The difference between scordare and dimenticare and, in particular, whether they can be used interchangeably, has sparked some debate among students of Italian and native speakers of Italian alike.
In today’s Italian, scordare and dimenticare are synonyms and, in practice, they are used interchangeably. That said, the two verbs have different etymologies (or origins), whereby scordare is a more emotionally loaded verb than dimenticare, so there are situations where scordare sounds more appropriate than dimenticare to a native ear.
What are the origins of scordare and dimenticare?
Scordare and dimenticare are synonyms, but their etymology, or origin, is different. Both verbs come from Latin.
- Origins of scordare
The verb scordare has in it the word cor (heart in Latin), and the prefix s– , loosely meaning “to put out of”, “to loose”. So, in essence, the verb scordare means “to put out of your heart”.
(Quick detour: A verb that is made up in a similar way in Italian is scoraggiare – to dishearten – which, similarly to scordare, contains the word cor (heart) and the prefix sc- meaning to loose, to put out ).
The opposite of scordare is ricordare (to remember), which means to put back in your heart.
- Origins of dimenticare
The verb dimenticare has in it the Latin word mens (mind), and the prefix di- , loosely meaning “to put out of”, “to take out”, “to loose”. So, in essence, dimenticare means “to put out of your mind”, “to no longer retain in your mind”.
The opposite of dimenticare is also ricordare.
The debate about scordare and dimenticare
This difference in etymology between scordare and dimenticare led some native Italian speakers to argue that the two verbs should be used in different contexts.
Scordare was argued to be more suitable for emotional actions (such as forgetting a traumatic event) and intentional actions (such as trying to forget a traumatic event). Instead, dimenticare has been argued by some to be more suitable for non emotional situations and also a type of forgetting that is unintentional, such as forgetting your keys or a password.
Should scordare and dimenticare be used differently?
The Accademia Della Crusca is an Italian society of academics in linguistics and philology (the study of language throughout history) founded in the late sixteenth century with the aim to preserve the Italian language and its purity. This makes sense when you think that Italy was divided into several separate states each speaking its own dialect.
To this day, the Accademia Della Crusca is the authority on usage of the Italian language. Interestingly, they created an entry on their website about scordare and dimenticare because native Italian speakers themselves raised doubts about the difference between the two verbs.
The Accademia Della Crusca define scordare and dimenticare as almost total synonyms despite the different etymologies. They point out that a word’s etymology does not dictate the word’s correct usage in modern language and so, although scordare and dimenticare have different origins, in practice, they can be used interchangeably.
Is there a regional difference in how scordare and dimenticare are used?
Through carrying out some internet research on frequency of the two verbs, the Accademia Della Crusca found that, overall, scordare was used less frequently than dimenticare.
There is a slight regional difference in the use of scordare and dimenticare, with scordare being more popular in central and southern Italy than northern Italy. The two verbs, however, both belong to standard Italian, and are not part of a specific dialect.
The Accademia Della Crusca point out that choice between scordare and dimenticare in native speakers of Italian often comes down to personal preference or taste.
It is possible that these preferences have been passed on from a generation to the next, which could explain why we can see regional variability in Italy between the two verbs.
Examples of the usage of scordare and dimenticare
Here are some examples of the usage of scordare and dimenticare.
Note that both verbs also have a reflexive form: this is scordarsi for scordare and dimenticarsi for dimenticare.
- Forget about me
- Dimenticati di me
- Scordati di me
- I forgot the keys
- Mi sono scordato le chiavi
- Mi sono dimenticato le chiavi
- Forget about it! (In the sense of “it’s never going to happen”
- Scordatelo! (note that this has come to be a set phrase in Italian, which uses scordare, and so we wouldn’t use dimenticare in this case)
- I forgot what they’re called
- Mi sono scordata come si chiamano
- Mi sono dimenticata come si chiamano
- I’ll never forget that day
- Non scorderò mai quel giorno
- Non dimenticherò mai quel giorno
One last thing to note about scordare
One last thing to note is that the verb scordare also has a second meaning, that is, referred to a musical instrument, to be out out of tune. Scordare in this sense is mostly used in the participle form scordato, to say out of tune.
Questo piano è completamente scordato = this piano is completely out of tune
Scordare and dimenticare: in conclusion
We hope that this has helped you understand the difference between scordare and dimenticare, and why this is an object of debate amongst Italians themselves.
The take-home message is that, in practice, these two verbs can be used interchangeably, although they have different origins.