The 21 Most Popular Italian Sayings About Life and Their Meanings
Learning sayings in Italian may not only help you with your learning but also give you an insight into the culture of Italy. There are many Italian sayings that are used in everyday life;
Most Italian proverbs have clear cultural or regional boundaries, making them difficult to interpret without a thorough understanding of Italian culture and history. The vast majority of Italian sayings are simply wise words that can be found in a variety of languages and cultures.
How to learn Italian sayings effectively as a non-native speaker?
The most effective way to incorporate Italian sayings or idioms is to choose the transparent ones, that is, those with a literal translation in your mother language: they simply make more sense and are easier to remember.
In this list, I chose to focus on these sayings because they represent some aspects that are very typical for Italy and Italians, like family values, life, love, or food. And, they are sentences we Italians really use.
Do you want to learn more idioms? Try these Latin ones 12 Latin expressions Italian likes to use.
1. Fidarsi è bene ma non fidarsi è meglio
Trusting is good, but not trusting is better.
Meaning: It means that while trust is important in life, you don’t have to be overly optimistic; a little extra attention won’t hurt anyone.
2. Finché c’è vita, c’è speranza
As long as there is life there is hope
Meaning: It means that one should never despair, even in difficult circumstances. This expression is sometimes used ironically with those who continue to hope despite the fact that it is useless.
3. Il fine giustifica i mezzi
the end justifies the means
Meaning: it means that If the goal is good, one should not be concerned with the means and methods employed to get there.
4. Can che abbaia non morde
The dog that barks doesn’t bite
Meaning: It means that those who make a lot of threats don’t always follow through with their threats.
5. Parlare come un libro stampato
To talk like a printed book
Meaning: someone who speaks like a printed book does so by using the language correctly and appropriately, as a book would.
6. A caval donato non si guarda in bocca
You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
Meaning: “caval donato” literally means a horse that has been given as a gift. “Non si guarda in bocca” means you should look in the mouth (of the horse).
In a figurative sense, the statement implies that you should not criticize what has been given to you. This expression comes from the old practice of horse traders inspecting a horse’s teeth before purchasing it, to determine the good health of the animal.
7. Ambasciator non porta pena
Don’t shoot the messenger
Meaning: this phrase essentially indicates that “the ambassador does not give unpleasant news” The meaning of the statement is that anyone who delivers bad or unpleasant news on behalf of others is not responsible and hence cannot be condemned.
8. Le bugie hanno le gambe corte
Lies have short legs
Meaning: 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 anywhere because lies have “short legs” and so they can’t go a long way and won’t last long.
9. Piove sempre sul bagnato
It always rains on the wet (lit.)
Meaning: when it rains, it pours is the closest English translation. This sentence has only a negative connotation in English, implying that things are continuing to go wrong for someone who is already unlucky. Piove sul bagnato also has a positive connotation in Italian. It also means that those who have already had good fortune will continue to have it.
10. Occhio non vede, cuore non duole
The eye doesn’t see, the heart does not hurt (lit.)
Meaning: If you don’t see something you probably don’t want to know about, you won’t suffer from it. So, what the eye doesn’t know, the heart doesn’t grieve over it.
11. Ogni lasciata è persa
Everything left is lost (lit.)
Meaning: this Italian proverb is used to point out that if you haven’t been able to seize an opportunity when it arose, you will most likely miss it forever. It’s then used as an exhortation to take the chances when they arise, without pondering and postponing too much.
12. Chi nasce tondo non può morir quadrato
Those who are born round, can’t die square (lit.)
Meaning: this Italian proverb suggests that it’s complicated to eradicate bad habits and that it’s complicated, if not impossible, to change them.
13. 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.)
Meaning: this Italian saying 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 simultaneously, but you need to give up on something.
14. Paese che vai usanze che trovi
Every country you visit has different customs (lit.)
Meaning: that’s an invitation to be tolerant of the customs of other cultures.
That’s the Italian equivalent of the famous saying when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
15. Mal comune mezzo gaudio
Shared trouble, shared joy
Meaning: 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.
16. Chi ha tempo non aspetti tempo
Who has time, shouldn’t wait for time
Meaning: that’s something you can say to invite someone to stop procrastinating and put off until tomorrow what he can do today.
17. La notte porta consiglio
Night brings advice
Meaning: 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 make your choices in the morning with a fresh mind.
Read also: 5 Italian sayings on love
18. L’ospite è come il pesce dopo tre giorni puzza
A guest is like a fish that, after three days, stinks
Meaning: I find it very funny and real. We all like to have friends and family around, but we don’t like it anymore if they stick around too long.
19. Meglio soli che male accompagnati
Better alone than in the bad company
Meaning: This saying 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.
20. L’erba del vicino è sempre più verde
The grass is always greener on the other side
Meaning: 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 are in a better situation than ourselves, even though this is not true.
21. De gustibus non disputandum est (Latin) – Tastes differ
Tastes differ (lit.)
Meaning: Italy has a long list of Latin sayings that have survived into modern Italian, such as De gustibus non disputandum est. It means that everyone is different and so has different tastes. We should be tolerant and respect other people’s feelings or inclinations.
Read also: 12 Latin Sayings in Italian
Do you know that there is a German-speaking region in Italy? Do you know that when hiking in the Dolomites, you can refuel at a local “malga“? And do you know what typical food in the Dolomites is like? If you don’t, you can learn everything about it in simple Italian by listening to and reading my short story “Due Amiche.”