In this lesson we are going to talk about an Italian expression typical of the spoken language, often used in colloquial and informal contexts, especially among younger people, but in reality among all age groups: “vabbè”. You have probably already heard this word, but you’re not sure on how you should use it and what is its meaning. Dont’t worry: this time of uncertainty has come to an end!
Uses and meanings of VABBÈ
The Italian expression vabbè actually comes from the phrase “va bene”(okay/all right), which you are undoubtedly familiar with, and is equally common in spoken language.
It basically derives from the union of the words “va” and “bene”, with the elision of the last syllable of “bene”, “ne”, and the accent on the final “e”. The result is, therefore, a truncated word, with the stress on the last syllable, “bè”.
Since it is a word typically used in spoken language and rarely found in the written one, which is only employed in colloquial and informal contexts, “vabbè” does not have a standardized spelling, although the most common and universally accepted one is “vabbè”, with a double B and accented “e” .
This particular spelling reflects the typical pronunciation of central and southern Italy and same goes for the less common one vabbeh, while in Northern Italy they usually use a different spelling, with a single B, written as one word, vabè or vabeh, or two different ones, va be’ or va beh.
The consonant doubling when combining two words, called phonosyntactic doubling, is typical of central and southern Italian dialects, and there are countless word in standard Italian, which were born exactly from the union of two words through phonosyntactic doubling.
For instance, this was the case for massì (sure…), from ma + sì; addio (goodbye), from a + dio; chissà (who knows), from chi + sa; arrivederci (see you), from a + rivederci; and the same goes for many other words.
However, apart from the different spellings, the expression vabbè is used in all Italian regions, and can have different meanings according to the context. We tried to categorize the meanings to make them more easily understandable and assimilable.
When “vabbè” is not synonym for “va bene”
There are cases in which the two expressions are not interchangeable and it’s mandatory to use “vabbè”.
1. To express concession or acceptance
The most common case is the one of “vabbè” used to express concession or acceptance, often half-heartedly, somewhat reluctantly. For example:
– Stasera andiamo a cena dai miei? È da tanto che non li vediamo! (Are we going to my parents’ for dinner tonight? It’s been a long time since we last saw them!)
– Per forza? Non ho proprio voglia di vederli… (Do we have to? I don’t really want to see them…)
– Dai, lo sai che mia madre si preoccupa se non ci vede mai… ( Come on, you know my mom gets worried if she never sees us…)
– Vabbè, se ci tieni tanto… (Alright, if that’s what you want…)
In this case, vabbè can be often be accompanied by “non importa” (it doesn’t matter). Example:
– Mi dispiace ma non sono riuscita a rimandare l’appuntamento col mio capo. Domani non posso proprio venire alla tua festa. (I’m sorry but I couldn’t postpone the meeting with my boss. I can’t really come to your party tomorrow.)
– Vabbè, non importa. Possiamo sempre vederci un altro giorno.( It’s okay, it doesn’t matter. We can always see each other some other day.)
2. To minimize something that has been said
The second case is the one of “vabbè” used to minimize something that has been said. It can take different forms:
The form “se, vabbè” or “sì, vabbè” and the form “vabbè, dai”, are used to express disbelief with regard to something that has been said, often with the meaning of “addirittura!” (really!), “non esagerare!”( don’t go overboard!). Example:
– Mio padre mi ha promesso che se quest’anno vengo promossa mi regala una Ferrari. (My dad promised he’d give me a Ferrari if I passed this year)
– Sì, vabbè! Hai idea di quanto costi una Ferrari? (Really?! Do you even know how much a Ferrari is?)
– Stanotte non ho chiuso occhio: continuo a ripensare alla figuraccia che ho fatto ieri sera. Non so come ho fatto a non rendermene conto prima. (I barely slept last night: i keep thinking about the gaffe I made yesterday evening. I don’t know how I didn’t realize it sooner.)
– Vabbè, dai, non c’è bisogno di farne un dramma. Sono cose che capitano. (Come on, it’s fine, there’s no need to be melodramatic. These things happen.)
The form “vabbè, dai” can mean “tutto sommato, alla fine” (after all, in the end). Example:
– La torta che ho cucinato ieri è venuta peggio del solito, era un po’ bruciacchiata e sapeva troppo di uova. ( The cake I made yesterday came out worse than usual, it was a little burnt with too much of an eggy taste)
– Vabbè, dai, non era così male. A me è piaciuta. (Well, it wasn’t that bad after all. I liked it)
3. As a reaction to something shocking or unexpected
The third and last case in which vabbè cannot be replaced by “va bene” is that of “no, vabbè” or “cioè, no, vabbè”: an expression typically used by youngsters, as a reaction to a shocking or unexpected event. Example:
– Cioè no vabbè, raga, non potete capire. ( I mean…guys…you cannot understand.)
– Cosa è successo? (What happened?)
– Ieri ho fatto una torta di mele pazzesca. (Yesterday I made an incredible apple pie.)
– Comunque ieri sera mi ha scritto il mio ex dopo un anno che non lo sentivo. Mi ha detto che vuole parlarmi. (However, yesterday my ex texted me after I haven’t heard of him since last year. He said he wants to talk.)
– No, vabbè. Sto male. Ma è serio? (No, I can’t believe this…Is he serious?)
When “vabbè” can be replaced by “va bene”
1. To change the subject or finish the conversation
In the first case, “vabbè” can be used to finish a conversation, often with a sense of hurry or irritation, or even to change the subject and talk about something else. For example:
– Comunque non ho mai capito perché mia sorella sia tornata col suo ex. Se si sono mollati ci sarà stato un motivo, no? Non ha senso tornare indietro senza risolvere i problemi… Boh… (However, I never really understood why my sister got back with her ex. If they broke up, there must be a reason, right? There’s no point in going back without solving their problems…I don’t know..)
– Vabbè, che ne dici se prendiamo un altro drink? (Alright…What about another drink?)
2. To focus the attention on a new element
The second case where “vabbè” can be replaced by “va bene” is the expression “sì, vabbè, ma”, to focus the attention on a new element, in contrast to something that has just been mentioned. As if to say: “sì, ho capito, ma…” (Yes, I get that, but…). For example:
– Sto pianificando un viaggio pazzesco: voglio andare a Bali, poi alle Hawaii e poi a Los Angeles. E magari faccio anche una tappa a New York. (I’m planning an incredible trip: I want to go to Bali, then to Hawaii and after to Los Angeles. And maybe I can also make a stop in New York.)
– Sì, vabbè, ma i soldi dove li trovi? (Yeah…but where do you think you can find the money?)
3. To express a concession
The third and last case where “vabbè” and “va bene” are interchangeable, is the expression “vabbè che…” used to express a concession with the meaning of “è vero che…”( it’s true that…), “ok che…” . Often this expression is followed by a sentence introduced by “ma”(but) or “però” (however), therefore an adversative clause, which is in contrast to the one just formulated. Example:
–Vabbè che non hai mai studiato inglese… Però credo tu sappia cosa vuol dire “stop”! ( It’s true you never studied English, however I believe you know what “stop” means!)
–Vabbè che sono già stata ad Amsterdam, ma non vuol dire che non ci posso ritornare! (It’ true that I have been to Amsterdam already, but that doesn’t mean I cannot go back again!)
As you can see, there are many uses of vabbè and they can often have overlapping meanings, thus being not very clear and hardly classifiable. Precisely for this reason, the only way to learn how to use vabbè correctly is by practicing a lot and by learning the examples of use.
If you want to have a good laugh while learning about Italian culture and Italian humor, then go watch the video about Italian memes!
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