Some common Italian verbs English speakers mistake

There are some Italian verbs English speakers often mistake when they start learning Italian. Most of my students learned them right and so should you. Let’s fix this together!

Don’t worry, you will get there soon. It’s just a matter of time and you won’t make the following mistakes anymore.

1. “To know”, Sapere VS Conoscere

It’s hard to sort Sapere and Conoscere since in English they both translate in “to know”.  A classic rule of thumb is

  • Sapere qualcosa: knowing facts, to be able to…

Scusi, sa che ore sono?

Non so nuotare

  • Conoscere qualcuno: knowing people, places, things.

Conosci Giorgio?

Conosco un ottimo ristorante a Milano

For some reason, Italian grammar books usually don’t include sapere as a modal verb with Potere, Dovere and Volere. It IS a modal verb (verbo servile) and a very important one too. Conoscere is not.

2. “To take” doesn’t translate only in “prendere”

I once heard,”posso prendere una fotografia?” for Can I take a picture? It’s easy to translate take into prendere but it’s not always the case. In Italian we say “fare una fotografia”, make and not take. There are other “take” verbs you shouldn’t translate into “prendere”. Notably:

  • “Can you take me home?” “Puoi portarmi a casa?” (portare)
  •  “How long did it take to come?” “Quanto ci è voluto per venire?” (volerci)
  • “I take you won’t come” “Presumo che non verrai” (presumere/dedurre)

3. “To like” Mi piace, mi piacciono

We already talked about the verb “piacere” , to like, and how Italian sentences are different compared to English. Mi piace doesn’t translate into a straight “I like it”. We can simplify the concept as follows

  • In English “A likes B”

  • In Italian “To A, B is pleasing”

Let’s take for example:

  • Mi piace il gelato: I like ice cream
  • Mi piacciono le scarpe: I like shoes

If i say “mi piace il gelato” the subject is “il gelato”, not me, and “mi” (to me) is an indirect pronoun. “the ice cream is pleasing to me”.

I have to bear in mind that when I like “something plural”, e.g. shoes is the subject and I need conjugate the verb accordingly. “Mi piacciono le scarpe” and not “mi piace”. There are other verbs like “piacere”.

  • Interessare (to be interested in): Mi interessa la musica / Mi interessano i libri
  • Servire (to need): Mi serve la tua  macchina / Mi servono molti soldi
  • Succedere (to happen): Mi succede spesso / Mi succedono sempre cose strane

There are other verbs like piacere, and you will come across them eventually. Be prepared!

Sometimes, translating straight from English into Italian, and vice-versa, simply doesn’t work. Be careful when you do that with I know, I take and I like.

I hope this mini lesson was useful. Add your comments if you wish. Alla prossima!

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