“Dai!” (pronounced “die”), a young woman gasps when she hears a racy bit of gossip. “Dai!” an exasperated mother snaps at her rambunctious toddler. “Dai!” yells a fan watching a soccer match. “Ma dai!” protests a shopper when someone tries to cut in line.
”Dai” literally means "give" (second person singular) but, depending on inflection, tone and volume, this small syllable can express irritation, incredulity, encouragement, impatience, tension, surprise or suspicion that someone is pulling your leg. In various contexts dai may translate into English as “Come on,” “Cut it out,” “No way!” or a sarcastic “As if!” “Ma dai!” is even stronger and more emphatic.
Italian has many other ways of giving. You might start the day by dare il buon giorno (saying good morning). If you’re a student, you might dare un esame (take a test). If you have a lot to do, you would darsi da fare (get busy). If visitors arrive, you would dare il benvenuto (give a welcome). Then you can dare ascolto (give a listen) to what they have to say. If you decide to dare una festa (throw a party), you’re likely to darsi alla pazza gioia (have a blast).
“Dare” gives life (dare vita) to a wide range of actions. You might dare un sospiro di sollievo (give a sigh of relief), dare assicurazione (give assurance or reassure), dare la colpa (give the fault or blame) or dare fuoco (set on fire). Some things may dare fastidio (annoy or bother) or make you dare in escandescenze (burst out in rage). Just don’t give up (darsi per vinto), take to drink (darsi al bere) or shoot yourselfin the foot (darsi la zappa ai piedi).
You can dare una risposta (give an answer), dare un calcio (give a kick), dare i saluti (give regards) or dare un passagio (give a lift). If a person catches your eye, he or she would dare nell’occhio (literally, give in the eye). Annoying people can be said to dare sui nervi (give on the nerves). In this case you might dare dello stupido (call them stupid) or feel an urge to darle (beat them). “Darle di santa ragione” (give of holy reason) means to thrash the living daylights out of someone.
If you want to ask someone how old they think you are, you might say, “Quanti anni mi dai?” (How many years do you give me?) If a forty-year-old woman could pass for thirty, you might say that “le danno trent’anni” (they give her thirty years).
Is it better to give than receive (meglio dare che ricevere) in Italian? The answer one friend gave was "può darsi” (literally, it could give itself). In other words, perhaps. But don't worry if you haven't been giving in the past. Chi ha dato ha dato, chi ha avuto ha avuto. (Who gave gave, who had had). In other words, what’s done is done.
Words and Expressions:
Darla a bere –- to put one over
Dare a credere –- to make believe
Darsela a gambe / darsela a gambe levate –- to cut and run, to go running off
Darsi delle arie –- to put on airs
Dare del tu -– to use the informal version of speech
Darsi allo sport/studio/alla pittura -– to devote oneself to sport/studying/painting
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World' Most Enchanting Language.