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Setting Up Simple Sentences in Italian

Becoming a fluent speaker of a foreign language takes a lot of work. Simply communicating or making yourself understood in a foreign language is much easier. Even if you know only a few words, you can usually communicate successfully in common situations, such as at a restaurant or in a hotel.

Forming simple sentences in Italian is, well, simple. The basic sentence structure is subject-verb-object — the same as in English. In the following examples, you can see how this structure works:

  • Carla parla inglese. (kahr-lah pahr-lah een-gleh-zeh) (Carla speaks English.)
  • Pietro ha una macchina. (pee-eh-troh ah oo-nah mahk-kee-nah) (Pietro has a car.)

One major difference between English and Italian is that Italian doesn't usually put the subject before the verb when the subject is a personal pronoun, such as I, you, he, she, and so on. This may sound odd, but the verb changes according to its subject. Consequently, if you know the different verb forms, you automatically understand who the subject is. The verb form tells you the unspoken subject, as in this example: Ho una macchina (oh oo-nah mahk-kee-nah) means "I have a car."

Check out the following table of the verb avere (ah-veh-reh) (to have) — with pronouns as subjects:

Conjugation Pronunciation

io ho

ee-oh oh

tu hai

too ah-ee

lui/lei ha

loo-ee/lay ah

noi abbiamo

noh-ee ahb-bee-ah-moh

voi avete

voh-ee ah-veh-teh

loro hanno

loh-roh ahn-noh

The subject in the preceding example enables you to see which verb form corresponds to which personal pronoun. Using the verb in a sentence, however, a native Italian speaker would say:

  • Ho un cane. (oh oon kah-neh) (I have a dog.)
  • Hai un cane. (ah-ee oon kah-neh) (You have a dog.)

The rest of the pronouns in the list continue in the same manner.

Whenever the subject in a sentence is not very clear — for instance, when speaking about a third person (in the following example, Luca) — or the sentence is confusing, say the subject. Once named, however, the noun or pronoun drops out:

  • Luca ha fame. Mangia una mela. (loo-kah ah fah-meh mahn-jah oo-nah meh-lah) (Luca is hungry. [He] eats an apple.)
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