Italian Phrases You Won’t Learn in Class: Ne vale la pena

Sep 28, 2014

In our continuing series of posts, Riccardo Cristiani, the head Italian teacher at Dante Learning, tells why learning the phrase ne vale la pena indeed ne vale la pena. Click here to listen to the audio from his podcast:

Blog vale la pena

Ne vale la pena.
(It's worth the trouble.)
A guest post by Riccardo Cristiani

The word  pena has many  meanings and uses in conversational Italian. Here are some examples:

Quel cane randagio mi fa pena

(I feel so sorry for that stray dog. Mi fa pena.)

Fare pena a qualcuno means to feel bad for someone or something—In this case, an abandoned dog makes me feel bad. Anche a te fa pena? Do you feel sorry too?

Non gioco bene a calcio, faccio pena!

(I don’t play soccer well; I'm painfully bad. )

Fare pena can be used ironically as "to be bad — very bad — at something.” You might also say, “Questo film fa pena.” (This movie is so bad that I can't stand it.)

Siamo in pena per Luigi, non è ancora tornato a casa.

(We are very worried about Luigi, he's not back home yet.)

"Essere in pena per..." doesn't mean to be in pain for but to be very worried about. You may have noticed that essere and stare in Italian are quite similar, sometimes interchangeable. We can say “Non stare in pena per me” (Don't worry about me), which in this case is preferred over essere in pena. (Non essere in pena per me doesn't sound right.) We can also say essere in pensiero or stare in pensiero about Luigi.

Mi sembri un'anima in pena

(You look like a soul in torment.)

Something is bothering you, it's obvious.

È stata dura ma ne è valsa la pena

It's time to make it a bit more difficult. Ne vale la pena translates as “It’s worth it, let's do it now.” If it was worth doing yesterday, we need to use the past tense, passato prossimo. Alas, the verb valere (to be worth/valid) is irregular. The past participle is valso/a. The sentence above translates as "It was hard but it was worth doing that."  

La squadra ha giocato una partita penosa.

Pena is a noun; the related adjective is penoso. So if you want to say something is pathetic, you can say something like the above example: The team played a pathetic match. In this case, partita is feminine, so the adjective is penosa.

La pena per omicidio dovrebbe essere l'ergastolo

This is a completely different meaning of the word pena: penalty, punishment. Here’s a hint: ergastolo means "life sentence." Try to translate this phrase into your language.

From Dianne: I just used this phrase—perhaps not quite the way an Italian might—with a friend in Rome. It’s not easy keeping up a long distance relationship but, in our case, I assured her, “ne vale la pena!”  

Riccardo agrees: Vale sempre la pena di tenersi in contatto con un amico lontano, anche se è faticoso. It's always worth it to remain in contact with a faraway friend, even if it is exhausting.

Dante-Learning is an online Italian language school based in Milan and Tokyo, with students from many countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan.

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.  Click here to read her other blog, "Discovering Mona Lisa." 

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