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I thought the negative imperative was done using the infinitive:

  • Sto facendo dei calcoli, non parlare

But I've also seen it conjugated in the present:

  • Quindi, non parli a me di disperazione.

What is the rule I should keep in mind? Are both correct?

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  • The second sentence is more an exortation or an advice rather than an imperative to me. "Quindi, non parlare a me di disperazione" would imply an imperative. – user519 Sep 30 '15 at 14:17
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In non parli a me di disperazione the verb is in the subjunctive mood. In the specific case, one cannot use the imperative, because the lei form is used: you are talking with someone not in familiar terms with you, so the verb must be in the third person and the imperative mood lacks it.

In the verb conjugations, the imperative is often showed with five voices (of course the first person singular doesn't make sense), but properly it has only two, like in Latin. The additional three forms are from the subjunctive.

It should be mentioned that the congiuntivo esortativo (exhortative subjunctive) is a common form, but here it's not the case. If the person you're talking to is in familiar terms, the sentence would be

Quindi, non parlare a me di disperazione

with the imperative.

As DaG remarks in a comment, the sentence could be interpreted as referring to a third person: Tizio is saying to Caio

Sempronio dice di essere disperato.

and Caio says to Tizio

La mia disperazione è immensa. Quindi, non parli a me di disperazione.

referring to Sempronio; in this case it would still be an imperative (with the substitute form from the subjunctive) but it could be interpreted as an exhortative subjunctive: the distinction is quite blurred.

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  • Perfect answer. I only add that, in theory, the “non parli a me” sentence just might also refer to an actual third person: A: “C dice di essere disperato.” B: “[C] non parli a me di disperazione [perché io sono più disperato di tutti].” – DaG Sep 30 '15 at 14:53
  • @DaG Possibly; but I'd add a che, in this case: Quindi, che non parli a me di disperazione. Nevertheless, I agree that it's optional. – egreg Sep 30 '15 at 14:55
  • "Quindi, non parli a me di disperazione." could be present indicative, used with an imperative-like acceptation; it's not rare to hear something like "Io ho lavorato tutto il giorno e tu non hai fatto niente, quindi non parli a me di nullafacenza!". I think this is the reason to OP's confusion. Nevertheless great answer, +1, but I think it should include this point. – kos Sep 30 '15 at 22:38
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    @kos I'm not sure to understand the meaning of the sentence. – egreg Sep 30 '15 at 23:02
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    It's hard to explain this from behind a monitor; the rationale behind it that using the present indicative in some cases one is de-facto trying to assert a rule (hence the imperative-like acceptation). Try thinking of two people in a burning argument, where the topic is whether something involving (in its consequences) both people should be done or not. The first one might say "Non mi interessa, lo faccio!" and the other one might reply "No, non lo fai!". – kos Sep 30 '15 at 23:21
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"Non mi parli" is the subjunctive tense used as an exortation. But it has really become part of the Italian imperative tense, as you can see from the following list, which I studied over sixty years ago:
Che io parli; Parla; Che egli parli (that's our case); Parliamo; Parlate; Che essi parlino.

Our use of "Che" (That) is similar to the use of "Let" in the English imperative tense:
Let me speak; Speak; Let him speak; Let us/Let's speak; Speak; Let them speak.

As you have certainly noticed, the list does include the pronoun Io (I in English) even though today most sources will tell you that there are only 5 cases (Tu to Essi). I am an old man, but I come from Tuscany and I love my language and mine definitely still includes the six cases (I to Essi).

Think of somebody who during a debate stands up and says "Che io parli!" or "Che io possa parlare!". It is true that it would not be used very often today, but our language includes also the one which was spoken by Alfieri and Boccaccio and Dante. Some people prefer to speak and understand only the language used in my Country today: they don't know what they are missing.

N.B. In my answer He and Egli of course mean also She and Ella/Lei. It is simply easier and doesn't indicate any disrespect for Ladies (To the contrary: I actually still prefer Ladies. I'm old style)

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    alsa, you seem a thoughtful and knowledgeable person, but in my opinion your answers would be far better if you did not remind us again every time all those bits about yourself (elderly, male, straight, Tuscan and so on). – DaG Oct 5 '15 at 13:42
  • And probably you mean “person” (as in “first person” etc.) here when you say “case”. – DaG Oct 5 '15 at 13:43
  • @DaG. Thank you for your comment. I am sorry: I just wanted to add a little joke, when I mentioned Ladies. But - having seen so many times people saying "I am from the North", or "the South", or such and such a province, or British or USA, etc. - I thought it might actually be useful to mention Tuscany when we are talking about our language. And also I hope you will agree that "elderly" may help to explain some ideas and expressions. Of course I agree with you: if somebody "reminded me ... every time" I would by very tired and would probably stop reading his answers. – alsa Feb 27 '16 at 17:34
  • @DaG. Yes, I meant "person": that is certainly the proper name in grammar. I am used to say "I sei casi: io, tu egli noi, voi, essi". Of course I should say "case" only for Nominativo, Genitivo, Dativo, Accusativo, Vocativo, Ablativo. But I use the word informally for many other things ... Thank you for your kind suggestion. – alsa Feb 27 '16 at 17:47

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