A case for Grammar

Grammar: why you need it to help you learn a language, #learnItalian, Via Optimae,

(or how learning one sentence can help you create endless others) 

Read advice about learning a language nowadays, and you're likely to hear that you should abandon your grammar books and instead simply immerse yourself— move to the country if you have to, but get a lot of input and pick up words and eventually sentences, in context, like a child learning their native language.

I think immersion is a valuable tool, and I'm all for getting over your shyness and communicating with native speakers straight away BUT I believe in immersion AND grammar.

Phrases & Context:
Suppose you hear in a bar/caffè: 

Vorrei un cappuccino. 
I would like a cappuccino.

You could deduce from context the meaning, and you could even memorize and repeat the phrase yourself....but, by also understanding a bit of the grammar behind it, you can adapt and change the sentence as needed to express thousands upon thousands of related concepts and ideas, and create your own unique sentences that you've never heard before.

Grammar helps you understand the different parts of a sentence, and how the different parts interact and affect each other to change the meaning.

Knowing grammar, I am able to break the sentence down as follows:

VORREI (the verb "volere" conjugated in the 1st person singular conditional tense: means "I would like")
UN (indefinite masculine article— gender corresponds with noun it modifies: means "a")
CAPPUCCINO (singular, masculine noun: means "delicious coffee-based drink with foamed milk")

Knowing this, I can modify the sentence to communicate a variety of things.

Changing 'the who':
For example, I can change who does an action by changing the person of the verb's conjugation. I know how to change the person, because I know that in Italian, the root of the verb stays the same, and I add different endings.

For the conditional tense, those endings are as follows:

(io) vorrei
(tu) vorresti
(lui) vorrebbe
(noi) vorremmo
(voi) vorreste
(loro) vorrebbero

Immediately, I am able to say six different sentences:

(1) Vorrei un cappuccino.
I would like a cappuccino.
(2) Vorresti un cappuccino. 
You would like a cappuccino.
(3) Vorrebbe un cappuccino. 
He/She/You (formal) would like a cappuccino.
(4) Vorremmo un cappuccino. 
We would like a cappuccino.
(5) Vorreste un cappuccino. 
You all would like a cappuccino.
(6) Vorrebbero un cappuccino. 
They would like a cappuccino.

And that's just by knowing one tense— the conditional… 

Other tenses:
If I've learned other tenses, I can expand what I'm saying even more.

For example, I can talk about what will be wanted in the Future:

volere— to want, simple future tense:
(io) vorrò I will want
(tu) vorrai you will want
(lui) vorrà he will want  
(noi) vorremo we will want
(voi) vorrete you (all) will want
(loro) vorranno they will want

So, that's another six sentences!

(1) Vorrò un cappuccino.
I will want a cappuccino.
(2) Vorrai un cappuccino.
You will want a cappuccino.
(3) Vorrà un cappuccino. 
He/She/You (formal) will want a cappuccino.
(4) Vorremo un cappuccino. 
We will want a cappuccino.
(5) Vorrete un cappuccino. 
You all will want a cappuccino.
(6) Vorranno un cappuccino. 
They will want a cappuccino.

I could even combine them:

Vorrei un cappuccino adesso, e vorrò un cappuccino domani.
I would like a cappuccino now, and I will want a cappuccino tomorrow.

And there are plenty of other tenses to choose from!

Present: Voglio— I want
Imperfect Past: Volevo— I wanted
Past Perfect: Avevo voluto— I had wanted

Changing 'the object':
And that's just changing the verb, what if we change the object of the verb?

In this case, the object of the verb is un cappuccino— "a cappuccino".

I can change the indefinite article un-"a" to the definite article il- "the" 

(1) Vorrei il cappuccino.
I would like the cappuccino. 

Now, I'm able to talk about a specific cappuccino. (Maybe there are two drinks on the counter, and I'm saying I would like the cappuccino, not the tea.)

Or, maybe I'm feeling especially gluttonous and would like multiple cappuccinos.

If I've studied grammar and know how to make a noun plural, then I can easily change the article to any number due (two), tre (three), etc. and change cappuccino from singular, to plural: cappuccini

Vorrei un cappuccino.
I would like a cappuccino. 
Vorrei due cappuccini.
I would like two cappuccinos. 
Vorrei tre cappuccini.
I would like three cappuccinos. 
Vorrei duemila tredici cappuccini.
I would like two thousand and thirteen cappuccinos.  

And that's of course, if we only want to talk about cappuccinos.  If you know other masculine nouns, you can simply swap them out:

Vorrei un succo d'arancia.
I would like an orange juice.
Vorrei un cane.
I would like a dog.  

If you know how to modify the article, you can say you'd like a feminine noun quite easily too:

Vorrei una collana.
I would like a necklace.
Vorrei una coperta.
I would like a blanket.

Wanting an action:
Knowing a bit more about the verb volere, I know that instead of wanting an object, I can also "want to do something."  

In English, we say "I want to go" but thanks to my grammar studies I know the equivalent in Italian is the version of the verb that ends in -ARE, -ERE, or -IRE, also known as the infinitive.

So now, I can put practically any infinitive verb after the conjugated verb volere

Vorrei andare.
I would like to go.
Vorrei nuotare.
I would like to swim.
Vorrei leggere.
I would like to read.

Adding it all up:
Now that's a lot of sentences!  Thanks to grammar, one thing I might have overheard in a bar can now be used as a basis for creating tons of my own, unique sentences.  Not only can I look for opportunities to use my new sentences, but my knowledge of grammar can also help me make sense of new things I overhear from native speakers, too.

—Vorrei sciare.
I would like ???

"Well, I know it's a verb… because it ends in -ARE and there are no articles or anything to suggest it's a noun.. but what does it mean??"

—Cosa vuol dire "sciare"
What does "sciare" mean?

(The other person mimes skiing)

"Ahh, sciare means to ski…, I know how to say "I like + verb"… it's:"

—Ah! Sì..Mi piace sciare.
Ah! Yes...I like to ski.

See? Grammar is fun!
So, instead of looking at each grammar point as some dull lesson to be suffered through, or skipped entirely for "something more useful"— it should be thought of as another transformation to apply to the sentences you already know.  Then, you can look for (or even create) opportunities to use what you've learned...

"Ahh, the imperfect past tense! Now I can tell Giovanni about how I wanted a cappuccino, but then changed my mind!"

Volevo un cappuccino, ma adesso voglio un tè.
I wanted a cappuccino, but now I want a tea.

Eventually, with enough practice and immersion, you will no longer think in conjugations, tenses, articles, and gender agreement.  The right way to say it will just "sound natural..."

…but until then— use grammar!

Put it into practice:
Take the basic components of Vorrei un cappuccino and see if you can transform it based on each of the following grammar points:

   (1) Indefinite Articles(How to say "A/AN")
   (2) Definite Articles (singular)(How to say "THE")
   (3) Pluralization, (How to make singular nouns plural)
   (4) Definite Articles (plural), ("THE" for more than one thing)
   (5) The Partitive Article, (How to say "some")

  (1) How Italian verbs work(Intro to verbs & grammar terms)
  (5) La negazione - Negation 
  (6) Ogni quanto? Quante volte? (Adverbs of frequency)
  (7) C'è & Ci sono (There is & There are) 

Buono studio!
Alex on

Vuoi far parte di Via Optimae?

Vuoi is the present tense, 2nd person of 'volere', means: You want/Do you want?
far parte, means: to be a part of
Via Optimae: a great way to learn Italian

If so

and get social!

Alex at Via Optimae on TwitterPinterestFacebook

Modi di Dire — Quattro

(Idiomatic Expressions with "Four")

There are numerous idiomatic expressions that use numbers— and Italian is no exception. Here, we look at the number four, QUATTRO.

Check out the illustrations for each expression and see if you can deduce the literal translation as well as the figurative meaning.

Modi di dire con quattro, in quattro e quattr'otto, fare quattro chiacchiere, farsi in quattro, dirne quattro, a quattr'occhi, learn Italian with Via Optimae,


Write the Italian expression from above that most closely matches each of the following expressions in English:

1. "Work like a dog", "Kill myself off"  


2. Face to face


3. "Easy as 1, 2, 3" 


4. "Give someone a piece of my mind", "Tell off" 


5. "Shoot the breeze"


Buono studio!
Alex on

via Italian with Comics, check it out!

Vuoi far parte di Via Optimae?

and get social!
Alex at Via Optimae on TwitterPinterestFacebook


L'insalata caprese & Italian food prep terms

(or how to learn new words & eat them too!)
Gli ingredienti dell'insalata caprese: mozzarella, pomodoro, basilico, olio d'oliva, ingredients of Caprese Salad by Via Optimae,

It's fun to study Italian.  

It's even more fun when you get to enjoy a delicious, and iconic, Insalata Caprese /in-sah-LA-ta kah-PREh-seh/ (Caprese Salad) as the fruit of your labor.

Read the transcript and review the ingredients and key terms before watching the video lesson: (Highlight in the spaces below to reveal the English translations)

Buongiorno amici di Ricette per Cucinare. Oggi siamo qui per parlare dell'insalata caprese. 
Greetings friends of Ricette per Cucinare.  Today we are hear to talk about the Caprese Salad.

Quest'insalata è facilissima da preparare ed è velocissima. 
This salad is super easy to prepare and super fast.

Vediamo di cosa abbiamo bisogno. Ci servirà: 
Let's see what we need.  We will need: 

una mozzarella di bufala campana
one buffalo mozzarella from Campania (d.o.c.)

un pomodoro ramato fresco
one fresh red tomato

del basilico fresco

some fresh basil

e dell'olio d'oliva.

and some olive oil.

Procediamo a preparare gli ingredienti.
Let's start by preparing the ingredients.

Tagliamo il pomodoro in due metà, e togliamo la parte del picciolo interno.
We cut the tomato in two halves, and we remove the interior part of the stalk.

tagliere - to cut, L'insalata Caprese - Caprese Salad as seen on Via Optimae,

togliere - to remove, L'insalata Caprese - Caprese Salad as seen on Via Optimae,

Poi procediamo a tagliarlo a fette di media larghezza, in questo modo qua.
Then, let's proceed cutting it into slices of medium width, like this.

tagliare a fette
to cut into slices

Useremo solo metà mozzarella di bufala per una porzione, quindi adesso la tagliamo a fette.
We will use only half of the buffalo mozzarella for one serving, therefore now we cut it into slices.

In un bel piatto piano, disponiamo le nostre fette di pomodoro. 
In a nice flat dish, let's arrange our tomato slices,

disporre - to organize arrange, L'insalata Caprese - Caprese Salad as seen on Via Optimae,

e successivamente, mettiamo al centro le fette di mozzarella di bufala.
 and then, let's put in the center the slices of buffalo mozzarella.

to put

Facciamo a pezzettini il basilico, e lo mettiamo in modo irregolare sopra al pomodoro.
Let's tear into little pieces the basil, and let's put it here and there on the tomato.

fare a pezzettini - to tear into small pieces, L'insalata Caprese - Caprese Salad as seen on Via Optimae,

Per guarnire, ci siamo tenuti una cima di basilico, e la possiamo utilizzare mettendola per esempio qua al lato. 
To garnish, we saved the top of the basil and we can use it putting it here on the side, for example.
guarnire - to garnish, L'insalata Caprese - Caprese Salad as seen on Via Optimae,

Concludiamo il piatto, irrorando con un filo d'olio.
We finish the dish bathing (drizzling) a bit of oil.

irrorare - to bathe wet drizzle, L'insalata Caprese - Caprese Salad as seen on Via Optimae,

Un saluto a tutti amici e amiche di Ricette per Cucinare, e arrivederci alla prossima.
Greetings to all the friends of Ricette per Cucinare, and see you next time.

Now, watch the video and see if you can pick out the terms and expressions without relying on the written transcript.  Notice the pronunciation and intonation— is anything said differently than you imagined?

Video & images via Ricette per Cucinare, check them out for more great recipes in Italian!

Now, the fun part! Get your ingredients and make the dish! You can do it! — I purposely chose one of the easiest recipes out there (and one of my favorites, too!) 

Practice saying aloud what you're doing, as you're doing it— as if you were on your own cooking show.  You can use the 1st person plural (we) as in the video...

Tagliamo il pomodoro.
We cut the tomato.

Or practice other conjugations, for example, the 1st person singular (I): 

Taglio il pomodoro.
I cut the tomato.

After you've cut, sliced, torn, arranged, and drizzled… it's finally time to...

Mangia! Mangia!
Eat! Eat!

Insalata Caprese, recipe & still from video by Ricette per Cucinare, as seen on Via Optimae, the fun way to learn Italian,

Buon appetito!
Alex on

Vuoi far parte di Via Optimae?

and get social!
Alex at Via Optimae on TwitterPinterestFacebook

Potrebbe pure interessarti….

ITALIAN: Food Picture Dictionaries
ITALIAN: Food Picture Dictionary VOL. 01 from Via Optimae
VOL. 01
ITALIAN: Food Picture Dictionary VOL. 02 from Via Optimae
VOL. 02
ITALIAN: Food Picture Dictionary VOL. 03 from Via Optimae
VOL. 03
ITALIAN: Food Picture Dictionary VOL. 04 from Via Optimae
VOL. 04


Infischiarsene — and other ways to say you don't give a hoot...

Francamente, me ne infischio, frase celebre da Via col Vento, Gone with the Wind on Via Optimae,
Original: Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

Watch a film, and its clever or catchy phrases can easily get engrained in your memory. This is especially true for iconic films and lines that get incorporated into popular culture.

Voted the number one most memorable movie line by the American Film Institute in 2005, you've likely heard some version of: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damnsaid by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler to a decidedly whiny Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) in Gone with the Wind (Via col Vento.)

Now you can use the same mnemonic strategy to help you remember the phrase in Italian, too! Watch this dubbed clip and see if you can make out the context. Then, listen to the pronunciation and tone of the line:

Me ne infischio.
I don't give a damn

Part of the line's memorability and appeal was its use of the word "damn"— considered a profanity at the time of the film's release, and still not exactly polite today.  The Italian version maintains the same colloquial tone… But nowadays, it sounds a little bit out of date, and maybe a bit corny— something more along the lines of "I don't give a darn" or "I don't give a hoot."

If you'd like to express the same thing in a decidedly modern way, you could also say:

Non me ne frega.*
literally: that doesn't rub me
still means: I don't give a damn

*Be warned, this is very colloquial and quite crass!

If that isn't colorful enough for you, you can also add modifiers: (still crass—ranked from less vulgar to extremely vulgar!)

Non me ne frega un cavolo.
literally: a cabbage
a way to say a swear word without saying one!
means: I don't give a damn at all.

Non me ne frega un ficco secco.
literally: a dried fig
another way of saying a swear word without saying one!
also means: I don't give a damn at all./ I don't give one damn.

Non me ne frega un cazzo. (!)
used in place of the English F-word!
means: I don't give a F***!

I included the above for educational purposes only— I don't recommend saying it! 

Instead, swing back to the polite side of the spectrum with these perfectly acceptable (and mixed company friendly!) ways to express that you don't care:

Non mi interessa.
It/That doesn't interest me.

Non mi importa
It/That doesn't matter to me.

Vuoi vedere un film?
Do you want to see a film?
No, non mi interessa.
No, I'm not interested.

Dove vuoi mangiare?
Where do you want to eat?
Non mi importa.
It doesn't matter to me.

Now that we've run the gamut of ways to express disinterest, watch the clip again. Repeat until the sound becomes familiar, and you can pronounce it easily. Then try replacing the original with some of the variations and consider how each changes the meaning and tone of the film. Does associating the phrases with the clip help you remember each phrase and its subtleties better? 
I hope so! 

Sì, che mi importa!
 Yes, I do care!
Alex on

Vuoi far parte di Via Optimae?

and get social!
Alex at Via Optimae on TwitterPinterestFacebook

More with Famous Movie Quotes (Frasi celebri):
  • Casablanca movie quotations in translation | Frasi celebri di Casablanca in italiano In 2005, the American Film Institute (AFI) released...

See also:

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae
Acque del sud (To Have and Have Not) original: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow."