15 well-known Italian sayings and how to use them
You speak Italian well enough, but you are a smart learner who is looking for the next challenge and want to perfect her Italian fluency and sound like a native? Start to incorporate recurring Italian sayings into your daily vocabulary!
Some Italian sayings have sharp cultural or regional bounds, and so it is difficult to figure them out without an in-depth knowledge of the Italian culture/background. But, the vast majority of Italian proverbs are just words of wisdom whose counterpart you can find in many different languages and cultures.
The most effective way to incorporate sayings or idioms in Italian is to decide to learn the “transparent ones”, that is to say, the ones that have a literal translation in your native language: they simply make more sense and so they are easier to retain.
In this selection, I am pulling together a list of typical Italian sayings that I like to use in my day-to-day speech.
Do you want to learn more idioms? Try this Latin ones 12 Latin expressions Italian likes to use
1. Meglio soli che male accompagnati
Better alone than in the bad company
This proverb can be used in a situation where one is not happy about doing something alone. It says that it is better to be alone or carry a task individually, than in the company of someone that might harm your life, business, tasks.
2. Le bugie hanno le gambe corte
Lies have short legs (lit.)
That’s, of course, an appeal not to lie because “lies have short legs.” What does it mean? It means that lying won’t get you nowhere, because lies have “short legs” and so they can’t go a long way and won’t last long.
3. Piove sempre sul bagnato
it always rains on the wet (lit.)
The closest English translation is when it rains it pours. If in English this sentence has just a negative connotation implying that things keep going wrong for someone who is already unlucky. In Italian piove sul bagnato has a positive connotation too. It also means that things keep going great for those who have already had good luck.
4. Occhio non vede, cuore non duole
The eye doesn’t see, the heart does not hurt (lit.)
If you don’t see anything which you probably don’t want to know, you won’t suffer from it. So, what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over.
5. Ogni lasciata è persa
Everything left, is lost (lit.)
This Italian proverb is used to point out that if you haven’t been able to seize an opportunity when it arose, you are most likely to miss it forever. Then, it’s used as an exhortation to take the chances when they arise, without pondering and postponing too much.
6. Chi nasce tondo non può morir quadrato
those who are born round, can’t die square (lit.)
This Italian proverb suggests that it’s complicated to eradicate bad habits and that it’s complicated, if not impossible, to change it.
7. Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca
you can’t have a barrel full of wine and a drunk wife at the same time (lit.)
This proverb is good for those who struggle to make decisions. Sometimes to get something, you need to give up on something else. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes, you can’t have all you want at the same time, but you need to give up on something.
8. E’ inutile piangere sul latte versato
it’s pointless to cry on spilled milk
You can say this Italian saying to someone who’s been feeling sorry about something that has already happened, and so that can’t be changed – it’s of no use to cry on something that you can’t change!
9. Paese che vai usanze che trovi
Every country you visit has different customs (lit.)
That’s an invitation to be tolerant of the customs of other cultures.
This is the Italian equivalent of the famous saying when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
10. De gustibus non disputandum est (Latin) – Tastes differ
Italy counts with a long list of Latin sayings that survived in contemporary Italian, like De gustibus non disputandum est (lit. tastes differ). It means that everyone is different and so has different tastes. We should be tolerant and respect other people’s feelings or inclinations.
11. Mal comune mezzo gaudio
shared trouble, a shared joy (lit.)
That’s an invitation to open up or share your trouble. If you share it, it’s less likely to overwhelm you, and your problem won’t seem so daunting. A trouble shared is a trouble halved.
12. Chi ha tempo non aspetti tempo
who has time, shouldn’t wait for time (lit.)
That’s something you can’t say to invite someone to stop procrastinating and put off until tomorrow what he can do today.
13. La notte porta consiglio
Night brings advice (lit.)
Some days we are presented with many challenges or important decisions to make, that’s why it makes more sense to sleep over it and take your choices in the morning with a fresh mind.
14. L’ospite è come il pesce dopo tre giorni puzza
A guest is like the fish, after three days stinks (lit.)
I find it very funny and real. We all like to have friends and family around, but if they stick around too long, we don’t like it anymore.
15. L’erba del vicino è sempre più verde
the grass is always greener on the other side
That’s a saying that you can find in almost every language. The English have a literal translation of the Italian proverb. L’erba del vicino è sempre più verde means that we might think that our friends or neighbors verse in a better situation than yourself, even though this is not true.