Common Italian sayings run the gamut from practical greetings like buongiorno to colloquial phrases like che bello (“how beautiful”). Using these expressions can not only help you sound like a local but demonstrate respect for the Italian culture and way of life.
Like its people, the Italian language can be very expressive, and many of these sayings should be conveyed with enthusiasm. The passion Italians have for both food and family is often communicated through liberal use of colloquialisms like the ones below, sprinkled throughout everyday Italian. Also included are useful expressions you’ll want to have handy for common exchanges with Italian speakers that might occur throughout the day.
1. Hello in Italian is ciao
The word you’re likely to hear the most in Italy is ciao!, probably because it pulls double duty and can be used for both “hello” and “goodbye” in Italian. Beware that it’s most frequently used between young people or those who know each other well, so stick with a more formal greeting like buongiorno (“good day”) or arrivederci for (“goodbye”) if it’s an exchange with a stranger or acquaintance.
2. Mamma mia is a common Italian saying
To English speakers, this may seem like nothing more than the title of a popular musical, but mamma mia! is also part of everyday Italian for native speakers. This Italian saying is an exclamation usually implying surprise or impatience, similar to the phrase “my goodness” in English.
3. Use the Italian phrase non mi va in the street markets
If you’ve never been to an Italian street market before, prepare yourself. They are wonderful, bustling places full of artisan goods so beautiful they’ll make your mouth water. The vendors can be a little pushy though, especially if they recognize that you’re a tourist. If you’d like to communicate you’re not interested, you can use the Italian saying Non mi va or Non mi interessa. The literal translation is “it doesn’t go with me,” and it’s usually helpful to accompany the phrase with actually walking away.
4. The Italian idiom non avere peli sulla lingua cuts to the chase
This Italian saying is going to sound pretty strange at first, but stick with it. Translated exactly, Non avere peli sulla lingua means “not having hairs on the tongue.” In practice, this Italian idiom means to speak your mind, something straightforward Italians certainly value.
5. Thank you in Italian is grazie
There’s nothing wrong with tucking this Italian word into as many exchanges with native speakers as possible. Grazie, or “thank you” reflects that you’re aware of the importance of extending courtesy. Observing pleasantries like saying benvenuto when you first enter a shop or start a conversation ensures you won’t be mistaken for a rude foreigner.
6. Lost in translation? Use the Italian phrase non capisco
Misunderstandings happen to the best of us. If you find yourself a bit lost in a conversation in Italian, pull non capisco out of your pocket. Saying you don’t understand and asking for clarification isn’t a flag of surrender, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to confess Sto ancora imparando in Italian or “I am still learning.”
7. Excuse me in Italian is mi scusi
Sometimes you’ll hear a quick scusa exchanged in passing, but you should probably take the time to say mi scusi. The former is a very casual and perhaps brusque way of saying “excuse me,” while the later reflects a more intentional politeness.
8. Use Italian phrase il conto, per favore to signal for the bill
How many times have you sat awkwardly at a cafe table in a place where you don’t speak the language, hoping to signal the waiter? Eliminate the wait and use Il conto, per favore to signal you’re ready to leave the restaurant and need the check or bill.
9. Per favore aiutatemi is “I need help” in Italian
It’s critical to know per favore aiutatemi, because it’s how you’ll ask for help in Italian. Whether you just need directions or you’re faced with a genuine emergency, flag down a passing local and use this Italian phrase to get the attention you need.
10. Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto is an Italian saying worth repeating
This quintessential Italian saying, mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto reflects much about the values Italian culture embraces. It translates to “eat well, laugh often, love much,” and beautifully communicates the hearty passion that Italians hold for food and family. While it might not be a phrase you’ll hear tossed about casually, it’s still a cornerstone of life in Italy that you’ll see reflected in the way the people interact and the passions they pursue.
What Italian phrases must I know?
We’ve covered most of the essentials here including hello (ciao), goodbye (ciao), please (per favore), thank you (grazie), and excuse me (mi scusi). If you’d like a deeper dive we recommend our Italian phrasebook which you can access in the Rosetta Stone app.
What else should I know about Italian greetings?
While the Italian culture is less formal than the French, they do share some characteristics including the custom of cheek kissing. Be aware that this gesture, called il bacetto in Italian, is reserved for those you know well and in Southern Italy is usually not exchanged between men who instead opt for an affectionate pat on the back or handshake.