Learn Italian from Pinocchio: chapter 3, part 11

Pinocchio, after being placed on the ground by Geppetto, has run out the house; in this next portion of text from chapter 3 of Le avventure di Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, you will see what happens now that Pinocchio is in the street.

E il povero Geppetto a corrergli dietro senza poterlo raggiungere, perché quel birichino di Pinocchio andava a salti come una lepre, e battendo i suoi piedi di legno sul lastrico della strada, faceva un fracasso, come venti paia di zoccoli da contadini. — Piglialo! piglialo! — urlava Geppetto; ma la gente che era per la via, vedendo questo burattino di legno, che correva come un barbero, si fermava incantata a guardarlo, e rideva, rideva e rideva, da non poterselo figurare.

— Carlo Collodi, Le avventure di Pinocchio, capitolo 3

This portion of text begins with two usages that might be unfamiliar to you: corrergli dietro (to run after him) and poterlo raggiungere (to be able to catch up to him).

The expression to run after someone is correre dietro a qualcuno. Be sure to pronounce correre with the stress on the first syllable: córrere. Note that Italian says correre dietro a qualcuno. This means that, if you wished to say to run after him, you would say corrergli dietro, where gli equates to a lui. Corrergli is still pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: córrergli.

Raggiungere qualcuno means to catch up to someone; raggiungerlo, then, means to catch up to him. When potere is present, you can shift the position of lo to the end of this verb, as in the example from the text senza poterlo raggiungere (without being able to catch up to him). Other examples:

per poterlo vedere
in order to see it

per poterlo utilizzare
in order to use it

senza poterlo fermare
without being able to stop it

senza poterlo evitare
without being able to avoid it

If what it refers to is a feminine noun, you would use la, and the same applies as above:

Ha cominciato a leggere la Bibbia senza poterla capire.
He has started to read the Bible without being able to understand it.

In the first part of the first line, you read: E il povero Geppetto a corrergli dietro senza poterlo raggiungere. Why is there the a before corregli here? You will remember from the last part that Pinocchio has started to take off into the street: si dette a scappare; the expression here is darsi a (fare), to start (to do). The a, then, comes from this expression. Pinocchio si dette a scappare, e il povero Geppetto si dette a corregli dietro. In the text, Collodi has simply not repeated si dette before a corregli dietro.

Why was Geppetto unable to catch up to Pinocchio? Perché quel birichino di Pinocchio (because that rascal Pinocchio) andava a salti come una lepre (hopped along like a rabbit). Un birichino is a rascal; quel birichino di Pinocchio means that rascal Pinocchio. Note that Italian inserts di:

quel birichino di Pinocchio
that rascal Pinocchio

quel monello di Luca
that rascal Luca

quella birba di mio figlio
that rascal of a son of mine

Un salto is a leap, jump or hop. The act of moving by hops can be described with the expression andare a salti, which is how a rabbit, or una lepre, advances.

The text continues: e battendo i suoi piedi di legno sul lastrico della strada faceva un fracasso, come venti paia di zoccoli da contadini. In this portion of text, you have two expressions: battere i suoi piedi (to strike one’s feet, to beat one’s feet) and fare un fracasso (to make a racket). As for the noun lastrico, the stress is on the first syllable: làstrico. This noun refers to the surface of a street or terrace; that is, the pavement or the stones.

Uno zoccolo is a clog or wooden shoe; this noun also refers to the hoof of certain animals, like a horse. Whether it is a wooden shoe or a hoof, both kinds of zoccolo make a tapping noise sul lastrico della strada. Pronounce zoccolo with the stress on the first syllable: zòccolo. The z of zoccolo makes a ts sound. Remember to use the correct articles with this noun: lo zoccolo, uno zoccolo, gli zoccoli.

Un contadino is a peasant or farmer.

The Italian word for pair takes a different gender depending on whether it is singular or plural. Singular, it is masculine: il paio. Plural, it is feminine: le paia.

un paio di calzini
a pair of socks

dieci paia di calzini
ten pairs of socks

venti paia di zoccoli
twenty pairs of wooden shoes


Returning to the text, Geppetto yells: piglialo! Be sure to pronounce this as pìglialo, with the stress on the first syllable.

This is not the first time you are seeing the verb pigliare. You will remember it from the beginning of this chapter, when you read that Geppetto’s living space took in its light from under the steps: La casa di Geppetto era una stanzina terrena, che pigliava luce da un sottoscala.

When Geppetto yells piglialo!, he means grab him! The Italian verb for to yell is urlare.

Consider now the entire remaining portion of text: ma la gente che era per la via, vedendo questo burattino di legno, che correva come un barbero si fermava incantata a guardarlo, e rideva, rideva e rideva, da non poterselo figurare.

La gente (people) is a singular noun. This means that you use the third-person singular conjugation of verbs with this noun:

La gente rideva.
The people were laughing.

La gente non ha capito bene.
The people have not understood well.

Un barbero is a racehorse known as a Berber. Note that the stress falls on the first syllable: bàrbero. The expression used here is correre come un barbero, which you can translate idiomatically in English as to run like a horse or to run like a racehorse. The Italian term for racehorse is il cavallo di corsa.

The people in the street (per la via) were fascinated by what they saw: la gente era incantata. As in the text, you can couple the adjective incantato with a verb:

La gente si fermava incantata.
Fascinated, the people stood still.
The people stood still in fascination.

Lo ascoltavo incantato.
Fascinated, I listened to him.
I listened to him in fascination.

Note the use of fermarsi, which literally means to stop oneself.

La gente si fermava per guardarlo.
The people stopped to watch him.
The people stood still to watch him.

La gente si fermava per la via.
People stopped in the street.
People stood still in the street.

In da non poterselo figurare, you have another example of what you looked at near the beginning of this post. Figurarsi means to imagine, and figurarselo means to imagine it. Because potere is present, the entire selo ending can be moved to the end of it: poterselo figurare (to be able to imagine it).

Vorrei potermelo figurare meglio.
I would like to better be able to imagine it.

This post’s portion of text can be understood as follows: E il pòvero Geppétto a córrergli diètro (and poor Geppetto started to run after him) sènza potérlo raggiùngere (without being able to catch up to him), perché quel birichìno di Pinòcchio (because that rascal Pinocchio) andàva a sàlti cóme ùna lèpre (hopped along like a rabbit), e battèndo i suòi pièdi di légno (and striking his wooden feet) sul làstrico délla stràda (on the surface of the street), facéva un fracàsso (made a racket), cóme vénti pàia di zòccoli da contadìni (like twenty pairs of clogs for peasants). — Pìglialo (grab him)! pìglialo (grab him)! — urlàva Geppétto (yelled Geppetto); ma la gènte che èra per la vìa (but the people in the street), vedèndo quésto burattìno di légno (seeing this wooden marionette), che corréva cóme un bàrbero (that ran like a Berber horse), si fermàva incantàta a guardàrlo (stood still in fascination to watch him), e ridéva, ridéva e ridéva (and laughed, laughed and laughed), da non potérselo figuràre (that it cannot be imagined).

Key usages from this post include: pòvero (poor), córrere (to run), diètro (behind, after), raggiùngere (to catch up to), utilizzàre (to use), fermàre (to stop), evitàre (to avoid), lèggere (to read), la Bìbbia (Bible), il birichìno (rascal), il monèllo (rascal), la bìrba (rascal), il sàlto (jump, leap), andàre a sàlti (to hop along), la lèpre (rabbit), bàttere (to beat, to strike), il piède (foot), il làstrico (pavement), il fracàsso (racket), lo zòccolo (wooden shoe; hoof), il contadìno (peasant, farmer), il calzìno (sock), il pàio (pair), le pàia (pairs), pigliàre (to grab, to nab, to catch), urlàre (to yell), la gènte (people), per la vìa (in the street), il bàrbero (Berber [racehorse]), il cavàllo di córsa (racehorse), fermàrsi (to stop oneself), ascoltàre (to listen), incantàto (fascinated), rìdere (to laugh), figuràrsi (to imagine).