Parlare vs. dire in Italian: Explained
In this lesson, we will talk about two verbs that always confuse learners of Italian: parlare (to speak / to talk) and dire (to tell / to say).
These verbs, unlike in many other languages, are not synonyms and cannot be used interchangeably.
Non parliamo di politica.
Let’s not talk about politics.
Non dire a Giacomo che sono uscita.
Don’t tell Giacomo I went out.
Parlare vs. dire in Italian: How to use
So, what’s the difference between the two, and, most importantly, how do we know when to use one or the other?
Parlare means to express oneself with the use of words in a more absolute sense. We will then use it to say “speak” in a general or metaphorical sense.
Let’s see some examples:
- Parlare bene una lingua = to speak a language well
- Imparare a parlare = to learn to speak
- Parlare velocemente/lentamente/male/bene = to speak quickly/slowly/badly/well
Parlare also has the meaning of having a conversation:
- Possiamo parlare? = Can we talk?
On the other hand, the meaning of dire is more immediate and linked to the moment we are describing.
It is similar to the verbs “to state”, “to enunciate”. Unlike parlare, dire almost always takes an object:
- Dire qualcosa = to say something
- Dire la verità/una bugia = to tell the truth/a lie
Parlare vs. dire in Italian: Rules
As we have mentioned above, there is an important grammatical difference between parlare and dire.
Parlare is an intransitive verb, which means it does not take a direct object. Its constructions are as follows:
- Parlare (di qualcosa) con qualcuno
Speak (of something) with someone
- Parlare + adverb (bene, male, velocemente ecc.)
Speak + adverb (well, badly, quickly etc.)
The only exception here is when you talk about a foreign language, in which the language becomes the direct object of parlare: Parlare una lingua (to speak a language).
Dire, on the other hand, is a transitive verb, and it always requires a direct object:
- Dire qualcosa a qualcuno
Say something to someone
Parlare vs. dire in Italian: Examples
Here are some more examples of the use of these two very important verbs:
Come si dice “____” in inglese?
How do you say ____ in English?
Giovanna parla cinque lingue!
Giovanna speaks five languages!
Aspetta, devo dirti una cosa.
Wait, I need to tell you something.
Non mi va di parlare con i miei genitori, sono arrabbiata.
I do not feel like talking to my parents; I am upset.
Parlare vs. dire in Italian: Expressions
Here are some useful set expressions that use parlare and dire:
Tell me everything!
A dir la verità…
To tell the truth…
Non se ne parla nemmeno!
Parlare a vanvera
Talk off the top of one’s head, talk nonsense
Parlare and dire: main differences
The Italian verbs parlare (to speak/talk) and dire (to tell/say) are always difficult for beginners to understand.
They are not synonyms and cannot be used interchangeably, unlike in many other languages.
How do we decide which to use and when?
In a more literal sense, the verb parlare means to express oneself through language. Because the verb “parlare” is intransitive, it does not take a direct object.
The word dire has a more direct meaning that is connected to the situation we are describing. The transitive verb dire always calls for a direct object.
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