Italian expression of the day: ‘Non ho capito’

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?

Italian expression of the day: 'Non ho capito'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Famously, capisce? means “is that clear?” or “know what I mean?”

It sounds like a conjugation of the Italian verb capire, “to understand”, but this is really American pseudo-Italian slang. The correct second-person form in Italian – “do you understand” – would be capisci.

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

From that same verb, capire, we also get the phrase ho capito, meaning “I get it” – and obviously, today’s phrase 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. 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. But in this case, word-by-word translation is unhelpful, as ho capito is the present perfect form 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.

If you have Italian family members, 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 every ten seconds or so. A language-learner’s worst nightmare.

Take this common exchange between my husband and I during his family’s large and chaotic Sunday lunches:

– Cosa ha detto? Non ho capito.

– No non l’ho capito neanch’io.

– What did he say? I don’t understand.

– No I don’t understand it either.

See also: unexpected questions fired at you from nowhere which are not connected to the conversation topic.

But you should only use non ho capito in those moments when, as in this example, you didn’t catch or understand something in particular.

The rest of the time, we need to say non sto capendo.

There is a slight difference and, just as with the point of so many Italian dinner conversations, it took me a while to get it.

Non sto capendo translates literally as “I’m not understanding” and it’s for those times when you’re deeply baffled by the language or the situation – or both.

It’s not that you didn’t quite catch what someone said. You just simply can’t understand a thing that’s going on around you (a sensation that’s no doubt familiar to anyone who spends much time in Italy).

– Non ci sto capendo niente.

– I don’t understand at all.

One example of a time I might use non sto capendo is when my in-laws slip into their local dialect, which has very little to do with the Italian language. Or when three people are talking at once.

When you actually do understand, you could say capito or capisco. What’s the difference?

When used on its own, capito is the past participle of the verb capire and it just means ‘got it’ or ‘understood’. This is 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 us with your suggestion.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
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.