Learn Italian from Pinocchio: chapter 1, part 6

In this post, you will look at how the frequently heard expression mi raccomando is used in Italian. This comes, of course, from the verb raccomandarsi, which shows up in this next portion of text from chapter 1 of Le avventure di Pinocchio:

ma quando fu lì per lasciare andare la prima asciata, rimase col braccio sospeso in aria, perché sentì una vocina sottile sottile, che disse raccomandandosi: — Non mi picchiar tanto forte! —

— Carlo Collodi, Le avventure di Pinocchio, capitolo 1

Un’asciata is a strike of the axe (remember, un’ascia is an axe). Lasciare andare la prima asciata, then, means to let “go” the first strike of the axe; that is, to carry out the first strike of the axe on the piece of wood.

What about ma quando fu lì? Literally, this means but when he was there (fu is the third-person singular, passato remoto conjugation of essere), but this would be better translated in English as but just as he was about.

Just as the woodworker was about the strike the piece of wood with his axe, he stopped with his arm suspended in the air, col braccio sospeso in aria. Remember, braccio (arm) is masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural (un braccio, le braccia). Col is the contraction of con + il (con il braccio).

Sospeso is the past participle of the verb sospendere (to suspend). The stress in sospendere is on the second syllable. If a student were suspended from school, you might say: hanno sospeso l’alunno dalla scuola (they suspended him from school).

Rimase is the third-person singular, passato remoto conjugation of rimanere (to remain); il falegname rimase col braccio sospeso in aria (the woodworker remained with his arm suspended in the air). Rather than to remain, English would more often say to end up, for example: è rimasta incinta (she got pregnant, she ended up pregnant), sono rimasto senza soldi (I ended up penniless).

Why did the falegname stop with his arm in the air? Sentì una vocina (he heard a little voice), which was sottile sottile (very faint). You will note that sottile was repeated, which has the effect of intensifying the adjective.

The vocina said: non mi picchiar tanto forte! (do not hit me so hard!). To negate an informal imperative in Italian, you need only put non before the infinitive: non parlare! (do not speak!), non guardare! (do not look!), non cantare! (do not sing!). Non mi picchiare! (or non mi picchiar!, like in the text) is do not hit me! Similarly, non ti preoccupare! (do not worry!), non mi guardare! (do not look at me!).

Picchiare is an important verb to learn: ho picchiato la testa contro la parete (I hit my head on the wall), il ragazzo picchiava i pugni sul tavolo (the boy beat his fists on the table), mi hanno picchiato a sangue (they beat me black and blue).

Turn your attention now to where the text reads disse raccomandandosi, just before the voice says non mi picchiar tanto forte. Disse is the third-person singular, passato remoto conjugation of dire: la vocina disse (the little voice said). Using the passato prossimo instead, this would be la vocina ha detto (the little voice said).

The verb raccomandarsi here simply means to plead, to implore. Disse raccomandandosi, then, means he said, pleading(ly). Other examples with the same meaning: mi raccomandavo che venisse da me (I implored him to come to my place), si raccomandava che nessuno li tocasse (he implored nobody touch them).

Perhaps you have heard someone say mi raccomando! during the course of a conversation in Italian, and you now wonder how to use it yourself.

After you have told an ill friend to take care of himself, you might also say to him: mi raccomando! For example, you might say: riguardati, mi raccomando! Or you maybe you will use this expression after telling a friend not to forget that important thing he is supposed to do: non dimenticare di farlo, mi raccomando! Mi raccomando a very Italian way of telling someone to heed your advice. The sense of it is something similar to do not forget, although other words tend to be used in English.

Riguardati, mi raccomando.
Take care of yourself, alright?
Be sure to take care of yourself.

Non dimenticare di farlo, mi raccomando.
Do not forget to do it, okay?
Make sure you do it.

This post’s portion of text can be understood as follows: ma quàndo fu lì per lasciàre andàre (but just as he was about to let go) la prìma asciàta (the first strike of the axe), rimàse col bràccio sospéso in ària (he remained with his arm suspended in the air), perché sentì ùna vocìna sottìle sottìle (because he heard a very faint voice), che dìsse (that said) raccomandàndosi (pleading): — Non mi picchiàr tànto fòrte (do not hit me so hard)! —

Key Italian usages appearing in this post include: un’àscia (axe), un’asciàta (strike of the axe), sospèndere (to suspend), sospéso (suspended), sospèndere dàlla scuòla (to suspend from school), rimanére incìnta (to get pregnant, to end up pregnant), rimanére sènza sòldi (to end up penniless), sentìre (to hear), la vocìna (little voice), sottìle (faint), picchiàre (to hit, to strike), la tèsta (head), la paréte (wall), il ragàzzo (boy), il pùgno (fist), il tàvolo (table), il sàngue (blood), mi raccomàndo! (do not forget!, be sure to do it!), riguàrdati! (take care of yourself!), dimenticàre (to forget).