12 Italian Phrases Everyone Should Know How to Use
Enhancing your knowledge of the Italian cultural experience means moving beyond “ciao” and “gelato.” Master these terms, and you’ll look more worldly in no time. Prego (you’re welcome)!
Scusi/scusa (Excuse me)
Senior Instructor Chiara Torriani, from the University of Colorado, Boulder Department of French and Italian, likes to teach politeness, and being properly cultured certainly meaning knowing the art of politesse in Italian. To say “excuse me” in a variety of contexts, the word scusi (or when addressing someone informally, scusa) is extremely helpful. It can be used to apologize for an error, to excuse yourself for having to leave early, to get someone’s attention, or to get through a crowd. Use scusi to address an older person or someone who you do not know; scusa for a peer, friend, or younger person. And if you’re going to be entering the home of an Italian, says Torriani, you should say permesso. “There is no equivalent in English,” she says, “but it is a very polite thing to say when entering someone’s home.” Examples: Scusa, I need to go now. Scusi, permesso (when navigating a crowd). Scusi, I didn’t do it on purpose.
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Cosa mi consiglia (What do you suggest for me)
Pronunciation: Ko-za mee con-SEEL-yah
This phrase is particularly helpful while dining and for those who are looking to try local or specialty dishes. Torriani suggests using it at small, family restaurants where it’s obvious the server knows the food and you can trust their recommendation. Not to mention, those restaurants often have the best food! Examples: Cosa mi consiglia for a pasta dish?; Lei (meaning, the server), cosa mi consiglia?
Fatto a mano (Handmade)
Pronunciation: FAH-toe a MAH-no
Discovering unique handmade goods is an experience in itself—such as hand-blown glass from Murano, or woodcarvings in the Dolomites. These types of local handicrafts are also knows as artigianato locale, she says. Bonus tip: Torriani reminds us that handmade, in Italy, doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive. Example: Is this lace fatto a mano?
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Per favore (Please)
Pronunciation: Pear fah-VOR-ay
Everyone knows the Italian word for “thank you,” but “please” is equally important. You may also hear Italians saying per piacere, which also means “thank you,” but Torriani’s personal preference, simply because of the way it sounds, is per favore. Example: Can you pass the bread, per favore?; Attention, per favore!
Piatto del giorno (Daily special)
Pronunciation: Pee-AH-toe del gh-YOR-no
Foodies and lovers of Italian cuisine should definitely know how to use piatto del giorno, or “daily special,” at restaurants. And, especially if you’re in a wine region of Italy, it’s worth knowing how to ask for the vino della casa—the house wine. Example: Do you have a piatto del giorno?
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Aperitivo (Pre-dinner drink)
The art of the pre-dinner drink, or aperitivo, is a Milanese tradition and the Italian version of happy hour. Condé Nast Traveler recently shared the hottest aperitivo spots, but what you need to know is that, unlike in the United States, the bars set out lavish displays of delicious free snacks. Yes, I’ll have a Negroni, per favore. Example: Join me for an aperitivo after work?
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Ingresso gratuito (Free and open to the public)
Pronunciation: In-GRESS-oh grah-TOO-ee-toe
Vacationing is costly, Torriani points out, and knowing this handy phrase will save you money. “I would hate for travellers to miss a cultural opportunity because they don’t want to, or can’t, spend the money.” Keep an eye out for it! Example: Do you know of any events this week that are ingresso gratuito?
Vorrei (I would like)
This polite term is one everyone will use frequently. You can practice every morning when you get your coffee (preferably standing up, at the bar, like most Italians). Drink enough and you might even learn something! Example: Vorrei un cappuccino, per favore.
In bocca al lupo (Good luck)
Pronunciation: In BOW-ka ahl LOO-poe
Most cultures have a history of good luck phrases or charms, but in Italy you’ll often hear the idiom in bocca al lupo—literally, it means “into the mouth of the wolf,” and according to dummies.com, probably originated as a hunting expression. Example: Big interview today? In bocca al lupo!
You’ll obviously be shopping for clothing while in Italy, and since Italian designers are famous for their design, craftsmanship, and use of the finest materials, you’ll be paying for that quality. That’s why knowing when the sales, or saldi, occur—and what the word means—will help you score a deal. Torriani says that mid-to-end of summer in the cities, and after Christmas, are key seasonal periods for saldi. Examples: “Is this in saldo?” or “When do the saldi start?”
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An official English equivalent of magari—which can mean “maybe” or “I wish,” depending on context—doesn’t exist, but perhaps it should. Per huffingtonpost.com, use magari to express something you wish to come true, like a wistful dream, the romance of what’s possible. Example: Honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast? Magari! (When you’re done mastering Italian, brush up on popular French phrases.)
Quanto costa? (How much does it cost?)
Pronunciation: Kwon-toe COE-stah?
Ability to use the phrase quanto costa (how much?) is necessary to indulge in the Italian culture of shopping. (Learn how to say it in Spanish, too.) However, in upscale boutiques—such as shoe stores—do not handle items, or pick them up. That is frowned upon. A great tip from Torriani: Use questo (“this”) or quello (“that”) if you don’t know the Italian word for the item you’re asking about. Example: Quanto costa questo/quello?