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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Sopportare’

It's worth putting up with this word.

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

Let’s get one thing straight first off: sopportare is not to be confused with supportare

The second verb means roughly the same as the English word it resembles: ‘to support’. But the first is for when you’re a lot less enthusiastic.

Hear how to pronounce sopportare:

The meaning of sopportare is related to supporting something, but in one specific sense: it means bearing a weight, like columns support the roof of a building. 

Questi pilastri sopportano l’intera spinta della volta.
These pillars support the entire weight of the vault. 

From there, the word takes on the figurative sense of bearing something. The implication is that it’s something difficult you have to ‘take’ or ‘endure’ – such as pain, or a big expense. 

Sono stato io a sopportare il maggior danno.
I was the one who took the biggest loss.

È una donna che nella sua vita ha sopportato continue ingiustizie.
She’s a woman who has endured continual injustices throughout her life. 

Saying you sopporti (‘put up with’) someone is very different, then, to saying you supporti (‘support’) them.

And if the feeling’s mutual, you can use the reflexive form of the verb (sopportarsi) to describe people putting up with each other.

I due coniugi si sopportano per amore dei figli.
The two spouses put up with each other for the sake of their children.

Of course, there are some things you just can’t take: that’s when you use sopportare in the negative, to say you ‘can’t stand’ or ‘can’t bear’ something (or someone).

Non sopporto i maleducati.
I can’t bear people with bad manners.

Non ti sopporto più!
I can’t stand you any more!

You might say such things are insopportabile: ‘intolerable’ or simply ‘insupportable’. 

See our complete Word of the Day archive here.

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Si tratta di’

What's this phrase all about?

Italian expression of the day: 'Si tratta di'

Today’s expression is one you’ll hear a lot in spoken Italian.

It’s also a tricky one for anglophones to wrap our heads around, because although it appears simple – ‘si tratta di’ basically means something along the lines of ‘it concerns/discusses/deals with/is about’ – it actually doesn’t translate very cleanly into English most of the time.

Let’s start with the use that’s easiest for us to grasp: asking and answering what something’s about/what it concerns.

– Pronto, sono l’ispettore Jackson, posso parlare con la signora Hoffman?
– Sì, sono io – posso chiedere di cosa si tratta?

– Hello, this is Inspector Jackson speaking, can I speak with Mrs. Hoffman?
– Yes, this is she – may I ask what this is concerning?

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We can also use the phrase to say that something is ‘a matter of’ or ‘a question of’:

Se si tratta di qualche ora, rimarremo qui ad aspettarla.
If it’s a question of hours, we’ll stay here and wait for her.

Ora si tratta solo di scoprire dove ha lasciato le chiavi.
Now it’s a just a matter of figuring out where she left the keys.

And si tratta di can also be as a translation for ‘when it comes to’.

Adoro mangiare bene, ma quando si tratta di cucinare sono una frana.
I love eating well, but when it comes to cooking I suck.

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Where things start to get a bit more complicated is that you’ll often see the phrase used where the English translation doesn’t require anything.

For example, you might hear the following exchange at work:

– Michela non viene al lavoro oggi perché la sua bambina è malata.
– Spero che non si tratti di nulla di grave.

– Michela’s not coming into work today because her little girl’s sick.
– I hope it’s nothing serious.

You could say ‘I hope it doesn’t consist of anything serious’, which would get you closer to a direct translation – but in English this would sound oddly formal and overblown (in the above example we use tratti rather than tratta because spero che requires the subjunctive).

What if you want to say that a certain thing – a song, a book, a film, a speech – discusses or ‘deals with’ certain themes or issues?

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Firstly, note that impersonal si there. It’s standing in for a subject, which means we can’t have both the subject and the si in the same sentence together – one of them has to go.

You can say, for example, ‘Il suo terzo libro tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘her third book deals with ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom.’

Or you can say, ‘Nel suo terzo libro, si tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘In her third book, she discusses ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom” (a more literal translation would be ‘in her third book, ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom are discussed’, which sounds a bit awkward in English).

You could ask:

Di cosa tratta il libro?
What does the book discuss?

or

Di cosa si tratta nel libro?
What’s discussed in the book?

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What you can’t do is say, ‘Il libro si tratta di…’ or ask ‘Di cosa si tratta il libro?’. Neither of these constructions work because you can’t have both the impersonal si and the subject (in this case, il libro) together.

What if you want to say, for example, ‘the book/film is about…’?

The easiest way to do that is either to just say ‘il film parla di…‘ – ‘the film talks about…’ ; or ‘il film racconta la storia di…’ – ‘the film tells the story of…’:

Il film parla di un robot che vuole distruggere la razza umana.
The film’s about a robot who wants to destroy the human race.

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Il libro racconta la storia di un ragazzo che scopre di essere un mago.
The book tells the story of a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of what this phrase is all about!

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

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