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Italian word of the day: ‘Intanto’

While you’re here, take a moment to learn this handy word.

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

Intanto is a word you’ll hear crop up often in Italian conversations.

Its most common English translations are ‘meanwhile’, ‘in the meantime’, ‘for the time being’, or ‘until then’.

Luisa arriverà tra cinque minuti. Intanto entra e mettiti a tuo agio.
Luisa will be here in five minutes. In the meantime, come in and make yourself comfortable.

L’anno prossimo mi laureerò come medico, ma intanto lavoro come cameriera.
Next year I’ll graduate as a doctor, but for the time being I’m working as a waitress.

The dictionary points out that when used as a translation for ‘meanwhile’, intanto can have a somewhat adversarial quality, highlighting the contrast between two situations.

Io sto preparando una cena per dieci persone e intanto te ne stai lì a guardare la TV.
I’m preparing a meal for ten people, meanwhile you sit there watching TV.

Tu paghi l’affitto e tutti i conti, lui intanto non paga niente e non riesce a tenersi un lavoro per più di due mesi.
You pay the rent and all the bills, meanwhile he doesn’t pay for anything and can’t hold down a job for more than two months.

Relatedly (talking about highlighting contrasts), intanto is sometimes used to mean ‘however’:

È divieto di fumare nella casa, intanto si può fumare sul balcone.
Smoking in the house is forbidden, however you can smoke on the balcony.

La popolazione, intanto, si dimostrava contraria allo svolgersi degli eventi e pretendeva un’elezione.
The townspeople, however, showed their opposition to the turn of events and demanded an election.

Finally, intanto can mean ‘for starters’, ‘first of all’, or ‘for one thing’.

Allora, intanto, io sono cittadina americana.
First of all, I’m an American citizen.

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Intanto, a te quella mercedes non serve.
For starters, you don’t need that Mercedes.

Intanto sei sempre in ritardo.
For one thing, you’re always late.

Try it out in a conversation this week – and in the meantime, have a browse of our word of the day archive to see what else you can learn.

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Può darsi’

This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s expression is one I learned courtesy of my Italian in-laws, who frequently use it as a non-committal response to my suggestions.

This isn’t a phrase that ever came up in Italian class, and at first I wasn’t sure what they were saying. But from the context it was obvious that it meant something like “perhaps” or “possibly”.

– Forse sono in ritardo a causa del traffico

– Può darsi

– Maybe they’re late because of the traffic

– Possibly

When può darsi is used alone as a response, it’s not always clear just how likely the speaker thinks something is.

In fact, it can mean anything from “maybe” to “probably”.

Literally translated, the phrase doesn’t make much sense to English speakers. It’s a combination of può (the third-person singular form of the verb potere, ‘to be able‘) and darsi (the reflexive form of the verb dare ‘to give‘). It could be translated literally as “it can be given”.

As well as being used alone, this phrase can be used within sentences instead of forse (maybe) or magari, which is altogether more complicated.

With può darsi you’ll need to pay more attention to the grammar. But it’s worth mastering, as the phrase is very commonly used in spoken Italian.

Unlike forse and magari, sentences using può darsi need to be constructed in a particular way.

The formula you’ll need is può darsi + che + a verb in its subjunctive form.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

– Può darsi che Gianni sia in ritardo.

– Maybe/it’s possible that Gianni is late

Compare that to the simpler structure of:

– Forse Gianni è in ritardo.

– Maybe Gianni is late

Both sentences effectively mean the same thing.

In the first example, the form of the verb ‘to be’ used is sia because we’re speaking in the subjunctive.

Understandably, language learners often want to run for the hills when they start hearing about the subjunctive mood (congiuntivo). But it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Put very simply, it’s used whenever you’re not stating a fact. It expresses doubt, possibility, or uncertainty. It may also be used to talk about emotions, or when making suggestions – so for most normal everyday conversations, then.

So, while this is often taught as a more ‘advanced’ bit of grammar, you may want to get on friendly terms with it ASAP in order to partake in everyday chit-chat with Italians. Read a more detailed explanation of it here.

It pays to remember that with può darsi you don’t need to use the verb in the subjunctive form if you’re speaking in the future or conditional tense.

For example, you could also say:

Può darsi che Gianni sarà in ritardo

– Maybe Gianni will be late

Here, the verb refers to the future, so we used sarà – the future simple form of essere (to be).

And once you’ve got the hang of that, you can take things a step further by inserting the word anche (also) in between può and darsi to add emphasis.

Può anche darsi che sia un disastro totale.

– It may well be a total disaster

As mentioned earlier, this phrase is used for things you think are possible or likely.

If you’re a bit more certain about something, it would be better to use probabilmente or è molto probabile (‘probably’ or ‘it’s very likely’).

Will your Italian friends be impressed if you master the use of può darsi?

Sì, è molto probabile!

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