In this lesson we are going to talk about Italian syntax and, in particular, about the different meanings a sentence can have if we change the order of its components, which are the words. This often happens in Italian, as in: “(io) vado” o “vado io”, “(tu) lo fai” o “lo fai tu”, “(lei) guarda” o “guarda (lei)” and so on… Although these sentences might look similar, I can assure you that changing the word order can also cause a considerable change in the meaning, therefore you need to be sure about what you are doing without putting the words randomly!
Syntax and word order in Italian
Syntax, by definition, deals with sentence structure, so with its components, which are the words.
In fact, the word order in a sentence has a really important function, bacause it can often change the meaning of the sentence itself.
Let’s take into consideration:
“(io) vado” e “vado io”
As you can see, they are pretty similar and, basically, they only differ in the word order.
It’s important, however, not to use them equally, because they have different meanings!
Unmarked word order
The expression “(io) vado” follows the so-called unmarked word order of the Italian sentence, which is the SVO order (subject – verb – object); even though in this case we only have a subject and a verb.
Therefore, when the pronoun is implicit, we are simply talking about what someone is doing or what they’re going to do in the future. There is no ambiguity, because it refers to someone who is well identified. For example:
- Dove vai? -(Where are you going?)
- Vado in banca -(I’m going to the bank)
- Perché vai? -(Why are you going there?)
- Niente, vado solo per chiudere un conto. -(Nothing, I’m just going to close an account)
Have you noticed? There was no need to make the pronoun explicit since it was perfectly clear who the subject was.
Instead, it’s important make it explicit when there are two or more people, each doing something, and we want to specify who is doing what. For instance:
- Io vado in farmacia, tu vai al supermercato. Ok? -(I’ll go to the pharmacy and you’ll go to the supermarket, ok?)
- Va bene. E Marta cosa fa? -(Alright. And what is Marta doing?
- Lei non va più alla lezione di danza, quindi viene con me. -(She’s not going to her dance class anymore, so she’s coming with me.)
Have you noticed? In the above examples we had 3 people, so it was important to clarify who had to do what.
Marked word order
As for the cases in which the pronoun follows the verb, like the expression “vado io”, we are faced with a marked word order, used in Italian to express that only a person, among two or more, is doing or is not doing a specific action.
For example, when someone is ringing the bell or the phone is ringing, if there are more people in the house, someone might say “vado io” to express their intention of answering the intercom or the phone, so that it’s clear to everybody and they don’t have to bother doing that.
Let’s see another example:
- Mi ha appena chiamato Giulia: dice che ha bisogno urgentemente di una mano per sollevare alcuni scatoloni. -(Giulia has just called me: she says she needs some help lifting a few boxes)
- Di certo non andrò io: Giulia mi sta troppo antipatica! -(I’m not going for sure: Giulia is too unlikeable for me)
- Vai tu? -(Will you go?)
- D’accordo, vado io! -(Fine, I’ll go!)
Well, at this point it’s clear that moving the subject after the verb is a way to underline the fact that only a specific person is doing something or not, among several people.
The topic of this video, as you may have noticed, was quite advanced. We’re dealing with nuances of the Italian language, which are, nevertheless, extremely important to distinguish those who are really fluent from those who are not.
Furthermore, if you liked this lesson, why don’t you look at the video about the alternatives to Sì and No? I truly recommend you not to miss it: it was extremely successful!
Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!