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Colloquial Italian expressions that will make you sound like an authentic Italian

Here are some colloquial Italian expressions that will make you parlare come un vero italiano! We created this post because the literal translation does not help. So, we provide the meaning for each one of them.

1. A buon mercato – At a good market.

Interpretation: the meaning behind the phrase is to buy something cheap. Who does not like to find a bargain? 

2. A casaccio – randomly.

Interpretation: it denotes a low-quality product. This expression usually carries a negative sense. It is common to use it when criticizing something carried out without organization.

3. A caso – randomly. 

Interpretation: the expression applies to something without any particular plan or system. It can also point to something not accurate or reliable.

4. A denti stretti – with teeth together.

Interpretation: the meaning is reluctant. It is a person unwillingly agreeing through gritted teeth.

5. Ad ogni morte di Papa – At every pope’s death.

Interpretation: an expression denoting that an event rarely occurs. It is also used as hyperbole, referring to the fact that the death of the pope (or a high prelate) is an event that occurs as a rule, with dilated temporal cadences.

6. A fagiolo – up the bean.

Interpretation: Being very specific.

7. Ahó – Hey

Interpretation: it is an informal way of greeting. 

Pronunciation: the “o” is elongated to emphasize the salute. It would go something like this “Ah-ooo.”

8. Alla meglio – at best.

Interpretation: to do something to the best of one’s ability with the little one has.

9. Allora – So, um…

Interpretation: did you think that filler words only existed in English? Allora is a filler word for when you pause for thought.

10. A lungo andare – in the long run, with time.

11. Alzare il gomito – to raise one’s elbow.

Interpretation: a person that has drank too much alcohol.

12. Ammazza – Kill!

Interpretation: it is not clear how the idiom originated. Some say it derives from the Italian word mazza meaning mallet or bat, in its figurative sense, an instrument for killing. Another theory, a little less likely, states that it comes from the wounded cry of the plebeians during gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum. If this word and its explanation give you the creeps, don’t worry, currently, in Rome, not everything is death and blood. Today, Ammazza! is used to denote admiration or surprise.

Example: ammazza, che caldo! – Yikes, it’s so hot!

13. Amore a prima vista – Love at first sight.

Interpretation: does this remind you of a story in Verona? The phrase describes what happened in the William Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet.

14. Andare K. O. – to be knocked out or put out of combat.

Interpretation: it refers to somebody that is not in the condition to continue doing an activity.

15. Aqua in bocca – water in the mouth.

Interpretation: a mouth full of water can not speak. The expression is employed to urge a person not to reveal to anyone a secret we have just told him.

16. A quattr’occhi – with four eyes.

Interpretation: indicates that something requires two people to do it. Hence, the necessity for four eyes.

17. Arricciare il naso – to curl one’s nose.

Interpretation: to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior. We would say to play the snob.

18. Avere le mani bucate – to have holes in one’s hands.

Interpretation: it refers to a person that spends money with extreme ease.

19. A vicenda – reciprocally. 

Interpretation: a well-known quote by the Lord Jesus Christ helps us understand the expression. Here it is in the example.

Interpretation: amatevi a vicenda come io ho amato voi. – Love one another as I have loved you.

20. Bestemmiare come un turco – To curse like a Turk.

Interpretation: the expression means to curse very often or to use vulgar language.

21. Brutto come i sette peccati capitali – Ugly as the seven deadly sins.

Interpretation: something being very ugly and horrendous.

22. Camminare come una lumaca – To walk like a snail.

Interpretation: we are acquainted with how slow snails go. So, this means to walk or proceed slowly.

23. Cavalcare la tigre – To ride the tiger.

Interpretation: somebody that seeks to control a dangerous situation.

23. Cavallo di razza – Racehorse.

Interpretation: somebody that has notorious qualities for a specific activity.

24. Chiudere un occhio – To close an eye. 

Interpretation: somebody that is indulgent.

25. Credere che un asino voli – To believe that a donkey flies.

Interpretation: somebody that believes impossible or implausible things.

26. Combattere contro i mulini a vento – To fight against windmills.

Interpretation: the reference is Don Quixote. To fight against an imaginary enemy or to carry out a useless enterprise.

27. Da un pezzo – for a long time.

Interpretation: it refers to the long time it takes for the occurrence of an event.

Example: Dovrebbe essere tornato già da un pezzo. – He should have been back by now.

28. Dare in pasto ai cani – To feed it to the dogs.

Interpretation: the act of exposing someone to public contempt.

29. Di male in peggio – from bad to worse.

30. Di passaggio – passing through.

31. Dopotutto – After all. 

Interpretation: Other similar phrases are: in fin dei conti (at the end of the day) and tutto sommato (considering it all).

32. È un falco quel policciotto – That policeman is a falcon. 

Interpretation: it indicates someone’s speed and efficiency.

33. Essere amico del giaguaro – to be a friend of the jaguar. 

Interpretation: it means taking the adversary’s side.

34. Essere alla mano – Being at hand.

Interpretation: this idiom means to be friendly and easygoing.

35. Essere un Pigmalione – Being a Pygmalion.

Interpretation: the expression refers to a person who takes on the role of a guide, teaching another person both culturally and socially, imparting comprehensive teaching.

36. Folgorato sulla via di Damasco – to be thunderstruck on the road to Damascus. 

Interpretation: the expression is employed when, for example, we experience an event that causes a crucial change in our lives. The episode from which this saying originates relates to the conversion of the Apostol Paul. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. Something like a thunderbolt struck him, blinding him by the light. He then heard the voice of Jesus. As a result of this encounter, he became a Christian.

37. È un volpe – He is a fox.

Interpretation: it refers to a cunning and ingenious person.

38. Fare l’indiano – to play the Indian. 

Interpretation: somebody that pretend not to understand.

39. Fare girare la testa – to turn someone’s head. 

Interpretation: it means to confuse or fascinate somebody.

40. Fare il camaleonte – to play the chameleon. 

Interpretation: somebody that changes his mind often and willingly.

41. Fare il portoghese – to play the Portuguese.

Interpretation: somebody that refuses to enter a public place without paying a ticket.

42. Filarsela all’inglese – To take it English style. 

Interpretation: somebody that walks away unnoticed or slips away with a certain ease.

43. Fumare come un turco – To smoke like a Turk.

Interpretation: smoking a lot.

44. Gettare la spugna – To throw the sponge.

Interpretation: somebody that gives up an enterprise or considers himself defeated.

45. Giudizio salomonico – Solomonic judgment. 

Interpretation: the expression refers to a judgment that ends a dispute, dividing in half the eventual damage or disadvantage, with absolute impartiality.

46. I segreto di Pulcinella – the secret of Polichinella.

Interpretation: it is something that should be secret but that everybody knows, an open secret.

47. Il baccio di Giuda – Judas’ kiss.

Interpretation: a hypocritical manifestation of friendship before or after a betrayal.

48. In bocca al lupo – In the mouth of the wolf. 

Interpretation: it’s an omen addressed to those about to face a difficult situation. With this phrase, you wish someone good luck!

49. In fretta: In a hurry.

Interpretation: somebody that does something as fast as he can.

50. In punta di piedi – on tiptoe.

51. Legarsela al dito – to tie it to the finger.

Interpretation: somebody that remembers an injury received and later takes revenge.

52. Lascia quel specchio, non essere pavone – Leave that mirror, don’t be a peacock. 

Interpretation: it is an expression said to someone who is very vain.

53. Lavarsene le mani – To wash one’s hands.

Interpretation: Reference to Pontius Pilate. The expression means to disinterest oneself in something and not assume responsibility.

54. Ma non è cosí! Sei proprio un mulo! – But it’s not like that! You really are a mule! 

Interpretation: it is a reference to stubborn people.

55. Mettere alle corde – To be put against the ropes.

Interpretation: Reference to a boxing ring. The expression means to be placed in difficulties and not have options.

56. Non puo essere soldato, si è un coniglio! – He can’t be a soldier if he is a rabbit!

Interpretation: it refers to fearful people.

57. Non ascoltare lei, dice cose orribili, è una vipera. – Don’t listen to her, she says horrible things, she is a viper. 

Interpretation: a person who takes advantage of every occasion to offend others.

58. Non posso credere che il mio ragazzo mi abbia lasciato per quella civetta – I can’t believe my boyfriend left me for that owl.

Interpretation: it refers to a vain woman who wants to attract the attention of men.

59. – Non è vero, credi veramente a tutto! Sei un pollo. – It’s not true, you believe everything! You are a chicken.

Interpretation: someone that is naive and fooled easily.

60 .- Per adesso – For now.

Interpretation: the term per adesso is frequently employed. For the present time would be helpful translation.

61. Per l’appunto – precisely.

Interpretation: it is employed to confirm a sentence that has just been said or to justify an action. 

Example: Per l’appunto l’ho fatto. – Precisely, that’s why I did it.

62. Per caso – by chance

Interpretation: the expression refer to something that happens purely by chance.

63. Per davvero – something “for real”.

Interpretation: it is a way to reinforce and affirm what is said.

64. Per niente. – for nothing. 

Interpretation: it gives force to a negation sentence. 

Example: Non mi piace per niente. – I don’t like it at all.

65. Principe azzurro – Prince Charming. 

Interpretation: the ideal husband.

66. Presto, presto o arrivi tardi, lumaca: Quick, quick, or you are late, snail.

Interpretation: Said of a slow person.

67. Quel bambino è un scricciolo – That child is a wren (species of small bird of the Troglodytidae family). 

Interpretation: it means that he is agile and slips away undisturbed.

68. Tenere gli occhi aperti – to keep your eyes open.

Interpretation: somebody that is attentive.

And we come to the end of our list of colloquial Italian expressions. I hope you enjoyed them.

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