Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Backwards Verbs

Anyone who as traveled in Italy and/or possesses an elementary grasp of the language at a conversational level has surely run across the word piacere. If you've paid attention to how it's used, you've probably noticed that it's a bit of an odd word. As a noun it means "pleasure" or "favor", and as a verb means something like "like." An example usage as a verb:

Mi piace quella ragazza!

Which means "I like that girl." Sounds simple enough, until you understand the structure and realize what the subject of the sentence is. In English the subject is "I" - "I" does the action and the girl is the object. And in Italian, it's completely backwards! "Ragazza" (the girl) is the subject and "I" is the object. A more structurally similar translation in English could therefore be "That girl is pleasing to me." While this is grammatically correct, no one speaks like this in everyday conversation, at least not in the United States. Nevertheless it was useful (at first) for me to think like this, until I learned that piacere belongs to an entire family of verbs that function like this!

Now consider the verb mancare, which means "miss" respectively. Now peek at its usage:

Penso che ti manchi quella ragazza!
I think you miss that girl!

As far as I know there isn't way to translate the structure of this sentence in English, even awkwardly, as there is with piacere. Once you get the hang of how this group of verbs work, it's not so difficult. However it takes time for one's mind to subconsciously file them away and autonomously cope with how they work.

Out of curiosity, does anyone out there know of a way to (structurally) translate this use of mancare? Also if you care to share some other verbs in this "backwards" family, please do so!


Enrico said...

I think "to lack" covers it.
What do you think?

chris☆lewis said...

This is a fine translation (as is "to miss" or "to be without"), but what I'm curious about is how it's used in a sentence. In the example:

Penso che ti manchi quella ragazza!

In questa frase "ragazza" e` il soggetto e "I" e` il oggetto. Pero` in inglese funziona contrario. La traduzione:

I think you miss that girl!"

Qui "Io (I)" e` il soggetto e "girl (ragazza)" e` il oggetto, quindi non e` facile tradurre il uso di questi verbi senza cambiarli!

Enrico said...

I think in the first sentence the soggetto is "io"

(io) penso

(what?= che ti manchi quella ragazza)

As you said the main problem with mancare and to miss is that they work "backwords".

I suggested "to lack" because it's the closest to mancare I can think of, in terms of understanding the structure of the sentence:

mi manchi = you are lacking to me.

BTW this works for piacere/to like too:

I like you = Mi piaci (you are pleasing to me.)

Does this make any sense?


Does this

chris☆lewis said...

Perhaps I should use a simpler sentence. You're right that the subject is "Io" because of "Penso", but unless my grammar is off, the sentence has 2 subjects because there are 2 different things performing actions. So if I instead say only this:

Ti manca quella ragazza.

"Ragazza" is the subject because she is doing the action, and "Ti (tu)" is the object. In the English translation:

I miss that girl.

"I" am the subject and "girl" is the object.

Your example of translating the structure ("she is lacking to me") doesn't mean the same thing in English :-(. I'm honestly not sure if it even makes sense, but if it does it changes the meaning completely. It would mean that the girl is missing some characteristic that you desire, but not that you wish to see (or be with) her.

I'm honestly not sure if there is a way to translate the structure using mancare, as there is with piacere. Again I'm only wondering about this - I don't expect things to "make sense" in English, because it's not English. I do however find it interesting, for whatever reason :-).

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