Difference between smettere and fermare

What’s the difference between smettere and fermare in Italian, two very common verbs that are often confused by language learners? Are there any situations in which it is necessary to use one or the other? Are they even interchangeable?

In this lesson, we will look at how to use these words with the help of many audio recordings and example sentences. Read on to learn everything you need to know!

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Smettere and fermare in Italian

Both smettere and fermare translate into English as “to stop”, so using them correctly in Italian can be tricky.

The main difference between smettere and fermare in Italian is that…

  • smettere is a strictly intransitive verb
  • fermare is also a transitive verb

Still confused? Let’s take a closer look at the do’s and don’ts of each verb.

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How do you use smettere in Italian?

Smettere is an intransitive verb that means “to stop” or “to cease”.

To stop, to cease

man signing to stop

Because it’s an intransitive verb, it can’t be followed by a direct object. You will only ever see it used with infinitive verbs to translate the English expression “to stop doing something”.

However, to translate a sentence like “he stops laughing”, you will need a preposition between smettere and the verb that describes the activity you want to stop. In our case, the preposition di.

The sentence structure is then smettere + DI + infinitive verb.

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

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For example, you could say…

Paola smette di ridere.
Paola stops laughing.

laughing mean princess

Mio zio vorrebbe smettere di fumare.
My uncle would like to stop smoking.

Mio nonno non ha mai smesso di lavorare.
My grandfather has never stopped working.

Il bambino smise di camminare.
The child stopped walking.

A very popular expression is smettila, which means “stop it” in Italian.

Smettila, mi fai male!
Stop it, you’re hurting me!

girl biting another girl on her arm

How do you use fermare in Italian?

Fermare can be either a transitive or an intransitive verb. It translates as “to stop” or “to prevent something or oneself from moving”.

To stop

When fermare is used as a transitive verb, it simply precedes the object that is being stopped. It means that there’s something that stops something else. It’s a physical act.

For example, you could say…

Il turista ferma il taxi con un cenno della mano.
The tourist stops the taxi with a wave of his hand.

tourist getting on a taxi

Qualcuno fermi quel cane!
Somebody stop that dog!

Giuseppe ferma l’auto e soccorre il pedone.
Joseph stops the car and rescues the pedestrian.

When fermare is used as an intransitive verb, meaning “to stop one’s movement”, it is always used in its reflexive form, fermarsi. Intransitive verbs are never used with a direct object.

To stop one’s movement

For example, you could say…

La macchina si fermò sul ciglio della strada.
The car stopped at the side of the road.

Mi sono fermato al supermercato a comprare un po’ di caramelle.
I stopped at the supermarket to buy some candy.

L’uomo si ferma e ascolta.
The man stops and listens.

a man listening

If you were to say l’uomo ferma, you would create a partial sentence in which the direct object is missing. Be careful!

L’uomo ferma… la macchina, la trottola, il motore.
The man stops… the car, the spinning top, the engine.

L’uomo si ferma.
The man stops.

What next?

Now that you’ve seen how to use smettere and fermare in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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