How to say “some” (Part 1)

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Say “Some” in Italian
with the Partitive

To speak fluently in another language, it is important to know how to describe a group of things in a general way. In some cases, the number of things in a group can be counted, but we may want to describe only a part of the entire group. In other cases, the number of things in a group cannot be counted — either due to difficulty in dividing the group into individual parts or due to a seemingly infinite number of things within the group. In short, all languages bypass the problem of assessing exactly what is in a group of things by saying, “some.” In technical terms, this is called “the partitive.”

As an incidental note, the partitive can be thought of as the plural form of the indefinite article “a” which, as you may recall, in Italian is “un, uno, una, or un’.

Let’s begin our series on the ways Italians say” some” by focusing on how to combine the Italian preposition di with the definite article to say, “some of the.” This method is commonly used by Italians to talk about quantities of food, and therefore gets daily use!”

 


How to Combine
[di + Italian definite article] to say “Some of it”

The method Italians use to create the partitive with [di + definite article] is not as foreign to an English speaker as it might seem at first. In English, we can combine the words “some” + “of the”  when asking for a portion of food at the dinner table. For instance, at Thanksgiving, when there is a plethora of food to be passed around, we may say, “I’ll have some (of the) turkey, and also some (of the) green beans, please.”  The phrase “of the” is in parentheses for the example sentence because in English “of the” is optional.  In fact, in English we often omit the word “some” as well when making a statement; the idea that we only want a portion is understood. But this is not the case for Italian!

The Italian rules of grammar require the speaker to include “some of the” in most situations when making a statement. The preposition “di,” which means “of” in this case, is combined with the required definite article (the) for the noun under discussion. Below is the method for combining di with each Italian definite article and also a reminder about which definite article to choose for the gender and number of an Italian noun.

A few spelling rules…

Notice that di must be changed to “de” before adding the definite article to make “del” for “of the.”  For the definite article il, the letter i in il is dropped when il is combined with a preposition.  For definite articles that begin with the letter l, the l is doubled when written, which adds a syllable to the pronunciation and preserves the melodious sound of Italian. You may remember this last two rules are also used to combine the Italian preposition su with Italian definite articles from our blog: “Using the Preposition ‘Su’ in Italian.”

A word of advice…

Do not try to memorize the rules behind each definite article,
but DO memorize each noun with its definite article!

This way, when you are speaking,
the definite article will naturally be linked to it’s noun!

 

The method for [di + singular definite articles]:

di + il = del          masculine singular definite article

di + lo = dello    masculine singular definite article before [s + consonant], x, y, z

di+ la = della      feminine singular definite article

di+ l’ =  dell’        masculine and feminine singular definite article before a vowel

 

The method for [di + plural definite articles]:

di + i = dei          masculine plural definite article

di + gli = degli    masculine plural definite article before a vowel or [s + consonant], x, y, z

di + le = delle      feminine plural definite article

 


 

How to Use the Partitive
with Vorrei While Dining

There are, of course, innumerable instances when the partitive can come into play while dining. Most often, this will be to make a request. As discussed in a previous blog, there are many ways to make a request in Italian.

If one is in polite company, such as with a new acquaintance, or at a formal dinner or a business meeting, the  verb vorrei is helpful.  Vorrei, which means, “I would like,” is the conditional io form of volere  and is the most educated way to ask for what we need. Not only is vorrei polite, but using this form of volere is easy, as noted in a previous blog, “Being Polite with ‘Volere.'”

When using vorrei to ask for an item while dining, simply follow vorrei with [di + definite article + noun] to say, ” I would like some of the…” Some examples are given below, with “of the” in parentheses in the English translation. Of course, when gathered with around the dinner table with family, voglio, which means, “I want” can be be substituted for the more formal vorrei. The sentence structure is the same for both vorrei and voglio.

Vorrei del pane.                     I would like some (of the) bread.

Vorrei della minestra.           I would like some (of the) soup.

Vorrei dell’acqua.                  I would like some (of the) water.

 

Vorrei dei piselli.                   I would like some (of the) peas.

Vorrei delle lasagne.             I would like some (of the) lasagna.

Vorrei dello spumante.        I would like some (of the) sparkling white wine.

Vorrei degli spaghetti.         I would like some (of the) spaghetti.


A Substitute for
the Italian Partitive 

If one wants to emphasize a request for a small portion of something, such as with the phrases “a little bit,” or “a little bit of,” the partitive can be replaced by the phrase, “un po’ di,” and the definite article is then omitted.  See below:

Vorrei un po’ di pane.                       I would like a little bit of bread.

Vorrei un po’ di minestra.            I would like a little bit of soup.  


When to Omit
the Italian Partitive

The Italian partitive is always omitted when making a negative statement and often omitted when asking a question. Let’s look at how these rules of Italian grammar apply to different situations.

  1. The Italian partitive is always omitted when making a negative statement.

One of the most common phrases spoken in Italian movies is, “Non ho soldi!” instead of “Non ho dei soldi!” The partitive is not omitted in negative English statements. Instead, the English adjective “any” is used. The English translation is therefore, “I don’t have any money!”

Now, let’s go  back to our original example of a family at the Thanksgiving table and change it a bit to make a negative statement. For instance, if you don’t want any of Mom’s green bean casserole, you might say, “I’ll have some (of the) turkey, but I don’t want any (of the) green beans.”

Again, the partitive comes into play with the adjective “any” in English. In Italian, however, the partitive is always omitted in a negative statement. Just use “non” to make the Italian sentence negative, followed by vorrei or voglio, and then the noun without its definite article for what you don’t want! The translation for our example sentence: “Vorrei del tacchino ma non voglio fagiolini.”

 

2. The Italian partitive is often omitted when asking a question in an informal situation

When asking a question, the Italian partitive is often omitted during an informal conversation with family or friends. In informal conversations, sentences are often shortened, phrases omitted, and in general, extraneous information left unsaid. One of the most common questions a parent asks a child, for instance, is what they want for dinner. In the example below, the Italian partitive degli can be used, but is often left out, to make a shorter, more direct sentence. The answer in the negative that follows also leaves out the partitive, as we have just learned.

Mama: Vuoi mangiare (degli) spaghetti stasera?
Mom:   Do you want to eat spaghetti tonight?

Bambino: Non voglio mangiare spaghetti di nuovo stasera!
Child:  I don’t want to eat spaghetti again tonight!

However, in a formal situation, as when a waiter speaks to diners using the “polite you” at a restaurant, the partitive is always required. This rule holds whether the waiter is making a statement or asking a question. For example, if a waiter wants to ask a customer to try some of the vegetable of the day, he or she would have to use the partitive and say, “Vorrebbe provare degli asparagi per contorno?meaning, “Would you like to try some asparagus for the side dish?” 

Listen a bit to those speaking Italian, and these types of phrases will probably come up frequently.  Italians are not being lazy if they leave out the partitive; instead, they are using correct Italian grammar!

Remember how to say
“Some” in Italian
and I guarantee you will use
phrases with the partitive every day!

 

For “All the Italian you need to enjoy your trip to Italy,” click on the links below to purchase my Conversational Italian for Travelers books – and then listen to the audiobook “Just the Important Phrases” on your favorite streaming platform! -Kathryn Occhipinti

Conversational Italian for Travelers books are shown side by side, standing up with "Just the Verbs" on the left and "Just the Grammar" on the right
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  amazon.com  and Learn Travel Italian.com
The cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book is viewed on a smartphone
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded to a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com

 

 

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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