Italian Idioms

Italian is a very rich language, and as every rich language, it has a lot of idioms and proverbs frequently used in everyday conversations. Each part of Italy has its own vocabulary of idioms and proverbs but there are several common expressions.

Every Italian uses a lot of idioms and proverbs while speaking, but it is not always easy to use the same ones while speaking another language. While writing this article for example, I realized that most of the expressions that I use every day are impossible to translate. A lot of proverbs do not even exist in other languages, or they are very different, even when they have the same meaning.

One of the most important things that an Italian has to remember while speaking foreign languages is that, for example, a sentences like “Quando parli del diavolo, spuntano le corna” (“While you are speaking about the devil, horns come out”) does not make any sense when translated literally (for the non-Italian speakers, we use this expression when we are talking about someone, and he/she suddenly appears). For people who are studying Italian, it might be hard to understand Italians when they speak, because of idioms and proverbs: there is one in almost every sentence they say.

  • Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino.
    The cat loses his paw trying to get the bacon. (Curiosity killed the cat)
  • L’abito non fa il monaco.
    The outfit does not make the man. (Don’t judge a book by its cover)
  • Piove sempre sul bagnato.
    It always rains where it is wet already. (It never rains but it pours)
  • L’erba del vicino é sempre più verde.
    Neighbour’s grass is always greener.(The grass is always greener on the other side)
  • Essere come un elefante in un negozio di cristalleria.
    To be like an elephant in a crystal shop. (To be like a bull in a China shop)
  • Essere al verde.
    To be in the green. (To be on the rocks)
  • Menare il can per l’aia.
    To lead the dog in the yard. (To beat around the bush)
  • Prendere due piccioni con una fava.
    To take two pigeons with the same bean. (To kill two birds with one stone)
  • Piantare in asso.
    To leave in ace. (To leave in the lurch)
  • In bocca al lupo!
    In the mouth of the wolf! (Good luck!)
  • For more information, take a look at this article about idioms.

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