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Forget Me Not Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Grammar, Nature

Do you have problems remembering all those convoluted and seemingly arbitrary rules of Italian grammar? I’ve often found that simple mnemonic devices can really help. Here’s a nice easy one in the form of a flower: the humble Forget me not.

forget me nots 2

Forget me not. Photo (CC) by Martin Snopek

It’s difficult to trace the exact origins of the forget-me-not’s slightly nostalgic name. Its Latin name for example, Myosotis, comes from the Greek ‘mouse’s ear’, after the shape of its leaf. What is certain though is that many different cultures have a similar name for it, and in some cases use the flower, or its image as a symbol of remembrance.

A German legend, for example, states that when God named all the plants, a tiny one that he’d overlooked called out “Forget-me-not, O Lord”, and God replied: “Then that shall be your name”. The flower was often worn by lovers when they were apart in order that they not be forgotten, and has also been used as a symbol of remembrance, for example: in Newfoundland for the nation’s war dead and in Armenia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

So, how is this going to help me with my Italian grammar you may ask. Simple: its Italian name is ‘non ti scordar di me’, and that pretty name contains an important rule: in Italian, we use the infinitive to express the imperativo negativo singolare, which, in simple terms, means ‘don’t …!’

Photo (CC) by Henry Hemming

Photo (CC) by Henry Hemming

Forget-me-not is just a poetic way of saying ‘don’t forget me’, and in Italian we have two ways of saying ‘to forget’: ‘dimenticare’ and ‘scordare’ which are both used colloquially in their reflexive forms ‘dimenticarsi’ and ‘scordarsi’, e.g. mi sono dimenticato di comprare il latte, or mi sono scordato di comprare il latte = I forgot to buy the milk.
If I want to tell someone ‘don’t forget the milk’ in Italian I say non ti dimenticare il latte’ or ‘non ti scordare il latte’. N.B. in the case of the flower ‘forget me not’, the Italian name ‘non ti scordar di me’ drops the ‘e’ at the end of the infinitive ‘scordare’ for purely poetical reasons.

If you want to use the negative imperative when speaking to more than one person then simply use the regular second person plural conjugation of the appropriate verb: non dimenticatevi /scordatevi il latte = ‘don’t you (plural) forget the milk’.

Here are a few more examples that reinforce the concept:

non guidare troppo velocemente = don’t drive too fast
non andare in cucina perché c’è troppo casino = don’t go in the kitchen because there’s too much mess
non fumare, fa male alla salute = don’t smoke, it’s bad for your health
non perdetevi = don’t (you plural) get lost
non avvicinarti troppo al bordo, è pericoloso = don’t get too close to the edge, it’s very dangerous
non camminate sull’erba = don’t (you plural) walk on the grass

Now take a short musical break by clicking on the video link below, then have a go at translating the following phrases:

don’t shout (singular)
don’t eat too much (singular)
don’t get home too late (plural)
don’t forget that in Italian we use the infinitive to express the imperativo negativo singolare

Now, whenever you get into a muddle with ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ phrases just think of the lovely little blue flower who’s begging you: non ti scordar di me.

Any questions? Leave a comment.

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  1. Mike Rose:

    I tend to snore in bed. Would my wife be correct in saying
    “non lasciati che il rumore!” or
    “non ti lasciar che il rumore!”(more poetic)
    prior to launching a pillow.

    • Serena:

      @Mike Rose Ciao Mike … the answer is neither! If you tell me what you want to say in English I’ll help you translate it, va bene?

  2. Mike Rose:

    “Stop making that noise!”
    My apologies for the computer translation.

  3. MikeRose:

    How about:
    “Ferma quel rumore!”

    • Geoff:

      @MikeRose Ciao Mike

      “Stop making that noise!” = “smettila di fare quel chiasso!”

      smettere = to stop, smettila (colloquial) = stop it, chiasso = noise in the sense of racket rather than rumore which is simply any noise (not necessarily annoying).
      Alternatively you could say: “basta con quel chiasso!”

      Saluti da Geoff

  4. Transparent Language:

    Molto utile. Il meglio blog. Grazie

  5. Laurel Barton:

    don’t shout (singular) — Non urlare!
    don’t eat too much (singular) — Non mangiare troppo!
    don’t get home too late (plural) — Non ritornate a casa troppo tardi!

  6. Mark Webber:

    I’m not sure why above you refer to the imperativo negative singolare, rather than ‘negativo’.

    • Geoff:

      @Mark Webber It was a typo Mark. When you’re thinking and writing in two languages contemporarily it happens. However, it doesn’t change the fundamental concept of how the imperativo negativo works.
      And speaking of negativo, we would appreciate it if you could phrase your comments in a slightly more positive tone. We put a huge amount of work into these articles for the benefit of our readers.
      It doesn’t cost anything to put a simple ‘salve‘ or ‘grazie‘ into a comment, vero?

      A presto, Geoff e Serena

  7. Mark Webber:

    It was a genuine request for information, Geoff, not a cavil. I wondered if I had missed something. If I’d seen it just once I might have realised that it was a cavil. But when I saw it repeated lower down in the article, I thought it might be me. Although I have reached a high level in my Italian, I am still plagued by occasional doubts. And I am really grateful for all the blogs, whether it seems that way or not. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    • Geoff:

      @Mark Webber Okay, non ti preoccupare Mark (ecco un bel esempio del imperativo negativo!). E grazie per il tuo gentile commento.

      Alla prossima, Geoff 🙂

  8. Mark Webber:

    I’m posting errors of my own. Sorry. I should have said ‘…I might have realised that it was a TYPO.’

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