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I have read the following sentence in an Italian language learning tool:

Ci sono i parlamenti che decidono nella democrazia.

Is this an usual phrasing? What does it mean? The (almost) literal translation "There are the parliaments that decide in democracy" sounds a little odd in English, it sounds like some parliaments decide and some not. Maybe "Parliaments are the ones which decide in democracy" ?

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    No, it's not usual phrasing. I could justify it in casual speech, when it's not always easy to correctly order the words; in a formal context it should be “In democrazia (ci) sono i parlamenti che decidono”. – egreg Oct 5 '19 at 9:46
  • What does "ci" mean here? I translate your reordered sentenced as "In democracy, there are the Parliaments which decide", which still imply that some Parliaments do not decide (as I mentioned in my original question). I assume that is not the intended meaning. – Alan Evangelista Oct 10 '19 at 16:36
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I think your confusion stems from the usage of plural "parlamenti". But the key to resolve the confusion is in the seemingly minor i, in "i Parlamenti". In the following I explain why.

You are interpreting the phrase as:

In democrazia ci sono parlamenti che decidono ed altri parlamenti che non decidono.

But in this case, if we were to leave out the second part of the phrase (as in your interpretation), we would be left with:

In democrazia ci sono parlamenti che decidono.

This is a perfectly valid phrase, and its meaning is the one you have thought about. But that's not your phrase. Slightly edited for clarity, your phrase is:

In democrazia ci sono i parlamenti che decidono.

Here the plural and the definite article hint to the fact that the statement refers to all (parliamentary) democracies, not to any one in particular.

I, personally, agree that this is not the most elegant phrase and it certainly suggests an informal register. Another way to express the same meaning could be:

In democrazia sono i parlamenti a decidere.

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  • Thanks for the answer! Maybe there is a subtle difference between how Italian and English interpret the definite article. In English, "there are Parliaments which decide" and "there are the Parliaments which decide" mean the same: some Parliaments decide. Neither of the two sentences imply more strongly that the sentence refers to all democratic Parliaments and thus both sentences are ambiguous. – Alan Evangelista Oct 20 '19 at 0:46
  • Surely, the sentence at the end of your answer is much better! Would be wrong to say "In democrazia sono i parlamenti che decidono" instead ? – Alan Evangelista Oct 20 '19 at 0:50
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    @AlanEvangelista The articles work in very different ways in English and in Italian, a fact which causes no end of problems for learners in either direction :). The proposal in your second comment is also good. – Denis Nardin Oct 20 '19 at 6:48

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