = artist
- banca = bank
- minuto = minute
- fotografia = photograph
- birra= beer
- visitare=to visit
- studiare=to study
- arrivare=to arrive
- preparare=to prepare
- dividere=to divide
- presentare= to present
- decidere= to decide