I'm unsure when I should say

'mi due etti di mortadella'


'mi dai due etti di mortadella'


Can anyone explain what the difference between using 'dà' and using 'dai' is?


Short answer: If the grocer is a friend or you intend to be quite friendly, use “dai”, else use “dà”.

Slightly longer answer: In Italian there are two main ways of addressing other people. With relatives, friends and, in some cases, same-age or same-profession people, you use second-person “tu” (roughly corresponding to being on first-name terms); with strangers, you tend to use third-person “lei” (or, more formally, “Lei”). It is roughly parallel to French “tu” and “vous”, if this helps.

In your case, “dai” is the second person of “dare”, so you are treating the grocer with familiarity, while “dà” is the third person, and you are keeping your distance.

  • DaG, thank you, but isn't 'dà' imperative mode; i.e., '(P1): Cosa devo dare? (P2) Dà questo'. Or am I wrong because 'Dà questo' is uncorrect? – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 6 '13 at 18:55
  • Or, maybe (P2) should say "Da' questo" in which "Da'" is different from "Dà" because it is the contracted form of "Dai"? – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 6 '13 at 20:25
  • Hmmmm, I'm going to ask question here! – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 6 '13 at 20:26
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    @KyriakosKyritsis: Probably your doubts stem from the fact that the sentences in the original post, even if written here without a question mark, are actually interrogative: “Mi dà due etti di mortadella?” etc. If in the imperative mood, they should be “Dammi due etti di mortadella” and “Mi dia due etti di mortadella”, respectively, but considerate people don't speak like this. – DaG Nov 6 '13 at 22:12
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    I would add that there is also an (outdated) third way of addressing people, "voi", which is however still used in the South of Italy. For instance: mi date due etti di mortadella? – nico Nov 7 '13 at 7:21

It depends on whether you address another person in a formal (lei) or informal (tu) way.
Mi dà - you ask in third person (lei mi dà qualcosa), which means you assume all formalities are in place. Mi dai - you ask in second person (tu mi dai qualcosa), as if you were equal or even friends.

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