Once I heard an American saying that we Italian can speak by making long sentences without saying a word.
It was a joke, with a touch of irony. Italians do use a lot of filler words when they speak informally.
What is a filler word?
A filler word is a word that you can place in the sentence to buy time when the words you are looking for do not come in your way or you are hesitating for one thing or another.
Generally, we can say that they help the speakers to express what they want easier!
Why is it important to use filler words in Italian?
If you have been learning Italian for a long time or just for a few months, mastering Italian filler words is a great idea for at least three reasons:
- They make your Italian sound more natural in conversation.
- They will give you an idea of what is the context of the conversation. Fillers words prevail in conversational and informal scenarios.
- They can help you fill the time when the thought you want to express in Italian is not coming out easily.
Most common Italian fillers
In this article, we will have a look at the most frequent Italian fillers.
beh = well
At the start of a sentence (or as a reply to a question) shows that you are thinking about what you are going to say
- Beh..fammi pensare – Well, let me think
beh = meh
As an answer to a question, to show disagreement to someone else opinion.
- Ti è piaciuto il film? Beh..era un po’ sciocco – Did you like the movie? Meh..it was kind of silly
beh = so?!
In questions, beh is used to encourage or urge someone to answer
- Andiamo al cinema stasera? – Are we going to the movies tonight?
- (no answer) – …
- Beh?!? – So?!
In English look / listen
They are generally used at the start of a sentence to draw the attention of the person you are speaking to, to what you are going to say, or to show hesitation.
- Guarda! Ecco come si fa… – Look, this is how you should do it
- Vai in vacanza? Guarda…non so, sono a corto di soldi quest’anno- Are you going on vacations? Look… I don’t know, I am short on money this year
Insomma is one of those Italian conversational words one very often listens here and there.
It does not have a single definition, and its meaning varies depending on the sentence.
insomma = In short, all in all
In its primary meaning stands for “in short or to cut a long story short“. Thus, you can use it when you want to sum up what you have previously stated.
- Insomma, è stato proprio un bel viaggio! – All in all, it was a fantastic tri
insomma = Well
Insomma is also used to start a new topic with the English meaning of so or well
- Insomma, cosa facciamo oggi? – Well, what are we going to do today?
insomma = So so
You can use insomma when replying to a question and you want to say so-so
- Ti piace questo dessert? Insomma…mi aspettavo meglio – Do you like this dessert? Well (so so)…I was expecting it was a better one.
insomma = Enough!
Insomma serves also as an exclamation to express exasperation
- Insomma, sono stufa, falla finita! – Enough! I am sick of it!
As an answer to a question, mah expresses perplexing doubts or incertitude.
- Com’ è andato l’esame? Mah… – How was your exam? Well, I don’t know…
Also, at the start of a statement or in answers, it shows disappointment or disagreement.
- Cosa pensi della politica italiana? Mah… – What do you think of Italian politics? No comment…
Using “mah” alone, for instance, in exclamations, shows a sense of resignation to a fact
- Mah! La vita! – it’s life…
In English, namely/ that is to say
Not to be confused with ciò and c’è. Make sure all the tree vowels are well pronounced.
Cioè is a filler word coming in handy when you want to rephrase or better explain something you have previously said.
- L’attuale papa, cioè Francesco I, incontrerà il primo ministro tedesco oggi –The pope, that is to say, Francesco I, will meet the prime minister today
Cioè is also used to correct what you have just said or to add more information.
- Mi piace veramente Maria…cioè solo come amica – I like Maria very much, I mean, just like a friend
It can be used in the shape of a question to ask further explanation about something which is not clear
- Vado a Panarea in estate – I go to Panarea next summer
- Cioè, dove? – Panarea where?
- Un’ isola siciliana nel mare Medieterraneo – A Sicilian island in the Mediterranean sea
Dai is a widespread word in colloquial in Italian. It has not a single definition. It has several idiomatic meanings; let’s see some of them.
Dai is used as an exclamation to urge someone to do or say something
- MI dici la verità?! Dai!! – Tell me the truth! Come on!
At the start of a sentence, as a way to lift someone spirits.
- Dai… vedrai che tutto andrà bene – You will see… everything will be all right.
dai = Let’s (do something)
When dai is used in front of a verb, it is meant to emphasize the form “Let’s do something.”
- Dai! Usciamo! – Let’s go out (indeed we go)
ma dai! = really?!
In the idiomatic expression ma dai! To show astonishment or surprise to your interlocutor
- Farà il giro del mondo in macchina. Ma dai!! – she’ll travel around the world by car. Really?!
We can say the meaning of “dai” is also very connected to the voice’s intonation as one is pronouncing it. If you are urging someone to tell you something, you should stress the word and pronounce it slightly louder than usual. If you are cheering up someone…the intonation shall be softer.
Allora is by far the most frequent filler word in Italian.
As insomma, allora doesn’t have a single definition.
However, I would say that in the vast majority of times, allora, is used to introduce a topic, to launch an idea or to start a question or a sentence. In this case, it has an introductory meaning.
- Allora, qual è il tuo programma per il fine settimana? – So, what are your plans for the weekend?
- Allora, cominciamo la lezione...- Well, let’s start the class
Allora also has another common meaning when it refers to the past: “at the time.” In this case, allora could be easily replaced by “in quel momento” or, in English, in those days/times/years
- Allora vivevo in Francia – At that time I used to live in France
Allora also means “then”, with the meaning of “in that case”
- Vuoi vivere sano? – Allora mangia sano! – Do you want a healthy life? Then, eat healthily!
In standard Italian comunque mean “however or nevertheless.”
Nevertheless, often in conversations “comunque” is used as a filler word with the meaning of “anyway or “in any case” or “anyhow”. It can come in handy to launch a new idea or to suddenly change a topic.
- Comunque, ho visto quel film che mi hai consigliato – Anyway, I watched that movie that you recommended m
- E’ complicato, ma ci proverò comunque – It’s hard, but I’ll do it anyway
Mhmm or mmm is a social interaction used to express perplexity or hesitation.
- Vuoi la torta al cioccolato o al limone? Mhmm… al limone – Do you want the chocolate cake or the lemon one? Uhm… I’ll have the lemon one.
Mhmm also show appreciation to something you are going to eat or you have just eaten
- Com’era il pesce? Mhmm – How was the fish? Mhmm