Speak like a local: Italian sayings and expressions

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Learning a new language, or going to a country where you don’t speak the language, can be difficult. It’s hard learning a language and getting to a level of fluency that even the locals are not sure where you come from. Language is also a great way to learn more about the culture and traditions in a country. 

Idioms, saying, and expressions, are often the hardest part of learning a language. They can be difficult to understand and even harder to translate accurately. Luckily our Italian translators at The Language Room are all native speakers and provide reliable translations of even the most obscure sayings! 

In this article we have highlighted a few key things to remember when learning Italian. As well as including some expressions and idioms which will help you blend right in! Learn Italian sayings by heart and impress others with your grasp of la lingua.


1 Panino, 2 Panini

Although in English we refer to 1 panini when ordering a toasted sandwich, this makes absolutely no sense for Italians. Unlike in English where we use an ‘s’ to identify plural nouns. Italians will use ‘e’ or ‘i’. For example, one cappuccino will become two cappucini. 


For this reason when we order, “ one panini, please” at our local coffee shops we are completely confusing the Italian grammar. We should be ordering “one panino”. 


This rule applies to all nouns, including pasta. Did you know that ‘spaghetti’ is the plural form of ‘spaghetto’? Similarly, ‘tagliatella’ is referring to 1 singular strand of the tagliatelle pasta. 


Keep this in mind on your next holiday to Italy, confusing the singular and plural is the fastest way of revealing you’re not a local! 



A strange title but ‘Cavalo’ or ‘cabbage’ in English, is what the Italians use when things haven’t quite gone as planned. Basically, it’s the equivalent of the English ‘darn’ or ‘damn’. 


If you want to look and sound like a true local, it’s best to use this word with enthusiasm and use hand gestures to fully show your annoyance. Use this as frequently and regularly as you can and you’ll blend right in! 


Un freddo de cane

If you are cold in Italy, because it can get cold. Especially, if you’re up in the Alps on your skiing holiday it might not be enough to say ‘fa freddo’ (it is cold). If it’s absolutely freezing you might want to exclaim “fa un freddo de cane”, literally translated to, ‘a dog’s cold’ or it’s really, really cold! 

Speak like a local: Italian sayings and expressions

Holes in Doughnuts 

We all know the Italians love their food, so it comes as no surprise that a lot of their expressions and idioms are about food, or use food as imagery. One of these idioms is: Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco. This literally translates to: Not all doughnuts come out with a hole. Meaning not everything turns out as planned. 


Good luck

Italians are very suspicious by nature, there are many things they will and won’t do because they believe in good luck. Therefore, this is most likely an expression you will come across whilst in Italy: In bocca al lupo. 


Quite literally it translates to ‘in the mouth of the wolf’ but it is their way of saying good luck. As an English speaker, we can’t really say anything about how weird this one might be as we will wish some a broken leg (“break a leg”) as a gesture of telling them good luck. 


No one knows where this idiom/saying has come from but a popular belief has it that it comes from the legend of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The legend says the twins were found at a young age and subsequently raised by a wolf. For this reason, the wolf represents protection and care. However, this story does not match with the usual answer of: crepi il lupo (“may the wolf die”), possibly from back when wolves were a real threat in the North of Italy. 


A good way to stay young

To finish off this short article into becoming a fluent Italian speaker, we will leave you with the saying: a tavola non si invecchia. Which translates to ‘at the table, you don’t get old. In Italy, the dinner table is almost considered a magical and sacred space. The laughs, conversations, and memories shared over a good meal are priceless, and apparently, keep you young! 


We hope these Italian sayings and expressions, grammar tips and idioms, will help you blend in with the locals on your next trip to Italy. Which are your favourite expressions?