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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: Ce l’ha con te

Sometimes people just have it in for you.

Italian expression of the day ce l'ha con te
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

If you ask an Italian why your mutual friend has stopped responding to your texts, you might receive the response ‘è arrabbiata con te’ (she’s angry with you).

If you’re having a spoken conversation, however, you’re more likely to hear ‘ce l’ha con te’: a more colloquial way of saying ‘s/he’s mad at you’.

The phrase comes from the pronominal verb (a verb with pronouns added on) avercela, formed of avere (to have) and the pronoun combination ce la
 
Verbs like this aren’t uncommon in Italian: we’ve seen them before with farcela, which is the base form of the phrase ce la faccio (I can manage).
 
There’s no direct English translation for each individual component of avercela, so it’s best to avoid thinking too hard about exactly what the ce la stands for.
 
If you want an English equivalent for avere when talking about being angry with someone, though, you can see that in phrases like ‘to have had it with someone’, or ‘to have it in for someone’.
 
Tua madre ce l’avrà con me se non torniamo prima del coprifuoco.
You’re mum’s going to have it in for me if we don’t get back before curfew.
 
Sara non mi ha invitata alla sua festa, non so proprio perché ce l’ha con me.
Sara didn’t invite me to her party, I have no idea why she doesn’t like me.
 
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When conjugating avercela, the important thing to remember is that the ce la stays the same regardless of the whether the sentence subject is io/tu/lui/lei/noi/loro.
 
The only change you’ll see is that in almost every context the la is elided into an l’ as it’s followed by whichever form of avere is being used.
 
It’s also important to note that in the perfect tense, the past particle needs to agree with the feminine la, so avere becomes avuta (not avuto).

Gabriella ce l’ha avuta con me da quando sono tornato.
Gabriella’s had it out for me since I’ve been back.

Ce l’hanno avuta con Laura dal primo momento.
They took against Laura from the very start.

Avercela is similar to, but subtly different from, prendersela (another pronominal verb).
 
While avercela con qualcuno means you’re harbouring resentment towards someone, prendersela (coming from the verb prendere, to take) con qualcuno means you’ve ‘taken offense’ at or ‘taken umbrage’ at someone for something they’ve just done.
 
It’s more of an immediate reaction to a specific occurrence, as opposed to a more deep-rooted dislike or grudge.
 
Perché te la prendi con me, non sono stata io a perdere le chiavi!
What are you yelling at me for, I wasn’t the one who lost the keys!
 
Se la prenderà con Alessandra se riporti la sua macchina in cattive condizioni.
She’ll blame Alessandra if you return her car in a bad condition.
 
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Here, the se is a reflexive pronoun, so the se la *does* change to me la/te la/se la/ce la/se la depending on whether the subject is io/tu/lui/lei/noi/loro
 
When using the phrase in the perfect tense, prendersela takes essere as its auxiliary verb; and again, the past participle needs to agree with the feminine la, so is presa rather than preso.
 
Scusa se me la sono presa con te prima.
Sorry I snapped at you earlier.
 
Hai fallito l’esame e te la sei presa con lei.
You failed the exam and you took it out on her.
 
The next time you want to sound off about that in-law who just doesn’t seem to like you or that friend who lost the book you lent them, you’ll know just how to do it.
 
Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Si tratta di’

What's this phrase all about?

Italian expression of the day: 'Si tratta di'

Today’s expression is one you’ll hear a lot in spoken Italian.

It’s also a tricky one for anglophones to wrap our heads around, because although it appears simple – ‘si tratta di’ basically means something along the lines of ‘it concerns/discusses/deals with/is about’ – it actually doesn’t translate very cleanly into English most of the time.

Let’s start with the use that’s easiest for us to grasp: asking and answering what something’s about/what it concerns.

– Pronto, sono l’ispettore Jackson, posso parlare con la signora Hoffman?
– Sì, sono io – posso chiedere di cosa si tratta?

– Hello, this is Inspector Jackson speaking, can I speak with Mrs. Hoffman?
– Yes, this is she – may I ask what this is concerning?

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We can also use the phrase to say that something is ‘a matter of’ or ‘a question of’:

Se si tratta di qualche ora, rimarremo qui ad aspettarla.
If it’s a question of hours, we’ll stay here and wait for her.

Ora si tratta solo di scoprire dove ha lasciato le chiavi.
Now it’s a just a matter of figuring out where she left the keys.

And si tratta di can also be as a translation for ‘when it comes to’.

Adoro mangiare bene, ma quando si tratta di cucinare sono una frana.
I love eating well, but when it comes to cooking I suck.

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Where things start to get a bit more complicated is that you’ll often see the phrase used where the English translation doesn’t require anything.

For example, you might hear the following exchange at work:

– Michela non viene al lavoro oggi perché la sua bambina è malata.
– Spero che non si tratti di nulla di grave.

– Michela’s not coming into work today because her little girl’s sick.
– I hope it’s nothing serious.

You could say ‘I hope it doesn’t consist of anything serious’, which would get you closer to a direct translation – but in English this would sound oddly formal and overblown (in the above example we use tratti rather than tratta because spero che requires the subjunctive).

What if you want to say that a certain thing – a song, a book, a film, a speech – discusses or ‘deals with’ certain themes or issues?

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Firstly, note that impersonal si there. It’s standing in for a subject, which means we can’t have both the subject and the si in the same sentence together – one of them has to go.

You can say, for example, ‘Il suo terzo libro tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘her third book deals with ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom.’

Or you can say, ‘Nel suo terzo libro, si tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘In her third book, she discusses ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom” (a more literal translation would be ‘in her third book, ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom are discussed’, which sounds a bit awkward in English).

You could ask:

Di cosa tratta il libro?
What does the book discuss?

or

Di cosa si tratta nel libro?
What’s discussed in the book?

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What you can’t do is say, ‘Il libro si tratta di…’ or ask ‘Di cosa si tratta il libro?’. Neither of these constructions work because you can’t have both the impersonal si and the subject (in this case, il libro) together.

What if you want to say, for example, ‘the book/film is about…’?

The easiest way to do that is either to just say ‘il film parla di…‘ – ‘the film talks about…’ ; or ‘il film racconta la storia di…’ – ‘the film tells the story of…’:

Il film parla di un robot che vuole distruggere la razza umana.
The film’s about a robot who wants to destroy the human race.

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Il libro racconta la storia di un ragazzo che scopre di essere un mago.
The book tells the story of a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of what this phrase is all about!

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

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