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Italian expression of the day: ‘Non ce la faccio’

Had just about all you can take of Italian grammar? This phrase is for you.

Italian expression of the day: 'Non ce la faccio'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Life in Italy can be tiring, especially if you’re spending a lot of time doing paperwork.

Or whether it’s simply an interminable conversation with the in-laws, meals with a seemingly infinite number of courses, or the evening strolls that are really just an excuse to gossip.

Today’s phrase is a great way to announce that you need a time-out: non ce la faccio (più), which means ‘I can’t take it (any more)!’

Pronounce it “non chey la fa-tcho pyoo”.

I learned the phrase aurally, by hearing it exclaimed by fed-up Italians, so when it first came to spelling it I had some trouble. Is it “ce” or “c’è”? And what’s that “la” doing there?

Some dictionary detective work led me to the infinitive: farcela, of which today’s phrase is just one possible conjugation. The verb means ‘to be able to’ or ‘to manage to’, based on fare (‘to do’) with the additions ce (‘there’) and la (‘it’) – which in this case, as far as anyone can tell, are only there to make it sound nice. 

Temo di non farcela entro domani.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it by tomorrow.

Se volesse potrebbe farcela.
She could do it if she wanted to.

One of the most common ways you’ll encounter farcela is when someone uses it to ask ‘can you manage’ – “ce la fai?

Ce la fai a passarmi quella scatola?
Can you manage to pass me that box?

NB: Remember to use fai when you’re talking to one person and fate when you mean more than one, and add the preposition a or ad before a verb that follows (‘can you manage to do x’). 

Ce la fate ad arrivare in tempo per l’inizio del concerto?
Are you guys able to get to the concert in time for the start?

So naturally, if ce la faccio means ‘I can manage’, non ce la faccio means the opposite. 

– Signora, posso aiutarla con la spesa?
– No grazie, ce la faccio da sola.

– Can I help you with your shopping, madam?
– No thank you, I can manage by myself.

Non ce la faccio più a vivere in questa paese! È troppo caotico!
I can’t go on living in this country any longer! It’s too chaotic!

Which version can you relate to?

See our complete Word of the Day archive here.

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

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