Italian word of the day: ‘Basta’

Enough already! Just read on and learn this word.

Italian word of the day basta
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

It’s been said that Italians are some of the best talkers in the world. They’re also – in our humble opinion – the best at telling you when to shut up.

Today’s word is a wonderfully peremptory phrase for signalling that you’ve had just about all you can take: basta. It means ‘that’s enough!’ and we like to imagine saying it while reclining on a divan and raising a single finger to signal our displeasure.

Ora basta!
Enough already!

Of course, whoever’s listening to you should get the hint and realize that what you’re really saying is: ‘Stop’. You can specify exactly what afterwards, with or without using con (‘with’).

Basta con questo chiasso!
Stop this racket!

Basta parlare!
No more talking!

You can also direct basta at more abstract targets: you might hear it chanted at protests or spot it on placards, where it’s the equivalent of ‘down with…’

Basta ingiustizie.
Down with injustice, no more injustice.

Not that basta always has to be angry. You can also use it as a neutral phrase to close one conversation or activity and move on to the next.

Basta, me ne vado.
Right then, I’m off.

And you’ll hear it all the time in shops or restaurants when staff want to check if you’ve finished ordering.

– Basta così?
– Grazie, basta così.

– Is that everything? (literally, enough like that?)
– That’s it, thanks.

Also – and here’s where context comes in – basta can be an encouragement rather than a reprimand. Take the example we used earlier, basta parlare: yes, if you’re angry it might mean ‘enough talking already!’; but said in a different tone, it could also be ‘it’s enough to talk’ or ‘all you have to do is talk’.

There’s no grammatical difference between the two meanings; this is one you’ll just have to judge for yourself.

Basta il pensiero.
It’s the thought that counts (literally, the thought is enough).

Basta la parola.
Just say the word (literally, the word is enough).

The other form you should be aware of is basta che…, which is an informal way of saying ‘provided that…’ or ‘so long as…’ You’ll need to follow it with the subjunctive.

Potete giocare, basta che non rompiate niente.
You can play, so long as you don’t break anything.

Did we cover everything? It’ll do. Now feel free to tell us – waving that finger – ‘Basta!’

Do you have an Italian phrase you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Può darsi’

This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s expression is one I learned courtesy of my Italian in-laws, who frequently use it as a non-committal response to my suggestions.

This isn’t a phrase that ever came up in Italian class, and at first I wasn’t sure what they were saying. But from the context it was obvious that it meant something like “perhaps” or “possibly”.

– Forse sono in ritardo a causa del traffico

– Può darsi

– Maybe they’re late because of the traffic

– Possibly

When può darsi is used alone as a response, it’s not always clear just how likely the speaker thinks something is.

In fact, it can mean anything from “maybe” to “probably”.

Literally translated, the phrase doesn’t make much sense to English speakers. It’s a combination of può (the third-person singular form of the verb potere, ‘to be able‘) and darsi (the reflexive form of the verb dare ‘to give‘). It could be translated literally as “it can be given”.

As well as being used alone, this phrase can be used within sentences instead of forse (maybe) or magari, which is altogether more complicated.

With può darsi you’ll need to pay more attention to the grammar. But it’s worth mastering, as the phrase is very commonly used in spoken Italian.

Unlike forse and magari, sentences using può darsi need to be constructed in a particular way.

The formula you’ll need is può darsi + che + a verb in its subjunctive form.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

– Può darsi che Gianni sia in ritardo.

– Maybe/it’s possible that Gianni is late

Compare that to the simpler structure of:

– Forse Gianni è in ritardo.

– Maybe Gianni is late

Both sentences effectively mean the same thing.

In the first example, the form of the verb ‘to be’ used is sia because we’re speaking in the subjunctive.

Understandably, language learners often want to run for the hills when they start hearing about the subjunctive mood (congiuntivo). But it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Put very simply, it’s used whenever you’re not stating a fact. It expresses doubt, possibility, or uncertainty. It may also be used to talk about emotions, or when making suggestions – so for most normal everyday conversations, then.

So, while this is often taught as a more ‘advanced’ bit of grammar, you may want to get on friendly terms with it ASAP in order to partake in everyday chit-chat with Italians. Read a more detailed explanation of it here.

It pays to remember that with può darsi you don’t need to use the verb in the subjunctive form if you’re speaking in the future or conditional tense.

For example, you could also say:

Può darsi che Gianni sarà in ritardo

– Maybe Gianni will be late

Here, the verb refers to the future, so we used sarà – the future simple form of essere (to be).

And once you’ve got the hang of that, you can take things a step further by inserting the word anche (also) in between può and darsi to add emphasis.

Può anche darsi che sia un disastro totale.

– It may well be a total disaster

As mentioned earlier, this phrase is used for things you think are possible or likely.

If you’re a bit more certain about something, it would be better to use probabilmente or è molto probabile (‘probably’ or ‘it’s very likely’).

Will your Italian friends be impressed if you master the use of può darsi?

Sì, è molto probabile!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.