Sunday, December 2, 2007

Chiaroscuro 3


Chiaroscura 3 by Antonio Sabatini is a corso di lingua italiana per stranieri. It is published by Vignanuova in Firenze. We started using the book in class as we are stepping gingerly through that mind field called the congiuntivo (which is called subjunctive in English). This book is good because it has clear and concise explanations as well as interesting exercises and reading passages.

First, lets start with something that is just in the indicative “mood”: The following sentence shows some of the past tenses and how they are used in Italian. I took this sentence from the text:

Il treno aveva più di un’ora di ritardo, così si sono seduti su una panchina e hanno mangiato tutti i panini che avevano perparato per il viaggio.

In this can be translated to English as:

The train was more than an hour late, so they sat down on a bench and ate all the sandwiches that they had prepared for the trip.

The verbs in order are:
1. Imperfetto in Italian, past continuous in English
2. Passato prossimo in Italian, simple past or preterite in English
3. Passato prossimo in Italian, simple past or preterite in English
4. Trapassato prossimo in Italian, pluperfect in English

Here’s a summary of the English grammatical tenses. It’s strange for me to have to think about what these tenses are in English; we seem to use them pretty naturally (I hope) without knowing what they are called.

Using the subjunctive (congiuntivo in Italiano) mood the sentence above can be written like this (not in the Chiarascuro book so I’m skating on thin ice here):

Era un peccato che il treno avesse più di un’ora di ritardo. Pensavo che si siano seduti su una panchina e abbiano mangiato tutti i panini che avessero perparato per il viaggio.

This can be translated to English as:

It was a shame that the train was more than an hour late. I think they sat down on a bench and ate all the sandwiches that they had prepared for the trip.

Doubt, uncertainty, and opinion is added which, in Italian, requires congiuntivo. The verb tenses used in Italian are:
1. Congiuntivo imperfetto
2. Congiuntivo passato
3. Congiuntivo passato
4. Congiuntivo trapassato (this may be wrong, and should instead use trapassato prossimo)

In English we wouldn't use subjunctive in the two sentences above - as far as I can tell. Italian (spoken well and certainly when written) makes use of this mood much more than we do in English.

The congiuntivo imperfetto conjugations that always make us laugh are “fossi”, “fossi”, “fosse” – (think of Bob Fosse) –which are “I was”, “you were”, “he was”.

One of our teachers explained that you can avoid using the congiuntivo (and they do all the time on TV shows e.g.) but it’s a question of education and rhythm. To her, it sounds brutal to not use the congiuntivo. I guess I can’t quite hear that rhythm because I’m still focusing on getting the words right.

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