What to Say When You Don’t Understand

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 12:11
What to Say When You Don’t Understand

Whatever your level of Italian, it’s happened to all of us. You’re having a conversation and you’re doing really well ... and then you’re lost and you don’t understand what’s going on. Maybe the other person used an expression you don’t know, maybe the vocabulary or grammar was new to you, maybe they spoke too fast, or maybe their accent or pronunciation was different to what you’re used to. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us! It can be difficult to keep the conversation going when you don’t understand, so here are some useful words and expressions that may come in handy.


Non ho capito - I don’t understand


Beginners tend to use the present tense ‘non capisco’ but that’s not the right one to use in this context. In Italian we need to use the past tense ‘non ho capito’ to explain that you don’t understand.


Puoi ripetere per favore? - Can you repeat please?


If you want to specify what you want the other person to repeat, you could add in l’ultima frase (the last sentence), for example. 


Puoi parlare più piano  - Can you speak more slowly?


When you look up ‘slowly’ in the dictionary you’ll find the word ‘lentamente’ which is correct, but ‘piano’ fits better in this context.


Cosa intendevi? - What did you mean?


You can also say ‘cosa volevi dire’, which means the same thing. 


Cosa significa ____ (insert the word or expression here that you don’t understand)? - What does ____ mean?


For example:

A: Non ho capito una cosa che hai detto. Cosa significa ‘carota’?

A: I didn’t understand something you said. What does ‘carota’ mean?

B: Certo! La carota e è una verdura arancione.

B: Of course! ‘La carota’ is an orange vegetable. 


Cioè? - Meaning what? / By which you mean? / Which means ... ?


Cioè is made up of two words, cio (this) and è (is). It can be quite difficult to translate well. You’ll often find ‘that is to say’ as the translation in the dictionary which isn’t very natural in English. However, as a question we can use it to ask what someone means. This can be useful if you think you’re missing some key information and you need it spelt out!


Sono confuso/a - I am confused


The Italian for ‘confused’ is an adjective so needs to agree in gender. If you’re male use ‘sono confuso’ and if you’re female use ‘sono confusa’.


Mi sono perso/a - I am lost


Again, remember with this expression to use the right gender.


Non ti seguo - I am not following what you’ve said


The literal translation is ‘I’m not following you’, but here it’s meant metaphorically - I am not following what you have been talking about.


Here are some expressions you can use to thank the person you’ve been having a conversation with, and get back on track:


Grazie - thanks

Ti ringrazio - thank you

Grazie per l’aiuto - thanks for the help

È stato molto utile - that was very helpful

Cosa stavi dicendo? - What were you saying?

Allora dicevi ... - so, you were saying ...