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Italian Lesson – May 2021


In the last lesson, we discussed differences between the two similar Italian verbs “essere” and “stare.” In this lesson, we will cover the difference between the Italian verbs “avere” and “tenere.” As with “essere” and “stare,” there is the task of learning the conjugation of these verbs, which becomes even tougher because those words often overlap in meaning. Such is the case with the two verbs in Italian – “tenere – to hold, to keep” and “avere – to have, to obtain, to hold.” Here are the main differences. First, “tenere” is often understood as “to keep” or “to hold,” like “to keep a window open,” “keep a secret” or “hold a baby.” “Avere” is to understood as meaning, “to have,” in the sense of possession, like age, fear, or an iPhone.

If you are a beginner learning Italian, these usages should not be difficult. However, if you have a knowledge of Spanish or learned Italian as spoken by family members or friends, here is when the use of “tenere” becomes a slippery slope. This is because more often than not, Italian-Americans descend from southern Italy where, particularly in Naples, in the place of “avere,” “tenere” is used, but grammatically, it’s incorrect.

Meaning, when you hear “Tenere 21 anni” to be 21 years old, instead of “Avere 21 anni” or “Tenere sete,” to be thirsty, instead of “Avere sete,” it’s not grammatically correct. (More about these “avere” expressions in a future lesson.)

Now let’s learn how to conjugate these two verbs.

io ho                                               I have
tu hai  (singular familar)           you have
lui/lei ha                                        he, she has

Lei ha (singular polite)              you have

noi abbiamo                                 we have
voi avete
(plural you)                you have
loro hanno                                    
they have.

Now let’s do tenere:

io tengo                                        I hold or I keep
tu tieni 
(singular familar)        you hold or you keep  
lui/lei tiene                                  
he, she holds or he, she keeps

Lei tiene  (singular polite)        you hold or you keep           

noi teniamo                              we hold or we keep
voi tenete
(plural you)            you hold or you keep       
loro tengono                            
they hold or they keep

We begin with the present tense of avere. Note: The h in the forms of avere are silent.

In the next lesson, we learn some usages of these two verbs.

This month’s proverb
It comes from Sicily.
Sicilianu: Cu’ accatta abbisogna di cent’occhi; cu’ vinni d’un sulu. Italiano: Chi compra ha bisogna di cent’occhi; chi vende uno solo. English literal: He who buys needs 100 eyes; he who sells one eye only. English figuratively: Buyer beware.

This month’s falso amico
This month’s falso amico is interesting since summer is just a little over a month away. The Italian word is “estate.” Of course, English speakers would quickly think it means just that in Italian, “estate.” Wrong, it’s actually the Italian word for summer. The English word for estate, as in real estate, is immobiliare.

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