Italian and its limits: things the Italian Language CANNOT do

You cannot chew gum! You cannot take photos here. You cannot eat now! You cannot dance. Ahhh! It’s really frustrating and annoying to know that you CANNOT do something, isn’t it? And yet, there are always limits to what we can do: it’s the rules of society. But did you know that this isn’t valid just for people but also for languages? Oh yeah…Even Italian has its own boundaries…So in this article we are going to see all those things that ITALIAN LANGUAGE CANNOT DO!

Things Italian Language CANNOT do

I know, it’s hard to accept…everyone has its own limits, also Italian language! Below I’ll show you a list of all those things that Italian language CANNOT do.

  • Making a distinction between “now” and a longer period of time through verbs

Sto studiando l’italiano

Yes, ok, but when? Right now, or in this period?

Some languages use different verbal forms to distinguish between “now, this moment” and a longer period of time (a week, a month, a year…).

Italian, instead, does not have this distinction: you’ll say sto studiando l’italiano both if you want to say that is something you are doing at the very moment in which you are talking, and if you want to say that is something you’ve been doing “in this period” (for a few months or weeks), but that you are not doing at the very moment in which you are talking.

Therefore, in order to understand if it’s about “now” or a slightly longer period, you need to help yourself with adverbs or some expressions of time, such as today, now, this afternoon, this morning, for a week, in the latest month, in this period, it’s been a few days that


È da qualche mese che sto studiando l’italiano: mi piace molto! [I’ve been studying Italian for a few months: I really like it!]

In questo momento sto studiando l’italiano, perciò non posso uscire con voi. [Right now I’m studying Italian, therefore I can’t go out with you guys.]

  • Making a distinction between “process” and “result”

Some languages use different verbal forms to best express what you want to focus on in the conversation: that is, is it more important the process or having accomplished an action?

If I told you Ieri ho letto un libro, from my words it would be completely unable to understand which is the most important thing: the process of reading a book or the fact of completing the reading?

In other words, from that simple sentence it cannot be understood whether yesterday I just spent some time reading a few pages or chapters of the book, or whether I have now read the whole book and finished my reading.

In this case as well, to be clear you need to add more details.

  • Greeting each other in different way depending on whether you’ve just met or whether you’re about to leave

If I asked you which is the most common greeting in Italian language, you would surely answer Ciao!.

For some foreign speakers, however, it’s weird that in Italian there are no different ways to greet each other when you arrive and when you leave, as it happens, for example, in the English language with the distinction between Hi and Bye.

  • Making a distinction between who hosts and who is being hosted

If I tell you Marta è la mia ospite, am I saying that I’m hosting her or that she’s hosting me?

Good question, out of context, you just can’t know! Actually, in Italian “guest” indicates both the person who is being hosted and the person who hosts!

In grammar, this phenomenon is called enantiosemia, and there are many words that behave like this! You don’t need to learn the grammatical name, but certainly knowing these words is important!

  • Ending the words with a consonant

Every Italian word must end with a vowel (a – e – i – o – u).

The only words in Italian ending with a consonant are those borrowed from foreign languages.

And yet, many foreingers will agree with me on the fact that many Italians, when pronouncing foreign words, add a vowel sound, which Italians obviously do not hear because that pronunciation is “normal” for us.

For example, marketing will be pronounced by native Italian speakers as marketing-e.

  • Distinguishing interrogative and affirmative sentences without relying on the tone of voice

In so many languages, and I’m not talking only about English, but also about a Romance language like French, there is the interrogative form, which usually follows different grammatical rules compared to affirmative and negative forms.

In italian… no!

The only thing that let our interlocutor understand that we are asking a question is our intonation.

Mangiamo un panino.

Mangiamo un panino?

It is different for the written form, in which you can adjust it through punctuation marks: the period and the question mark.

  • Identifying a region where the “real” Italian is spoken

As you probably know, current Italian comes from the Florentine vernacular, the language of Dante.

The influence of Florence on the Italian language remained strong for centuries, so much that in the 19th century, Alessandro Manzoni wrote I Promessi Sposi based on the Florentine dialect. He spoke of “re-rinsing clothes in the Arno”, that is “cleansing” his writing from the Lombard and French influence.

However, from the unification of Italy on (1861), the importance of Florence and the Florentine gradually decreased.

So, today Italian is no longer really linked to Florence. It is now a very different language from North to South with all its regionalisms.

Differently from what happens to French, for which the Parisian pronunciation is considered the standard one of the language, the Florentine pronunciation is no longer considered the most prestigious Italian variety now, just like no other is.

In this regard, I suggest you also give a look at the video about STANDARD ITALIAN, ITS ACCENTS AND DIALECTS. It’s really interesting!

  • Expressing the gender neutral

As you can read in the Treccani Encyclopaedia, the neuter is a grammatical gender that was present in the Latin language alongside the masculine and feminine and was used to indicate objects and inanimate beings.

While some languages have kept the use of neuter (I’m thinking of German for example), in Italian is kept only the plural ending -a of some nouns, which were neuter plurals neutral and today have become feminine plurals: braccia, corna, mura, urla.

Recently, various linguistics scientists have been wondering about the possibility of introducing the neutral gender in Italian, but it hasn’t happened yet and to be honest I don’t think it will. What do you think about? Should it be integrated?

Once you have found out all those things Italian language cannot do and you’re curious to learn more, check out the video about the weird things Italians do! I’m sure you’ll have fun!

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