Forget about ‘carpe diem’. It’s time to ‘veni, vidi, vici’ like a veritable Julius Caesar.
Italians are known for being incredibly expressive and passionate about everything they do. For them, everything is bello (beautiful). Take Roberto Benigni’s Oscar acceptance speech for example. From beginning to end he can’t stop moving and smiling with his entire body. That’s the Italian way! And if you want to learn Italian – but really learn it – you should embrace it all. For instance, Italian expressions, gestures, and specific phrases are an absolute must if you want to add the same specific Italian substance and humor to your conversations.
So let’s take a look at twenty Italian expressions and phrases that will make you sound Tuscany-born. Ciao!
Unique Italian expressions and phrases
As you probably already know, unique expressions, sayings, phrases, and idioms are the salt and pepper of any language. Not just Italian. And the best ones are, of course, those that are particular to the language that you are learning. Why? Because they can help you sound more like a native.
So let’s get started and help you advance to the next level with these unique Italian phrases and expressions.
1. Non mi va
While the literal translation in English is “it doesn’t go (for) me”, Italians use this expression as a way of saying “I don’t feel like it”, “I’m not in the mood for it” or “I don’t agree”. However, if you actually “feel like it”, you can say “mi va”. Here are some examples:
- Posso dire quel che mi va. – I can say whatever I want.
- Andrea, non mi va di discutere. – Andrea, I don’t want to get into this with you right now.
- Vuoi mangiare qui? – Do you want to eat here?
No, non mi va. – No, I don’t feel like it.
When you have no idea about something or you don’t know what to say, in Italian you can simply say “boh!”. Shrug your shoulders to add some body movement to that and you’ll sound and look like a real native Italian!
Equally as common is “che ne so!” meaning “how should I know?”.
- Che si fa stasera? – What are you doing tonight?
Boh! – I don’t know.
- Quale preferisci? – Which one do you prefer?
Boh! – I don’t know (or I don’t care).
3. Mi tocca (fare qualcosa)
The Italian verb “toccare” means “to touch” in English, but when used as “mi tocca” + infinitive verb, it becomes an expression with no literal meaning. So when you don’t feel like doing something, but you absolutely have to do it, in Italian you say “mi tocca”: mi tocca studiare oggi (I have to study today / I’m forced to study today).
- Mi tocca lavare i piatti oggi. – I have to wash the dishes today (but I don’t feel like it).
There’s no denying that Italians are experts in expression. For example, the Italian expression “dai!” can be used in three very different contexts. And if you are wondering how is that possible, well, it’s all about the correct use of intonation, mimics, and gestures.
- Dai! Veramente? – Come on! Really? (expresses stupefaction, surprise)
- Dai! Passa la palla a Luigi! – Come on! Pass the ball to Luigi! (expresses encouragement)
- Dai! Basta! Smettila! – Come on! That’s enough! Stop that!
5. Sei fuori!
If you do something crazy, weird or stupid, Italians won’t tell you that you are crazy, they will tell you that “you are out” (of your head or mind). In the same fashion, they can tell you “tu non stai bene con la testa” – literally meaning “you are not good with the head”.
- Ma sei fuori!? Ci sono 2 gradi! Metti dei vestiti adeguati prima di uscire! – Are you crazy!? It’s 2 degrees outside! Put some proper clothes on before going out!
6. Figo! Che figata!
Mostly used by younger people, this Italian expression is the equivalent of the English “cool”. If you want to say that something is extraordinary, fantastic or cool, in Italian you say “figo!” or “che figata!”.
Additionally, “figo” (or “figa” for women) can also be used to say that someone is very attractive. For example, Brad Pitt è un gran figo! (Brad Pitt is very attractive!)
- Ho scoperto un nuovo bar da cui è possibile prendere in prestito libri. Ci andiamo? – I discovered a new coffee shop from where you can borrow books. Do you want to go?
Che figata! Assolutamente sì! – That sounds cool! Let’s go!
7. Ma figurati / Figuriamoci!
The same as “dai!”, “figurati” can be used in a whole lot of expressions. Here are some eloquent examples to help you understand how Italians use it:
- Scusa, ti disturbo? – Sorry, am I bothering you?
No, figurati. – No, don’t worry about it. (used as a way to respond to thanks, reassure someone they’re not bothering you or politely turn down a help offer)
- Giova non può uscire con noi stasera. – Giova can’t go out with us tonight.
Figuriamoci, non vuole mai uscire con noi. – What do you expect, he never wants to go out with us.
- Penso di aver dimenticato il mio portafoglio a casa. – I think I forgot my wallet at home.
Eh, figurati…. – Well, what a surprise…. (in both examples it is used sarcastically as a way to express you knew that would happen)
- Figurati che il caffè costa 12 euro nella caffetteria di Andrea! – Imagine that the coffee is 12 euros in Andrea’s coffee shop! (similar to our “can you believe it?”)
- Hanno detto che pioverà più tardi. – They said it’s going to rain later.
Figurati! Ma non è affatto nuvoloso! – No way! But it’s not cloudy at all! (“no way! I don’t believe that!” or “this isn’t possible”)
8. Mi raccomando
There’s a lot of discussion around this Italian expression. So let’s makes this clear once and for all.
Although it sounds a little bit like “recommend”, the expression refers to me – mi raccomando. And that’s because we are actually talking about the reflexive form of the verb raccomandarsi (to beg, to implore).
It’s true it sounds a bit dramatic when you translate it to English, but it can also mean “remember” or “don’t forget”.
- Mi raccomando, scrivimi un messaggio quando torni a casa. – Don’t forget to write me a message when you get home.
Funny Italian expressions and phrases
Your favorites! Once you discover the funny Italian expressions and phrases, you never go back to using just the basics. You can count on it.
1. Che pizza!
While the literal translation of this funny Italian expression is “what a pizza!”, the real meaning is “how boring!”. Didn’t expect that, did you? I mean… no matter the size, shape or ingredients, pizza is amazing! Why would something that is pizza be boring? Anyhow… Italians talking about pizza even in their expressions! How cool is that?
“Che pizza” is also synonymous with “what a bore“ and it can describe something or even someone.
- Ah che pizza! Oggi devo studiare per l’esame. – Ah what a bore! Today I have to study for the exam.
- Questo film è una pizza! – This film is so boring.
2. In bocca al lupo
The literal translation in English is “to be in the wolf’s mouth” and as funny as it sounds, Italians use this expression to wish each other “good luck” before an important event (like an exam or a meeting). And you thought the English language was weird for wishing someone to break a leg!
The common response to “in bocca al lupo” is “crepi” or “crepi il lupo” (meaning “thank you”).
3. Acqua in bocca!
When an Italian says to you “ma, ricorda… acqua in bocca”, he’s not actually asking you to “keep the water in the mouth”. The real meaning of this expression is “to keep a secret”.
So keep your mouth closed if you don’t want to spill the water (or the secrets)!
4. Non avere peli sulla lingua
Another funny Italian idiomatic expression is “non avere peli sulla lingua” – literally translated “to not have hair on your tongue”. While it’s not exactly obvious, the actual meaning of this expression is “to speak your mind”, “to be straightforward” or unafraid of saying what you believe is right (who would have thought?).
Italians are well-known for being straightforward, so this expression describes them perfectly.
5. Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala!
“Did you want the bicycle? Now ride it.” – doesn’t this sound like something any mom would say? Well, it does and for good reason! This expression is the Italian equivalent of “you made your bed, now lie in it” and you already know the proper contexts in which you can use that.
Common Italian expressions and phrases
What’s your favorite Italian expression so far? Here’s a quick tip: make sure to scatter these expressions here and there without exaggerating. While using them can make you sound Italian-born, using too many can be a little unnatural.
Here are a few more general Italian expressions and phrases:
1. (Ma) Fammi il favore!
Literally meaning “do me the favor”, fammi il favore is used to respond to something we don’t agree with. Something like “do me a favour and shut up” or “oh please, shut up”. In fact, this expression is the abbreviation of “ma fammi il favore di tacere”.
- Ma fammi il favore, neanche ti avessi obbligato a seguirmi da qualche parte. – Please, as if I forced you to follow me anywhere.
2. Non è male!
Remember what comrade Anatoly Dyatlov said in HBO’s Chernobyl? “Not great, not terrible”. Well, non è male is something like that. Or simply put: “not bad” – meaning you don’t hate it, but you also don’t like it that much.
- Ti è piaciuto l’ultimo film di Paolo Sorrentino? – Did you like Paolo Sorrentino’s last movie?
Non è male! – Not bad.
- Ti piace il pesce? – Do you like the fish?
Hmm, non è male! – Hmm, it’s not bad.
3. Speriamo bene!
When they want to say they “hope for the best”, Italians say “speriamo bene”. This expression can also translate to “fingers crossed”.
4. Falla finita! Finiscila!
When you’ll hear this expression in Italian, it means someone wants you to stop doing something like talk, cry, complain and so on. We’re talking about something you do that bothers someone.
- Oh, falla finita, Giacomo! – Oh, stop it, Giacomo! (or “give me a break, Giacomo”)
5. Neanche per sogno!
“Don’t even dream about it!” – sounds familiar now?
If you want to say to someone that there’s a very slight possibility something happened or will happen, you say “neanche per sogno”.
- Non lo richiamerà neanche per sogno. – There’s no way she’s calling him back.
Sarcastic Italian expressions and phrases
These sarcastic Italian expressions can also be considered funny, but they are so good they deserved a category of their own. Enjoy!
1. Tanto par cambiare
Depending on your tone (sarcastic or not), this Italian expression is applicable in two different situations: when you want to suggest doing something different, to change something or when someone is doing something over and over again and you want to be ironic about it.
- Andiamo sempre al pub. Stasera voglio andare al cinema. Tanto per cambiare. – We always go to the pub. Let’s go to the cinema today. Let’s make a change.
- Di nuovo su Instagram? Tanto per cambiare…. – Again on Instagram? What a change….
2. Hai fatto la scoperta dell’America
Or “hai fatto la scoperta dell’acqua calda”.
Literally meaning “you’ve discovered America” or “you’ve discovered warm water”, these Italian expressions are sarcastic, of course. The same as our “reinvent the wheel”, they are targetted at people that say or discover something they believe to be new or different.
After all these sarcastic expressions, you’d think Italians are like that all the time, but in reality, they like to joke a lot so this is not something out of the ordinary.
- Wow! Sapevi che Christopher Nolan sta realizzando un nuovo film? – Wow! Did you know Christopher Nolan is making a new movie?
Haha… Hai fatto la scoperta dell’America! – Haha… that’s old news already.
Ah, che bello! I can’t wait to go back to Italy and get to use all these awesome Italian expressions and phrases in real conversations with italiani veri (real Italians). Don’t you?
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