Start flying in Italian, sort of

Alitalia Airbus A320 (EI-DTM).

A very subtle choice of picture by Bernardo to go with the flying lyrics and headline of this blog posting. (Alitalia Airbus A320, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, enough idle chatter about the Eurovision song contest and music and so on, it is time to knuckle down with some language learning, focusing on Italian for no particular reason other than we haven’t looked too deeply at it. To get you in the mood, here is some music in Italian! Click on the link, please, but after you do, do come back to this blog. Don’t get too distracted on YouTube, OK?

That was the moment in 2009 when Marco Mengoni shot to fame, in the Italian X factor series. The song, Dove si vola (Where you fly) went to number one on the Italian charts, as did his Eurovision entry this year, L’essenziale. You can see his discography on Wikipedia here. I had a quick listen to his other hit singles but didn’t much care for them except for the title track to his latest album, Pronto a correre (Ready to run).

Here are the lyrics to Dove si vola... I punched them into a language translator and have pasted the rather perfunctory English translation underneath because I figured you’d be too lazy to do this :). I am right, yes?

Cosa mi aspetto da te
cosa ti aspetti da me
Cosa sarà ora di noi,
cosa faremo domani
Potremmo andarcene via, dimenticarci
oppure giocarci il cuore, rischiare…

What I expect from you
What do you expect from me
What will become of us now,
What will we do tomorrow
We could go on, forget
or play with your heart, risk …

Fammi respirare ancora
portami dove si vola
Dove non si cade mai
Lasciami lo spazio e il tempo
E cerca di capirmi dentro
dimmi ogni momento che ci sei Che ci sei che ci sei

Let me breathe again
take me where you fly
Where you ever falls
Let the space and time
And try to understand me inside
tell me any time you’re there
You’re there you’re there

Cosa ti aspetti da me
Cosa mi aspetto da te
Adesso che siamo qui
nudi sul tetto del mondo, del mondo
Potremmo dirci bugie tranquillamente
Oppure andare per mano per sempre

What do you expect from me
What I expect from you
Now that we are here
naked on the roof of the world, the world
We could tell us lies quietly
Or go to hand forever


E non fermarti a quest’attimo
Che non ritornerà
E dimmi che ogni momento per noi
sarà fantastico

And do not stop at this moment
Which will not return
And tell me that every moment for us
will be fantastic


Cosa mi aspetto da te
Cosa ti aspetti da me

What I expect from you
What do you expect from me

Let the lessons begin

Ok, now that you are in the mood and your expectations are high and we are flying, let’s tackle some basics in Italian.

As in French, in Italian nouns are either masculine (maschile) or feminine (femminile) and the articles and adjectives that go with them have to agree in gender and number. Let’s look at some masculine nouns followed by their feminine counterparts: lo zio (the uncle), la zia (the aunt); il ragazzo (the boy); la ragazza (the girl); il padre, la madre (father, mother); il giorno, la notte (day, night).

Emma Trentini (1878-1959), Italian soprano ope...

Il soprano Emma Trentini (1878-1959)

Nouns ending in o tend to be masculine, nouns ending in a tend to be feminine, while nouns ending in e can be either. Nouns denoting a male person are usually masculine and those denoting a female person tend to be feminine. These are often linked to professions (il cantante is a male singer, la cantante is a female singer). However, in keeping with the o = masculine rule, the word for “soprano” in Italian, which is, um, soprano, is masculine – il soprano, whereas of course sopranos are almost inevitably women in real life but I am not ruling out the possibility that there might be males somewhere posing as sopranos. (Like the ones in the TV series, for example, haha). But note: as in French, all those words that have been borrowed from Greek that end in –a, or more precisely –ema and –amma, tend to be masculine – il problema, il programma. Those Greek words always defy the rules! And another curiosity is the fact that the noun femminile itself (meaning “the feminine grammatical form”) is masculine – il femminile. That is Italian logic for you.

If you are interested in gardening and eating, you might like to know that in Italian most trees are masculine – il pero, the pear tree – but their fruit are usually feminine – la pera, the pear. However, lemons, figs and mandarins are masculine for some reason: il limone, il fico, il mandarino – maybe they don’t taste so good.

The definite article (“The”); l’articolo determinativo

Now, if you have been paying attention, you might have noticed that the definite article (the “the”) in front of some masculine nouns is lo and in front of others it is il. Why is this? It is possibly because Italians are dramatic and like to make things complicated. Or it could be they are sensitive to sounds: they use lo before masculine nouns beginning with what is sometimes described as “an impure s” – that is, an s followed by another consonant (lo sbaglio, the mistake; lo sport) and before masculine nouns beginning with z, as in the above mentioned lo zio, the uncle. It is also used in front of ps– and gn– hence lo psicologo (the psychologist) and lo gnocco (the dumpling).

As in French, the feminine definite article is la before all consonants (la nonna, the grandmother).

Also as in French, in front of both masculine and feminine nouns beginning with a vowel, l’ is used – l’animale (a masculine word), l’automobile (feminine).

The indefinite article (“a/an”); l’articolo indeterminativo

With masculine nouns, un is used before most consonants or vowels (un padre, un animale) but uno is used before z and an “impure” s (uno zio, an uncle, uno scolaro, a male scholar or pupil).

With feminine nouns, un’ (with an apostrophe) is used before all vowels, and una is used before all consonants (un’automobile, una ragazza).

To summarise definite articles:

  • l’ goes with an masculine or feminine noun starting with a vowel
  • lo goes with masculine nouns starting with a z, or s + consonant (or ps- and gn-)
  • il goes with masculine nouns starting with any other consonant
  • la goes with feminine nouns starting with a consonant

To summarise indefinite articles:

  • uno goes with masculine nouns starting with a z, or s + consonant (or ps- and gn-)
  • un goes with all other masculine nouns (both consonant and vowel)
  • una goes with feminine nouns starting with a consonant
  • un’ goes with feminine nouns starting with a vowel

OK, class is over. But we still  have five minutes before the bell rings for the next lesson (which will cover the formation of plurals). So let’s listen to some more music. It’s a lovely melody by a well-known Italian pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi, called Nuvole Bianche  (White Clouds). It’s just the sort of calming music you need when your head is spinning with Italian grammar.

See you next time, a presto, ci vediamo!


4 thoughts on “Start flying in Italian, sort of

  1. Pingback: Are Italians naughty by nature? | My Five Romances

  2. Pingback: Hymn, him and her: a bilingual nostalgia trip | My Five Romances

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