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‘Il Canto degli Italiani’: What the Italian national anthem means – and how to sing it

The Italian football team and its fans are known for belting out rousing renditions of the country’s national anthem before matches. But what exactly are they singing? Here’s how you can join in.

‘Il Canto degli Italiani’: What the Italian national anthem means - and how to sing it
Italy fans sing the national anthem before the EURO 2020 match between Italy and Austria on June 26th. Photo: Ben STANSALL/POOL/AFP

Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians), is better known as Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) after its opening line, or Inno di Mameli (Mameli’s Hymn) after its lyricist.

Whatever they call it, Italians have been singing this anthem for almost 75 years after the post-war government picked it in October 1946 for the new Republic.

However, since they didn’t actually write it into law at the time, the song was only made Italy’s official national anthem four years ago.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Italy’s Unity Day

Usually only the first stanza is sung – twice – followed by the chorus.

All five stanzas of Mameli’s Hymn have been taught in schools since 2012, meaning most younger Italians at least will know the words.

Once you understand the lyrics you’ll see that it’s not the most lighthearted or family-friendly of songs, being almost entirely about war and death.

But at least it’s not as controversial as France’s La Marseillaise – and it has words, unlike Spain’s La Marcha Real.

So if you didn’t learn the Italian anthem at school, here’s a demonstration from the national team. The lyrics (for the short version) are translated below.

Fratelli d’Italia,

l’Italia s’è desta,

dell’elmo di Scipio s’è cinta la testa.

Dov’è la Vittoria? Le porga la chioma,

ché schiava di Roma, Iddio la creò.

Stringiamci a coorte,

siam pronti alla morte.

Siam pronti alla morte,

l’Italia chiamò.

Stringiamci a coorte,

siam pronti alla morte.

Siam pronti alla morte,

l’Italia chiamò! Sì!

In English:

Brothers of Italy,

Italy has awoken,

Bound Scipio’s helmet upon her head.

Where is Victory? Let her bow down,

For God has made her a slave of Rome.

Let us join in a cohort,

we are ready to die.

We are ready to die,

Italy has called.

Let us join in a cohort,

We are ready to die.

We are ready to die,

Italy has called! Yes!

The longer version is translated in this video:

For members

ITALIAN LANGUAGE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Può darsi’

This might be just the Italian phrase you need.

Italian expression of the day: 'Può darsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today’s expression is one I learned courtesy of my Italian in-laws, who frequently use it as a non-committal response to my suggestions.

This isn’t a phrase that ever came up in Italian class, and at first I wasn’t sure what they were saying. But from the context it was obvious that it meant something like “perhaps” or “possibly”.

– Forse sono in ritardo a causa del traffico

– Può darsi

– Maybe they’re late because of the traffic

– Possibly

When può darsi is used alone as a response, it’s not always clear just how likely the speaker thinks something is.

In fact, it can mean anything from “maybe” to “probably”.

Literally translated, the phrase doesn’t make much sense to English speakers. It’s a combination of può (the third-person singular form of the verb potere, ‘to be able‘) and darsi (the reflexive form of the verb dare ‘to give‘). It could be translated literally as “it can be given”.

As well as being used alone, this phrase can be used within sentences instead of forse (maybe) or magari, which is altogether more complicated.

With può darsi you’ll need to pay more attention to the grammar. But it’s worth mastering, as the phrase is very commonly used in spoken Italian.

Unlike forse and magari, sentences using può darsi need to be constructed in a particular way.

The formula you’ll need is può darsi + che + a verb in its subjunctive form.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

– Può darsi che Gianni sia in ritardo.

– Maybe/it’s possible that Gianni is late

Compare that to the simpler structure of:

– Forse Gianni è in ritardo.

– Maybe Gianni is late

Both sentences effectively mean the same thing.

In the first example, the form of the verb ‘to be’ used is sia because we’re speaking in the subjunctive.

Understandably, language learners often want to run for the hills when they start hearing about the subjunctive mood (congiuntivo). But it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Put very simply, it’s used whenever you’re not stating a fact. It expresses doubt, possibility, or uncertainty. It may also be used to talk about emotions, or when making suggestions – so for most normal everyday conversations, then.

So, while this is often taught as a more ‘advanced’ bit of grammar, you may want to get on friendly terms with it ASAP in order to partake in everyday chit-chat with Italians. Read a more detailed explanation of it here.

It pays to remember that with può darsi you don’t need to use the verb in the subjunctive form if you’re speaking in the future or conditional tense.

For example, you could also say:

Può darsi che Gianni sarà in ritardo

– Maybe Gianni will be late

Here, the verb refers to the future, so we used sarà – the future simple form of essere (to be).

And once you’ve got the hang of that, you can take things a step further by inserting the word anche (also) in between può and darsi to add emphasis.

Può anche darsi che sia un disastro totale.

– It may well be a total disaster

As mentioned earlier, this phrase is used for things you think are possible or likely.

If you’re a bit more certain about something, it would be better to use probabilmente or è molto probabile (‘probably’ or ‘it’s very likely’).

Will your Italian friends be impressed if you master the use of può darsi?

Sì, è molto probabile!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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