Sentire means hearing, and at the same time feeling, in Italian and it's used passively in both senses.

  • Mi sento male - I feel bad
  • Ho sentito il tuo nome - I heard your name

Why among all senses have Italians chosen hearing to represent feeling?

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    They didn’t; the meaning of sentire broadened from meaning just ‘feel, sense’ in general terms to also referring to sensing with the ears specifically. It went feel -> hear, not hear -> feel. May 9, 2022 at 17:15
  • Then the question would be why "hear" became synonymous with "feel" and this did not happen to the other senses? May 9, 2022 at 18:27
  • Or perhaps rather why they started using ‘feel’ to mean ‘hear’ and not ‘see’ or ‘taste’ for example – it’s not like Italian doesn’t still have a verb meaning ‘hear’ (udire). The two are not really synonymous, they just have overlapping meanings. Unfortunately, questions like this (“why did change X occur in language Y?”) are rarely answerable. Whatever the reasons were, they are generally lost to time and can only be answered by the people who were there when the change happened – if even they knew at the time. May 9, 2022 at 18:35
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    One could ask the analog question: why do English people use the same verb for "feeling with the touch" and "feeling with the soul"? Italian speakers do not... :) May 9, 2022 at 19:50
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    In Ukrainian, the common Slavic verb чути (čúty) ['t͡ʂute], apart from its original meaning "to sense, to feel", means not only "to hear", but also "to smell". This shift of meaning feel > hear is not characteristic of Italian only, it is common across languages.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 10, 2022 at 11:38

1 Answer 1


Another way to put the question is, why do English speakers use so many words to convey Italian sentire? Italian unifies various kinds of sensation (physical and mental) in a way that English doesn't. In English, you consume food by "eating" is, and we don't use different words for eating soft foods vs. tougher foods like meat that require beating the food with your teeth. Some languages make such a distinction.

Ultimately, these connections between meanings and word are conventionalized by historical processes. Therefore you would want to look at the historical meanings of that root in Latin. What happened to Latin audiō → udire; what were the uses of sentiō in Latin and how about the Indo-European predecessor. Why did the meaning of *sent- become so limited in Germanic?

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    is this an answer?
    – Esther
    May 9, 2022 at 16:37
  • @Esther It's a friendly and interesting frame-challenge answer. May 12, 2022 at 15:39
  • @Araucaria-him yes, but it ends with questions instead of explanations.
    – Esther
    May 12, 2022 at 15:44

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