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I have just read a sentence in an Italian learning tool which seems ambiguous to me due to the (usual) lack of possessive adjectives.

Volete che mettano le mani nelle tasche?

Does "nelle tasche" mean "in their pockets?", "in your pockets?" or "in the pockets" (of the people, e.g., politicians)? Or does it depend from context?

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    It is ambiguous indeed and a bit weird since in tasca would be more idiomatic. What is the source of this sentence? More likely phrasings could be volete che mettano le mani in tasca? (to plainly ask about them having to put their hands in their own pockets) or volete che ci mettano le mani in tasca? (to mean in our pockets: this would sound as a rhetorical question: “should they steal from us?”). As it is, it almost sounds as if there are some neutral pockets (neither ours nor theirs) here around and we ask about what to do with them. – DaG Sep 26 '19 at 5:40
  • @DaG: Can you write this as an answer? – Charo Sep 26 '19 at 7:44
  • off-topic: Could "mettere le mani in tasca" figuratively mean "to be idle"/"to do nothing" or "to give money to someone"? – Alan Evangelista Sep 26 '19 at 15:43
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The sentence as written is ambiguous indeed and a bit weird since in tasca would in most cases be more idiomatic.

What is the source of this sentence? Context, as always, is all.

Having to guess as to its meaning, more likely phrasings could be:

Volete che mettano le mani in tasca?

(to ask in a general way about them having to put their hands in their own pockets), or

Volete che ci mettano le mani in tasca?

This would mean “in our pockets” and would mostly sound as a rhetorical question: “by any chance, should they steal from us?”

The sentence as literally given (Volete che mettano le mani nelle tasche?) more or less sounds as if there are some neutral pockets (neither ours nor theirs) here around and we are asking about what to do with them.

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  • I have read the sentence in an Italian language learning tool, so there is no context. Sorry. I have made it clear in my question. – Alan Evangelista Sep 26 '19 at 15:30

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