Polite form of Scusi

ChristopherS55

Why is 'scusi' the polite form and not 'scusa'? In Taxi lesson. Since it is an "ARE" verb, wouldn't the polite form be the 3rd person "scusa"?

caterina-rocket-italian-tutor

Hi ChristopherS55, 
Thank you for your question!

As you might know, in Italian, when we need to be more formal/polite, we often use the third person "Lei/Lui" that equals the formal You, in this case.

In this specific context (when you need to apologize to someone), you would use the imperative mood of the verb, rather than the present tense. Consequently, the term "scusa" refers to the second person (you) while "scusi" refers to the third person (or formal You).

Let me explain this better:
The verb "scusare" conjugates as "tu scusi" and "lei/lui scusa" in the present tense. For instance lei mi scusa quando arrivo tardi = she excuses me when I am late.
However, if you wish to say "excuse me, where is the station?" you are no longer using the present tense, but rather the imperative mood. Consequently, it will be "tu scusa" and "lei/lui scusi", as in:
(informal you) scusa, hai dei soldi? = excuse me, do you have any money?
(formal You) scusi, sono arrivato tardi = excuse me, I arrived late. 

Hope this clarifies your doubt but I remain available in case you would like to have more examples :)
 

ChrisM108

That’s very clear, Caterina, and I’m really curious why the formal address is in the 3rd person. Just for general knowledge. (It took me a while to figure that in 5.8 Past Tense!). Grazie. Chris

caterina-rocket-italian-tutor

Hi Chris, 

The reason why in Italian the formal address is in the 3rd person actually dates back to hundreds of years ago and has actually changed over time.

In ancient Rome, people started using "voi" to address emperors (so they used "voi" instead of "tu"). Dante used "voi" too to address important figures (such as his much loved Beatrice).

Later, in 1400-1500, people introduced the use of "Lei" to address important figures and/or strangers. The use of "lei" was also due to the influence of the Spanish model. 

During the fascist regime, people were no longer allowed to use "lei" for a variety of reasons (eg. it had foreign origins) and started using "voi" again.

After WW2, people started using "lei" again. Once, its use was significantly linked to social classes (i.e. an employer would use "tu" to address an employee, while the employee would use "lei" to address an employer) - now, this is almost entirely changed, and "lei" is used in all cases to express formality (e.g. both the employer and the employee mutually use it). 

Today, one of the few cases where two speakers wouldn't use the same level of formality when speaking is when one of them is an adult and the other one is a kid/teenager/young adult (in such case, the teenager would use "lei", while the adult would use "tu").

If you wish to know more about this, I also invite you to check out this source and this source.

Happy to help in case you have further questions!

 

ChrisM108

That’s extremely informative, Caterina. Fascinating. Grazie mille. Ciao, Chris

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