Fare Pena Posted by Geoff on Apr 18, 2018 in Vocabulary
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Yep, after two weeks of following Le Avventure Di Uno Scarpone I feel it’s time to move on to new, hitherto unexplored territories. Hence today I’ll be beginning a ten week mini-series based on the life of a sock.
Only joking! 😉
If it were true, then at this point you’d be perfectly justified in saying: “ma questo Geoff mi fa veramente pena!” Which leads on nicely to the real topic of today’s article: the word pena and its associated idiomatic expressions.
The Italian word pena comes from the Latin poena, meaning punishment, chastisement, or suffering. The same etymological roots have given rise to the English words pain, penalty, penal and so on.
In Italian, pena is frequently used when referring to criminal justice:
è stato condannato alla pena dell’ergastolo = he has been condemned to life in prison/given a life sentence
il pubblico ministero ha proposto il massimo della pena = the public prosecutor has suggested the maximum sentence
Now hopefully, dear readers, you’ll never end up in an Italian court of justice …. ma non si sa mai! (but you never know!)
What you will encounter very frequently though are the following everyday expressions:
1. Fare pena = to feel sorry (for someone/thing).
It’s important to understand that idiomatic expressions cannot be translated literally without recourse to an equivalent expression in the target language. But let’s break it down a moment: mi fa pena could be interpreted as he/she /it makes me suffer, hence I feel pain for him/her/it, hence I feel sorry for him/her/it (plural mi fanno pena = I feel sorry for them). Simply put, it’s an expression of empathy.
Here are a few examples that demonstrate how you can use this expression:
Olivia ha perso suo babbo, mi fa proprio pena = Olivia’s father has died, I feel really sorry for her
ma non ti fanno pena quei poveri gatti randagi? = but don’t you feel sorry for those poor stray cats?
gli faceva così tanta pena che ha dato la propria giacca al povero rifugiato = he felt so sorry for the poor refugee that he gave him his own coat
Maria dice che le faccio pena = Maria says that she feels sorry for me
2. Valere la pena = to be worth it
Whereas in English we say it’s worth/not worth the effort (simplified to it’s worth/not worth it) in Italian we say it’s worth/not worth the pain/suffering.
Let’s look at some examples:
secondo te, vale la pena di comprare una macchina che va a GPL? = in your opinion, is it worth buying a car that runs on LPG? (gas propano liquido = liquid propane gas)
non vale la pena di fare tutto quel lavoro per cinque euro soltanto! = it’s not worth the effort of doing all that work for just five euros!
You’ll also commonly hear this expression used without the di: vale la pena visitare Modena? = is it worth visiting Modena?
Now for the tricky bit!
Things get more complicated when we add ne into the equation:
Oriana: “Si è rotta la frizione e devo farla riparare, ma la macchina è vecchia … non so se ne vale la pena” = “The clutch has gone and I’ve got to get it repaired, but the car’s old … I don’t know if it’s worth it”
Ne is one of those slightly elusive little words that acts as a stand in for a whole load of other words. So in this case, instead of saying “non so se vale la pena farla riparare” Oriana simply says “non so se ne vale la pena“ and the ne stands in for “farla riparare“.
Here’s another example:
Oriana: “Secondo te, vale la pena comprare una macchina che va a GPL?” Geoff: “Sì, ne vale veramente la pena” = Oriana: “In your opinion, is it worth buying a car that runs on LPG?” Geoff: “Yes, it’s definitely worth it”
Finally, using the past tense:
Anthony: “Sono dovuto andare fino ad Aulla per trovare il pezzo di ricambio!” Geoff: “Allora, ne è valsa la pena?” = Anthony: “I had to go all the way to Aulla to find the spare part!” Geoff: “So, was it worth it?”
Okay, don’t panic … let’s analyse that reply shall we? Valsa is the past participle of the verb valere, hence è valsa la pena? means ‘was it worth it?’ and è valsa la pena (without the question mark) means ‘it was worth it’.
Here’s another example:
Anthony: “Com’è andata la riunione con il sindaco, avete risolto qualcosa?” Geoff: “Non ne è valsa la pena, era come parlare al muro!” = “How did the meeting with the mayor go, did you resolve anything?” Geoff: “It wasn’t worth it, it was like talking to a brick wall!”
I’d like to thank reader Mike Nicolucci for giving me the idea for this article. Grazie Mike!
As usual, if you have any question don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
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