In Lombardy, I often hear phrases like sono dietro a cercare qualcosa to mean sto cercando qualcosa.

Is that widely understood, or is there another way to translate the Present Progressive used in English?

To my hears, sono dietro a [infinitive] seems a literally translation of an Eastern Lombard phrase, but since there are Italian expressions like stare dietro a, andare dietro a, correre dietro a, I wonder if also essere dietro a is understood outside Lombardy.

  • Not in Milan: indree is always a pejorative "ves indree a..." means "I'm behind doing..." – Sklivvz Nov 15 '13 at 12:35
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    Yes, but in Milan they speak Western Lombard. :) – kiamlaluno Nov 15 '13 at 13:21
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    I am versed in both Milanes (born there) and Mantuan (mother family origin), and I've never heard that form, however my father's side is from further east (triveneto) and I would not be surprised hearing that from him... IMO it seems to be a "triveneto" thing but not, strictly speaking, Lombardy. – Sklivvz Nov 15 '13 at 13:39
  • L'è drè a is surely Eastern Lombard. I have heard è dietro a many times in Lombardy, where I live. – kiamlaluno Nov 15 '13 at 14:48
  • @kiamlaluno in Milan I commonly hear sön dré with the meaning sono dietro a (I'm doing) – Gabriele Petronella Nov 18 '13 at 21:05

It's used also in Veneto (son drio a fare/*so drio fare*, depending on the actual location), but it should be marked as dialectal and not standard Italian. I don't think such an idiom would be understood outside Northern Italy.

When I was in elementary school, I frequently heard hypercorrections such as sono dietro facendo. Our teachers always frowned upon usage of sono dietro a fare (and they were right).

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    Definitely not homogeneously understood indeed! – martina Nov 12 '13 at 14:44
  • Triveneto, as said above. The same idiom is used in Trentino : "Som dre a ..." – Bruno9779 Apr 14 '14 at 20:00
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    Used in Emilia Romagna too. I just realized I use it to convey the idea of a demanding activity that cannot be interrupted right now. – user525 Apr 21 '16 at 6:58

No, "sono dietro a..." it's not a widely understood phrase. The correct Italian form is to use the verb "stare" followed by the gerund.

Furthermore the quite similar phrase "sono indietro a..." means a very different thing: "I'm behind in...", so I would not assume that people understand what you mean.

  • A late comment about your sono indietro a: It should probably be sono indietro nel, even if I normally hear sono rimasto indietro nel; alternatively, it could be sono rimasto indietro con (sono rimasto indietro con i compiti.). In the first case, nel would be followed from the infinite of a verb (sono rimasto indietro nel fare i compiti). – kiamlaluno Apr 21 '16 at 7:03
  • @kiamlaluno indeed, however there are many valid instances of "sono indietro a". For example "sono indietro ad oggi", "sono indietro a livello di...", "sono indietro alla grande" -- besides the invalid, but used, "sono indietro a fare i compiti". If a non native speaker finds "sono indietro a", it will not mean "I'm (phyisically) behind something". – Sklivvz Apr 21 '16 at 9:01

I'm from Trentino, Val di Non. In our dialect, called Nones, we also have that expression. It is actually the only way to form the gerund. E.g. son dria a far bergot - I'm doing something. Thus, I would assume that this is a characteristic shared with other northern Italian dialects too. In standard Italian, the one of the Accademia della Crusca, it is not accepted. It is a phenomenon of language contact between the two languages, as many northern Italians are bilingual in the two. Because in Italy, speaking differently from the imposed norm is socially looked down upon, I would reccomend you to learn the actual gerund e.g. sto facendo qualcosa. But linguistically speaking it is not incorrect if you use it when speaking with people that understand it (basically northern Italians). It is just a phenomenon of language contact, just as the ones that created other accepted features of the vulgar that later became what we know as Italian.

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    Welcome/Benvenuto! – egreg Apr 21 '16 at 8:39
  • It is actually the only way to form the gerund, really? – mario Apr 22 '16 at 15:12

Non so, "sono dietro a cercare qualcosa", secondo me, esprime un senso di maggiore disperazione rispetto a "sto cercando qualcosa [qui dietro]"; come se nel primo caso la ricerca fosse affannosa, quasi un evento indesiderato.

Invece, "sto cercando qualcosa" esprime determinazione, quasi come se il "ricercatore" abbia precisa contezza della finalità e della utilità della sua azione.

Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, "essere/stare/correre/andare dietro" are commonly used, and understood, outside Lombardy, also in metaphorical sense.

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    "sono dietro a (cosa)" a me non dà molto un senso di disperazione in sé, ma più di un'azione (in genere in risposta ad una situazione imprevista) a cui ci si dedica con grande continuità/intensità/impegno. Del tipo, "sono dietro ad aggiustare un server" non implica che sia disperato, ma che è un'attività importante e di una certa durata in risposta ad un imprevisto, su cui sono concentrato e che non ammette interruzioni. – Matteo Italia Nov 12 '13 at 13:31
  • @Matteo, si, forse and maybe; però "cercare", differentemente da "aggiustare", è un'attività che molti desiderano non fare. Sicché, generally speaking, è più probabile che "cercare", soprattuto se dietro, crei ansia, diffcoltà, disperazione. Insomma, conosci qualcuno che sia felice di "stare dietro a cercare"? I think not. – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 12 '13 at 17:16
  • I agree with the general feeling, my objection was mostly in the strength of "disperazione" (desperation), which IMHO is a bit too strong for the normal usage of "essere dietro a fare qualcosa"; one is disperato if he has really big problems, but you aren't required to be in tragic conditions to say "sono dietro a (fare qualcosa)". :) – Matteo Italia Nov 12 '13 at 19:34
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    I think an acceptable translation of the dialectal form Sono dietro a fare qualcosa could be I'm busy doing something. Desperation is not implied at all, it only expresses dedication. – Gabriele Petronella Nov 12 '13 at 21:18

The *sono dietro a fare..." locution, when not used to express where you're doing something (more explicitly sono dietro, a fare..., where the optional comma reveals the difference), is akin to the french form je suis en train de faire, meaning I'm doing that, right now.

User @GabrielePetronella's comment on another answer talks about I'm busy doing something as a possible translation. While I feel that is a really good translation for some uses of the Lombard locution, I feel the Lombard sentence has a wider meaning: I'm doing something, for which the correct form in Italian would be sto facendo. (Yes, this means the locution you found is just a literal translation.)

  • The question is more about sono dietro a […] being widely understood from Italian people. – kiamlaluno Apr 9 '14 at 18:03

In Modena we use phrases like essere dietro a mangiare and sono dietro che mangio as the normal ways of expressing the standard sto mangiando. In the local dialect these same phrases represent the only ways of expressing the above notion.

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    Benvenuto su Italian.SE! Ma... Verbare? Verbando? non sono sicuro di aver mai incontrato quest'uso :P – Denis Nardin Nov 12 '18 at 11:11
  • @DenisNardin Penso che intenda "verbo all'infinito" e "gerundio". – kiamlaluno Nov 12 '18 at 13:35
  • @kiamlaluno Yes, I understand what he meant. It's just a, uh, creative usage of Italian grammar. – Denis Nardin Nov 12 '18 at 14:42
  • Yes, it should have been better to use examples with real verbs. – kiamlaluno Nov 12 '18 at 18:22

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