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Italian Compound Nouns With a Verbal Base

Nomi Composti Con Base Verbale


Italian compound nouns of the type apriscatole (can opener), portabandiera (standard bearer), or lavastoviglie (dishwasher) are referred to as compound nouns with a verbal base (nomi composti con base verbale). Namely, the implied phrase of the compound has a verbal predicate. For example: Qualcosa accende (verbal predicate) i sigari » accendisigari (cigar lighter). In Italian, three types of compound nouns with a verbal base are recognized:

  • both elements have an Italian form. Here are several verbal bases accompanied by an example:

accendi- (to light, ignite)
accendisigari (cigar lighter)

attacca- (to attach, hang)
attaccapanni (clothes hanger)

apri- (to open, undo)
apriscatole (can opener)

asciuga- (to dry, wipe)
asciugamano (hand towel)

batti- (to beat, hit)
battitappeto (carpet cleaner/carpet sweeper)

colare- (to drain, strain)
colapasta (colander)

copri- (to cover, wrap)
copricapo (head covering/hat)

gira- (to turn, rotate, spin)
girarrosto (rotisserie)

lancia- (to throw, hurl, toss)
lanciafiamme (flame thrower)

lava- (to wash, clean)
lavastoviglie (dishwasher)

parare- (to shield, protect from)
parabrezza (windshield)

porta- (to carry, bear)
portacenere (ashtray)

scalda- (to warm up, heat)
scaldavivande (chafing dish)

spazza- (to sweep, mop)
spazzaneve (snowplow)

trita- (to mince, grind, chop up)
tritacarne (meat grinder)

  • both elements have an erudite form (usually elements of Greek origin). Whereas in the first type the sequence is "verbal base + noun," in this instance it is the reverse: "noun + verbal base" (according to the Greek model of compounds). Here are some verbal bases, with their meanings and examples:

-fagio/-fago "mangiare" (to eat)
antropofagia, antropofago (cannibalism, cannibal)

-filia/-filo "amare" (to love)
bibligrafia, bibliofilo (bibliography, bibliophile)

-logia/-logo "studiare" (to study)
geologia, geologo (geology, geologist)

-crazia/-crate "comandare" (to command, govern)
burocrazia, burocrate (bureaucracy, bureaucrat)

-fonia/-fonica "suonare" (to play, to listen)
stereofonia, stereofonico (stereophony, stereophonic)

-scopia/-scopio "osservare" (to observe, watch)
telescopia, telescopio (telescopic, telescope)

-grafi/-grafo "scrivere" (to write)
telegrafia, telegrafo (telegraphy, telegraph)

-patia/-patico "soffrire" (to suffer)
cardiopatia, cardiopatico (heart disease, cardiopath)

Often, the elements that appear in this type of compounds are derived from modern languages: in burocrazia, for example, the first element is an adaptation of the French bureau (office). Furthermore, the first element in many cases is a complemento di mezzo (complement of means): dattilografia (typewriting) is writing (-grafia) via the fingers (dattilo-); radioscopia (fluoroscopy) is the observation (-scopia) by means of X-rays (radio-).

  • the verbal base, which is the second element of the compound, has an Italian form, while the first element has an erudite form:

auto- 'se stesso' (self)
autoabbronzante, autocontrollo (self-tanning, self-control)

auto- 'automobile' (car)
autoraduno, autoparcheggio (motor racing meeting, parking lot)

tele- 'a distanza' (remotely)
telecomando, telecomunicazione (remote control, telecommunications)

tele- 'televisione' (television)
teleabbonato, telesceneggiato (television subscription, television drama)

Note that -controllo (in autocontrollo), -raduno (in autoraduno), and -comunicazione (in telecomunicazione), for example, must be considered verbal bases, not nominal bases, because the nouns are derived from verbs: controllo is derived from controllare, raduno is derived from radunare, and comunicazione is derived from comunicare.

Here are some other compounds of this type: radioamatore (amateur radio operator), termoregolazione (thermostatic temperature control), aerorimorchiatore (towing aircraft), motozappatrice (rotary tiller), fonoregistrazione (audio recording), elettrocoagulazione (electrocoagulation), and fotoriproduzione (photocopying).

For reference, here are a few similar compounds, but in this instance they are Italian compound nouns with a nominal base: autocisterna (tanker truck), autoscuola (driving school), autostrada (highway); teleobiettivo (telephoto lens), teleschermo (television screen), telescuola (educational TV broadcasting); cinegiornale (newsreel); fotoromanzo (photo love story); turbonave (turbine steamship).

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