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Italian Lesson – June 2021


The previous lesson covered two verbs, avere and tenere. In that lesson, we learned the conjugations and how their usages are often used incorrectly. This sequel will stress the main usage of avere.

Besides being a foundational verb in its own right, the Italian verb avere, or “to have”
in English, has a particularly important role in Italian as an auxiliary verb. This second-conjugation irregular verb facilitates – together with partner essere – all compound tenses of all modes of all verbs: avere for many transitive and intransitive verbs, and essere for reflexive verbs, verbs of movement, and many other intransitive verbs as well.

You would not be able to say that you drank a lemonade (ho bevuto una limonata), you studied hard (ho studiato tanto!), you loved your old car (ho voluto molto bene la mia vecchia macchina), or that you had hoped to take a trip to Italy (avevo sperato di fare un viaggio in Italia!) without the verb avere (together, of course, with past participles).

Let’s move on now to learn about the other special ways in which the verb avere is used to express daily living in Italian.

Avere is used to express a series of important feelings, many of which are rendered in English with the verb “to be” or “to feel” and that are used very frequently.

Most important is the expression of a desire to do something: avere voglia di, or non avere voglia di. For example: Ho voglia di mangiare un panino (I feel like eating a sandwich); non abbiamo voglia di andare a scuola (we don’t feel like going to school); mio figlio non ha voglia di andare dal medico (my son doesn’t feel like going to the doctor). Avere voglia is subtly different from wanting or volere: a bit less resolved, more temporary and a bit capricious.

You also use avere to express your age: Ho dieci anni (I am 10 years old), or mio zio ha novanta anni (my uncle is 90).

Here are the other most important ones:

Avere freddo to be cold Fuori ho freddo.  Outside I am cold.  
Avere caldo  to be hot  Dentro ho caldo.  Inside I am hot.  
Avere sete to be thirsty Ho sete!  I am thirsty! 
Avere fame to be hungry Abbiamo fame!  We are hungry! 
Avere paura di to be afraid Ho paura del buio.  I am afraid of the dark.  
Avere sonno to be sleepy I bambini hanno sonno.  The children are sleepy.  
Avere fretta  to be in a hurry Ho fretta: devo andare. I am in a hurry: I need to go.  
Avere bisogno di to be in need of  Ho bisogno di un dottore. I need a doctor.  
Avere torto  to be wrong Hai torto.  You are wrong.  
Avere ragione to be right Ho sempre ragione.  I am always right.  

Besides expressions of feeling, avere is used in a long list of idiomatic expressions, called locuzioni in Italian. Unabridged Italian dizionari are full of them. Here we do not cite the many that use avere literally and are similar to English (“to have in mind” or “to have a screw loose”), but this is a good sampling of the most interesting and frequently used:

avere del matto (del buono, del cattivo) to seem a bit crazy (or good, or bad) 
avere l’aria di to seem (give off the air of) 
avere la borsa piena to be rich (have a full purse) 
avere caro to hold (something) dear 
avere su (addosso) to have on (wear) 
avere (or non avere) a che vedere to have something to do with  
avere nulla da spartire  to have nothing in common with somebody 
avere a che dire  to have something to say 
avere (or non avere) a che fare con to have something to do with something or somebody 
avere a mente  to remember 
avere a cuore  to hold dear 
avere importanza  to be important 
avere luogo to take place 
avere inizio to begin 
avere presente to picture something clearly in one’s mind 
avere (qualcuno) sulla bocca  to talk about someone often 
avere per la testa  to have something in one’s head  
avere da fare  to be busy 
avere le madonne  to be in a bad mood  
avere l’acquolina in bocca  to salivate/to have a watering mouth 
avere la meglio/la peggio to best/to lose 
avere occhio to watch out/to have a good eye 
avere le scatole piene  to be fed up 
avere (qualcuno) sullo stomaco to dislike someone  
avere il diavolo addosso to be fidgety 
avere (qualcosa) per le mani to be dealing with something  
avere cura di to take care of someone or something 
averla a male  to be offended 
avere in odio  to hate 
avere un diavolo per capello  to be furious (to have a devil for each hair) 

A reminder about tenere in relation to avere: In Southern Italy tenere is often used in the place of avere. You hear people say, tengo due figli (I have two children) and even tengo fame (I am hungry), or tengo trent’anni (I am 30 years old). This is a widespread but regional use of the verb. The verb tenere means to hold, keep, maintain, hold onto.

This month’s proverb
Italiano: Al bisogno si conosce l’amico.
English: A friend in need is a friend indeed.

This month’s falso amico
It is argomento, meaning topic, subject, theme or evidence. Argument in Italian is expressed by the words discussion or litigio.

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