[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.