Italian Language Lesson 15: The Family

Barry Lillie | Sat, 08/02/2014 - 03:30

[Photo Steve McCurry]

Turn on any television series or film where there’s an Italian character and it won’t be long before you hear the word ‘family’.

The script for the famous "Godfather" trilogy is littered with references to the family, with phrases like Don Corleone’s warning to Sonny, "Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking again." Author of the trilogy Mario Puzo wrote, "A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man." We are all aware that this is fiction, but inside there’s an important fact: family is important to Italians.

Unlike their European counterparts who leave the family home in their early twenties, most young Italians continue to live with their parents right up until they get married, and it’s commonplace for elderly parents to eventually move into their children’s homes.

So sticking with the theme of la famiglia (the family), here’s some Italian for you to practice. Let’s start with the basics:

la madre – mother    la mamma - mum/mom

il padre – father        il papà - dad

la figlia – daughter

il figlio –  son

il fratello – brother

la sorella – sister

i genitori – parents

To introduce a family member to someone else in a relaxed setting you could say: Questo è mio fratello – this is my brother or Questa è mia sorella – this is my sister. (Take note of the differences between the male and female phrase. The masculine ends with an ‘o’ so the word Questo, meaning this, also has an ‘o’ ending, as does mio, meaning my. As sister is feminine the ‘o’ becomes an ‘a’.)

When meeting people in a formal setting, you could say: posso presentarle mia sorella/mio fratello? – can I introduce my sister/brother. When being introduced to someone, you may hear, posso which means may I, posso presentare – may I present…

Other family members include:

il cugino/la cugina – cousin

la nipote – niece/granddaughter  (note the feminine prefix, la)

il nipote – nephew/grandson (note the masculine prefix, il)

la nonna – grandmother

il nonno – grandfather

la zia – aunt

lo zio – uncle

As shown above in the phrases mio fratello and mia sorella, when using possessives, the adjectives must agree with the noun. To say your brother/sister, you would use tuo and tua, however in an official setting you’d use the formal suo and sua. (Remember, depending on the context of the sentence suo and sua can also mean his and her.)

For example, to ask, where is your sister/brother?  dov'è tua sorella/tuo fratello? And if in a more formal situation you’d say, dov'è sua sorella/suo fratello?

Another rule to remember is if you are talking about more than one person, in addition to the plurals, you must use the definite article ‘the’:

mio fratello – my brother

i miei fratelli – my brothers

oggi sposi - just married. When family members get married you suddenly acquire not only new family members, but a whole new vocabulary:

la moglie – wife

il marito – husband

la cognata – sister-in-law

il cognato – brother-in-law

la nuora - daughter-in-law

il genero - son-in-law

In fact romance brings with it a whole lot of new relationships to remember:

la coppia – couple

la fidanzata – fiancée

il fidanzato – fiancé

la sposa – bride

lo sposo – bridegroom

So continuing with the theme of romance, I’d like to end this language feature with a kiss, bacio, and here’s a handful of kiss-related phrases you can use.

Lo sposo ha baciato la sposa  - the bridegroom kissed the bride

La moglie baciò il marito – the wife kissed her husband

Mio fratello ha baciato la sua fidanzata – my brother kissed his fiancée

Ho baciato mia zia – I kissed my aunt

Finally, it seems fitting to quote the politician, activist and journalist Giuseppe Mazzini, who said, la famiglia è la patria del cuore, the family is the homeland of the heart.