Faux amis: pettinare and pretendere

Even if you don’t speak a lick of Italian, I bet you can figure out these words: intelligente, pazienza, expressione, colore, possible. Just sing the English version and you’ve got it.

All these cognates make learning Italian oh so easy for use English speakers. But some Italian faux ami can be a little deceiving, just like those jovial “gladiators” in front of il Colosseo who invite you over to take a picture and then demand 20 Euros after the fact.

Is it just me, or does the word pettinare sound like the equivalent of the English verb “to pet”? That’s what I think of, petting my cat. But that’s not it at all. Pettinare actually means “to comb.” And if you mean combing your own hair, you have to make it reflexive: pettinarsi.

And then there’s pretendere, which I cannot get out of my head as meaning, “to pretend.” It really means “to demand, insist on, expect; aspire to.”

Whenever I learn new vocabulary I need to see it in context. As a beginner, trying to make up my own sentence is like driving around a new town without Siri: I don’t know where I’m going with the language yet, I have no sense of direction.

I asked Siri and she said, “who, me?”

Me: “Yes you! Give me an example of pettinarsi in a sentence.”

[What Siri understood: Give me an example of paint Neicy in a sentence.”]

Siri: That may be beyond my abilities at the moment.

So I took my search to Pinterest, and came up with two fabulous quotes.

The first example of pretendere (meaning expect in this context) is brought to you by Albert Einstein:


Although I think the original quote in English goes something like, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Whereas this Italian version literally translates to, “We can’t expect things to change by continuing to do the same things.” Ain’t that the truth.

And here’s an example of pettinarsi from Audrey Hepburn:


“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” Lovely. 

Does that mean I’m still beautiful if I don’t comb my hair? Because when I’m trying to get out the door at 6 a.m. pettinarmi is totally not my priority. :p

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Ciao, I'm Kelly!

Welcome to my adventures in learning Italian, often while cooking authentic Italian recipes and wine tasting! I love discovering the traditional regional cuisine of Italy and trying to recreate those dishes when I'm back home in the US. I'm also on my way to becoming an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis (by ancestry).

WSET Level 2 Certified Wine Blogger


Join me for a virtual "aperitivo chat" to get exclusive updates on my Italian progress, dual citizenship journey, plus food & wine adventures in the Bel Paese and beyond!

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