Il sorpasso

I recently watched the movie 'Il Sorpasso'. In the film,it is defined as 'The Easy Life'. Not being familiar with the word, I looked up the definition and discovered it meant 'overtaking' being used as a noun. In English, overtaking is a verb - no noun in sight. My two part question is: in going from Italian to English ( or vice versa ), is it common to find a verb in one language being transformed into a noun? And what exactly would you be trying to convey as a native speaker using the term 'sorpasso'? I have to admit I'm a little confused as to how to use the word.

P.S. The film was great

September 12, 2016


English can use the gerund both as a verb and a as a noun. For instance :

my driving is slow ['driving' is a noun]

driving is fun ['driving' is a verb, i.e. it is fun to drive]

his writing is unreadable ['writing' is a noun]

writing things down helps to memorize them ['writing' is a verb, i.e. 'to write things down']

reading is taught at school ['reading' is a noun]

reading books is important ['reading' is a verb, i.e. it is important to read books]

In Italian, a specific noun describing an action exists for a larger number of verbs than in English:

guidare = to drive, driving [as a verb] → la guida = driving [as a noun]

scrivere = to write, writing [as a verb] → la scrittura = writing [as a noun]

leggere = to read, reading [as a verb] → la lettura = reading [as a noun]

la mia guida è lenta = my driving is slow

la sua scrittura è illegibile = his writing is unreadable

la lettura si insegna a scuola = reading is taught at school

The Italian language can also use the infinitive form in the same way English uses the gerund, for describing a general action as a verb (not as a noun) :

guidare è divertente = driving is fun ['driving' is a verb]

scrivere le cose aiuta a memorizzarle = writing things down helps to memorize them ['writing' is a verb]

leggere libri è importante = reading books is important ['reading' is a verb]

Italian never uses the gerund for this purpose.

In a few cases, the noun and the infinitive can be both used, one for the other:

guidare a destra = driving on the right [literally, 'to drive on the right']

la guida a destra = driving on the right [as a noun]

But in a large majority of cases, according to the sentence, either one or the other should be used (it is not a free choice).

With regard to sorpasso', you can use it to indicate the act of overtaking, as a noun:

un sorpasso pericoloso = a dangerous overtaking

è vietato il sorpasso (alternatively) è vietato sorpassare = no overtaking (literally, 'overtaking is forbidden')

I hope the explanation is clear enough.

P.S. - I was born in one of the very buildings you see in the background when the title of the film appears, and I still live in the same neighborhood.

September 12, 2016

Grazie mille. It's just that I've never seen overtaking used as a noun in English (the American idiom, anyways). I would probably use 'passing' instead of 'overtaking'. Any time I've heard or used overtaking it is usually paired with some form of the auxiliary verb 'to be' ; e.g. "I am overtaking my competitors on the race track."

Is there any rule or set of rules which determine whether or not you should use the gerund or the infinitive, Andrea, or is it idiomatic?

P.S. You live in a beautiful city. I lived in Napoli in the late '60s as a kid. That's when I fell in love with Italy.

September 12, 2016

You are welcome.

With regard to your question, the difference between the use of the noun and that of the infinitive is indeed very subtle, at the point that in some cases both can be used, without any appreciable difference in meaning, although the structure of the sentence would have to be adjusted. For instance:

il sorpasso del camion è stato difficile = overtaking / passing the lorry was difficult

sorpassare il camion è stato difficile = [just the same]

Unfortunately there are no rules concerning the choice, but I would say that a noun (provided the verb has one) is best used when speaking of an action as if looking at a single frame of the action itself caught on camera. Instead, the infinitive is best used when describing the whole flow of the action.

For instance, one would use the noun in this expression:

il momento del sorpasso [noun] = the (very) moment of the overtaking / passing


sorpassare in curva è pericoloso [infinitive] = overtaking on bends is dangerous

Maybe not all cases fit my description, some might be based on an idiom more than on the actual meaning, but at least it provides one element of distinction, however vague it may be.

September 13, 2016

Di nuovo, grazie.

September 13, 2016

Di nulla.

September 13, 2016
Learn Italian in just 5 minutes a day. For free.