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I've got a Duolingo question phrased like this:

Il contadino dava da mangiare al cavallo ogni giorno.

My best attempt at translation is something like:

"The farmer gave his horse from hunger every day"

Is this related to how one "has hunger"? (Ho fame) Is it just a difference of thinking about the sentiment?

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    "mangiare" means "to eat". it has little to do with "hunger", which is "fame". – Rad80 Sep 23 '19 at 13:09
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No, the correct translation is:

The farmer fed his horse every day.

or

The farmer gave something to eat to his horse every day

In Italian "dare da mangiare" (lit. "to give [something] to eat") means "to feed", and it has nothing to with "being hungry" (i.e. "avere fame").

Maybe one of the reasons you are confused is that you are translating da with "from". But in this case this is not the correct translation: it should be translated with to (i.e. it introduces the aim of the action, not its provenance). Unfortunately prepositions are very hard to translate between different languages.

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The two words together, "da mangiare", can mean "food", constructed with "da" like, for example,

  • macchina da scrivere ("machine for writing", typewriter)
  • legna da ardere (wood to burn)
  • cera da candela (vax for candles)

(Note that similar forms are not always good italian, but are widely used; for example macchina da scrivere is often considered an error, but is much more common than macchina per scrivere).

About da mangiare, the real meaning is "[cosa buona] da mangiare" ("good to eat", or "appropriate to be eaten"), like legna da ardere which means "wood good for burning".

The following phrases can be seen normally:

  • compro da mangiare (I buy food)
  • serve da mangiare (food is needed)
  • siamo senza roba da mangiare (we have no food)
  • abbiamo niente da mangiare (same)
  • siamo senza da mangiare (same; incorrect, but used)
  • dagli da mangiare (give some food to him)

Now, "dare da mangiare" has two nuances, "to give food" or "to feed". Probably a farmer feeds his horse, where a wife gives food to her husband (unless he needs assistance).

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