VII. Ten Things to Know about the Infinitive in Italian.


Here we will insert pronunciation guides only for words which may be difficult for the beginner, such as three-syllable words stressed on the first syllable (subito, principe), or words ending with accented vowels which must be stressed on the last syllable (finirà, può). For an explanation of the phonetics of the Pronunciation Guide, click here.


1. Infinitives as nouns.
In Italian the infinitive of the verb can be used as a noun, and is normally preceded by the definite article: Le piace il cantare, she likes to sing. The article is omitted when the infinitive is used after forms of the verb essere--è facile trovare la stazione, it is easy to find the station--and after prepositions such as per, di, and senza: ha parlato senza esitare, he spoke without hesitating.


2. Infinitive constructions with modals.
When used in an "infinitive construction" with the verbs dovere, potere, and volere, known as the modal verbs, the infinitive follows the verb without any preposition: non vuole dire quello, he does not want to say that. Dobbiamo andare adesso, we should go now. Posso toccare questo? Can I touch this?


3. Infinitive with modal-like verbs.
Besides the three modals, there are a few other Italian verbs which take the infinitive without a preposition, namely the four "sensing" verbs sapere, sentire, udire, and vedere (to know, to sense, to hear, to see), and the two "action" verbs fare and lasciare (to make, to let): sa parlare bene, he knows how to speak well; lo farò vedere la verità (vay-ree-tah), I will make him see the truth; ci hanno lasciato partire, they let us leave.


4. Infinitive with preposition a.
Many verbs use the infinitive with the preposition a (or ad before a vowel), and these tend to be verbs of motion (such as andare, to go, and venire, to come), as well as verbs of beginning and continuing (cominciare, continuare), helping and compelling (aiutare, forzare), inviting and waiting (invitare, aspettare), learning and teaching (imparare, insegnare). Examples: andrò (ahn-droh) a vederla domani, I will go to see her tomorrow. Ha cominciato ad alzarsi, he began to get up. Mi aiuterai a lavorare, you will help me work. Impariamo a ballare, we are learning to dance.


5. Infinitive with proposition di.
Most other verbs take the preposition di before the infinitive. Among the more common are cercare (to try), credere (to believe), dire (to say), finire (to finish), permettere (to allow), pregare (to request), promettere (to promise). Examples: domani finirà (fee-nee-rah) di scrivere (skree-vay-ray) la lettera, tomorrow he will finish writing the letter. Prometto di venire subito (soo-bee-toh), I promise to come at once. Ti pregeranno di andare, they will ask you to go.


6. Infinitive replacing noun clause.
The infinitive preceded by di is often used in place of a noun clause, when the subject of the main verb and the subject of the infinitive are the same: dice di avere il libro, he says he has the book (= dice che ha il libro).


7. Object pronouns attached to infinitives.
An object pronoun can be attached to the infinitive: andrò a vederla, I will go to see her. Può parlarlo bene, he can say it well. Some verbs such as potere and volere, which take the infinitive without the preposition, may place the object pronoun before the conjugated verb: lo può (poo-oh) parlare bene, he can say it well. Glielo farà scrivere, he will make him write it.


8. The da of purpose.
The preposition da is used before an infinitive after a noun to indicate the purpose or scope of the preceding noun: ho bisogna della carta da scrivere, I need some writing paper. Hai una macchina (mahk-kee-nah) da cucire? Do you have a sewing machine? Avete due libri da leggere (lehj-jay-ray), you have two books to read. I ragazzi hanno molto da fare, the boys have a lot to do. We also find da followed by a noun in the same usage: mangiamo nella sala da pranzo, let's eat in the dining room.


9. Other idiomatic uses of da. 
Five other idiomatic uses of da, in addition to its common meaning of "from," are:
1. to indicate a home or location, similar to the French chez: Eravamo da Maria ieri, we were at Maria's yesterday;
2. to indicate the manner or style of an action: Antonio vive da principe (preen-chee-pay), Antonio lives like a prince;
3. to describe qualities or parts of the body: Chi è la ragazza dagli occhi verdi? Who is the girl with the green eyes?
4. to indicate the cost of something: Ho bisogno di un francobollo da tre euro, I need a three-euro stamp;
5. and to mean "by" when followed by the disjunctive pronouns (me, te, etc.): L'ho fatto da me, I did it by myself.


10. Idiomatic uses of di.
The pronoun di, in addition to its usual meaning "of," has several idiomatic usages:
It is joined with the definite article to indicate the partitive, usually translated as "some" or "any" in English: Avete del pane? Do you have any bread? Abbiamo comprato dei libri, we bought some books.
Di is also used before units of time, with the article omitted: Non potevo dormire di notte, I couldn't sleep at night. Di mattino andiamo a scuola, in the morning we go to school.


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