The Italian conditional
In Italian, we have a verbal mood that’s called condizionale. Its English equivalent is the conditional.
Here’s an example of a sentence in the conditional mood:
Mi potrebbe portare un bottiglia di acqua, per favore?
Could you bring me a bottle of water, please?
Potrebbe comes from the verb potere and is in the conditional. This type of verb makes the request more polite.
In today’s post, we’re going to focus on a very specific topic: il condizionale di dissociazione / journalistic conditional.
In order to understand this topic, you need to know about the Italian conditional.
If you don’t know or don’t remember when we use the conditional, go to the next section. Otherwise, skip it and go to the following one.
The Italian present and past conditional
Have a look at these two sentences and pay attention to the difference in terms of meaning:
I want to go out.
I would like to go out.
The first one is in the present indicative, whereas the second one is in the present conditional.
We use the Italian present conditional in the following cases:
- to express a desire or a purpose;
- to say or to ask something kindly;
- to express doubt and uncertainty;
- to refer to an action that is possible and depends on a condition.
Now, look at this sentence:
Non avrei dovuto ascoltarlo.
I shouldn’t have listened to him.
This example is in the past conditional.
We use the past conditional in these cases:
- to express regret;
- to talk about what was supposed to have happened in the past;
- to say what would have happened if the conditions had been different.
What is the “condizionale di dissociazione”?
The condizionale di dissociazione is a type of conditional that is widely used in journalism.
In English, we can call it journalistic conditional.
Journalists use this kind of conditional to report second-hand information.
They also use it to suggest that the information reported is uncertain.
The condizionale di dissociazione basically allows journalists to dissociate themselves from the source: they communicate the news but cautiously distance themselves from it.
In fact, there’s some sort of distance between the journalist and the statement because it has not yet been verified.
It’s basically a strategy journalists use to manipulate the interpretation of a given piece of information.
Now that you know this, you’ll understand better why it’s called condizionale di dissociazione, which literally means conditional of dissociation.
Dissociation is the action of disconnecting or separating.
In other words, dissociation is the action of separating yourself or considering yourself to be separate from something or someone.
So, it should all make sense now. 🙂
Let’s now find out how to interpret or translate the condizionale di dissociazione.
How to translate the “condizionale di dissociazione”?
In order to understand how to interpret or translate the condizionale di dissociazione, let’s take a look at an example:
Ci sarebbe stato un ennesimo attentato in Iraq.
Literally: There would have been another attack in Iraq.
The literal translation with “would” is inappropriate here.
The Italian conditional is used by the reporter to make it clear to the reader that the information they’re giving is based on external sources of information, so it’s not a verified fact.
So, how can we translate that sentence?
In English, we can translate the condizionale di dissociazione in different ways, depending on the sentence structure and meaning:
- According to X
- X is believed to
- X is said to
All of these expressions are followed by a verb in the present or past indicative (not the conditional).
In some cases, the original expression already says something like “according to” or “X is believed to”. So, the only change would be to turn the Italian conditional into the indicative.
In this case, we could translate the above sentence as:
- There was reportedly an attack in Iraq.
Examples with the journalistic conditional
You will see in the following examples that journalists use either the present or past conditional, depending on what they want to say:
La ragazza avrebbe 15 anni e una vita difficile.
The girl is said to be 15 and to have a difficult life.
Secondo un funzionario dell’Onu nella regione ci sarebbero molte vittime.
According to a UN official, there are many victims in the region.
Secondo alcune fonti ci sarebbe stata un’altra esplosione.
According to some sources, there was another explosion.
Il dottore sarebbe stato licenziato a causa della sua condotta.
The doctor is believed to have been fired due to his behavior.
Secondo le testimonianze il criminale sarebbe scappato subito dopo l’arrivo della polizia.
According to the testimonies, the criminal escaped immediately after the arrival of the police.
La terapia di coppia avrebbe abbassato la percentuale dei divorzi annui del 5%.
Couples therapy allegedly lowered the annual divorce rate by 5%.
Il presidente della squadra starebbe pensando di esonerare l’allenatore.
The team president is reportedly thinking of dismissing the coach.
Secondo alcune testimonianze, il giovane avrebbe rotto il finestrino di un’auto parcheggiata.
According to some witness reports, the young man smashed the window of a parked car.