Dico (I say), dici (you say), dice (he/she says), diciamo (we say)…
These verb conjugations come from the verb dire (to say), a lawless, irregular verb that doesn’t seem to follow any established Italian grammar rules.
Don’t believe me? Well then, how do you say “you all say,” conjugating the verb with the voi (you all) form?
It’s actually dite (you all say).
Ma che diamine!? (What the heck!?)
Italian grammar can be one of the trickiest parts of the language. The conjugation pattern for dire is just one of its irregularities, and this is just one verb! In addition to all the verb conjugations, there are rules and exceptions for Italian adjectives, Italian adverbs and even Italian prepositions.
I mean, it’s evident that learning grammar is important; without it, you risk creating “word salad” or a garbled mess of words that don’t express your intended meaning at all.
For example, the wrong verb conjugation can give an entirely new meaning to a sentence. If you say parla italiano (he speaks Italian) when you mean to say parlo italiano (I speak Italian), you may get weird looks from locals who were asking about you, not your traveling partner.
So, how can you learn Italian grammar without losing your mind?
First, we need to take a deep breath. There it is: in and out.
Next, check out these tips for learning Italian grammar easily and in a relaxed manner.
How to Learn Italian Grammar Without Freaking Out
1. Don’t Memorize
You may be looking at the title of this section and thinking, “Wait. Isn’t learning a new language just memorizing new words and putting them into memorized structures when I communicate?”
Well, yes and no.
It’s true that it’s been ingrained in us since we were children that memorization is the best and often the only way to learn a language, but I’m here to say that’s not true. In fact, according to multiple scientific studies, memorization is an ineffective technique for learning anything and can actually have detrimental effects on the learning process.
So take those vocabulary lists and grammar rules that you’ve written on cue cards and chuck them out of the window!
Instead, you should aim to learn Italian grammar in context.
Polyglot Jeff Brown sums up the method and the benefits in this hour-long documentary on the subject of learning in context, but in a nutshell, learning in context means seeing or hearing grammatical constructions used properly in native written or oral Italian and then using them in your own speaking and writing.
This leads to language acquisition, which is a natural process close to how babies learn languages, rather than language learning, which is a deliberate process of memorization and regurgitation.
For using Italian grammar in context, I recommend keeping an Italian journal or hooking up with an Italian speaker. For seeing Italian grammar used properly in context, whether through written content or spoken Italian, I suggest using LingQ or FluentU.
- LingQ teaches Italian by presenting you with authentic content on topics you might actually be interested in. You can find books, news articles, podcasts and other written and audio material centered around themes like tech, food, entertainment and more.
It’s a great way to learn Italian by consuming media as you would in your native language.
- FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
In other words, you get to hear grammar as it’s actually used by native Italian speakers, paired with language-learning tools like flashcards, quizzes and interactive subtitles. The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable!
2. Learn Passively
In addition to learning Italian in context, being constantly exposed to Italian passively will also help you learn Italian grammar naturally.
But what’s the difference between active and passive learning? Isn’t learning just… well, learning?
At its bare form, the difference between active and passive learning is whether or not the learner has input in the learning process.
Active learning requires output. This can mean writing down a letter in Italian, creating a shopping list or speaking Italian to someone else or even to yourself. Passive learning includes activities where the learner doesn’t participate in the learning process. This can include listening to Italian or watching an Italian video.
Now, many people online and in the language-learning community give passive learning a bad rep, but passive learning does have its benefits. That’s not to say that you should only learn Italian grammar passively, but it can be a great addition to an active Italian learning routine.
For starters, passive learning can be done in conjunction with other tasks. Perhaps you need to do laundry or cook dinner or wait in the doctor’s office. Use this time to read or listen to some Italian.
This activity will train your ear to the rhythm of the language such as the repetition of o’s in a masculine sentence or a’s in a feminine sentence.
Passive learning will also attune your brain to proper sentence structure: correct word order, concepts such as the command form, question-building and more. Podcasts are a great way to learn passively, and you can watch some Italian TV shows on Netflix if you prefer an audio-visual option.
3. Take It Slow and Steady
We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare, don’t we? Slow and steady wins the race or, in this case, the language acquisition.
You should aim to be the tortoise of Italian grammar learning: Don’t attempt to learn all Italian grammar at once. Doing so will be overwhelming and discouraging (not to mention boring!), and it’ll lead to a lack of motivation for the Italian language, which should be avoided at all costs!
Instead, you should aim to scaffold your learning. This means starting with basics and then building on previously-learned material. You should learn one topic at a time and when you feel comfortable with it, move on to the next one.
However, if you’re stuck on a particular concept, disregard what I just said. If something’s just not making sense and you’re not making any progress, take a break from it and move on to something else.
Returning to a topic after a break can make it click after struggling. This is because you’ve given your brain a chance to conceptualize the topic and probably de-stressed a bit from the initial frustration.
4. Find Patterns and Make Connections
Remember the verb conjugation of dire from the beginning of the post? Despite the frustration, the good news is that most verbs are regular, meaning that many groups of verbs follow regular, predictable patterns.
But the patterns don’t stop there. Get this: even some irregular verbs follow patterns. For example, verbs like apparire (to appear) and morire (to die) undergo predictable stem changes and verbs like venire (to come) take an extra g in their io (I) and loro (they) forms. Making connections between these verbs may be helpful for remembering their particularities.
Further, the patterns continue beyond verbs. Unlike other languages, knowing a noun’s gender in Italian is relatively simple: Most nouns that end in -o are masculine and most that end in -a are feminine.
But what about nouns that don’t nicely fit in those categories? Turns out they’re pretty predictable, too! In fact, nouns that end in -ione and -tudine endings are commonly feminine and words that end in -ma and -tore as well as loan words from other languages are commonly masculine.
Look for similar patterns when you’re learning Italian grammar to make the process a bit easier for yourself.
5. Practice Often
Remember how we talked about balancing passive and active learning?
As mentioned before, passive learning is important but active learning will always be more effective. Practicing is a form of active learning that shouldn’t be ignored.
So, how do we practice Italian grammar without driving ourselves crazy with grammar drills? While you could use grammar worksheets to get some extra grammar practice, that isn’t the only way to practice if worksheets aren’t your style.
In addition to speaking and writing, you could use apps to practice Italian grammar. Apps generally make the process more fun and engaging than a worksheet, and many apps even gamify the learning experience.
You can also write about a particular grammar topic. For example, to practice the Italian conditional tense, you could create a writing prompt “what would I do if I had $1 million?” Bang: Italian grammar practice, all without answering drill questions and flipping back and forth to the answer glossary.
6. Aim to Be Understood, Not Perfect
And now for the most important tip on this list.
The absolute key to knowing how to learn Italian grammar is to acknowledge that you’re not a native speaker and you’re allowed to make mistakes.
While learning rules in context is important and both active and passive learning play their roles in acquiring Italian grammar, you need to free yourself from the pressure of speaking Italian with perfect grammar.
We have an unrealistic goal in life and especially in the language learning community that we have to be perfect foreign language speakers. Not only is that not possible (native speakers make mistakes, too!), it’s actually detrimental to learning.
So don’t aim for perfection. Rather, try to make yourself understood by Italian speakers.
For example, you may decide to forget about the Italian subjunctive mood completely, not because it’s not important, but because you can be understood without it. If you don’t use the subjunctive mood, you’ll still be able to order a coffee, ask for directions and even participate in a conversation about Italian politics. Really: it’s not a comprehension-breaking condition.
Neither is using the correct gender of Italian articles nor the correct gender of an adjective or even placing the adverb in the right place.
In fact, with more practice and spontaneous Italian usage, the grammar will sort itself out. Grammatically correct sentences will just sound “right” after constant exposure.
In other words, the more you use and absorb the Italian language, the better your grammar will get.
Che meraviglia (how wonderful)! It turns out learning Italian grammar isn’t so arduous after all.
Follow these tips and become the Italian master you’ve always dreamed of being!
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