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Italian: "Lui sta andando" vs "Lui va"?
August 1, 2006 2:00 PM   Subscribe

ItalianFilter: So I'm studying Italian via Rosetta Stone, and I'm noticing a huge emphasis on stare + a gerund (like andando, tirando, spingendo, etc). How common is this in written or spoken Italian, and what is the difference between it and plain present tense? Also, I've never seen Rosetta use 'ed' in place of 'e' when it precedes a word starting with a vowel ("Un bambino e una bambina" vs "Un bambino ed una bambina"). Are there rules for "ed"? Is it basically optional, but something people use in speech?
posted by sirion to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
IANAI and am not familiar with the Rosetta Stone program, but learning the present progressive (which is never as frequently used in the Romance languages as in English) is useful practice for the compound past tense, which is pretty much used exclusively in colloquial speech instead of the preterite. (e.g. people will almost always say "Lui è andato" instead of "lui fu" for "he went").

Using "ed" for "e" + V and "ad" for "a" + V are completely optional. Standard Italian is a pretty recent concoction and the people seem to be pretty resistent to hard-and-fast rules.
posted by kittyprecious at 5:15 PM on August 1, 2006

Also, it's kind of a bitch to memorize which verbs take "essere" and which take "stare" in the compound past, but that's probably beyond the scope of your question.
posted by kittyprecious at 5:19 PM on August 1, 2006

i've only been studying italian for 6 months (so take this for what it is worth), but as a native english speaker, the emphasis on gerunds in italian isn't nearly as big as in english, and using gerunds in italian is so much more specific. This is a huge adjustment to keep in mind while forming sentances in Italian, and i frequently stall and grasp for tenses while i'm trying to substitute my 'gerund-heavy' english for italian.

In English, you tell everyone things about your upcoming (present or future actions) with gerunds, such as, "I'm going to the movies tonight", or, "I'm renting a car for the weekend", regardless or not if you are physically doing it at that moment. In Italian, this isn't correct. Instead, you would use either presente or futuro to replace those gerunds you would normally use in the english language. In italian, you wouldn't use a gerund unless you were actively in the process of going to the movies (as in physically arriving at the cinema) or renting a car (as in being at the counter and signing the contract).

Basically, you only use gerunds in Italian to indicate something you are doing right at that moment, something you are physically and actively doing, or an ongoing present action (such as commenting on the weather).

Example: "Sto arrivando" means, "I'm arriving", and you'd use this only if you were literally, actively arriving at a destination.

Example: "Sta piovendo" means, "It's raining", and you'd use this if you were watching the rain fall.

Therefore, "Lui sta andando", you would translate as, "He is going", meaning that the guy is actively going somewhere. While "Lui va", is literaly, "He goes, He is going, He will go", and is more of a description of his action as opposed to the literal action you get from a gerund.

Also quite popular is the gerund in imperfetto, such as, "Stavo pensando", which means, "I was thinking".

As far as I know, stare is used most frequently with presente and imperfetto, while sometimes it is used for futuro. Never, ever is it used for compound tenses like passato prossimo or trapassato prossimo.

Gerunds, to me, seem to be used only in brief, simple descriptions. In my experience of italian-language school taught in italy, they hardly use the gerunds in class during exercises. Even using stare in almost all tenses is discouraged, but i never asked why. It was just a trend i noticed. We would fall back on essere or rimanere instead. Maybe someone who knows the languge better than me can explain this? The problem is that it is now past 2am in Italy, so most of the native italian speakers on metafilter are snuggly in bed until tomorrow.

I'm not familiar with Rosetta Stone technique, but a great book to consult/purchse on italian grammar is Mezzadri "Essential Italian" Guerra Edizioni, but i'm not sure where in the US you can find it, as i bought mine in italy.
posted by naxosaxur at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2006

I think the poster's talking about something like "sta facendo qualcosa," though.

In my experience, that construction's used mainly when you're trying to describe what you're currently doing, like "I'm in the middle of X." It would be the answer to a "What are you up to?" type question.
posted by occhiblu at 5:22 PM on August 1, 2006

My last post was in response to kittyprecious, by the way.

We rarely used stare + gerund in Italian class, but I did use it a ton in Italy (as did the Italians I was around). I think it's just a construction you tend to use more often in everyday speech than in classroom speech.
posted by occhiblu at 5:24 PM on August 1, 2006

sirion, naxosaur, none of the examples you gave refer to gerunds but to present participles. (see Italian tends to use infinitives where English uses gerunds.

As other posters have noted, stare + participle is used more in the informal, spoken language than the more formal language you are likely to learn in class or with Rosetta Stone.
posted by TheRaven at 6:30 PM on August 1, 2006

>>a bitch to memorize which verbs take "essere" and which take "stare" in the compound past, but that's probably beyond the scope of your question.
posted by kittyprecious at 2:19 AM CET on August 2 [+fave] [!]

kittyprecious, you mean essere or *avere*, not stare.
posted by naxosaxur at 7:16 PM on August 1, 2006

American, but majored in Italian and slightly rusty 'cause I need to get back.

Kitty, no offense but you've got a couple of things wrong.

"Fu" is the third-person singular for "essere" in the passato remoto. It is almost never used in daily conversation and it has nothing to do with "he went." It's more of a historical thing, like "Giulio II fu 'il papa guerriero' del Rinascimento." It's how you talk about events that took place long ago and is sort of relatively literary.

When you're talking about stuff that happened in the recent past, you use the passato prossimo, like "Sono andato a Roma." When you're talking about stuff that was happening when something else happened, you would use stare, like "Stavo guardando la TV quando occhiblu ha telefonato."

Basically "sta andando," for example, is more like "he is in the process of going" rather than "he is going."

Naxosaur and occhiblu are right as far as I can tell, except for the tiny flaw that naxosaur is a little bit more expansive about the meaning of "lui va" than I would be. It's more like "he's going." I'd say "sta per andare" for "he is about to go."

There are a whole bunch of different ways of talking in Italy, but one thing I noticed in many places is that in conversation people tend to avoid using pronound when possible, so your "lui va" is probably just going to be "va" as long as you've already identified the "lui."
posted by lackutrol at 11:37 PM on August 1, 2006

Sorry to get your name wrong, naxosaxur.
posted by lackutrol at 11:44 PM on August 1, 2006

American living in Rome for 8 years, self-taught so my written Italian is fraught with grammatical errors and I probably speak more Romanaccio than textbook Italian, but lackutrol's got it.

As far as 'e' vs. 'ed', it's used verbally but (at least here in Rome) it's almost elided over. Not a hard 'd' sound in other words and no pause after. "eduna" One of those tiny little details that are a bit harder for non-native speakers to distinguish on the fly (or maybe just for me), like double consonants.
posted by romakimmy at 4:14 AM on August 2, 2006

you only use "ed" when its followd by another word starting with e
posted by apdato at 4:57 AM on August 2, 2006

you only use "ed" when its followd by another word starting with e

That's simply not true. (Random example: Una analisi ed una proposta.) The only person here who actually knows what he's talking about, as far as I can see, is lackutrol. I understand people want to be helpful, but if you don't really know a language, trying to answer a question about it is not being helpful.
posted by languagehat at 5:53 AM on August 2, 2006

Kitty, no offense but you've got a couple of things wrong.

Shit, I really shouldn't try to post right before bed. I was trying to think of andò when I said fu...but that's not even relevant to the present progressive anyhow.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:38 AM on August 2, 2006

naxosaur [sic] and occhiblu are right as far as I can tell, except for the tiny flaw that naxosaur [sic] is a little bit more expansive about the meaning of "lui va" than I would be. It's more like "he's going." I'd say "sta per andare" for "he is about to go."

well, not really. using infinitives in the presente form is the way you explain what you are doing, and what you WILL be doing in the close future at least 90% of the time. Italians hardly use the futuro tense when speaking about things they will do that day, or even the next day. In fact, in school, it was a running joke among the english-speaking students that there was no use to learn the futuro tense of verbs (yet), as it wasted our precious brain-space...because we were being crammed with tons of other grammar and verb information, and we had to prioritize what to quickly learn. You use futuro when you are expressing something not totally confirmed in the far-off future. Something you *shall* do. A good example is, "Quado vado in vacanze, visitero' tutti i musei" (trans: When i go on vacation, I will visit all of the museums). This is also not to be confused with condizionale, which is also the vague future, but more of a wish or hope...a polite way to say things.

Futuro is seldom used as it would be implemented in english because it implies something in the near future in italian, but not unspecified. Example: even if you are telling someone you are going to the supermarket later that day, you'd say, 'vado al supermercato' NOT 'andro' al supermercato'. If you know you won't go to the supermarket, you say, "non ci vado" (trans: I will not go). You wouldn't say "non ci andro'". You wouldn't tell your friend: 'domani, ti portero' i biscotti' (i will bring you the cookies tomorrow), you would say, 'domani, ti porto i biscotti' (i will bring you the cookies tomorrow). It's just more accepted.

The main problem is that english speakers tend to want to implement the italian language in a literal translation of the way that they would form sentances in the english language (i am guilty of this). but this is totally wrong and ineffective.

And, lackutrol, if i may, you wrote incorrectly as an example: "Stavo guardando la TV quando occhiblu ha telefonato." (It means, "I had been watching the television when occhiblu telephoned".) Well, it makes perfect sense when you try to translate it into english, but that's not correct in italian. You omitted yourself from the second part of the sentance, so the correct way to say would be, "Stavo guardando la TV quando occiblu *mi* ha telefonato." (It means, "I had been watching the television when occhiblu telephoned *me*). In italian, you need to be super-specific in what you say, or else it's just incorrect.
posted by naxosaxur at 9:25 PM on August 2, 2006

Naxosaxur, pal, I apologized for the mispelling. And I wasn't talking about the future tense, I was talking about infinitives, you know, like andare?

I suppose it would be more correct in many cases to identify the person receiving the call, mi, ci, gli, whatever. But your characterization of Italians as huge grammar nazis is not in my experience correct, perhaps because "Italian" as a national language is only about 150 years old. "Lingua toscana in bocca romana," anybody?

Notice also than Italian as spoken in Napoli, for example, has a ton of Spanish-like terms, such as "noialtri" for "noi"?

I think you're misinterpreting "tiny flaw" and "a little bit more expansive" as "I hate naxosaxur." That is not the intended meaning. I'm no expert, but I'm drawing on four years studying the language and two jobs with the Italian government, using the language daily.
posted by lackutrol at 11:30 PM on August 2, 2006

And while I'm at it, languagehat is great and I want to have a Campari with romakimmy in Roma. We'll have to respectfully disagree about Juventus. (It's a platonic crush anyway!)
posted by lackutrol at 11:43 PM on August 2, 2006

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