cercare di / provare / tentare

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moodywop

Banned
Italian - Italy
EDIT: A large part of this thread was split from here.

TimLA said:
This is very interesting. I would have guessed "cercando" to be "looking for", but this is a nice addition to my vocabulary.

It there any role for "tentavo"?

tim
That's an interesting question and it may well be worth opening a new thread on cercare vs tentare.

First of all, in addition to look for, cercare also means try, attempt to when followed by di + inf.

In this sense cercare and tentare are synonyms. However there are cases where you can only use tentare.

1. Before a noun: tentare il suicidio, tentare un salvataggio, tentare la fuga

2. Before di tutto: ho tentato di tutto

3. When the verb is used on its own: Almeno ho tentato; Vale la pena di tentare

On the other hand I would only use cercare di in cerca di sbrigarti!

I'm sure this list is not exhaustive. Maybe someone else will come up with more examples.
 
  • Willi

    Senior Member
    Italy - Italian
    moodywop said:
    3. When the verb is used on its own: Almeno ho tentato; Vale la pena di tentare
    I agree with you (as always), but I'd like to add that in the first sentence of the third example you could also use provare
    Almeno ho provato or, more common, Almeno ci ho provato
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Fantastic discussion – and a major issue for me.

    “I am trying to” could be many things in English.


    I am trying to find a restaurant.
    I am trying to learn Italian.
    I am trying to become a better person.

    But the meaning of the sentence is determined by the “find”, “learn”, “become”.

    So when I try (funny I should use that word) to look up the word in the dictionary I see “tentare” and thus switch my English thinking to “attempt”.

    Billy sees cercare and thinks of “seek” (which I have done), but then we would say in English, “I sought a restaurant” (clumsy).

    I am attempting to find a restaurant…etc. (which is OK in English, but not commonly used). So I say “Tentavo di cercare un ristorante” (which is understood, but completely wrong).

    So I guess the essence of this thread is: How should we use “cercare di”, “tentare” (tentavo, ho tentato), “Provare”, in the sense of “I am trying/seeking/attempting to” do something.

    I hope the native Italian speakers can understand my confusion – this is great!
    Tim
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    Willi said:
    I agree with you (as always), but I'd like to add that in the first sentence of the third example you could also use provare
    Almeno ho provato or, more common, Almeno ci ho provato
    And I agree with you:) , including what you said about cercare di being more commonly used than tentare di.

    Now we need a thread on cercare di vs tentare di vs provare a, but I'll have to pass the buck. My synapses are fried:D
     

    Willi

    Senior Member
    Italy - Italian
    TimLA said:
    I am attempting to find a restaurant…etc. (which is OK in English, but not commonly used). So I say “Tentavo di cercare un ristorante” (which is understood, but completely wrong).
    Sorry, I think I'm going nuts :D I think that you got a bit confused with this sentence: it should be "Sto tentando di trovare un ristorante", otherwise the English one would go like "I am attempting to try to find a restaurant" which is quite funny, but a bit "tautologica" ;)
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Willi said:
    Sorry, I think I'm going nuts :D I think that you got a bit confused with this sentence: it should be "Sto tentando di trovare un ristorante", otherwise the English one would go like "I am attempting to try to find a restaurant" which is quite funny, but a bit "tautologica" ;)
    Sorry, you're right. I should have used trovare...
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    TimLA said:
    I hope the native Italian speakers can understand my confusion – this is great!
    Tim
    If it's any comfort I've always found it difficult to appreciate the subtle differences between try to do something, try doing something and try and do something. I know that try to = strive to and try + -ing = experiment with but it's not a difference we really make in Italian. I guess provare a is the closest to try + ing.

    - I've been putting on weight!
    - Try going to a gym (prova ad andare in palestra)
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    moodywop said:
    If it's any comfort I've always found it difficult to appreciate the subtle differences between try to do something, try doing something and try and do something. I know that try to = strive to and try + -ing = experiment with but it's not a difference we really make in Italian. I guess provare a is the closest to try + ing.

    - I've been putting on weight!
    - Try going to a gym (prova ad andare in palestra)
    The differences between the first two are so subtle, I don't see a difference (other than the second might be the imperative). The third implies two actions - first you try it, and if you can do it, then do it.

    I'll start a new thread...good stuff.
    tim
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Moodywop suggested opening a new thread on cercare di / provare / tentare based on Billy5077’s question regarding “I have been trying”.
    I’ll give it a try :D here…

    The OED has one and one-half pages devoted to the word “try”, many of the definitions being archaic. But the essence of them are:

    I will try out the car (to test the car to see if I like it)
    I will try on the jacket (to test the jacket to see if it fits)
    I will try an experiment (attempt to perform an experiment)
    I will try to be good (I will attempt to be good)
    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (attempt a particular act)
    I will try the case / person (a legal proceeding with a judge / jury)
    These are trying times (difficult times that will test us)

    So from an English standpoint, we often see try as “test” or “attempt” (except the legal meaning, though it is similar).

    How do Italian-speakers see the difference between cercare di / provare / tentare?
    Peasants like me see them as - seek or attempt / prove or test / attempt

    Tim
     

    TimeHP

    Senior Member
    Italian - Italy
    How do Italian-speakers see the difference between cercare di / provare / tentare?
    Peasants like me see them as - seek or attempt / prove or test / attempt
    Cerco di spiegare...
    Provo a spiegare...
    Tento di spiegare...

    ...l'uso di questi tre verbi.

    Direi che il significato è più o meno lo stesso.
    Ciao
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    moodywop said:
    If it's any comfort I've always found it difficult to appreciate the subtle differences between try to do something, try doing something and try and do something.
    Most often, try and do something is used incorrectly to mean try to do something.

    A: I'm having a party on Saturday. Will you be there?
    B: I'm really busy, but I'll try and come.

    B is not committing to A that she'll attend the party. She's saying that she will make an effort to attend. So she should say I'll try to come. I don't know why people slip into "try and come," but you do hear it frequently. Maybe it's just verbal laziness. Try 'n' come is easier to enunciate than those multiple leading t's of Try to. ;)

    Elisabetta
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    Ciao, Moody. Non sono sicura della tua intenzione, ma provo:

    You try telling him that! I've tried and tried but he doesn't listen!

    Come ti sembra?

    Elisabetta
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    TrentinaNE said:
    Ciao, Moody. Non sono sicura della tua intenzione, ma provo:

    You try telling him that! I've tried and tried but he doesn't listen!

    Come ti sembra?

    Elisabetta

    Sembra perfetta per me.
    Mia moglie diceva la stessa cosa multi volte!:D
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    "Try and do" and "try and come" etc. are set phrases that are quite acceptable in English even though they do sound a bit strange. I, like Elisabetta, wouldn't use them.
     

    Willi

    Senior Member
    Italy - Italian
    Charles Costante said:
    "Try and do" and "try and come" etc. are set phrases that are quite acceptable in English even though they do sound a bit strange. I, like Elisabetta, wouldn't use them.
    I think I've read somewhere that "try and do" is BE but not AE. Do the Brits agree? :)
     

    TrentinaNE

    Senior Member
    USA
    English (American)
    Charles Costante said:
    "Try and do" and "try and come" etc. are set phrases that are quite acceptable in English even though they do sound a bit strange. I, like Elisabetta, wouldn't use them.
    Acceptable in spoken speech, perhaps, but as I point out to underlings here at work, not acceptable in a business memo. ;)

    Grazie, Charles! Ciao, Willi! Prego, Moody!

    Elisabetta
     

    Elisa68

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Provarci è anche hit on:

    Se Carlo rimanesse solo con Elaine ci proverebbe subito.
    If Carlo were alone with Elaine he would hit on her in a second. :D
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    Elisa68 said:
    Provarci è anche hit on:

    Se Carlo rimanesse solo con Elaine ci proverebbe subito.
    If Carlo were alone with Elaine he would hit on her in a second. :D
    Trust you to think of that sense:D ! Maybe we could start a new thread on making a pass at/hit on and similar expressions in Italian and English:)

    By the way, I would add that provarci is followed by con in this sense, unless - as in your example - it is clear who is being hit on.

    Poveretto! Ci ha provato con Elisa ed è finito in ospedale
     

    chris4984

    Member
    English, United States
    Ciao a tutti! When you want to say you are trying to do something, do you use cercare or provare?? If I wanted to say, "I am trying to find a job" would I say "Cerco di trovare un lavoro" or would I say "Provo trovare un lavoro"? Is one used when you are looking for something, for example, a restaurant, a job, etc, and the other used for physically trying things, such as trying a new food, trying to ride a car, bike, etc.? In the case of trying to find a restaurant or a job, would you even need to use trovare?? Would it just be "Cerco un lavoro"?
     

    trebor

    Senior Member
    England English
    There is an exact equivalent in English of provarci meaning "hit on" when we say "no harm trying it on" which means it doesnt hurt to try to chat someone up
     

    Evito

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese
    I'm looking for a more specific sense of what these two verbs mean.

    Now I've been reading this romance novel and the protagonist keeps repeating that "voglio dirgli quello che provo", or in other words "I want to tell him that which I 'feel'", or more or less "experience", I assume?

    Now this shows interesting comparison to the fact that provare is used for trying foods, and things previously unknown, so that it seems to me to be a verb to indicate something very bodywise, either with the senses or the whole body, like tasting things or feeling things or trying (new) things.

    Now tentare on the other hand, it seems to me that this is more like the English version of "try", but without the sense of trying something new, or tasting something?

    For example, what would be the difference between saying:
    Ho tentato di telefonargli
    and
    Ho provato a telefonargli


    My guess is,
    it would be like saying:
    I tried to call him (but I failed/he wasn't home/didn't answer)
    and
    I tried to call him (to see what would happen if I went ahead and called him/to see if calling 'him' was a good option)

    and a third option?
    Ho cercato di telefonargli

    I tried to call him (or more or less searched for a way to call him? indicating the subject failed in doing so?)

    or does this last option not necessarily have to be so strong

    Philosophical answers appreciated.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I don't think the rules are that solid in Italian.
    "voglio dirgli quello che provo"

    Quello che = what (not in a question way) so a better translation is:

    "I want to tell him what I am trying"
     

    Headword

    Member
    UK (English)
    I was reading this interesting thread on tentare/provare/cercare (for "to try") and I asked an Italian friend what he thought. He told me that "tentare" had a sense of failure attached to it - so using tentare for the future would mean that you weren't hopeful that the subject would be successful. In the past it would imply that the subject wasn't successful.

    What do the native speakers think of this distinction?
     

    ElaineG

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    Then how do you say "I want to tell him what I am trying.." ?
    Dipende dal contesto. Forse voglio dire quello che cerco da fare. Non escluderei la tua traduzione in ogni situazione, però qui il contesto originale è:

    Now I've been reading this romance novel and the protagonist keeps repeating that "voglio dirgli quello che provo", [emphasis added]
    E quindi penso che "feel" sia la traduzione giusta qui.
     

    miralo

    Senior Member
    Great discussion, but let me add to the clarification (or confusion, as the case might be) by testing the following distinction: cercare di vs tentare di (anticipation or expectation of doing something vs actually doing something whose outcome is uncertain.) Hope I haven't "muddied the waters."
     

    giovannino

    Senior Member
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Great discussion, but let me add to the clarification (or confusion, as the case might be) by testing the following distinction: cercare di vs tentare di (anticipation or expectation of doing something vs actually doing something whose outcome is uncertain.) Hope I haven't "muddied the waters."
    Interesting distinction. However I see a distinction more between "cercare di"/"tentare di" on the one hand and "provare a" on the other. I'm not sure everybody makes this distinction but to me

    Ho cercato/tentato di parlargli (ma non sono riuscito a trovarlo)

    may suggest, as in my example, that I didn't get to speak to him at all, whereas

    Ho provato a parlargli ma non sono riuscito a convincerlo

    definitely means that I did manage to talk to him, although with disappointing results.
     

    miralo

    Senior Member
    Giovannino - Your examples certainly make sense. I'm beginning to think, however, that context and intended message - including tone of voice and even body language may have a great deal to do with distinctions among these and perhaps many other synonyms. Hence, a simple set of grammatical rules may be difficult to arrive at. But these discussions are helpful.

    Saluti
    Miralo
     

    Janey UK

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of British English
    Interesting distinction. However I see a distinction more between "cercare di"/"tentare di" on the one hand and "provare a" on the other. I'm not sure everybody makes this distinction but to me

    Ho cercato/tentato di parlargli (ma non sono riuscito a trovarlo)

    may suggest, as in my example, that I didn't get to speak to him at all, whereas

    Ho provato a parlargli ma non sono riuscito a convincerlo

    definitely means that I did manage to talk to him, although with disappointing results.
    This is interesting! Does your distinction, then, mean that it would be wrong to combine the two sentences? For instance, by saying:

    Ho cercato/tentato di parlargli (ma non sono riuscito a convincerlo)

    or: Ho provato a parlargli ma non sono riuscito a trovarlo
     

    miralo

    Senior Member
    Janey - I think you are illustrating my point that synonyms to a large extent are defined by context and intended message and that precise grammatical rules are not always possible. Throughout this extended discussion many different distinctions have been made and all have made sense in particular contexts. So, where does that leave us? I plan go back over the discussions and think about the different distinctions and variety of contexts.

    Miralo
     

    giovannino

    Senior Member
    Italian, Neapolitan
    This is interesting! Does your distinction, then, mean that it would be wrong to combine the two sentences? For instance, by saying:

    Ho cercato/tentato di parlargli (ma non sono riuscito a convincerlo)

    or: Ho provato a parlargli ma non sono riuscito a trovarlo
    Hi Janey

    Let me stress once again that, though the distinction exists for me, other Italians may disagree. Having got that caveat out of the way:), I could accept the first example (though I'd still prefer "provato a") but in the second one I'd definitely only use "cercato/tentato di".
    One example where I might use any of the three:

    Ho provato a /cercato di/tentato di parlargli ma mi ha sbattuto la porta in faccia
     

    Alan Evangelista

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    I was reading this interesting thread on tentare/provare/cercare (for "to try") and I asked an Italian friend what he thought. He told me that "tentare" had a sense of failure attached to it - so using tentare for the future would mean that you weren't hopeful that the subject would be successful. In the past it would imply that the subject wasn't successful.
    That seems a personal usage or a regionalism to me. I asked in Stack Exchange Italian and an Italian told me that "tentare" only has a sense of failure when used in the future if used in some expressions such as "tentare invanno". According to him, for instance, "Tenterò di scalare la montagna più alta del mondo" does not imply any lack of confidence in your success.

    Regarding the past, using "tentare" by itself in a sentence indeed implies that the subject wasn't successful, but that also happens with "provare" and "cercare". Example: Ho tentato di/cercato di/provato a sedurla. However, a complement after the statement of the attempt eliminates that implied meaning. Examples: Ho tentato di/cercato di/provato a sedurla e ci sono riuscito. Ho tentato di/cercato di/provato a sedurla con così tanto sforzo che ci siamo sposati.
     
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