The Italian language is full of idiomatic expressions that can be difficult to understand for non-native speakers. These Italian idioms add color, humor, and depth to the language, and they are an important part of Italian culture and communication. Some of them are translations of their English equivalent while some of uniquely Italian in origin.
So what is an idiomatic expression? An idiomatic expression is a phrase that can mean a different thing rather than the literal meaning of it. You might have come across one during your day and not notice it. A great example of this is “feeling under the weather”.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner of Italian, this blog will help you learn italian idioms to improve your understanding of the language and appreciate the nuances of Italian culture. You’ll be surprised as well how English idiom have their Italian version. So many Italian idioms are used in casual conversations that this is a great way to flex your linguistic muscles. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of the most popular Italian idioms together.
Non Piangere Sul Latte Versato (Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk)
Let’s start with something we’ve all heard before. This Italian idiom “non piangere sul latte versato” has the very popular English equivalent “Don’t cry over spilled milk”. This is used to explain that it is useless to despair and complain after making mistakes that cannot be undone and fixed.
What do you say to yourself if you accidentally fail an exam? You pick yourself up and say “Potevi studiare di più! Ora non piangere sul latte versato!” which means “You could have studied more! Don’t cry over spilled milk now!”
Ti Sta A Pennello (It Suits You Very Well)
Everyone loves a compliment and this can be the perfect way to break the ice (rompere il ghiaccio) when meeting someone new. This Italian idiom means that the object is befitting to the subject. You can use this for a lot of things, but this is most applicable when it comes to clothing in general. With Italian fashion being so mainstream, this Italian idiom has great meaning conversationally as well as culturally.
What do you say when your best friend got herself a new skirt for the event? You say Oh, quella gonna ti sta a pennello!” which means translates “Oh, that skirt really suits you!”
Piangere come una fontana (To cry a river)
This is different than the english equivalent which typically is used in a joking context when you tell someone to “cry me a river” in response to an overreaction. The beauty of the speaking Italian is that the italian expressions can encompass a multitude of emotions and meanings. Translated literally, the idiomatic expression “Piangere come una fontana” means “to cry a river”. But we don’t read italian idiomatic expressions like that. Native speakers read the italian expression in the context of the sentence, which means the Italian idiom means to cry extensively.
For example, if your friend Matteo lost his cat, you say “dopo la morte del suo gattino, Matteo ha pianto come una fontana”. The English equivalent of this would be “After the death of his kitten, Matteo cried a river”.
Prendere Il Toro Per Le Corna (Take The Bull By The Horns)
When you want to go all out in a situation, this is the best way to describe what you are about to do! It indicates the intention to tackle a problem head-on aiming at solving it as quickly as possible without getting around it.
If your friend doesn’t want to face their problems, you need to give them the push they need. You say “Non puoi andare avanti così, devi risolvere la situazione! Prendi il toro per le corna!” which means “ You can’t go on like this, you must solve the issue! Take the bull by the horns!” This is just like the english idiomatic expression.
Non Stare Nella Pelle (Can’t Wait!)
Are you feeling excited about a situation or an event you are going to? It is a widely used Italian expression to refer to something pleasurable that is being waited with great joy. Perfect when you want to show someone that you’re really excited about the subject! The Italian version is the exact same as the English equivalent, which makes it easier for new speakers to use.
Let’s say someone invited you for a concert? You say “ Non sto più nella pelle per il concerto di domenica!” which means “I can’t wait for the concert on Sunday!”. This Italian idiom is good as it can be used for a lot of casual conversation.
Avere la lingua lunga (Talk too much)
When you get excited about learning a new language, you just can’t wait to try every new word. This Italian idiom has the exact same meaning as its English equivalent: you’re talking too much. This isn’t a bad thing since you just want to learn how to speak like those native speakers. Knowing a language is about diving right into the culture and the words. To do that, you need to learn how to get over this fear of being too much!
For example, someone might say ” Maria ha la lingua lunga, parla troppo!”, which means “Maria talks too much!”. When faced with that, you can use the italian idiom “Avere la testa sulle spalle“. This Italian idiom means “to have a good head on one’s shoulder.“
Unique Italian idioms
Since we just talked about Italian idioms with English equivalents, lets talk about the ones that are uniquely Italian. Since idiomatic expressions are often based in the Italian culture and Italian sayings, we might not have clear connections when you translated literally. For those Italian idioms, it might be best to ask native speakers of the cultural background they might have.
Fa il monaco
The Italian idiom “L’abito non fa il monaco” literally translates to “the clothes don’t make the monk” and it means that no matter how well you dress, your value and personality will not change. It is roughly equivalent to the English idiom “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” This idiom is used to express that one should not judge someone outward appearance, as it does not reflect their true character or worth.
In Bocca al lupo
The Italian idiom “bocca al lupo” literally translates to “mouth to the wolf” in English. It is used as a way of wishing someone good luck or wishing them success in a particular endeavor. The appropriate response to this phrase is “crepi il lupo”, which means “may the wolf die”. This exchange of phrases is a common superstition in Italy, especially in theatrical circles.
Tutto fa brodo
The Italian idiom “tutto fa brodo” literally translates to “everything makes broth” in English. This expression means that every little bit helps or that everything contributes to the final result, even if it may not seem significant on its own.
In other words, “tutto fa brodo” suggests that even small contributions or efforts can help to achieve a larger goal or solve a problem. This expression is often used to encourage someone who may be feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, by emphasizing that even small actions can make a difference.
Ogni morte di papa
This Idiom translates to “every death of a pope” in English. This expression is used to describe something that happens very rarely or very infrequently, implying that the event is so rare that it might only happen once in a generation or even once in a lifetime.
For example, if someone says, “I see my childhood friend every ogni morte di papa,” they mean that they see their friend very rarely or only on very special occasions that occur infrequently.
Ready to Impress?
Now that you know all these Italian idioms and what they mean, you’ll be able to pepper them in casual conversations with your friends. Not only will you impress them with your knowledge of the language, but you are also able to get to know the culture!
What to learn more Italian? Contact Lingua Lunga!
I’m Alice, founder of Lingua Lunga Italian. This company started in 2022 after years of me teaching students like you Italian. I’ve had the opportunity to teach people to appreciate and learn this language in over 15 different countries.
No matter what age you are, if you have consistency, enthusiasm, and passion, you can learn the Italian language. Book a Free Call with me today to begin!