Archive | Idioms (i modi di dire)

Benvenuti alla sezione ‘I modi di dire italiani’

Idioms (modi di dire in italiano) are essential parts of any language. They are ingrained in people’s history, culture and life and they reflect the way we perceive and express reality through our language. They are not essential, but they really make a difference in the way you master a language and how integrated you feel in the country you are living. When I first came to Ireland, eight years ago, I could barely survive with my English, idioms where the last of my problems. As my English improved I studied and got accustomed to several idioms… not all of them, of course! With an idiom we say things, we hint things and we understand things in a more immediate way without need of as many words.

Here in this section, we’ll see a few Italian ‘modi di dire’ … but, remember, they will never finish!




This is very funny. Many of you know that we have the verbo piantare which means to plant. La is an object pronoun and stands for it. So, literally, it means: plant it! We actually use it when someone is annoying us (ci dà fastidio) and after a few warnings (smettila, lasciami in pace and so on) we raised our voice and we say Piantala!

We can also say: Vuoi piantarla?

In English you’d just say: stop it!

So, now you know… when an Italian person is annoying you… just go for Piantala!

In bocca al lupo! Never heard of this one… check here!

Italian idioms




Avete mai avuto due piedi in una scarpa??
Would you be comfortable with 2 feet in one shoe?

Let’s say that the guy in the picture, Marco, should choose a girlfriend, but he can’t or he doesn’t want to. So he keeps up both relationships with lots of consequences, such as sleep deprivation, lots of complains from both girlfriends and very little time for himself… because it is very difficult to have: due piedi in una scarpa!

We can say this modo di dire any time that someone is not choosing between 2 options and they should.

Learn Italian Cork

Not very comfortable… is it?

Italian Idioms

Ecco Marco!


FARE LE CORNA… a qualcuno…

This is similar to the expression ‘fare le corna’, but it is not the same thing at all. In fact, fare le ‘corna a qualcuno’ means to cheat on someone and the word ‘cornuto’ or ‘cornuta’ is an insult which means that the person insulted is cheated on by their partners either wife or husband or fiancé/boyfriend/girlfriend. Here are a couple of practical examples: Marco ha fatto le corna a sua moglie (Marco cheated on his wife), therefore sua moglie e’ cornuta (his wife is cheated on by him). This insult may be accompanied by the hand gesture (see pictures to understand). It is not unusual to see such a thing driving, when a person does something that doesn’t please another driver. Another place where this insult might be heard is the stadium… In fact, referees are probably used to hearing: ‘ Arbitro cornuto!’. Arbitro means referee, of course!

There are several funny word games which refer to this expression. For instance, if Mario’s wife has had several affairs we could say that ‘Mario non passa dalla porta per tutte le corna che ha in testa’ (Mario can’t pass through the door because of the long horns on his head). We could also say that ‘Mario ha delle corna che sembra un alce’ (Mario has such big horns that he looks like an elk). It is not funny for Mario, of course, but he’s probably unaware of his situation and, therefore we say that he is ‘cornuto e contento’ (cheated on and happy)!

Italian expressions








Some Italian people, usually young men, make jokes when they take pictures and they try to get their friends photographed with horns on their heads, so that everyone will have a laugh looking at the pictures later… It doesn’t mean that the person is cheated on, of course, but only that he didn’t spot the trick in time. Do you have the same thing in Ireland? I mean, I know that no one cheats on anyone in Ireland, but if it happened would you have a similar expression?

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Italian superstitionsFacciamo le corna is an expression used all the time by Italian people which raises much interest among my students for its cultural peculiarity. It literally means ‘let’s make horns’ and it makes no sense for you, of course. Let me introduce you to the Italian concept of ‘Le corna’ : it is usually a sign of good luck and many people have a little pendent hanging down from the rear view mirror in their cars (some people could argue that this happens more in the South than in the North of Italy). Take a look at the pictures to understand what I am talking about. Sometimes, le corna can be accompanied by another bringer of good luck , the ‘peperoncino rosso’ (redchilly pepper). When an Italian person says ‘Facciamo le corna’ they usually accompany their words with the proper hand gesture (picture). We usually say it in the same way you would say ‘Touch wood’. It is, in fact, a superstitious way to keep away bad luck. I’ll give you an example. I am talking to a friend and I am telling her that I am going to Italy for Christmas: ‘Vengo in Italia per Natale… facciamo le corna (vada tutto bene)’. It translates as I’m coming to Italy for Christmas… touch wood (everything will be fine and I will come)’.good luck from South Italy

It is also true that we touch iron (instead of wood) and we say ‘Tocca ferro’ (probably from ‘ferro di cavallo’ which means horse shoe) for the same reason and, often, we do it while making the horn symbol with out hand… the more the better!

There is also another meaning of ‘le corna’ and it is not very pleasant… in fact, it is used as an insult in different contexts and situations, but I will tell you everything in the next post… Facciamo le corna it will be sooner rather than later!





This is a very good question… let me know what you think and you can read the answers which have come up during our Conversation Classes… 

1) I poliziotti sono andati in spiaggia a ‘mangiare con gli occhi’ le ragazze in costume! ‘Mangiare con gli occhi’ means literally ‘to eat with the eyes’ but you would probably say ‘ogling’…

2) Stanno aspettando che arrivino i pirati (they are waiting for the pirates). 

3) Hanno visto uno squalo e stanno facendo allontanare tutti dalla spiaggia (they caught sight of a shark and they are moving people away from the beach).

4) Una persona (forse un uomo) si e’ spogliato nudo e stanno andando a prenderlo (a person, probably a man, is naked and they’re going to arrest him).

5) Sono andati a fare i castelli di sabbia (they went to build sand castleS).

6) Sono andati a cercare la refurtiva che una banda ha rubato da una banca, hanno scavato molto, ma non hanno trovato niente… (They went searching for the loot that a gang robbed from a bank, they dug a lot, but didn’t find anything …)

7) Stanno cercando gli spacciatori di droga (they are looking for some drug dealer).

8) Sono andati a fare un pic-nic (they went for a picnic).

9) Sono andati a comprare i pesci a buon mercato! They went to look for a good deal on fish!

Tocca a te adesso… Your turn…




Here is a tip for those who are studying Italian and want to sound more Italian. We do have the word ‘cibo’, which means ‘food’, in our Italian dictionary, but we hardly use it. In fact, we use other words or expressions, depending on the situation. On an ordinary day we use the words ‘da mangiare’ (to eat) for example: ‘è pronto da mangiare’ or ‘da mangiare è pronto!’ which literally means ‘it’s ready to eat’. Here are more examples: ‘do da mangiare al bambino’ (I give to eat to the child) or ‘preparo da mangiare per il cane’ (I prepare to eat for the dog). When we want to ask some friends about a new restaurant or about the food they had on holidays we can say: “come avete mangiato?” or “com’era il ristorante”. The answers will depend on the food, of course, but, surprisingly…there are no adjectives for the food. Look at the answers: “Abbiamo mangiato benissimo” (we ate very well) or “Il ristorante era buonissimo” (the restaurant was very good) or “era tutto buonissimo” (everything was very good) and this is the closest we can go to the word ‘cibo’, but we still don’t mention it. To ask what someone’s favorite food is: “qual’è il tuo piatto preferito?” “E’ la pizza” (it is pizza). Sometimes, we might also use ‘da mangiare’ referring to restaurants or holidays as in ‘com’era la roba da mangiare?’ (how was the stuff to eat), it is rather colloquial, though… 


It’s great to have answers to our doubts when we are learning a language, I know it very well. Our studying is far more constructive when we have an explanation to our questions and we learn more and faster. I might not have all the answers, but Italian is my first language, I am a teacher and I love grammar… yes I do! Please send me your questions and I will be happy to answer them in my posts. If you prefer to stay anonymous you can write to and your name won’t appear anywhere, I promise. Allora, andiamo con le domande….



 You have been studying Italian for a while and you are fluent or almost fluent, BUT… then again, the same mistakes keep cropping up during your conversations and you want to get rid off them. Listen up and let me know what you think! 

Usually, students (myself among them) who speak more than one language tend to make some slips every now and then especially if they are tired. This is quite normal when we learn a language as adults. Our brain doesn’t have specific areas designed for specific languages as it would if we were raised with two or more languages since birth. Thus, our best option is to ‘carve’ pathways inside our brains so that, once we start a sentence and have our communication goals set in our mind we automatically know what pathway we have to follow. I will give you a couple of examples. One of my students, who was fluent in Italian for a long time, used to be afraid of using hypothetical constructions in Italian even though she knew the grammar as well as I did. The problem was that she found it very difficult to put together her words as she was always anxious to finish her sentence and pass the ball to the next speaker. Italian hypothetical constructions work exactly like in English: se mangio il gelato ingrasso (if I eat ice cream I put on weight), se vincessi alla lotteria comprerei una casa (if I won the lotto I’d buy a house), se ci fosse stato il sole mi sarei abbronzata (if there had been the sun I would have tanned). The problem is that when you have to put together many words in a language that is not your native language it feels heavy and unnatural. To tackle the problem we just worked on our pathways by repeating the same constructions over and over. In Italian we say that ‘la goccia scava la roccia’ (many small drops wear away the rock) and it is true! Repeating the same grammatical constructions several times a day, with different lexical meanings, helped her to dig her pathways. It became automatic for her to pick the right words as she started speaking. She became familiar with these long sentences and they were not heavy or unnatural any more. Brava Maria (not her real name!).

 Some other students have difficulty when they have to say this type of sentence ‘studio italiano da X anni’ (I have studied Italian for X years). This is because this Italian structure is different from the English one. In Italian we use the preposition da (from) and the present tense, while in English you use the preposition for (per) and the present perfect. It is very difficult for a student to stop translating, but, again, I would recommend ‘la goccia scava la roccia’. Once the rule is crystal clear in your head, you should start making up thousands of sentences several times a day until you are able to do it in your sleep. After a short while it will become automatic for your brain to use the present tense when you are asked ‘da quanto tempo…’. Provare per credere (try to believe). 

These are only some examples, I could tell you of many more, but why not try it for yourself and let me know how you get on.


Al fresco, outside or locked up?

We laughed so much the other evening with my students about this expression… Al fresco! I found out that two students named their golf team ‘Al fresco’ and after reading this story you will know why it is so funny.

You use the expression ‘al fresco’ to say that you want to eat outside, but it does not mean exactly the same in Italian.

In Italian the expression al fresco means literally ‘in the chill or in the cool’, but it does not mean outside. In fact, we say that ‘il vino e’ al fresco, in cantina’ (the wine in the chill in the cellar’ or that ‘il formaggio va conservato al fresco’ (the cheese has to be kept in a cool place). Besides, you know that it is not necessarily cool or chilly in Italy outside, especially from May on. In fact, you may not want to eat outside (unless you are up in the mountains) in August as the temperature is unbearable. You would probably prefer to eat inside with the air conditioning where it is much cooler.

We also use the expression ‘al fresco’ to mean that someone is in prison. In fact, ‘Giovanni è al fresco’ means Giovanni is in prison. This is a more light hearted way to state it than saying ‘Giovanni è in prigione’ (in prison). The expression comes (probably) from the fact that prisons had thick walls and were not very warm. It is interesting that ‘cella’ in Italian is the room of a prison and it is not too different from your cellar (cantina).

After this long story, you will now remember that in Italy you want to eat ‘fuori’ (outside) or ‘all’aperto’ (in the open air), you do not want to eat ‘al fresco’ as you do not want to eat in a prison… Can you now picture Leo, Cathal and all their golf team al fresco (behind the bars)? I can…


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