#007: Understanding verbs — andare and venire

Andare and venire are two of the most important verbs in Italian, and they creep up in conversation and in reading quite a bit. However, it wasn’t until recently when I used them incorrectly during an Italian conversation class, that I thought that it was a good topic to discuss.  In English, we’re pretty loose with how we use coming and going, but in Italian, you have to be careful which you chose because it can affect the meaning of your sentences. Let’s look at what these two verbs mean:

  1. Andare means “to go“, but more specifically it is movement towards a place. It’s important to note that the person to whom you are speaking is not included of your movement.

    Vado al cinema con Alessio.  Vorresti venire con noi?
    I’m going to the cinema with Alessio.  Would you like to come with us?

    When followed by an infinitive, the preposition, a, must be used: andare a + infinitive.

  2. Venire means “to come“, but more specifically, it means moving and going towards a place where the person to whom you are speaking is located.

    Vengo a Londra, Vittoria.  Hai organizzato qualcosa?
    I’m coming to London, Victoria.  Have you organized anything?
    (where the person to whom you are speaking is already located)

    When followed by an infinitive, the preposition, a, must be used: venire a + infinitive.

Sometimes, seeing the verbs used in their context can help to explain better the grammar — let’s look at this conversation below between two friends, Marta and Enrico:

Marta: Enrico, vai al cinema stasera?

Marta: Enrico, are you going to the cinema tonight?

Enrico: Sì, certo. Devo vedere il nuovo film di Tarantino. Volete venire?

Enrico: Yes, of course. I have to see the new Tarantino film. Do you want come?

Marta: Beato te! Purtroppo non possiamo venire. Mia suocera viene da Milano stasera, e mio marito e io andiamo a cenare fuori con lei.

Marta: Lucky you! Unfortunately, we can’t come. My mother-in-law is coming from Milan this evening, and my husband and I are going to dine out with her.

Enrico: Peccato che non veniate al cinema.

Enrico: It’s a pity you are not coming.

Marta: Forse mio marito e io ci andremo questo fine settimana. Buon film e divertiti!

Marta: Perhaps my husband and I will go this weekend. Enjoy the film and enjoy yourself!

In the first sentence, if Marta had said vieni instead of vai, she would have been implying that she, too, would have been at the cinema. Using andare, signals that she and Enrico will not be at the same location.

In the second sentence, Enrico asks “Volete venire?“, which means “Do you want to come with me to the theater?” If Enrico had asked “Volete andare?“, what he is really asking is “Do you also want to go to the movies, but not with me?” You might ask “Vuoi andare?” if you are asking if the person really want to go to see the film, not with the speaker.

When Marta says “non possiamo venire” what she is saying is: “We are not able to come and join you at the theater” (you being Enrico). If she had used andare, she would have been saying “we are not able to go to see the movie” at any theater, regardless if it was the one that Enrico would be at or not.

When a person comes from one place and goes to another, you use venire da, which means “I left from one place and will arrive where the person the speaker is addressing is located.” For example, if you are in Rome, and I said, “Vengo da Milano“, it means “I’ve left from Milan and am coming to you, the speaker, who is in Rome“. In the example above, Marta’s mother-in-law is arriving from Milan to Marta’s location.

In the second to last sentence, Enrico says “…non veniate al cinema” he is saying “It’s a pity that you are not coming to join me at the theater“. If andare were used, the meaning changes: “It’s a pity that you are not going to some theater tonight to see this movie, too“.

In the last statement, Marta says “…ci andiamo questo weekend“, meaning “Perhaps we’ll go this weekend” meaning “Perhaps we’ll go to see the movie at some cinema this weekend but you won’t be there, Enrico, because you’ve already seen the movie and presumably you don’t want to see it a second time.” If Marta used veniamo, she would have been implying that Enrico, too, might joining them.