Surely more than once you have heard Italians say “prego” and wondered why they use this word so much.
Prego is a versatile word that has a few different meanings depending on the context. In general, it is used as a polite expression, similar to “please” in English.
Background of the word prego
The word “prego” comes from the Latin word “precāre” which means “to pray” or “to beg”. Thus, it was used in a religious context as a form of entreaty, indicating that a person was praying for something.
However, the word has evolved to take on a more polite and formal connotation, as we said at the beginning of this post, similar to the English word “please”. So, it is safe to say it has lost its original religious connotation and has become a commonly used word in everyday Italian conversations.
Current ways in which prego is used
We can use prego as the equivalent of thank you. Here are some examples:
Prego, accomodati – Please, make yourself comfortable
Prego, vada pure avanti – Please, go ahead
Prego, non si preoccupi – Please, don’t worry
Prego, mi dica – Please, tell me
Prego, faccia come vuole – Please, do as you please
Prego, entra – Please, come in.
It is also used as a response to someone thanking you. In other words, it can also be translated as You’re welcome.
You have been invited to someone’s house for dinner, you ring the bell and wait for them to come and open the door. When they do, they’ll smile and say “prego,” giving you room to enter the house. As you can see the context does help and guides you to the right meaning, that is “come in.”
The same thing might happen when you get into a shop. The clerk will smile at you from behind the counter and say “prego”, meaning “come in.” It is a nice way to usher someone in and show that you are a good host.
Can I help you with anything?
“Prego” can also be used in a restaurant or store. Usually, the clerk or waiter says to you:
Prego, come posso aiutarla? – How can I help you?
Prego, desidera? – What would you like?
When you get off a bus or train or leave a place, if you want someone else to precede you, you usually say, “After you”, right?.
In Italian, we use “Prego”, short for “Please, you first”.
The same thing happens when we speak. If two people start talking at the same time, one of the two might use: “Prego”, to let the other go ahead.
It’s not that common, but someone, if they don’t understand or don’t hear well what you are saying, might ask you: “Prego”. The meaning would be, “I didn’t understand, can you repeat, please?”. This happens especially in more formal conversations.
Used as an Invitation to do something
It can also be a polite invitation to do something. “Alzatevi in piedi, prego” (please stand up), in case of a ceremony or religious function.
Common expressions using prego
“Attention, please” in Italian is Attenzione, prego.
Ti-prego – I beg you!
Ti prego is a synonym for Per favore!
Puoi aiutarmi, per favore? Ti Prego! – Can you please help me? I beg you!
The word prego is a magic word in Italian. You will find it in so many different contexts. There are even jokes surrounding the word prego. Do you want to read one?
Perché i cuochi italiani usano sempre la parola “prego” quando servono le pietanze? Perché vogliono che i clienti mangino con la benedizione! – Why do Italian chefs always use the word “prego” when serving dishes? Because they want the customers to eat with their blessing!