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10 Italian expressions everyone should know

10 Italian expressions everyone should know

There are hundreds of expressions in the English language that look or sound similar to their Italian equivalents. The Italian language, however, contains many expressions that simply can’t be translated literally.

Would you have ever guessed that “pizza” in Italian could also be used as an insult? Didn’t expect that, did you?

Getting familiar with these expressions is a great way to dive into Italian culture. So without further ado, let’s get you some authentic Italian flair to pull into your conversations!

1. Che pizza

Literal translation: What a pizza

What does it mean?
It means “what a bore“ and can describe something or even someone.

How is it used?
“Che pizza questo concerto” – “This concert is so boring”

2. Tizio, Caio e Sempronio

What does it mean?
There’s no literal translation here, because these are fictitious names. They date back to the ancient Roman times, where they were used in legal texts. Today, the trio of names is used as a placeholder for multiple, random people.

How is it used?
“Non dirlo a Tizio, Caio e Sempronio” – “Don’t tell just any Tizio, Caio and Sempronio”

3. Gettare la spugna

Literal translation: To throw the sponge away

What does it mean?
To give up on something or someone.

How is it used?
“Non riesco a risolvere l’indovinello, getto la spugna!” – “I can’t solve this riddle, I throw the sponge away.”

4. Sputare il rospo

Literal translation: To spit the toad out

What does it mean?
To get something off your chest and finally tell a secret you’ve been keeping. The English equivalent could be to "spill the beans."

How is it used?
“Su, sputa il rospo. Dov’eri?” - “Come on, spit the toad out. Where have you been?”

5. Far venire il latte alle ginocchia

Literal translation: To make milk come out of your knees

What does it mean?
When something or someone is wearing you out and you can't stand it anymore.

How is it used?
“Ripete sempre le solite cose, mi fa venire il latte alle ginocchia.” – “He keeps repeating the same things over and over again, he makes milk come out of my knees.”

6. Essere al verde

Literal translation: To be at the green

What does it mean?
If someone says they’re “at the green”, it means they’re flat broke. Allegedly, it’s a reference to a Renaissance custom when candles painted with a green bottom were used to time public auctions.

How is it used?
“Secondo la mia app di online banking sono al verde.” – “According to my online banking app, I am at the green.”

7. Stare con le mani in mano

Literal translation: To stay with your hands in your hand

What does it mean?
Lazing around doing nothing.

How is it used?
“Non stare con le mani in mano, aiutami.” – “Don’t stay with your hands in your hand, come and help me”

8. Mica

Literal translation: Not at all

What does it mean?
“Mica” was the Latin word for crumb, and it’s used to emphasize a negation.

How is it used?
“Hai dormito bene?” “Mica tanto.” - “Did you sleep well?” “Not at all”

9. Boh

Literal translation: Dunno, I have no clue

What does it mean?
Probably the laziest Italian expression there is. Boh means “I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t care”. Usually followed by a shoulder shrug.

How is it used?
“A che ora arriva?” “Boh!” – “When will she be here?” “Boh!”

10. Magari

Literal translation: If only it were true/I wish

What does it mean?
“Magari” implies a definite desire. Use it to talk about something that is wished or hoped for.

How is it used?
“Chissà, magari il tuo sogno si avvererà.” – “Who knows? Your dream may come true.”

So, are you ready to put these expressions to use and sound *chef’s kiss*?

Want to learn some basic Italian phrases? 👇

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