VALERE LA PENA – 5 Common Mistakes made by foreigners (and some Italians)

If there’s one expression that all foreigners want to use when speaking italian, that is VALERE LA PENA. In fact, since us italians use it so often, this is one of those verbs that makes your italian sound more natural. We can all agree on that. The problem is that this verbal construct is very peculiar, and it’s easy to get confused. In this video we’ll see the 5 most common mistakes made by foreigners (and also some native speakers) when using the verb VALERE LA PENA.


First of all, what does it mean?

So, VALERE LA PENA means “to be convenient, advantageous, deserve the commitment and struggle it requires”.

And now let’s see how to use it and what are the most frequent mistakes done when using this phrase: I’ll start from those that seem more common among beginners, and then we’ll get to those mistakes done by more advanced speakers and even natives!

1 – it’s vale la pena

A mistake that I often notice is the use of “vale la pena” as if it were an adjective, thus in combination with the verb “essere”.

This use is completely incorrect, because the expression “vale la pena” already has it’s own verb (“valere”), so it doesn’t need anything else!

Something can “essere” convenient or “essere” advantageous, but something can “valere” the pain, as in “be worthwhile”.

For example:

Un film vale la pena.

Viaggiare vale la pena.

Gli studi valgono la pena.

As you can see, the verb “valere” changes its nuance based on the subject, that is the thing that is convenient.

If what “vale la pena” is already mentioned beforehand and we do not want to repeat it, we will use “valere la pena” with the particle NE, that references it but avoids repeating it.

For example:

  • Pensi che dovrei guardare l’ultimo film di James Bond?
  • Oh sì! Ne vale assolutamente la pena!
  • Secondo te, gli studi di Medicina sono una buona opzione per i giovani?
  • Sono duri, ma ne valgono la pena, sicuramente.

2 – valuto

Another one of the most common mistakes is related to the past participle of the verb.

I often hear people say something among the lines of “Ha valuto la pena“.

Well, it’s incorrect. Infact, the past participle of the verb “valere” is VALSO

… and this takes us to another question, which is strongly related to what we just talked about:

3 – ha valso or è valso?

That is, does the verb “valere” take the auxillary verb “essere” or “avere” in compound constructs like the present perfect?

In the form of “valere la pena“, the verb takes as an auxillary “essere“.

Let’s see how we can use it in real situations.

  • If the subject is present in the sentence, the verb will go according to it:

Quel viaggio in Thailandia è valso la pena, perché ci ha permesso di scoprire nuove culture.

Tutti i miei sacrifici sono valsi la pena, perché mi hanno permesso di essere qui. (—> sono valsi, perché concorda con “i sacrifici”)

I must say, however, that it’s not used so often this way. It’s more frequently used in the form we are about to see.

  • If “valere la pena” refers to the whole of the previous sentence, the particle NE will be used, in the form —> ne è valsa la pena (as you can see, in this case the present perfect “valsa” is singular feminine, in accord with “pena”).

For example:

Il viaggio in Thailandia è stato lungo è difficile ma ne è valsa la pena, perché abbiamo scoperto nuove culture.

Ho fatto molti sacrifici per arrivare qui, però ne è valsa la pena. (—> fare tutti quei sacrifici è stato vantaggioso per me)

4 – vale la pena or vale la pena di?

The most common way of using this structure is “valere la pena” + infinitive verb, that underlines what is advantageous and convenient.

The doubt, however, that foreigners (and a lot of italians) have is: VALERE LA PENA to do something or VALE LA PENA DI do something?

Grammars and the maximum authorities of the italian language say that the more correct form is VALERE LA PENA DI + infinitive, as we can often see in literature:

Allora Guglielmo decise che valeva la pena di non dargli respiro. (Umberto Eco, Il nome della rosa)

I desideri sono la cosa più importante che abbiamo e non si può prenderli in giro più di tanto. Così, alle volte, vale la pena di non dormire per star dietro ad un proprio desiderio. (Alessandro Baricco, Castelli di rabbia)

Le uniche donne che vale la pena di sposare sono quelle che non ci si può fidare a sposare. (Cesare Pavese)

However, the form without the preposition “di” is also very common, both in written italian and spoken italian:

Vale la pena piangere solo se di felicità. (Carmine Colella)

Nichilismo è sentire che al mondo non c’è nulla per cui valga la pena essere pessimisti. (Giovanni Soriano)

Therefore, it’s up to you to choose which form to use.

I want to point something out:

When it’s necessary to express the subject, it’s possible to use the “stronger” explicit form: VALERE LA PENA CHE + subjunctive.

For example:

Vale la pena (di) imparare l’italiano perché è una lingua bellissima.

Vale la pena che voi impariate l’italiano perché è una lingua bellissima.

As you can see, in the first sentence there was no particular subject that had to learn Italian, it was a very general sentence, that referred to anyone.

It the second sentence, on the other hand, I wanted to underline those who must learn italian, the subject, and that is “you”. For this reason it’s necessary to use the explicit form with the subjunctive.

5 – ne vale la pena (di)

Last mistake that foreignars (and a large number of italians) do is using the form “ne vale la pena” (with or without di) + infinitive verb“.

For example:

Ne vale la pena di visitare il Giappone, perché sembra un Paese molto interessante. (O: Ne vale la pena visitare il Giappone…, ugualmente sbagliata).

Actually, it’s incorrect! Because the presence of “ne” when there’s already “di” sounds redundant. The correct form would be:

Vale la pena (di) visitare il Giappone, perché sembra un Paese molto interessante.

Or, eventually, rephrasing it by saying:

Bisognerebbe visitare il Giappone: ne vale la pena perché è un Paese molto interessante.

But not together!

Well, that’s all for this verbal construct: let me know in the comments if you found it useful and also tell me if there are any other verbal forms like this that give you trouble, so I can sum up the more complex things in a video as I did for this one.

Furthermore, don’t forget to also discover what are the most common mistakes the italians do when writing or reading!

And do not forget to read our book Italiano Colloquiale: Parole ed Espressioni per Tutti i Giorni!

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