Italian Language Blog

Misleading Word of the Day 2. Posted by on Mar 24, 2009 in Italian Language

As we saw in yesterday’s blog, identifying similarities between English and Italian words can be a very useful way of extending your vocabulary. This strategy should however be used with caution because some words which sound more or less identical in both languages can be misleading:

‘Misleading Word of the Day’: pretendere. The obvious deduction to make would be that pretendere means ‘to pretend’, however in Italian it has the following meaning:

1. To want or expect something unreasonably or unjustly, e.g. ‘pretende quaranta euro per mezz’ora di lavoro!’ (he wants forty euros for half an hour’s work!) or ‘non puoi pretendere di parlare italiano dopo un mese’ (you can’t expect to speak Italian after one month).

2.To tenaciously assert or sustain something against accredited opinion or in contrast to reality: ‘Gli avversari di Copernico e di Galilei pretendevano che il Sole girasse intorno alla Terra’. (Copernicus and Galileo’s opponents sustained that the sun orbited around the earth).

3. To expect one’s rights: ‘come cittadino che paga le tasse, pretendo che il comune ripari la strada’ (as a tax paying citizen I expect the council to repair the road).

If you are speaking in Italian and you want to say ‘pretend’ then you need to use the verb fingere:

io fingo

tu fingi

lui/lei finge

noi fingiamo

voi fingete

loro fingono

You can either use the appropriate form of the verb directly. e.g. lui non dorme, finge soltanto (he’s not sleeping, he’s only pretending), or more commonly you can use the construction ‘fare finta di’ e.g. ‘da bambina mi piaceva fare finta di essere un gatto’ (when I was a girl I used to like pretending to be a cat) or ‘fai finta di piangere?’ (are you pretending to cry?).

There is, however, a situation in which pretendere can mean ‘pretend’: pretendere al trono (to pretend to the throne). This is linked to the word ‘pretension’ (in Italian pretesa) which means, of course, ‘aspiration’ or ‘ambition’. We also have pretenzioso which means as you would guess, correctly this time, ‘pretentious’ or ‘self-important’.

N.B. These ‘Misleading Words’ are commonly known as ‘Falsi Amici’ (‘False Friends’) or ‘False Cognates’.

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  1. Nisha:

    This is an excellent way of teaching and learning. Thanks a lot!

  2. Noel Tulley:

    Your series ‘falsi amici’ is great. I’ve seen such articles before but yours are by far the most informative. Unfortunately I started on #2 and have just received #3; where can I find #1?

  3. Serena:

    Noel, Thanks for the compliment. You can find all of my blogs here:

    A presto, Serena

  4. Nini Rukmini:

    very good lessons, thank you very much

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