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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Occorrere’

This is a need-to-know kind of word.

Italian word of the day: 'Occorrere'
Photo: DepositPhotos

If occorrere isn't quite in the false friend zone, it's certainly approaching it. This Italian verb looks a lot like 'to occur', but you'll rarely hear it used that way.

Its far more common meaning is 'to need' or 'to require'.

Se ti occorre qualcosa, dimmelo.
If you need anything, let me know.

A Roberta occorre più tempo per decidere.
Roberta needs more time to decide.

Ho quello che mi occorre.
I have everything I need.

CLICK HERE to hear 'occorre' pronounced: warning, it involves some tricky rolling of Rs.

Occorrere is an intransitive verb: it doesn't have a direct object. In other words, what you're really saying when you use it isn't that you need something, it's that something is necessary to you.

That's why the examples above contain either an indirect object pronoun (mi, ti – 'to me', 'to you') or the preposition a followed by the person you're specifying (a Roberta – 'to Roberta').

If you've already learned the common verb piacere ('to like', or more accurately 'to be pleasing to'), you'll already be familiar with this way of constructing your phrase. And with the fact that these verbs don't agree with the person you're talking about, but with the thing(s) – that's why you might see them in the plural even when there's only one person involved.

Mi occorrono due mila euro.
I need two thousand euros.

But you can also use occorrere without indicating any person at all. It's a very useful impersonal verb for when you want to make a general statement that's true for everyone: 'it is needed' or 'all of us need'.

Occorre la fotocopia della carta d'identità.
A photocopy of your ID card is required.

Occorrono aiuti urgenti.
Urgent help is needed.

Occorre fare presto.
We (all) have to hurry.

You'll see it used this way especially when it comes to talking about time and how long you need to do something or get somewhere.

Quanto tempo occorre per visitare tutto il parco?
How long does it take to visit the whole park?

Occorre un'ora per arrivarci.
It takes an hour to get there.

All very different from 'occurring', right – so why isn't occorrere categorically a false friend? Well, technically you can use it mean 'to occur' or 'to happen', but it's usually limited to pretty formal or literary written Italian.

È un termine che occorre spesso nel testo.
It is a word that occurs frequently in the text.

Speriamo che non gli occorra qualche incidente.
Let us hope that nothing happens to him.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Conosco i miei polli’

We know what we're dealing with with this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Conosco i miei polli'

You don’t have to be a poultry farmer to go around telling people ‘conosco i miei polli’ – literally, ‘I know my chickens’ – in Italian.

There’s no perfect translation, but it means something along the lines of ‘I know who I’m dealing with/ what they can get up to/ what they’re like’; I know what to expect from them, for better or worse.

It usually implies slightly mischievously that the people or person being discussed could be troublemakers, and that the speaker has the necessary knowledge to deal with them effectively.

You might think of it as ‘I know what those little devils/rascals are like’ if referring to naughty children, or ‘I know how those jokers/b******s operate’ if discussing petty officials or difficult colleagues.

Saranno tornati entro la mattinata; fidati, conosco i miei polli.
They’ll be back by morning; trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

Conosco i miei polli; vedrete che arriveranno alla riunione con mezz’ora di ritardo e daranno la colpa al traffico.
I know them: you’ll see, they’ll get to the meeting half an hour late and blame it on the traffic.

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According to at least one source, the full original phrase is ‘conosco i miei polli alla calzetta‘, or ‘I know my chickens by their stockings’.

It refers back to a time when chickens roamed the streets or shared courtyards freely.

So they didn’t get mixed up, each bird had a little scrap of coloured cloth tied around their foot that allowed each owner to quickly spot their chicken.

The next time you’re dealing with some tricky characters, you’ll know just what to say.

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

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