Today, you are going to be a turkey. (Wait…what?)
That’s right. Become the turkey. Embody the turkey. (Excuse me?)
You know how a Thanksgiving turkey gets filled to the brim with delicious stuffing? Well, you’re that turkey. And the delicious stuffing is knowledge!
In this post, you’ll pick up a fattening collection of over 80 words, phrases and lines that will take your Italian to a whole new level. Learn these phrases to enrich your vocabulary and be on your way to having meaningful interactions with native speakers.
But, before this parade of phrases, let me first give you five tips that’ll help you learn these phrases as effectively as possible.
Conquer Basic Italian Phrases with These 5 Practical Tips
1. Read them out loud…in different ways.
Truly the best way to master basic Italian phrases is by practicing them in actual conversation with others. But alas, this isn’t always possible. The smart language learner gives himself plenty of practice by locking himself in a room and talking away. Seriously. Sometimes, there’s just no way around it.
Language is a mechanical act, and you can’t really learn a language by “reading with your eyes.” You need to actually sound out these phrases, not just read about them or listen to a discussion about them. If you just learn one thing from this post, let it be this: Actually opening your mouth and hearing yourself say these phrases is an essential step to learning them.
And by the way, if you want to know exactly how a specific word or phrase is pronounced, head on over to Forvo to hear how native speakers say it.
Or, check out one of the many Italian videos on FluentU! FluentU has great audio features and a huge collection of interactive language-learning videos that make for fantastic and dynamic listening practice. Not sure how to pronounce a word? You can just type it in and you’ll be able to listen to native speakers use it in a sample sentence.
In order to produce Italian, your mouth, lips and tongue have to move in very specific ways. So, take them for a spin. Get those “R’s” rolling. Imperfectly at first, of course, then getting better over time.
Sound out the phrases using a variety of tones. For example, the word “sì” (yes) can be uttered in many different ways.
You can say “Sì!” (in perfect affirmation) as if you’re being asked if you want another gelato. You can say “Sì?” questioningly, as if asking your roommate if he ate the burrito in the fridge, the one you’ve been fantasizing about since lunch. You can bellow “Sì! Sì! Sì!” as if you’ve just won the lottery, or as if the Italian stud you’ve been eyeing for three years just asked you out on a date.
There are many ways to skin the cat. There are many ways to say an Italian word or phrase.
2. Role-play them in different contexts.
This is a natural expansion of the previous tip. In addition to saying the same words or phrases in different ways, you can role-play them in different contexts.
Do this: Write out short dialogues using the same phrases. For example, you can write a short dialogue for “per favore” (please) where the person grants the request and another one where it is inevitably turned down.
You can then read them out loud, playing both parts. Going through this process, working with the phrases and thinking about them benefits you on two levels. First, the process of writing lines yourself helps you remember them more. There’s just something about thinking about the lines and writing them by hand on a piece of paper that just makes the whole dialogue stick.
Second, playing both parts doubles your practice time. Make the most out of the dialogue you came up with. Even if you have to face left, deliver the line, then face right and deliver the next line, do it. It’ll all be worth the effort. Needless to say, this needs to be done in the privacy of your own room, where there’s very little possibility of going viral online.
3. Message and chat with a sympathetic native speaker.
Italians are a warm and welcoming people. They’re really very willing to show you the ropes and show you their language and culture. Often, the only thing you need to do is ask.
If you don’t know any native speakers personally, you can quickly find a conversation partner online on a site like italki. On italki, you can connect immediately to hundreds of native Italian speakers for formal lessons or informal conversation practice. Prices are incredibly low—sometimes just four to six dollars per hour!
Not interested in paying at all? No worries! Italki also allows users to connect with each other for free tandem language exchanges.
There are tons of options available beyond italki, too. Websites like Easy Language Exchange, and apps like HelloTalk and Tandem, can bring you a constant flow of language exchange partners with whom you can practice basic Italian phrases.
The concept of “language exchange” is really simple. You want to learn Italian? You’re going to need someone who can help you with basic phrases and verb conjugations.
Your job is to find an Italian speaker who, in turn, wants to learn English. Because—what an unbelievable coincidence—you happen to speak English! So you’re going to trade your English for his/her Italian. Voila, “language exchange.” You’re going to help each other learn the other’s language.
Having a language exchange partner will give you the platform to practice the basic Italian phrases that you know. Sometimes, talking to yourself in the privacy of your own attic may not be enough, and you may need a living soul to talk to. Chatting (text, audio and video) is a great avenue to employ words and phrases in an actual communicative context.
4. Pepper them into your everyday conversations.
The idea here is to find as many opportunities to use basic Italian phrases as possible in your daily routines.
You can enlist the help of friends here. Tell them you’re working on your Italian and give them a warning that you might suddenly go full-on “The Godfather” during the most inopportune times.
Or, better yet, you can volunteer to teach some basic Italian phrases. Nothing too fancy, just some simple “Che bello!” (Nice!) and “Che figata!” (Cool!) That way, you get your practice in, and your friends…well, they’ll just continue to think you’ve been dropped several times as a baby.
If that doesn’t work, you can always talk to your loyal pets. They might not respond in Italian, but they almost certainly won’t laugh at you either.
5. Give your brain the gift of flashcards.
If you’re having difficulty memorizing Italian words, phrases and expressions, invest the time in making flashcards. Yes, I’m talking about those rectangular pieces of paper that you flip to check the answer on the back. Generations have used them for math and, well, for memorizing basically anything.
Many thousands of flashcard users can’t be wrong—these things work. You can use them for learning Italian by writing the phrase on one side, and its translation on the other.
But if you don’t have the time to get school supplies and manually write phrases on notecards, FluentU has your back covered. Make them digitally! We have a flashcard feature that can do just that. We also have ready-made decks that don’t just contain words. Our “smart flashcards” have videos, audio clips, images and even sentence examples. You’ll have a fun time working with them!
With these tips in mind, let’s jump in. Read on for all the words, phrases and expressions every self-respecting Italian language learner must know…
Che Buono! 80+ Basic Italian Phrases to Start Speaking Like a Native
Italian Manners: The Basics
Manners make the man. These basic courtesies are actually important. Italians will listen for them during a conversation and consider you with “bella figura” (giving off a good impression) if you use them, as opposed to “brutta figura” (giving off a poor impression) if you don’t.
- “Ciao!” (Hello)—Italians throw this around like confetti during a Superbowl parade. It’s one of the most common and useful words to know. It’s a conversation opener, a way to say “Hello” and also a way to say “Goodbye.” “Ciao!” is a bit informal and used with friends, family, peers and people you already know.
- “Salve” (Hello)—This is a more formal salutation and used when meeting people for the first time or in formal situations. Also, if you’re not sure whether to say “Good morning” (“Buongiorno”) or Good afternoon (“Buon pomeriggio”), you can use “Salve” instead. It’s appropriate for any time of the day. However, you can’t use “Salve” to say goodbye.
- “Sì” (Yes)
- “No” (No)
- “Per favore” (Please)—Any request or asking for a favor gains more miles when you put “Per favore” at the tail-end of it. As in, “Può aiutarmi, per favore?” (Can you help me, please?)
- “Grazie” (Thanks)—There are several permutations for expressing gratitude in Italian. You can say “Grazie mille” or “Mille grazie” (A thousand thanks). Or you can simply say “Molte grazie” (Many thanks).
- “Prego” (Welcome)—After expressing thanks, you might hear this from the other person. But “prego” is not just about saying “You’re welcome.” Your waiter might come to your table and open with this to signal his readiness to take your order. Or when somebody allows you to cut the queue, he might say, “Prego” like he’s saying “After you.”
- “Mi dispiace” (I’m sorry)—To mean that you’re really sorry, you might want to follow “Mi dispiace” with “Non lo farò più.” (I won’t do it again.)
- “Buongiorno” (Good morning)
- “Buon pomeriggio” (Good afternoon)
- “Buonasera” (Good evening)
- “Buonanotte” (Good night)
- “Pronto” (When answering the phone)—It literally means “ready.” This means the speaker is ready to listen. Italians don’t use “Ciao” on the phone because it could also mean “Goodbye.” (Which leaves the other person on the line wondering why you answered the phone in the first place.)
When You Don’t Know How to Speak Italian
Honesty is the best policy. If you’re having a difficult time with the language, say so. Italians will be so glad to help. Here are some of the phrases and lines you can say to let native speakers know that you need more help than it seems:
- “Non capisco” (I don’t understand)
- “Parla inglese?” (Do you speak English?)—You’ll be using this a lot when you travel to Italy. You can stock up on even more useful travel phrases by checking out some more travel-related words and phrases.
- “Mi dispiace, ma non parlo bene l’italiano” (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian very well)—You can now begin to affix those basic courtesy expressions (eg. I’m sorry, Please, Thank You) to many of your statements. Courtesy will really take you a long way with Italians.
- “Può parlare più lentamente?” (Could you speak slower?)—Most native speakers are actually impressed and flattered when a foreigner does his level best to communicate in Italian. They will go out of their way to help you if you also show a genuine interest in their culture and language.
- “Capisco benissimo” (I understand perfectly)
Meeting Native Speakers for the First Time
Know exactly what you’re going to say when meeting Italians. Give them these lines and leave a good impression. They’ll love you for it.
- “Mi chiamo ____” (My name is ____)—This is the standard response to the common question: “Come si chiama?” (What is your name?)
- “Le presento ____” (This is ____)—Use this when you have company and you want to introduce him or her to others.
- “Piacere” (I am pleased to meet you)—The Spanish have “Mucho gusto.” The French have “Enchanté.” “Piacere” is the Italian equivalent of “Pleased to meet you.”
- “Come sta?” (How are you?)—This used in formal settings or when meeting someone for the first time. For friends and family, we use “Come stai?” or “Come va?”
- “Sto bene, grazie” (I’m fine, thank you)
- “È stato un piacere conoscerla/o” (It was nice to meet you)
- “Arrivederci, alla prossima” (Goodbye, see you next time)—Saying your goodbyes in Italian will differ according to the situation. In an informal setting, the familiar “Ciao!” would suffice. For more formal affairs, “Arrivederci” is more appropriate. You can also say “A dopo” (See you later) or “A presto” (See you soon). If there’s a probability that you’ll never see the other person again, use “Addio,” which is the purest form of goodbye.
Italian Question Words
Some of the most important sentences you will hear are those that ask a question. Here are Italian question words that prefix Italian queries:
- “Chi?” (Who?)—The “ch” here is pronounced as a “k.” So, this is read as “kee.”
- “Che?”(What?)—Similar to “chi,” the “ch” here is pronounced as a “k.” So this is read as “ke.”
- “Quando?” (When?)
- “Dove?” (Where?)
- “Come?” (How?)
- “Perché?” (Why?)—“Perché” doesn’t just function as “why” in Italian. It can also work as “because.” So if you get a “perché” (why) question, your answer will most probably contain a “perché” (because) as well. For example, “Perché sei sempre in ritardo?” (Why are you always late?) “Perché sono impegnato/a.” (Because I’m really busy.)
- “Quanto?” (How much?)
Expressions of Italian Love
Italians are some of the most passionate people you’re ever going to meet. They’ll quickly grow on you and soon, you will find yourself smitten by a native speaker. Here are some of the phrases you most likely would like to say after you’ve been bitten by the love bug:
- “Ti amo” (I love you)
- “Sei bellissima/o” (You’re beautiful/handsome)
- “Pazza/o di te” (Crazy for you)
- “Solo tu” (Only you)
- “Per sempre” (Forever)
- “Sposami!” (Marry me!)
Expressions and Exclamations
In Italy, you’ll hear these expressions all day. And who knows, you might find just find the perfect situation to use them:
- “Aiuto!” (Help!)
- “Dai!” (C’mon!)—No, you’re not telling the other person to cease his mortal existence. You’re hurrying somebody or egging her on to do something. Like if you’re asking your mom for a raise in your allowance and she tells you no. So you tell her to die…I mean, “dai.”
- “Aspetta!” (Wait!)
- “Oddio!” (Oh God!)—The long form would be “O mio Dio!” (Oh my God). Others could say “Oddio!” (good Lord!). Others invoke His mother and say “Madonna Santa” (holy mother of God!).
- “Per carità!” (For God’s sake!)
- “Magari!” (I wish!)—“Magari” is used a lot by native speakers. It can be used as a “maybe.” Putting it anywhere in the statement tempers the certainty of a thing happening. Like in English when a parent says, “Don’t pack your bags yet. I said we ‘might’ go to Disneyland this year.” “Magari” could also be used to express fervent hope and wishful thinking, as in: “Parli inglese?” (Do you speak English?) “Magari!” (I wish!)
- “Mannaggia!” (Darn!)
- “Davvero?” (Really?)
- “Manco per sogno” (In your dreams)
- “Per niente” (Not at all)
- “Allora” (So)—“Allora” is often used as a filler word, to stall for time. For example, “Allora..cosa facciamo?” (Sooo…what shall we do?). You usually lengthen the word to give you time to think about what to say next.
- “Capito” (I get it)—Americans might be more familiar with “Capisci,” another form of “you understand,” which is often used in parodies of the “The Godfather” or in Saturday Night Live segments where an Italian goon is threatening someone with what might happen if he doesn’t pay his debts. Capisci? But “Capito” functions just as well.
- “Tranquilla/o” (Don’t worry)
- “Così così” (So-so)—This is a non-comittal expression, used to describe when something is not as expected, but is also not terrible. For example, “Il cibo l’altra volta era così così.” (The food last time was just so-so.)
The “Che” Family
“Che” has many standard adjective pairings that could add color and texture to your Italian. Here’s some of them:
- “Che bella/o!” (How beautiful!)
- “Che buona/o!” (How good!)
- “Che brutta/o!” (How horrible!)
- “Che barba!” (How boring!)
- “Che palle!” (What a pain!)
- “Che figata!” (How cool!)
- “Che scema/o!” (How stupid!)
Cheers! Phrases of Encouragement
“Frasi d’incoraggiamento” (encouragement phrases) are used to buck someone up. Here are some phrases you can throw out there:
- “Forza!” (Be strong!)
- “Coraggio!” (Be brave!)
- “Brava/o!” (Well-done!)
- “Vai!” (Go!)—A sea of football fans could scream this to their beloved teams. (No pressure, Ronaldo!)
- “Evviva!” (Hurray!)
- “Auguri!” (All the best!)
Italians do know how to give tough love. And when the situation warrants it, they could give it sans sugarcoating. Here are some phrases they use to dole it out:
- “Zitta/o!” (Shut up!)
- “Silenzio!” (Be quiet!)
- “Via!” (Go away!)
- “Vergogna!” (Shame on you!)—A politician might hear this after the surfacing of a political scandal.
- “Fuori!” (Get out!)
- “Abbasso!” (Boo!)
- “Basta!” (Enough!)—Use this when you want things to stop. Or when you want to express “no more.” Because that fruit seller will continue filling your bag with lemons ‘til you tell her to stop. When you want to tap out and quit drinking for the night, you might say, “Basta vino per me.” (No more wine for me.)
Basic Identifiers and Qualifiers
Here’s a list of words that can make your Italian more specific with respect to number and time. Take note of each because their existence (or absence) can change the meaning of any phrase:
- “Tutti” (All)—So when your favorite Italian vlogger opens her video with, “Ciao a tutti” she’s saying hello to everyone. You use “tutti” (the masculine, plural form of “tutto”) when addressing an audience composed of men and women. Even if there’s just one guy in a sea of women, you use “tutti.” When you have a group composed of only women, you use “tutte”—the feminine, plural form of “tutta.”
- “Nessuno” (Nobody)
- “Sempre” (Always)
- “Mai” (Never)
- “Molto” (Very)—This is an intensifier. This means that any word we pair with it gets taken to a whole different level. So “grande” (big) becomes “molto grande” (very big).
- “Spesso” (Often)
- “Ogni tanto” (Sometimes)
- “Ieri” (Yesterday)
- “Oggi” (Today)
- “Domani” (Tomorrow)—There are a couple of idioms that feature “domani.” One is “Oggi a me, domani a te” which literally means: Today for me, tomorrow for you. The idiom talks about how the human experience is universal; one’s misfortune today could happen to somebody else tomorrow. Another idiom that features “domani” is “Quando l’amico chiede, non v’è domani,” which means: When a friend asks, there is no tomorrow. The idiom suggests a true friend’s readiness to help a friend in need.
- “Più tardi” (Later)
So, there you go! You have just been officially stuffed with Italian words, phrases and expressions. I hope you’ve gobbled up as many as you could. What’s next? Follow the tips given in the first section: use them often and use them out loud. Do that and you’ll seriously up your Italian game.
I wish you all the best in your language learning journey!
One more thing before we say Ciao…
If you’re reading this post, odds are you’re trying to learn to speak Italian like a native. You’re interested in the real deal: the authentic words and phrases Italians use.
If that’s the case, you have to check out FluentU!
FluentU takes real-world videos and transforms them into dynamic language-learning experiences. Italian learners can access over 100 videos featuring native Italian speakers. The videos include movie trailers, commercials, DIY craft guides and everything in between! Each video features interactive subtitles, which you can use to make sure you understand the meaning and context of any given word or phrase.
FluentU also features customizable flashcard decks to help you practice what you’ve learned, plus quizzes to help you check your comprehension. If you’re looking for a fun and effective way to learn Italian from the comfort of your home—or wherever you may be—FluentU is the language-learning tool for you.
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