Could someone answer this grammar question ?

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CiaoTutti
Posts: 5
Joined: Sun Aug 06, 2017 7:55 pm

Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by CiaoTutti » Sun Aug 06, 2017 8:22 pm

To the group,

I have been just starting to learn the past tense (passato prossimo) in Italian as well as the gerund, and was trying to form some sentences for fun and see what Google Translate would come up with.

I would like to make two things I wanted to make clear from the start:
1) I realize that Google translate isn’t perfect, but it’s all I have right now, and it is fun to try and see if I'm close to correct.
2) My knowledge is rudimentary so I am sure that my sentence is going to be the equivalent of “Broken Italian”

But this exercise raised a few questions for me that I hope you can help me with.

I was trying to form the sentence : “While I was sleeping, a bird flew in the window”
and came up with my own crude translation: “Mentre dormendo, un uccello ha volato nel finestra.” , which roughly translated to “While I was sleeping a bird flew into the window”.

Then I typed the sentence in English into google translate and got back: “Mentre stavo dormendo, un uccello volò attraverso la finestra.”

So my questions are:

1) In my learning, I had read that when describing a past event using the gerund, you do not need to use the “auxiliary verb”(avere)…Is this true ? What is the rule?

2) How does volare become volo'? Looking at the sentence it seems that "volo' attraverso" is the correct way to say "flew through" (or traversed). Under what conditions does this grammar change?

My apologies in advance, but I am new and have no one really to teach me.

Grazie per il suo pazienza !

Geoff
Posts: 249
Joined: Fri Mar 07, 2008 7:55 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by Geoff » Tue Aug 08, 2017 2:15 am

I'll begin with the sentence “Mentre dormendo, un uccello ha volato nel finestra.”, which has a few errors. The most trivial is that it should be "nella finestra", although "attraverso la finestra" would be better (I presume you mean that the bird flew in through the open window rather than that it crashed into the window pane). More important as far as your questions are concerned, "mentre" is not required as it is implied by the use of the gerund which conveys the sense of "while doing something", "by doing something", "on doing something" or "because of doing something" depending on the context. But critically important is that the corrected sentence does not mean what you think it does. It actually means "While it was sleeping, a bird flew in through the window." The subject on the gerund is almost always the subject of the main verb, which in this case is the bird. The only exception I can think of is when the subject of the main verb is impersonal ("it" or "one"), it sometimes makes sense for the gerund to refer to the object instead.

So how should you express "While I was sleeping a bird flew in through the window."? The answer is by using the imperfect tense (imperfetto) instead of the gerund. "Mentre dormivo, un uccello ha volato attraverso la finestra." The imperfetto is a variety of past tense that has several uses, a key one being to express what was happening in the background when some event occurred.

You could instead say, as google translate has done, "Mentre stavo dormendo" but I don't think you would do so when the activity involves sleeping. This construct ("stare" plus gerund) is used to express the idea of being right in the middle of doing something. For example, "sto leggendo" means "I am in the middle of reading" and "stavo leggendo" means "I was in the middle of reading".

As for google's use of "volò" (note the accent), that is the remote past tense, or preterit ("passato remoto") in Italian. This tense is not much used in conversation nowadays, except in Tuscany and parts of the south, and your use of the "passato prossimo" instead is fine.

I don't quite understand your first question about non-use of the auxiliary when describing a past event with the gerund. You certainly need it for the main verb ("volare" in your example) but not for the gerund itself - except where the auxiliary is "stare" in the special usage described above, in which case stare is in the "imperfetto" when the continuous action described is in the past.

Dylan Thomas
Posts: 88
Joined: Sat Mar 31, 2012 11:08 pm

Re: Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by Dylan Thomas » Tue Aug 08, 2017 5:32 pm

Hi CiaoTutti.

While I was sleeping a bird flew in through the window.

(1) Mentre dormivo, un uccello entrò/è entrato (volando) dalla finestra.
(2) Mentre stavo dormendo, un uccello entrò/è entrato (volando) dalla finestra.

Either is correct, it’s just a matter of personal choice. So it’s true that you do not need to use the auxiliary verb “be” (“stare” in Italian).

While I was watching television I heard a great crash across the street.

(1) Mentre guardavo la televisione, sentii/ho sentito un gran tonfo dall’altra parte della strada.
(2) Mentre stavo guardando la televisione, sentii/ho sentito un gran tonfo dall’altra parte della strada.

DT

CiaoTutti
Posts: 5
Joined: Sun Aug 06, 2017 7:55 pm

Re: Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by CiaoTutti » Wed Aug 09, 2017 1:07 am

Thank you both so much for your replies. I really appreciate it.

Geoff - I too was thinking that someone might think "A bird crashed into the window" :shock: As you can see, I have a long way to go. It's just very tough learning Italian on your own. Although I have several good books, putting the language into actual use is much different than just doing simple canned exercises out of a book. That's why I try to make sentences out of vocabulary words/verbs and see what I come up with. I mean, there's only so much you can converse using "Mi chiamo David, e Lei?" and "Ho fame/sete/sonno/caldo" and learning numbers.

I also could not resist commenting on how your response immediately made me think of the movie "The Princess Bride"(If you have ever seen it, you'll know what I mean):

"Inconceivable!!!!"
"That word........I do not think it means what you think it means....."

On a final note. Do either of you have any recommendations as to how to try and branch out from just "book learning" so that a student can really learn the language and its nuances ?

I have seen comments about "email penpals" and have read about folks skyping, but am just concerned that I might that 1) folks are not interested in teaching a lower level student or 2) I won't be able to find someone who is really committed. Any advice would be fantastic!

Grazie mille!

Dave

Geoff
Posts: 249
Joined: Fri Mar 07, 2008 7:55 am
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by Geoff » Wed Aug 09, 2017 2:17 am

I presume that Italian language courses are not available where you live? I was lucky when I embarked on Italian in that there are several language schools in my city.

If you can afford the time and money, you could spend a few weeks doing an intensive course in Italy. I spent four weeks at a school in Siena and it was a wonderful experience. Some students enrolled for as little as two weeks and still got plenty out of it.

Harking back to your original question, DT's response throws up an interesting grammar point. In Italian verbs of motion such as volare are used differently to in English. We use the verb to express how one moved (fly, run, walk etc) and a prepositional phrase to indicate where one went from/to whereas Italians do more or less the opposite (with an adverb or adverbial phrase to indicate the manner or movement). For example, "I ran to school" versus "Sono andato di corsa a scuola" or "Sono andato correndo a scuola". Note that the gerund ("correndo" here) is used if there is no set expression such as "di corsa". So, as DT said, you really should say "un uccello è entrato volando" to express that it flew in. There is a use for verbs of motion though: you would use volare, for instance, to express the fact that the bird simply flew about, but not when you are saying that it flew from one place (outside the house) to another (into the room).

Dylan Thomas
Posts: 88
Joined: Sat Mar 31, 2012 11:08 pm

Re: Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by Dylan Thomas » Wed Aug 09, 2017 6:19 pm

Hi Dave.

As Geoff said, the best recommendations would be to do Italian language courses or – even better – to spend some time in Italy. However, I do think “book learning”, as you call it, is a step all learners should take. Why do you think people are not interested in teaching a lower level student? You’re being too pessimistic. We’re ready to help you whenever you need. You can help me with my English. I too would appreciate it.
You said you are learning the past tense and the gerund. Why don’t you post some sentences of your own? We would be glad to take a look at and comments on them.

DT

CiaoTutti
Posts: 5
Joined: Sun Aug 06, 2017 7:55 pm

Re: Could someone answer this grammar question ?

Post by CiaoTutti » Thu Aug 10, 2017 1:17 am

Thanks for the advice. Just to clarify, I work during the day, and unfortunately, the schools in my area do not offer any classes at night for Italian. I have looked for alternate ways of learning: Italian clubs, evening classes, interest groups - but have not been able to find anything.

Even at our local "mom and pop" authentic Italian restaurant, no one speaks Italian(even though they are all from Italian decent). I find it a bit sad that many families of Italian descent (mine included) stopped teaching their children the language after coming to America. I'm trying to break that cycle with my family. I love my Italian heritage, and carry many of the Italian traditions and values passed down by my relatives. It is a dream of mine to be able to enjoy the spoken language with my family as well. I'm having my kids say "Buona Notte" and "Ti voglio bene" before bedtime and just last night called up to them "Weila Ragazze! Vogliate gelati!?!" They looked puzzled and said "Huh?", but one of them identified the word "Gelati" and said "Yeah!", so I took them out for some Ice cream.

I wholeheartedly agree that book learning is essential (even when I review chapters that I learned weeks ago, I still catch mistakes that I make). It's just nice to be able to put it to use in the "real world". That's why I was hoping to find a resource such as this one, as well as others(e-pen pal, etc). One thing I have been doing is listening to radio/television broadcasts in Italian, but Momma Mia! The announcers talk fast! I find that I am far better at comprehending the written language rather than being able to listen and understand. I think that's probably the same for others too.

To DT - Your English is nearly perfect, but I'd be happy to help you if you'd like. Other than a few very trivial corrections, you seem to be incredibly fluent. I would have guessed that English was your primary language otherwise. Send me a direct message if you are interested and perhaps we can converse that way too.

Grazie!

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