Italian Lesson 2

Welcome to the second installment of my Web-course in Italian. If this is your first time visiting the Italian Lessons, be sure to check out the first Lesson for an introduction to the course and to Italian.

Lesson 2 - La Casa (the house)

This week's new words:

NOUNS
  • la casa - house
  • la cucina - kitchen
  • la stanza - room
  • il bagno - bathroom
  • la tavola - table, board
  • il tavolo - table, desk
  • la parete - wall
  • il muro - wall
  • la porta - door
  • la sedia - chair
  • il telefono - telephone
  • la televisione - television
  • la finestra - window
  • VERBS
  • stare - to stay (seldom, to be)
  • essere - to be
  • PREPOSITIONS
  • di - of (belonging to, sometimes equiv. to English from)
  • da - from
  • in - in (something)
  • ADJECTIVES
  • antipatico(-a) - unpleasant
  • carino(-a) - pretty
  • buono(-a) - good/well
  • comodo(-a) - comfortable
  • contento(-a) - happy/glad
  • malato(-a) - sick, ill
  • brutto(-a) - ugly
  • grande - big
  • pulito(-a) - clean
  • cattivo(-a) - bad
  • nervoso(-a) - nervous
  • simpatico(-a) - sympathetic (person, situation)
  • sporco(-a) - dirty
  • tranquillo(-a) - calm, quiet
  • vecchio(-a) - old
  • Numbers 11-99

  • 11 undici
  • 12 dodici
  • 13 tredici
  • 14 quattordici
  • 15 quindici
  • 16 sedici
  • 17 diciassette
  • 18 diciotto
  • 19 diciannove
  • 20 venti
  • 21 ventuno
  • 22 ventidue
  • 23 ventitre
  • 24 ventiquattro
  • 25 venticinque
  • 26 ventisei
  • 27 ventisette
  • 28 ventotto
  • 29 ventinove
  • 30 trenta
  • 40 quaranta
  • 50 cinquanta
  • 60 sessanta
  • 70 settanta
  • 80 ottanta
  • 90 novanta
  • Colors

  •  bianco(-a) - white
  •  giallo(-a) - yellow
  •  arancione - orange
  •  rosa - pink
  •  rosso(-a) - red
  •  azzurro(-a) - blue
  •  verde - green
  •  marrone - brown
  •  grigio(-a) - grey
  •  nero(-a) - black
  • Pronunciation

    Most of the Italian alphabet is exactly like the English alphabet. Here are some exceptions from words in this lesson.
    c, ci, ch
    The Italian c has 2 possible sounds. It can sound like the ch in chip, or like the k in kite. Unlike English, there are very strict rules about when the Italian c sounds like a ch or a k. If the c precedes (comes before) an e or an i, the c will have a ch sound. For example, undici. If the group ci precedes an a, o or u, it is also pronounced as ch AND the i is mute : ciao sounds as English chao. If the c precedes any other letter (a, o, u, or a consonant, although the latter is very rare), then it will have a k sound, as in comodo. If the group ch precedes an i, or an e, it is pronounced as k : chi sounds as English kee. The word cucina has both types of c in it - the first c makes the k sound, and the second c makes the ch sound.
    g, gi, gh
    The Italian g has 2 possible sounds. It can sound like the g in got, or like the j or dg in judge. The rules are similar to the ones described above for c. Thus getto is pronounced as English jet-toh, and gioia as English joy-ah. While gotto and ghetto are pronounced as English got-toh and get-toh.
    j y
    In Italian j and y are not used, and when they occur (in foreign or arcaic words), they are pronounced as an Italian i.
    w
    In Italian w is not used, and when it occurs (in foreign words), a native Italian would pronounce it as a v.

    rr and all other double consonants.
    All times a double consonant is written, it is actually pronounced twice. It takes practice to do it well.
    v
    Sounds exactly like in English.
    s
    The Italian s may have two pronounciations. One of them is like English z or s : rosa is pronounced similarly to English rose with a terminal ah. The other one is like English s e.g. in set : sette is pronounced like set-teh. There are no definite rules on two pronounciations (although some dictionaries report the "correct" one), and there are regional variations in the pronounciation of the same word. In general you will be understood, even if your pronounciation may sound strange. As a rule of thumb, s followed by vowel in the second or further syllable of a word, has the z sound (e.g. rosa, casa), while s followed by vowel or consonant (usually t or p) at the beginning of a word is an s sound : sette, stare.
    z
    The Italian z is pronounced much harder than an English, like sound ts, or tz, like in word tzar. There are actually two variant of the z sound in Italian, which are marked in dictionaries, but are subject to regional variations and make little difference for the everyday speaker.

    Two (not so) confusing verbs - essere and stare

    If you have already read the New Words section, you probably noticed that the two verbs introduced this week sometimes may mean both "to be". In fact however essere is the proper verb corresponding to "to be". Stare means "to stay", and is used where an English speaker would expect to use "to be" only in two cases. Confusing the two verbs is proper of popular speech in Southern Italy but feels somewhat uncouth.

    Verb Conjugation

    As in English, verbs are conjugated, or take various forms, in Italian. In the present tense, there are 6 verb forms ("persons"), depending on who the subject of the verb is. Here are the conjugations for essere and stare:

    essere - to be

  • io sono ("I am")
  • tu sei ("you are")
  • Lei /egli (lui) /ella (lei) /esso(-a) è ("you (formal)/he/she/it is")
  • noi siamo ("we are")
  • voi siete ("you (plural) are")
  • Loro/essi(-e)/loro sono ("you (old formal plural)/they (things and persons)/they (persons) are")
  • stare - to stay

  • io sto ("I stay")
  • tu stai ("you stay")
  • Lei /egli (lui) /ella (lei) /esso(-a) sta ("you (formal)/he/she/it stays")
  • noi stiamo ("we stay")
  • voi state ("you (plural) stay")
  • Loro/essi(-e)/loro stanno ("you (old formal plural)/they (things and persons)/they (persons) stay")
  • Note that the conjugations for Lei (you), egli (he), ella/lei (she) and esso(-a) (it) use the same form of the verb. The same goes for their plurals (though the singular and the plural use different forms).

    * - You will note there are formal and familiar forms for the second person, unlike English where forms like "thou" are in disuse. It is important to use the proper one otherwise you'll look uneducated. In the singular form you use tu when addressing to a relative, a friend, a colleague or a child.

    It is felt uneducated and unkind to use tu when addressing a person you do not know. In such cases the form now preferred in modern Italian is Lei (literally, she, and verbs are conjugated like in the third person singular). I'll write this Lei with a capital L to make it clear. This is not necessary, although it is used e.g. in commercial letters. Note that the feminine form is used also when addressing to men : this is because "she" is "your Lordship" and the word Lordship in Italian is of feminine gender. In the popular speech in Northern Italy this is felt strange, and sometimes you'll hear Lui (literally, he) as a courtesy form for "you" when addressing a man. This usage is not recommended.

    Another courtesy form used to address a person instead of tu is Voi (literally, "you", i.e. the plural form, like in English, and using the same conjugation of the plural form). This form is felt somewhat archaic (it might be used in the South or in the countryside, and was favoured by the Fascist regime).

    In the plural, nowadays use goes for voi both as a familiar and as a formal form. You would sound unusually formal, if you'd use Loro (literally, they) when addressing more than one persons. However sometimes it is used.

    I will include with all verb conjugations all the 6 main forms.

    A further note regarding the third person. Egli and ella, for he and she, are literary forms, which in spoken Italian are usually replaced by lui and lei (literally him and her). These are the masculine and feminine forms for persons. Esso and essa are the forms for "it", and have a masculine and feminine form according to grammatical gender of the noun of the thing to which they refer. In the plural, essi and esse are respectively the masculine and feminine form for "they" for persons and things. However nowadays spoken Italian prefers loro (literally, them) for persons.

    Now that you have this pretty little conjugation, what does one do with it? Make sentences, of course. The conjugation of a verb tells you which form of the verb to use depending on who is the subject of the verb. In English we conjugate without thinking about it - I am, you are, he is, etc. You don't (normally) say "I are" or "you is", because it's gramatically incorrect. Likewise in Italian, you don't say "io sei", because it's just plain wrong. Here are some examples of using essere and stare:

  • Io sono vecchio. ("I am old.")
  • Tu sei carina. ("You are pretty.")
  • Noi siamo nervosi. ("We are nervous.")
  • Lei sta sulla sedia. ("She is on the chair.") Note that
  • Lei e' seduta. (literally "She is seated") is the form for "She is in the chair."
  • Essi sono sporchi. ("They (the males) are dirty.")
  • Now it's time to explain the differences between essere and stare, before we go any further. Essere means "to be" or "to exist", while stare usually means "to stay" but can be used where English idiomatics use "to be". The rules are summarized here:

    essere is used to indicate more permanent aspects of people or things, such as -

    1. Identity - Io sono Carla. ("I am Carla")
    2. Profession - Egli è un professore. ("He is a professor.")
    3. Origin - Noi siamo di Milano. ("We are from Milan.")
    4. Religious or political affiliation - Tu sei cattolico? ("You are Catholic?")
    5. Time of day or date - Sono le otto. ("It is 8 o'clock.")
    6. Possession - La casa è di Giovanna. ("It is Giovanna's house.")
    7. Nationality - Sono Italiano. ("I am from Italy.")
    8. Physical aspects or characteristics of something - Le sedie sono verdi. ("The chairs are green.")
    9. Essential qualities of something or someone - Sono vecchio. Sei antipatico. ("I am old. You are unpleasant.")
    10. Location - La sedia è in cucina. ("The chair is in the kitchen.")
    11. but also, more rarely - La sedia sta in cucina. ("The chair is in the kitchen.")
    12. Condition or emotion that is subject to change - Sono malato. ("I am sick.")
    13. Personal observations or reactions, how something "seems" or "feels" - La cucina è pulita. ("The kitchen is (seems) clean.")

    stare is used to indicate precise locations, in idioms and as auxiliary, such as -

    1. Idiomatic sentences - Sto bene.("I am well.")
    2. Idiomatic sentences - Sto male.("I feel bad.")
    3. Location - La sedia sta in cucina. ("The chair is in the kitchen.")
    4. Continuous tense - Sto correndo.("I am running.")
    Notes: Notice that the verb form used for things like la sedia is the egli/ella/esso(-a) form. A chair is an "it" (below, you'll see that it's actually a "she"), which uses the egli/ella/esso(-a) form of the verb. Also notice that you can make sentences like Sono Italiano, without including the pronoun. To English speakers this may seem like saying "Am from Italy", which we would never do, but in Italian, because the subject can be figured out by the form of the verb used (since the sentence used sono, the subject must be io, or I), there is no confusion about who the subject of the sentence is and the pronoun can be left out. If it would be unclear what the subject of the sentence is, then the pronoun has to be included.

    The above lists of when to use essere and stare have to be memorized - using them incorrectly means you will be less likely to be understood, and people will definitely know you are not a native speaker. The same goes for the conjugations of essere and stare. Every Italian verb has a conjugation, and memorizing them just goes along with learning the language.

    Il, lo, la, un, uno and una (definite and indefinite articles)

    In Italian, as well as all the other Romance languages (French, Spanish, etc), all nouns have a gender associated with them. "Chair" is feminine, "telephone" is masculine. The way to tell whether a noun is masculine or feminine is to look at the il/lo or la that precedes the noun in the New Words section of these lessons. Il is the definite article that corresponds to masculine nouns - il professore, il telefono. La is the definite article that corresponds to feminine nouns - la casa, la tavola, la finestra. Whether a noun is considered feminine or masculine is generally based on the last letter of the noun. If the noun ends with an "a", as in sedia or cucina, then it is most probably a feminine noun. If it ends with an "o", such as muro or orologio (wristwatch), then it is always a masculine noun. Exceptions do exist to this rule - poeta (poet) is masculine - but the majority of Italian nouns behave normally. Nouns ending with an "e", can be masculine or feminine, usually according to the meaning (like padre (father) and madre (mother) - but e.g. parete is feminine). The exceptions just have to be memorized as you come across them.

    When using nouns, you must make sure that you use the correct gender and number when using an identifier. The identifiers are il, lo, la, i, gli, le, un, uno and una. Il, lo and la are singular definite articles, which means you are talking about a specific thing. La sedia means "the chair" - you are talking about a specific chair. Un, uno and una are singular indefinite articles, which means you are taking about any member of a group of things. Una sedia means "a chair" - you are talking about any chair in general. The use of these identifiers is identical to the way you would say it in English - if you want to say "a table", use una, and if you want to say "the table", use la. i and gli are the plural of il and lo, and le is the plural of la. You use these plural definite articles when you are talking about several specific members of a group - i tavoli means "the tables". There are no plural forms of uno and una, and to translate "some" when used in sentences, one must use indeterminate pronouns - dei tavoli means "some tables".
    Note however that for uncountables nouns, where English uses no article ("Wine is red"), Italian will use an article (Il vino e' rosso).

    You may wonder why there are two forms for the masculine articles (il and lo, and their plurals i and gli, as well as un and uno). The first form is used when a noun begins with a consonant (il telefono), the second form is used when a noun begins with a vowel (un Italiano), or with s followed by a consonant, or with z, gn, ps or x.
    As a further complication, if a (masculine or feminine) noun begins with a vowel, the articles lo and la) are not written in full form (Lo Italiano, "the Italian man", or "Italian language") unless a new line starts across the two words, but in abbreviated form (L'Italiano) separated by an apostrophe. The apostrophe means something has been elided (left out). Even trickier (but this is how one recognizes who knows Italian !), with indefinite articles, the apostrophe is needed only for the feminine form (since for the masculine one REPLACES uno with un which is a valid existing form, thus : un Italiano ("an Italian man") but un'Italiana ("an Italian woman").

    Here are some examples using these articles:

  • Le stanze sono grandi. ("The rooms are big.")
  • Delle sedie sono in cucina. ("Some chairs are in the kitchen.")
  • Il telefono è verde. ("The telephone is green.")
  • La parete è brutta. ("The wall is ugly.")
  • Di, da and in

    Di is Italian for of (or from, in the way sometimes used in English). La casa di Teresa means "Teresa's house" (literally, "the house of Teresa"). Sono di Milano means "I am from Milan". Di is used most often to show posession or origin, as per the preceding examples. When di is followed by an il, as in la casa di il professore, the di and il are combined into del. So the only and correct way to say "The (male) professor's house" would be la casa del professore.

    Da is Italian for from, in all cases this indicates a motion. Since we haven't seen any verbs of motion, we can't make examples yet.

    In is Italian for ... in, as in inside something (not necessarily inside a physical object). It can be used to mean that something is inside something else, as in la sedia sta in cucina ("the chair is in the kitchen"), or that someone is somewhere, Marco è in Italia ("Mark is in Italy").

    Adjectives

    Agreement

    Adjectives are words that describe things, words like "red", "fast", and "pretty". In English, there isn't much to using adjectives because they never change - "the fast car" or "the cars are fast". In Italian, the adjective has to agree, in both gender and number, with whatever it is describing. If the adjective modifies a feminine noun, then the adjective uses a feminine ending. If the adjective modifies a masculine plural noun, then the adjective uses a masculine plural ending. Here are some adjectives with their various endings:
    carino - pretty
  • singular masculine - carino
  • singular feminine - carina
  • plural masculine - carini
  • plural feminine - carine
  • comodo - comfortable
    brutto - ugly
    sporco - dirty
    bianco - white
    nero - black
    The above rules are good for any adjective that ends in an -o or -a. Adjectives like grande and verde, that end in -e, do not have separate masculine and feminine forms and make plural in -i. So, you would say la stanza e' grande ("the room is big"), and il muro e' grande ("the wall is big"), as well as le sedie sono grandi ("the chairs are big"). There are exceptions to this rule, but that will be addressed in another lesson.

    Placement of adjectives

    In Italian, adjectives generally (poetry is different !) go after the noun they are describing. For example, il telefono rosso ("the red telephone"), and le professoresse vecchie ("the old (female) professors"). If you want to say that "something is something", then the sentence structure is the same as in English, using the correct forms of essere: il telefono è rosso ("the telephone is red"); le professoresse sono vecchie ("the (female) professors are old").

    Numbers 11-99

    The numbers 11-16, like the numbers 1-10 in Lesson 1, have slightly irregular forms - however they follow some patterns, much like they do in English. 17-19 follow another pattern. Eleven is undici, which is actually a contraction (shortening) of uno e dieci, or "1 and 10". Seventeen is Diciassette, or "10 and 7", and so on. Much like the "teens" in English - fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, etc.

    Twenty in Italian is venti. Twenty-one is ventuno (a contraction of venti e uno or "twenty and one"), 22 is ventidue ("twenty and two"), and so on. Thirty is trenta, 31 is trentuno, 38 is trentotto ("thirty and 8"). This pattern holds for all of the numbers 11 through 99 - first learn the base (such as venti ("twenty"), quaranta ("forty"), or ottanta ("eighty")), then to make numbers in-between the bases, add the word for the second number onto the end (ventidue ("twenty-two"), quarantacinque ("forty-five"), ottantanove ("eighty-nine")). If two vowels meet, the first one is dropped like in vent(i)uno ("twenty-one"). Isn't that easy?

    Examples

    Here are some examples of sentences you can now make, using the words and grammar from these 2 lessons: Here are the translations for these sentences.
    That's the end of Lesson 2. As always, feel free to mail me questions, comments, or corrections on this or any of the Lessons. Believe me, I'm starting to get a new appreciation for teachers through my work with this.

    original Spanish lesson by Tyler Chambers, 6-27-94 refurbished for Italian by Lucio Chiappetti, lucio@ifctr.mi.cnr.it, 09-09-94
    Copyright Lucio Chiappetti 1994.