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Che c'è di sbagliato nel voler vivere da ricchi?

I wonder why you need to place the definite article "il" before the infinitive "voler(e)"? Does it serve to generalise the idea of wanting to live like the rich? Is it similar to:

non sopporto il rumore --- {noise in general; not any particular noise}

  • It is an idiomatic expression, “nel” here is the short for “nel fatto di” voler vivere. – user519 Jan 4 '18 at 8:29
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    That's what it's called "infinito sostantivato", that is, an infinitive that acts as a noun. In this kind of construction, one sometimes needs an article. – Charo Jan 4 '18 at 10:11
  • Another example from the book Nuovo Contatto C1. Corso di lingua e civiltà italiana per stranieri: "Oggi la nostra vita è tutta un correre". – Charo Jan 4 '18 at 10:16
  • But sometimes you can find this construction without an article. For instance, "Mangiar bene è uno dei piaceri della vita" (example from the same book). – Charo Jan 4 '18 at 10:19
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As I have said in my previous comment, this construction is what it's called "infinito sostantivato", that is, an infinitive that acts as a noun. I will answer your question "why it is nel voler and not in voler?" by quoting Luca Serianni in the book Italiano (XI.411):

Si osservi da ultimo che davanti a un infinito, sostantivato o non sostantivato e preceduto da in e con, nell'italiano moderno è obbligatoria la preposizione articolata, che era facoltativa nella lingua dei secoli scorsi: «gioiva in vederci legati d'affetto» (Tarchetti), «crederono poter rinnovarla con allargarne le facoltà» (Carducci, Prose).

That is, in modern Italian you must use an article whenever you find an infinitive (it can be an "infinito sostantivato" or a verbal infinitive) preceded by the prepositions "in" and "con". It was not that way in the past, when one could omit such an article, as you can see in the cited examples (both Tarchetti and Carducci are authors from the XIX century). Some examples that I take from Treccani Encyclopedia are the following:

(5) Cominciò col portargli una fetta di carne avvolta nella carta oleata (Pratolini 1963: 59)

(6) Il mio lavoro è consistito nel cercar di fare di questo materiale eterogeneo un libro; nel cercar di comprendere e salvare, di fiaba in fiaba, il «diverso» che proviene dal modo di raccontare (Calvino 1996: 46)

Finally, your interpretation about the meaning of the sentence is correct.

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According to A Reference Grammar of Modern Italian, the inclusion or omission of the definite article before an infinitive used as a noun corresponds to the following (subtle) difference in meaning: without the article the meaning is closer to "the idea of doing something," and the meaning with the article is closer to "the fact or action of doing something." However, your example is more straightforward because (according to the same book) an article must be used when the infinitive is preceded by the preposition con, da, or in.

For example: perdonare è meglio di condannare might be translated as "it is better to forgive than to condemn"; notice how this has a more "proverbial" style. In contrast, il perdonare è meglio del condannare might be "forgiving [i.e., the action of forgiving] is better than condemning [i.e., the action of condemning]." The second version focuses more on the action associated with the verb, whereas the first version focuses more on the abstract notion associated with the verb.

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  • Do you mean this book? – Charo Jan 4 '18 at 16:08
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    Could you give some more details about the explanation given in the book, for instance, by quoting the paragraphs and/or the examples given in the book? – Charo Jan 4 '18 at 16:08
  • @Charo: Yes, that is the book. A second edition is available, though I am using the first edition. The information in my post is taken directly from the discussion of the usage of articles before infinitives used as nouns; this discussion is in Section 15.24. I will add an example that demonstrates the distinction between inclusion and omission of the article. – Gallego Jan 4 '18 at 17:32
  • I'm not sure that is correct because you can say, for instance, "Ho ordinato da bere." – Charo Jan 5 '18 at 11:13
  • As for the distinction you mention between the infinitive with or without an article it seems to me an explanation of the difference between "infinito sostantivato" and a verbal use of the infinitive rather than a distinction between an "infinito sostantivato" with an article and an "infinito sostantivato" without an article. – Charo Jan 5 '18 at 11:14

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