If you have just explained something to someone, and want confirmation that they have absorbed everything you’ve said, you might ask the question Do you understand? in English. The Italian equivalent is Hai capito?
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The phrase Do you understand? can translate in three ways in Italian depending on who you’re talking to:
- Hai capito? > Informal. When talking to someone you know well.
- Ha capito? > Formal and respectful.
- Avete capito? > Plural. Used when talking to groups of people.
In English, we use the present tense to form this question, but Italians tend to use the present perfect tense (passato prossimo). The literal translation would be Have you understood?
Comunque, è per questo motivo che non devi andare lì di notte. Hai capito?
Anyway, that’s why you mustn’t go there at night. Do you understand?
In informal situations, Hai capito? is often abbreviated to just Capito?, much in the way English speakers say Understood? You hear? or Got it?
In some cases, you can form the question in the present tense: Capisci?
- Capisci? > Informal. When talking to someone you know well.
- Capisce? > Formal and respectful.
- Capite? > Plural. Used when talking to groups of people.
There are instances where Italians prefer hai capito to capisci and vice versa. For example, the former is often used when giving commands, or when you are upset with someone:
Non devi toccare niente nella stanza del nonno, hai capito?
You must not touch anything in grandpa’s room, do you understand?
Se non la smetti di fare i capricci, non ti porto al parco. Capito!?
If you don’t stop acting up, I won’t take you to the park, understood?!
However, following a longer explanation, both capisci and hai capito can work.
Non devi toccare niente nella stanza del nonno, altrimenti lui si arrabbia con me e con te. Hai capito?
You mustn’t touch anything in grandpa’s room, otherwise he’ll get mad at you and me. Do you understand?
Se tocchi qualcosa nella stanza del nonno, lui si arrabbierà con me e con te. Capisci?
If you touch anything in grandpa’s room, he’ll get mad at me and you. Do you understand?
Hai capito is also used to conclude an explanation, which is why it makes sense with commands because you don’t really want to leave the discussion open. Capisci, on the other hand, may be used in the middle of a conversation. Let’s see two other examples.
Comunque ora sai tutto. Non è stata colpa tua. Hai capito?
Anyway, now you know everything. It wasn’t your fault. Do you understand?
Non sappiamo cos’è successo, quindi non possiamo sapere di chi è la colpa. Capisci?
We don’t know what happened, so we can’t know whose fault it is? Do you understand?
Responding to Hai capito? / Capisci?
The correct response to these two questions are as follows:
Ho capito. = I understand.
(lit: I have understood.)
Can be abbreviated to just capito in informal Italian.
Non ho capito. = I don’t understand.
(lit: I haven’t understood.)
Capisco. = I understand.
Non capisco. = I don’t understand.