“Assieme” and “Insieme”

As part of our series on the differences and synonyms between similar Italian words or phrases, today we’re looking at the words assieme and insieme.

Luckily for you, they are almost entirely interchangeable. Preferences between which word is used are usually down to personal or regional preferences, although you’ll probably notice that “insieme” is generally the more common option.

They mean “together”, or “with”, and are used in the following context:

Andremo via in vacanza assieme / insieme.

We’ll go on holiday together.

Stiamo insieme / assieme da tre anni.

We’ve been together three years.

Studieranno insieme / assieme.

They will study together.

Vanno insieme / assieme ai loro cugini.

They’re going with their cousins.


A bilingual’s quandary: forgetting words

This week I had a pretty embarrassing situation arise during one of my tutoring sessions with a student.

They asked me how to say “school grade”/”school mark” in Italian, and my mind couldn’t have went any blanker!

I sat there, shocked at my own forgetfulness, and incredulous this was happening right. during. a bloomin’. class!

This isn’t a recent development. Anyone that is bilingual or can speak several languages will have encountered the exact same situation. It’s so incredibly easy to forget words whilst speaking one language and wanting to say them another!

Likewise, some expressions simply don’t exist in other countries and you may find yourself constructing a whole sentence in Language A without realising you are about to use a saying that only exists in Language B.

A very simple example in the English language is the word “fortnight”.

This word does not exist in American English, but is commonly used in British English. If such differences exist within such similar languages, you can only imagine what it’s like with other completely different ones!

Back to my original quandary: I had to (gulp) Google how to say “school marks” in Italian. The shame.

According to the Internet, the word I was after was apparently voto, but I’m either still drawing a horrible blank or the internet lied to me. Then, Wikipedia came to the rescue. Valutazione scolastica. Valutazione. That’s more like it!

It’s been days and I still don’t remember us ever using the word voto when talking about school grades.

It won’t be the last time something like this happens, and it won’t be any less embarrassing!

In parole povere

Today we’re looking at the Italian phrase In parole povere, as part of our series on Italian idioms.

In the spirit of this site, each post will be brief and to the point!

“In parole povere”

This sentence literally means “In poor words”, but would actually be translated as either “In a few words” and “In short”, but also “Simply put”, “In simple terms”.

For example:

In parole povere, ho perso tutti i miei soldi al casino` e adesso sono povero!

“Simply put, i lost all of my money at the casino and now I am broke!”

Difference between “Non era mia intenzione” and “Non era la mia intenzione”

Non era mia intenzione is an offer of apology and/or remorsefulness, and it generally means “It wasn’t my intention” for example:

Mi dispiace, non era mia intenzione di svegliarti / spaventarti / urtarti ecc

(I am sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you / scare you / bump into you etc).

On the other hand, Non era la mia intenzione has a very different meaning. It generally precedes the word questa, and it means “This wasn’t the purpose of my actions”, i.e. “I didn’t intend for things to work out this way”.

Mi dispiace, non era mai stata la mia intenzione di ammaccare la tua auto!

“I’m sorry, I never meant to dent your car!”

The sentence structure is incredibly similar between the two phrases but their meaning his very different!


The definite article and your family – l’articolo determinativo e i tuoi familiari

When you’re referring to your parents formally, i.e. mio padre and mia madre, the determinative article is never used.

This also applies to other family members, e.g. mia sorella (my sister), mio fratello (my brother), mio cugino (my cousin), mia zia (my aunt), unless the noun is modified or is followed by an adjective e.g. il mio fratellino (my little brother), la mia sorella maggiore (my big sister), il mio cugino sardo (my Sardinian cousin).

You also use this article when using the informal nouns “papa`” and “mamma”, i.e. il mio papa` and la mia mamma.



Ways of saying “I think”

Once you learn a set phrase, it’s easy to simply stick to the one way of saying something.

Languages are rarely simple though, they have a rich and varied tapestry of words, sayings, and phrases which any native or fluent speaker should and does know.

Even if you have a favourite way of saying something, it’s very important to familiarise yourself with other sayings, if nothing else so that you can recognise them and understand them when they crop up.

Today I’m looking at different ways you can say “I think” in Italian.

You can simply say “Penso” (I think), or “Credo” (I believe, generally used in the context of “I hold the belief that…”).

You could also say “Direi che” (I would say), or “La mia opinione e` che” (My opinion is).

Mi sa che” (I think, as in I get the feeling that…) and “Immagino” (I imagine) are also acceptable.

All of these phrases have some differences of varying degrees, but can all be used in lieu of “I think”, depending on the context of what you’re trying to say.

Can you think of any more ways you could replace the term “Io penso che”?

Learn Italian through Facebook updates!

I recently came across a pretty nifty Facebook page called Impariamo l’Italiano.

The admins post exercises, words of the day, quizzes and vocabulary every day, with the occasional Italian song (and corresponding transcript) thrown into the mix for good measure.

I have found it to be a great way of getting some exposure on Italian vocabulary and grammar rules without having to actively seek this information. After all, nowadays most people have a Facebook and the majority of those people probably check their newsfeed every day.

What better way to get sneak in some “passive learning” than to have it pop up on your Facebook!

Do you follow other helpful Italian pages on social media? Sharing is caring, comment below with your tips!

Sentire e ascoltare

The difference between “sentire” and “ascoltare” is a very simple one, as it mirrors the English way of speaking.

Ascoltare” refers to the act of actively listening to something, e.g. “Sto ascoltando della musica” (I am listening to some music).

Sentire“, on the other hand, refers to when we are involuntarily hearing sounds e.g. “Non ce la faccio piu` a sentire la musica dei vicini!” (I can no longer stand hearing the neighbours’ music!)

Potere and riuscire

This came up in a recent Italian lesson.

These two terms (potere and riuscire) have a similar meaning, “to be able to” or “can”, however they do have a subtle difference in meaning.

You would ask “Posso andare in bagno?” (“Can I go to the toilet?”), and on a second implied level you’re asking if you have permission to go to the toilet.

On the other hand, if you want to say that you have the ability to do something (as in, you have the skills or knowledge necessary to accomplish something) you would use “riuscire”.

For example:

“Riesco a leggere quattro libri al mese” (I can read four books a month)

“Lei riuscira` a raggiungere la cima tra un’ora” (She’ll be able to reach the top in about an hour)

Strictly speaking, even when using “potere” instead of “riuscire” incorrectly an Italian speaker will understand what you’re trying to say. Learning these nuances in a language is a great way to becoming an excellent speaker, but don’t get too bogged down if it means you will start over thinking every sentence.

As a learner, you’re supposed to make mistakes!


I have dipped my toes into the world of online tutoring. For the first time in about 8 years, I am putting my language skills to some good use.

I don’t really know how this new venture will develop over time, so I’ll just have to chronicle as I go and hope it all works out!

I have had about seven Skype lessons so far, and I am absolutely loving it.

This is my second week, and I am actually a little bit overwhelmed at the amount of requests I am getting. I always said I’d be happy to have perhaps one or two students a week, but so far I have had three people re-booking me, with a few more booking me for the first time this week.

A first for this week: I will be doing conversation practice in English! I don’t exactly know what has happened, but I seem to be getting quite a few people from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries requesting some English tutoring.

It should be fun!

So far, everyone I have spoken to has been lovely, an absolute delight to talk to. I can only hope it continues.