Italian Language Blog

Useful Conversational Rejoinders Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

As learners of Italian we’ve all found ourselves in situations where our limited vocabulary makes us sound like fumbling four year olds, vero? Yes we’ve studied our grammar, we’ve rehearsed fantastical Italian conversation in our heads, we’ve made grand speeches on the most fascinating of topics in la bella lingua …. and suddenly there we are, confronted with a real live native Italian telling us about their lumbago or the latest amusing antics of their pet snail … and everything goes pear shaped! We stand there like idiots, heads bobbing up and down like those nodding dogs that one used to see in the back of cars (do people still have them?)

It’s all a rather complex problem: we have to concentrate extra hard to follow all the information that we’re being bombarded with whilst at the same time trying to work out some kind of vaguely intelligent reply … “wait, hang on, what was that word … damn, now I missed the next bit … now why are they staring at me as if I’m meant to answer, should I nod, smile, shake my head?”

In fact we all tend to find ourselves doing nodding dog impersonations rather too much in these situations. Yes, occasionally we manage to come out with one of our stock rejoinders such as “che bello” = “how lovely” or “che peccato” = “what a shame”, but those replies can get old pretty quickly.

However, never fear, Geoff is here. Let’s see if we can’t expand our vocabulary of useful conversational rejoinders. Here are a few short extracts from some of my fictional conversations.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver in Treasure Island, 1950 - Public Domain

Robert Newton as Long John Silver in Treasure Island, 1950 – Public Domain

1. mi dispiace …

Il capitano si rivolse al marinaio: “Rossi” disse “oggi il mio pappagallo non si sente tanto bene” …  “mi dispiace capitano” rispose il marinaio.
The captain addressed the sailor: “Rossi, my parrot’s not feeling very well today” … “I’m sorry to hear it captain” replied the sailor.

N.B. mi dispiace = I’m sorry/sorry to hear it, (literally: it displeases me) is NOT, despite appearances, the opposite of mi piace = I like (literally: it pleases me)

2. che strano …

Luisa: “Stanotte ho sognato che mia zia che abita a Napoli, sai quella che canta come un gatto strozzato, ha vinto il primo posto al Festival della canzone italiana di Sanremo” … Zoe: “che strano … ma bello però”.
Luisa: “Last night I dreamt the my aunt who lives in Napoli, you know, the one that sings like a strangled cat, won first prize at the Sanremo Music Festival” … Zoe: “How strange … but lovely none the less”

3. davvero, caspita, pensa un po’ …

Here we have, three rejoinders for the price of one. Take your pick, use them individually or in combination to liven up your conversations:
Vecchietto al giovanotto: “Fanciullo mio, quando avevo la tua età camminavo quindici chilometri al dì, senza scarpe, per andare a scuola” … Giovanotto (ad alta voce): “davvero, caspita, ma pensa un po’!” (sotto voce): “ma che stronzate raccontano ‘sti vecchietti, non vedo l’ora di tornare ai miei videogiochi”.
Old man to young lad: “my lad, when I was your age I walked fifteen kilometres a day without shoes to get to school” … young lad, (out loud): “really, wow, just think about that!” (mumbling to himself): “what bullshit these old people talk, I can’t wait to get back to my video-games”. (note to self: Geoff, shame on you for using such horrible stereotypes)

I hope you have fun using this vocabulary. If you want more leave me a comment below. A presto …

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  1. Joan Engelhaupt:

    Oh, yes, please! More, more, more! Daverro!

  2. Adelaide:

    I enjoy these conversations. Thank you.

  3. Tim:

    Your blog entry, “Useful Conversational Rejoinders”, reminded me of a recurring experience I had when I visited Italy in July of 2005. On our trip I wanted to try to speak the language as much as I could. My only other experience with the language was having heard my grandparents, aunts and uncles speak it to each other, but that only gave me a clue as to what it sounded like. I had virtually no vocabulary and nothing else save a phrase book. After arriving in Rome, experiencing about two sunny hot days in July and being descended from four Sicilian grandparents my skin turned two or three shades darker. At that point, frequently people would come up to me and ask me questions like, “How do I get to such and such a place? or Where is the bus stop, laundromat or post office etc.?, in Italian. In every case I would try to answer them with the response, “I do not speak Italian”, which is, “Non parlo Italiano” in Italian. However, also in every case I would panic, and say, “Non parlano Italiano”, which means in English, “You do not speak Italian.” Even after a few moments of a thoroughly perplexed stare directed at me, I could not find the words, “Non parlo Italiano.” These experiences soon became the source of constant amusement and now are a cherished memory.

    • Geoff:

      @Tim Thanks for sharing that with us Tim, I’m sure we’ve all got amusing, and often embarrassing stories about our fumbling around with Italian. The most frustrating thing is that once the moment is over you realise exactly what you should have said ….. oh well, next time 🙂

  4. Norma:

    If “mi dispiace” is NOT the opposite of “mi piace”, what is? “Non mi piace”?

    • Geoff:

      @Norma Salve Norma,

      Non mi piace = I don’t like it, or literally ‘it doesn’t please me’. The reason I pointed out the possible confusion in my article is that I’m aware that conceptually ‘piacere’ (to please) is confusing for English speakers. In English we say “I like xyz”, whereas in Italian we say “xyz pleases me”.

      mi piace xyz = xyz pleases me = I like xyz
      non mi piace xyz = xyz doesn’t please me = I don’t like xyz
      mi dispiace per xyz = whatever happened to xyz displeases me = I’m sorry about xyz
      e.g. Question: “avete del pane?” = have you any bread? Reply: “mi dispiace ma non abbiamo del pane” = “I’m sorry but we haven’t got any bread”

      You may find this post helpful:

      saluti da Geoff

  5. Mike:

    Please, more conversation fillers, like the Italian equivalent to ” you know what I mean”. A “filler” is a word or phrase that you can learn by heart while your poor old brain in trying to cobble together the next sentence.

    • Geoff:

      @Mike …. hopefully next week 🙂

  6. Mary:

    Piu, di piu! Grazie!

  7. Joseph T. Madawela:

    more the merrier!

  8. Transparent Language:

    Comment via email:

    Hahaha I love this class! Grazie tante!

  9. Karen Cook:

    Love these they are so helpful. I feel like I talk backwards with sentences! It fouls me up.

  10. Frances:

    Very useful, thanks so much, just the sort of thing I need as I find conversation so stilted sometimes as I slowly try to work out what to say…

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