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Italian expression of the day: 'Non ho capito'

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Italian expression of the day: 'Non ho capito'
Photo: DepositPhotos
16:53 CEST+02:00
This is one of the first Italian phrases most of us learn, and it will come in endlessly useful. But are you using it correctly?

Famously, capisce? means "got it?" or “is that clear?”

It's a conjugation of the verb capire, "to understand" (and it's a slang word, because the usual second-person form is capisci).

As you probably know, you can make a verb like this into a question by simply using a questioning tone of voice. (A menacing tone is optional.)

From that same verb we get the phrase ho capito, meaning “I get it” - and obviously, non ho capito means the opposite.

Literally, non ho capito translates as "I haven't understood".

It's a simple phrase - but of course there are ways to get it wrong, so let's have a look at them.

Some people are confused by the fact that the word capito seems to be in the past tense. Here, word-by-word translation is unhelpful, as ho capito is the present perfect of the verb "capire".

Which is why you can say:

- adesso ho capito.

- I get it now.

This phrase will come in useful whatever your level of Italian and in all kinds of situations.

I use it most often with my in-laws.

If you have Italian parents-in-law, you might be familiar with the kind of conversation topic which comes at you from left field, with absolutely no context, and which can change, for no apparent reason, every ten seconds or so.

- Cosa ha detto? Non ho capito.

- No non l'ho capito neanch'io.

- What did he say? I didn't understand.

- No I didn't understand it either.

See also: unexpected questions fired at you from nowhere.

But I only use it in those moments when I didn't catch or understand something in particular.

The rest of the time, I say non sto capendo.

I'm not doing this just to mix things up. There is a slight difference and, just as with the point of so many Italian dinner conversations, it took me a while to fully get it.

Non sto capendo translates literally as "I'm not understanding" and it's for those times when you're really baffled by the language or the situation - or both.

It's not that you didn't quite hear what someone said, or that you don't understand the point of the conversation. You just simply can't understand a thing.

- Non ci sto capendo più niente.

- I don't understand any of this.

I also say non sto capendo when my in-laws slip into local dialect, which resembes Italian so little that they might as well be speaking Martian.

When used on its own, capito is the past participle of the same verb, and it just means 'got it' or 'understood', usually used when you agree to do something, such as following an order at work.

- Assicurati che questo sia finito.

- Capito.

- Make sure this gets finished.

- Understood.

 It can be used as a question, too.

- Capito?

- Got it?

Meanwhile, capisco is the simple present form, meaning “I understand” and it's used more to show empathy or as a kind of “I get it and I'm sorry”, depending on tone and context.

- Mi sento esausto quando devo parlare italiano tutto il giorno.

- Capisco.

- I feel exhausted when I have to speak Italian all day.

- I understand.

Hopefully, this explanation has made being confused slightly less confusing. 

- Lo capisci adesso?

- Do you get it now?

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

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