44 Inspirational Italian Sayings About Life, Love, Food and Friendship
Italy is a vivid, exhilarating destination, and visitors are in for more than museums, food and endless vistas—they’re also bound to be entertained by the wise words offered by its people.
Italian quotes touch upon subjects like marriage, business, religion, animals and relationships, and are a staple of communication in this special place!
So whether you’re thinking of traveling to the Boot, forming a friendship with an Italian or embarking on an Italian business opportunity, familiarize yourself with a few Italian quotes which will add depth and flavor to any conversation.
- Italian Quotes Related to Drink
- Italian Sayings About Food
- 6. Il pane apre tutte le bocche
- 7. Come il cacio sui maccheroni
- 8. O mangi questa minestra o salti la finestra
- 9. Pollo, pizza e pani si mangiano con le mani
- 10. Se non è zuppa è pan bagnato
- 11. Troppe salse vivande false
- 12. Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco
- 13. Chi lavora mangia. Chi non lavora, mangia, beve e dorme
- Italian Proverbs Related to Animals
- 14. A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello
- 15. Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca
- 16. È facile far paura al toro dalla finestra
- 17. La gallina che canta ha fatto l’uovo
- 18. Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino
- 19. Meno pregiato è il pesce e meglio il brodo riesce
- 20. ‘O Purpo S’adda Cocere Int’ A L’acqua Soja
- Italian Sayings Related to People
- Italian Sayings About Family
- Italian Quotes Related to the Weather
- Italian Sayings Related to Religion
- Miscellaneous Italian Proverbs
Italian Quotes Related to Drink
1. Non puoi avere sia una botte piena, che la moglie ubriaca
Literal translation: You can’t have a full wine barrel and a drunk wife
Meaning: You can’t have it all!
This is pretty similar to the English saying, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Maybe I’m biased because I never used to understand this saying, but I think the Italian version is a lot more fun!
2. Vino rosso fa buon sangue
Literal translation: Red wine makes good blood
Meaning: Italian proverbs cover all areas of existence, even health, and Italy is famous for its fabulous wine. This proverb suggests that wine is so healthy that it even makes good blood!
Maybe there’s truth to this after all—the Mediterranean diet is famous for a reason!
3. Anni e bicchieri di vino non si contano mai
Literal translation: You never count years or glasses of wine
Meaning: Once again, it’s best to fully inhabit and enjoy the moment. Better yet, with a glass of wine in hand. Often if an Italian offers a friend a libation, this proverb is quoted. Just don’t count how many glasses.
4. L’acqua fa male e il vino fa cantare
Literal translation: Water is bad and wine makes you sing
Meaning: Drink that wine. This is from an old Italian drinking song called “Bevilo Tutto” (Drink it All). Often friends egg each other on to drink more by singing this proverb.
For a real treat, you can see Samuel L. Jackson and a group of Italian nuns singing the song in the film The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
5. Bevici su – Il bar non porta i ricordi. Sono i ricordi che portano al bar
Literal translation: Drink up, the bar doesn’t bring memories. Memories bring you to the bar
Meaning: The bar is a social hub in Italy. People go there for a quick breakfast cornetto (crescent roll) and espresso, a panino for lunch or for an apperativo (alcoholic drink and savory snack) in the evening. Going to the bar can be an occasion on its own, or just the first stop before going out to eat or to go dancing in the club.
For older Italians, the bar is where you talk about your day or your life. But for the younger generations, memories are made there as well.
Italian Sayings About Food
6. Il pane apre tutte le bocche
Literal translation: Bread opens all mouths
Meaning: Italians are big on sharing meals, even with people who might be naturally quiet or tight-lipped. So if you want to learn something from someone, why not invite that person to dine? Along with food, ideas and secrets are often exchanged.
Good food is sure to invite interesting conversation!
7. Come il cacio sui maccheroni
Literal translation: Like the cheese on macaroni
Meaning: Macaroni is good, but adding cheese on top makes it even better. When you say you’re making a thing or situation like cheese on macaroni, it means that you’re making it perfect.
I don’t know about you, but this quote speaks to my soul.
8. O mangi questa minestra o salti la finestra
Literal translation: Either eat this soup or jump out the window
Meaning: Roughly similar to the English expression “take it or leave it,” this is a favorite proverb of harried Italian moms and grandmas. When confronted with a picky child, a mother might shout, “o mangi questa minestra o salti la finestra.” And then you know she means business.
9. Pollo, pizza e pani si mangiano con le mani
Literal translation: Eat chicken, pizza and bread with your hands
Meaning: The most visceral pleasures in life aren’t fancy. Knives and forks may be just fine, but when you really want to enjoy a moment, get down to business and use your hands. No need to put on airs.
10. Se non è zuppa è pan bagnato
Literal translation: If it’s not soup, it’s wet bread
Meaning: This is a phrase used to express that two things are essentially the same, even if they’re spoken about in different ways. It’s much like the English phrases “six of one, half dozen of the other” or “same meat, different gravy.”
This quote happens to feature the adjective bagnato (wet). The more illustrative the proverb, the more abundant the adjectives! Remember the importance of adjective order and conjugation when learning these expressive proverbs.
11. Troppe salse vivande false
Literal translation: Too much sauce means false food
Meaning: Frilly, fancy cover-ups can do nothing to mask the bad. When it comes to both food and life in general, what seems good on the outside can mask badness on the inside.
12. Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco
Literal translation: Not all doughnuts come out with a hole
Meaning: This is used to indicate that things don’t always turn out as planned.
Though the doughnut is not a typical Italian dessert, Italians have embraced the doughnut as much as they have embraced Homer Simpson, the doughnut-loving American TV character.
Young Italians love “The Simpsons.” On the Italian cooking website Giallo Zafferano, you can even find a Simpsons-inspired recipe for the iconic pink frosted doughnut with rainbow sprinkles.
13. Chi lavora mangia. Chi non lavora, mangia, beve e dorme
Literal translation: He who works, eats. He who doesn’t work, eats, drinks and sleeps
Meaning: In Italy, work is seen as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Work-life balance is important and having enough time to enjoy your life and get a good night’s rest is seen as a right.
Italian Proverbs Related to Animals
14. A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello
Literal translation: Every bird finds his own nest beautiful
Meaning: This is the Italian equivalent “home sweet home.”
While Italy has a chic, dynamic and hyper-modern interior design scene, there’s also an appreciation for heirloom furniture. These pieces stay in the family home or get passed down from generation to generation.
Whether old or new, Italians take great care in furnishing their homes.
15. Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca
Literal translation: The early bird catches the worm
Meaning: In Italian or English, you’ve probably heard this one more than a few times in your life. It tells us to act early in order to get ahead of others, which will probably ensure some measure of success.
16. È facile far paura al toro dalla finestra
Literal translation: It’s easy to scare a bull from a window
Meaning: This proverb makes it plain that courage comes swiftly when the danger is at a distance.
It applies to business associates who might present a bold front when, in reality, they’re not quite as confident as they appear.
17. La gallina che canta ha fatto l’uovo
Literal translation: The singing hen laid the egg
Meaning: Sometimes, proverbs require a bit of interpretation. That’s the case with this one, which advises one to look for the noisy person if you want to know who’s responsible for an act.
This is often heard in offices or shops when someone doesn’t want to own up to their action.
18. Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino
Literal translation: The kitty goes so often to the lard she leaves her pawprints there
Meaning: You can’t get away with something forever. Eventually, a clue (or a pawprint) will be spotted and you’ll be found out. It’s a very Italian version of “getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar.” Italian kitties like lard more than biscotti, I guess!
19. Meno pregiato è il pesce e meglio il brodo riesce
Literal translation: The less noble the fish, the better the broth
Meaning: The most rustic things can be the most pleasurable too.
This is a common sentiment across Italy, where people all around the country appreciate “cucina povera” or peasant food. Whether you’re in Northern, Southern, Adriatic or Tyrrhenian Italy, you’ll find that Italians have a great fondness for the simple pleasures in life.
20. ‘O Purpo S’adda Cocere Int’ A L’acqua Soja
(Note: This proverb is in the Italian dialect of Naples. Its standard Italian translation would be: Il polpo si deve cuocere nella sua stessa acqua. Why not try to learn both the Neapolitan and standard Italian versions? You’ll earn serious brownie points from your Neapolitan friends!)
Literal translation: The octopus must cook in its own water
Meaning: Sometimes a stubborn person needs time to ruminate and reflect.
This is a Neapolitan phrase that has now been adopted across Italy. It refers to an obstinate person who may dismiss all new ideas proposed to him. You can say: Give it time. He’ll come around. Or in Neapolitan Italian, you can say: Let that octopus cook in its own juices.
Italian Sayings Related to People
We’re almost halfway! Make sure you make the effort to practice everything we’ve learned so far, so that if the moment arises you can wow everyone with your insightful quotes.
Pick a few that resonate with you and practice those—try slipping them into conversations, or keep an eye out for them while watching Italian TV shows or movies. Quotes often need to be used in the right context, so watching Italians use them in conversation will help you understand when and how they should be used.
FluentU is also helpful for understanding contextual uses of words and phrases—the language learning program turns authentic Italian video clips, such as news reports, music videos and inspiring talks, into immersive language lessons.
Because the videos are made by and for native speakers, you get to see how Italian is spoken in real life, and learn all of its nuances. Each one comes with interactive subtitles which give you detailed information about any word or phrase, and you can use the contextual video dictionary to see specific terms used in action in different contexts.
Plus, FluentU comes as an iOS and Android app so you can learn from pretty much wherever.
21. Una casa senza donna è come una lanterna senza lume
Literal translation: A house without a woman is like a lantern without the light
Meaning: My father-in-law explained this to me when he welcomed me into the family.
It means that a woman elevates the character, space and value of a house. She makes a house a home, something that’s highly valued.
22. Tra moglie e marito non mettere il dito
Literal translation: Don’t put a finger between a husband and wife
Meaning: This one means that the bond linking spouses is a tight one, so don’t even attempt to come between them.
23. Meglio solo che male accompagnato
Literal translation: Better alone than in bad company
Meaning: Italian culture embraces time spent with friends and family. It’s a lifestyle that’s filled with long, leisurely dinners, festive parties and celebrations.
This proverb shows that while many are welcome to join in the fun, bad company need not show up at the door. Rather than spend time with unsavory influences or negative people, it’s best to remain alone—and rest assured that tempo da solo (time alone) is superior to languishing in a less-than-fabulous group!
24. A buon intenditor poche parole
Literal translation: Few words are needed for a good listener
Meaning: Italy is a fairly extroverted country. When going out with friends, it’s expected that you will talk a lot.
Conversely, you will be expected to listen a lot. No matter where you go, people like it when you remember things about them.
25. A tavola non si invecchia
Literal translation: At the table, you don’t get old
Meaning: Italians never eat alone so this phrase implies that if you’re at the table, you’re also surrounded by family and friends. Of course, this also includes the grandparents, Nonno and Nonna, enjoying good health and happiness in their old age.
The elderly in Italy are respected members of society. Seniors enjoy active social lives and decades-long friendships. It’s not uncommon to see a group of old men at the bar playing Scopa (a traditional card game) or a group of old ladies gossiping at each other’s windows.
Italian Sayings About Family
26. Una buona mamma vale cento maestre
Literal translation: A good mother is worth a hundred teachers
Meaning: Think of everything you learn from your mom. The lessons that she teaches you about life are really irreplaceable and can’t be learned from anyone else.
The mamma is the head of the Italian household. A mother is an Italian girl’s best friend and confidant. It’s also not a bad thing for a man to be called a mamone (“mamma’s boy”). The former prime minister (and comically macho playboy) Silvio Berlusconi proudly describes himself as one.
27. L’ affetto verso i genitori è fondamento di ogni virtù
Literal translation: Loving one’s parents is fundamentally the greatest virtue
Meaning: This is a play on the Bible’s Sixth Commandment, “honor thy father and mother.”
Italy is a very Catholic country. The definition of what constitutes a “traditional family” is based on traditional Christian values. Consequently, while Italy does recognize civil unions between gay partners, it does not recognize gay marriage.
Nevertheless, many individuals there believe that all kinds of marriages should be accepted, while still loving and honoring one’s parents.
28. Noi non potremo avere perfetta vita senza amici
Literal translation: We can’t have a perfect life without friends
Meaning: This is a famous quote by the father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri. In modern Italian, it would be written as Noi non possiamo avere una vita perfetta senza amici. Even in the 13th century, friendship was of central importance in Italian life.
29. Chi si volta, e chi si gira, sempre a casa va finire
Literal translation: No matter where you go or turn, you’ll always end up at home
Meaning: In Italy, it’s not uncommon for unmarried adult children to live with their parents. The family is a source of joy, so families try to stay together as long as possible.
While the multi-generational Italian household of decades past is in decline, families try to live in close proximity to one another. Children only move far away from their parents if doing so is absolutely necessary for work or study.
Italian Quotes Related to the Weather
30. Dopo la pioggia, arriva il sole
Literal translation: After the rain comes sunshine
Meaning: This is a gentle cue to weather life’s tough times. People say that time heals all wounds, and often it’s true! Skies inevitably clear, and things are bound to improve.
31. Una bella giornata non fa estate
Literal translation: One beautiful day doesn’t make a summer
Meaning: This proverb is similar to a quote from Aristotle: “One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly, one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”
The ancient Greek philosopher postulated that one wonderful incident (a beautiful day or a swallow) doesn’t indicate a trend. One positive occurrence might be nice, but it’ll take more than one to ensure that something (like summer) is here to stay.
Italian wisdom has abbreviated the original a bit, but the meaning remains timeless.
32. In bocca chiusa non entra mosca
Literal translation: No flies enter a closed mouth
Meaning: The literal translation is vivid—every time I hear this one, I quickly close my mouth! This proverb cautions one to refrain from speaking unwisely or without cause.
In other words, if you can’t say something nice or necessary, don’t say anything at all.
33. A chi dai il dito si prende anche il braccio
Literal translation: Give them a finger and they’ll take an arm
Meaning: Both this proverb and its English equivalent, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile,” comment on how people can or may take advantage of someone.
Italian Sayings Related to Religion
34. Dagli amici mi guardi Dio, dai nemici mi guardo io
Literal translation: God guards me from my friends; I guard myself from my enemies
Meaning: This is a very old declaration of both faith and self-reliance.
A reminder to beware of both friend and foe, this proverb conveys the certainty that a higher power offers all the necessary protection when dealing with friends.
It’s also a call to protect oneself from any enemies, rather than relying on God or someone else to do it for you.
35. Aiutati che Dio t’aiuta
Literal translation: Help yourself so that God will help you
Meaning: Self-sufficiency is a good thing and can pave the way for added assistance from a higher power!
36. Bacco, tabacco e Venere riducono l’uomo in cenere
Literal translation: Bacchus, tobacco and Venus reduce a man to ashes
Meaning: This is a proverb about vices. Bacchus is the god of wine. Venus the symbol of women. The gist here is that wine, cigarettes and women can lead to a man’s downfall when he overindulges. Consider yourself warned!
You’ll notice a lot of verb conjugations in each of these quotes. For example, as in the above conjugation of ridurre (to reduce), so you’ll need to make sure you remember your Italian verb conjugations.
37. La farina del diavolo va tutta in crusca
Literal translation: The devil’s flour all turns to chaff
Meaning: Cheaters never prosper. Something that starts with bad intentions usually ends badly.
Chaff is the dry, scaly covering on wheat and corn. It can’t be turned into more valuable flour and was historically used by farmers as livestock feed. Thusly, chaff was considered debris.
In this quote, the devil can’t produce valuable flour due to his malice.
38. Vecchi peccati hanno le ombre lunghe
Literal translation: Old sins have long shadows
Meaning: This is one I first heard from an elderly family friend. He observed two children who were considering raiding a candy dish on the table, so he gave them this proverb to consider.
He explained that what we do today—both good and bad—is remembered tomorrow, too.
That day, the contents of the candy dish went undisturbed!
39. Quando il diavolo ti accarezza, vuole l’anima
Literal translation: When the devil caresses you, he wants your soul
Meaning: When temptation seems extra sweet, the price to be paid may also be very dear. This one is a warning to be aware of what something may truly cost you.
Miscellaneous Italian Proverbs
40. Il tempo passa e non ritorna
Literal translation: Time passes and does not return
Meaning: This Italian adage advises listeners to recognize that time is passing and isn’t infinite. So, use whatever time you have wisely.
41. Quando finisce la partita il re ed il pedone finiscono nella stessa scatola
Literal translation: When the game ends, the king and pawn end up in the same box
Meaning: This proverb levels the playing field and makes all people equal by showing that no one is superior to another.
We all end up in the same place no matter how we play the game of life.
42. Ad ogni pentola il suo coperchio
Literal translation: For each pot its own lid
Meaning: While it may be easy to commit a secret wrong, the truth always catches up with you. Italians love to use this proverb when speaking of sneaky corrupt politicians. Ultimately it means that you can commit a crime but you can’t hide forever.
Note the article used in the above quote is il because coperchio (lid) is singular and masculine. As you learn new Italian quotes, be sure to practice your articles. You’ll thank yourself later on!
43. La cucina piccola fa la casa grande
Literal translation: The small kitchen makes the house big
Meaning: The love at the center of the kitchen builds the foundation of the home. The kitchen is the center of Italian domestic life and a way for all families to feel rich in spirit. After all, it’s at the table that Italian families come together daily, whether rich or poor. The kitchen is the common denominator.
44. Meglio aver poco che niente
Literal translation: It’s better to have a little than nothing
Meaning: Until the mid-20th century, some regions of Italy struggled with poverty. This fostered an attitude of thankfulness, which psychologists say is the basis for a happy life.
In modern, affluent Italy, many people think that it’s also better to have a little bit of a good thing as opposed to many mediocre things. You can see this in the way that Italians will pick out only the best clothes, handbags and artisanal food, even if it means they can only afford to have a little bit.
Italian life revolves around close family ties, excellent food and endless fun—and each of these facets has a colorful collection of proverbs associated with it.
Sometimes, these sage bits of wisdom are open to interpretation, but they all add depth to Italian conversations. They offer a chance for language learners to catch a glimpse of cultural ideas and societal nuances.
When used in day-to-day exchanges, they can make even beginner speakers sound like locals.
Proverbs have universal appeal, so use them often.
Have fun and good luck!