37 Italian Sayings To Put Your Italian Language Proficiency On Steroids!

Italian SayingsThe use of Italian sayings is a must if you want to bring your Italian language mastering to a higher level.

As you can see, the title of this post already contains an English idiom and this is the chance for you to learn the right Italian translation.

There’s not a literal translation of this English way of saying to Italian.

It’s quite new in English too, so we have to find some alternative translation to the Italian language: 

Portare all’ennesima potenza

To bring to the Nth degree.

So the title of this post should become “37 Italian Sayings To Bring Your Italian Language Proficiency To the Nth degree!”

Why Is It Important To Learn Italian Sayings If You Want To Master the Italian Language?

To be fluent in Italian (as in any other language) you have to learn Italian sayings, it’s not enough to learn grammatical rules by heart, repeat verbs conjugation, memorize tables with exceptions.

Ok, the study of grammar is important and will help you to speak and write correctly, but there are more important aspects of a language that must be known: expressions of courtesy, proverbs, idioms and anything else that will help you to reach fluency.

Idiomatic sentences, proverbs, and idioms in Italian are very frequent in expressing oneself, both in written and oral form.

The meaning of many ways of sayings is not always literally understandable and cannot be translated word by word: it is necessary to become familiar with their meaning and learn to use them correctly.

So, here they are, 37 Italian sayings & idioms for outstanding language proficiency:

Italian Sayings About Happiness/Joy

1. Essere al settimo cielo

Pronunciation:

Literal Translation: Being in seventh heaven

English Idiom: “To be on cloud nine.”

Meaning: To be extremely happy

Origin of this saying: This expression comes the Middle Ages when people believed that there were seven skies and that they constituted the entire universe.

So the way of saying “Being in seventh heaven” is used to describe the feelings given by great joy: above the seventh medieval sky there is nothing left and everything is below it, just like when one is happy.

2. Fare i salti dalla gioia

Literal Translation: Jumping for joy

English Idiom: “To be on cloud nine.” (Also “Jumping for joy”)

Meaning: To be extremely happy

3. Darsi alla pazza gioia

Literal Translation: Give themselves to mad joy

English Idiom: living it up” (Also “Jumping for joy”)

Meaning: To be extremely happy. to party, to enjoy yourself

Italian Sayings About Family

4. Il sangue non è acqua

Literal Translation: Blood is not water

English Idiom: “Blood is thicker than water.”

Meaning: familiar bonds will always be stronger than bonds of friendship or love.

Origin of this saying: The generally accepted interpretation of the saying is that the bonds of people bound by blood are stronger than the bonds of marriage or friendship.

The origin of the proverb is often attributed to Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott in his novel “Guy Mannering” published in 1815. 

5. Vuole la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca

Pronunciation:

Literal Translation: He wants a full wine barrel and a drunken wife

English Idiom: “He wants to have his cake and eat it too.”

Meaning: It’s a way of saying that you can’t expect to have everything.

Origin of this saying: It comes from the love of Italians for wine, historical drink of Italy.

Italian Sayings About Money

6. Essere al verde

Pronunciation: 

Literal Translation: To be at the green

English Idiom: To be broke.

Meaning: To be broke.

Origin of this saying: It comes from an old custom of the public auctions in Florence. At the beginning the auctioneer lighted a candle tinted green in the lower part.

When the flame reached the end of the candle (the green part), nobody could make more offers and the auction was terminated.

7. Non ho una lira

Literal Translation: I don’t have a lira (old Italian money)

English Idiom: To be broke.

Meaning: To be without money.

Italian Idioms About Animals

8. In bocca al lupo

Literal Translation: In the mouth of the wolf

English Idiom: Break a leg

Meaning: Good luck (superstitious!)

Origin of this saying: This expression probably comes from an ancient formula that was addressed to wolf hunters.

They usually answered, always with the same apotropaic value “Crepi il lupo!” (May the wolf die!).

The phrase passed from the language of hunters to the common language as a wish for any difficult situation in which somebody incurs.

8. In bocca al lupo

Literal Translation: In the mouth of the wolf

English Idiom: Break a leg

Meaning: Good luck (superstitious!)

Origin of this saying: This expression probably comes from an ancient formula that was addressed to wolf hunters.

They usually answered, always with the same apotropaic value “Crepi il lupo!” (May the wolf die!).

The phrase passed from the language of hunters to the common language as a wish for any difficult situation in which somebody incurs.

9. Prendere 2 piccioni con una fava.

Literal Translation: To catch 2 pigeons with a 1 broad beans

English Idiom: Killing two birds with one stone.

Meaning: to get 2 (or even more) results through a single action or job.

Origin of this saying: Once the beans were used in traps for hunting pigeons. So the saying alludes to the fact that with one bait two prey can be taken (hence the multiple results).

10. Fare la gatta morta

Literal Translation: To behave like a dead female cat.

English Idiom: Cocktease (sexual pejorative)

Meaning: A woman who behaves in a seductive way

Origin of this saying: The reference to the dead female cat is found in the fables of Aesop and other narrators: a cat pretends to have died to make mice approach and take more easily.

11. Essere quattro gatti

Literal Translation: To be 4 cats.

English Idiom: To be a handful of people.

Meaning: here are only a few people.

Origin of this saying:  Wild cats gather in a small pack of 3-4-5 max. From here the saying is transferred to people when they gather, indicating that they are few.

12. Essere un cane in chiesa

Literal Translation: To be a dog in church

English Idiom: No English Equivalent

Meaning: An unwelcome guest

Origin of this saying: Dogs cannot enter the church. In the past there was even the “scaccino” (the chaser), a man that had the task of “driving out”, in addition to vagrants, even dogs that had eventually taken refuge in the church.

13. Una rondine non fa primavera

Literal Translation: One swallow doesn’t make a spring.

English Idiom: One swallow doesn’t make a summer.

Meaning: this very popular idiom is often used as a warning, both to highlight that the appearance of a swallow in the sky must not infer that the spring has arrived; both, in a more general sense, that an isolated event is not enough to draw conclusions.

Origin of this saying: Deriving from the Latin proverb “Una hirundo non facit ver” of the same meaning, translated into “A swallow does not make spring”. The swallows normally arrive in large flocks, marking the arrival of the spring season.

14. Il bue che dice “cornuto” all’asino

Literal Translation: The ox that says “horned” to the donkey.

English Idiom: The pot calling the kettle black.

Meaning: Someone that accuses someone else of something that they are guilty of themselves.

Origin of this saying: The expression comes from the obvious fact that the ox has horns and the donkey does not have them.

Italian Sayings About Body Parts

15. Essere in gamba

Literal Translation: To be on the leg

English Idioms: To be on the ball, to be on top of things 

Meaning: To be very capable, to be smart

Origin of this saying: This is one of my favorite Italian sayings. Those who are ill stay in bed most of the time and therefore their legs cannot use them. So, “being smart” means good health, being able to stand on one’s own leg.

16. Essere alla mano

Literal Translation: To be at the hand

English Idioms: To be down to earth

Meaning: To be open and friendly

17. Essere tutto orecchi (orecchie)

Literal Translation: To be all ears

English Idioms: To be all ears

Meaning: To be eager to listen

18. Sentirsi fischiare le orecchie

Literal Translation: To ear one own’s ears ring

English Idioms: Ears must be burning

Meaning: To suspect that someone is talking about us.

Origin of this saying: In ancient times the belief was that if the buzz was in the right ear, then we were talking about ourselves. On the contrary, if it was the left ear that whistled, you had to worry, because someone was talking to us in the back.

19. A cuor leggero

Literal Translation: With a light heart

English Idioms: Light-heartedly

Meaning: To suspect that someone is talking about us.

20. Parlare fuori dai denti

Literal Translation: To speak out of the teeth

English Idioms: To put it bluntly

Meaning: To speak frankly

Origin of this saying:

21. Parlare a braccio

Literal Translation: To speak by arm

English Idioms: To speak of the cuff

Meaning: To make a speech, often in public, without having as a reference a written draft, but counting only on memory and oratory skills.

Origin of this saying: The “braccio” (arm) was an ancient linear unit of measurement which corresponded more or less to 76 cm, hence the expression “speaking by arm” means doing something with a certain approximation.

Italian Sayings About Water

22. Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare

Literal Translation:  Between saying and doing is the see.

English Idiom: There is many a slip between cup and lip.

Meaning: It’s easy to express an intention, but very difficult to realize it.

23. Non ci piove

Literal Translation: It doesn’t rain on it

English Idiom: No doubt about it

Meaning: It’s sure, true.

Origin of this saying: not certain. The most accepted hypothesis is that it comes from the truth of an assertion, that can overcome even a shower of contrary opinions.

23. Perdersi in un bicchier d’acqua

Literal Translation: To get lost in a glass of water

English Idiom: To drown in an inch of water.

Meaning: To be unable to cope with the slightest problem

24. Acqua in bocca!

Literal Translation: Water in mouth!

English Idiom: “Blood is thicker than water.”

Meaning: Take it for yourself

Origin of this saying: This expression is used to indicate a secret that must not be revealed to anyone.

Probably this idiom comes from an anecdote of a  woman who had a loose tongue.

Eventually, she to ask the priest to help her stop talking too much about confidential issues.

The priest gave her a vial with some miraculous water. Since the woman, every time she wanted to talk about something she put a few drops of this water in mouth.

Thanks to this escamotage, she stopped talking about compromising issues.

25. All’acqua di rose

Literal Translation: With rose water

English Idioms: Wishy-washy, half-hearted, milk-and-water

Meaning: Simple & easy (task, work)

Origin of this saying: This expression refers to the magic power of rose water that has a pleasant scent and is one of the best liquid purify the skin: simple and delicate.

So, the expression “with rose water” indicates a no brain task carried out easily.

26. Piove sul bagnato

Literal Translation: It rains on the wet

English Idiom: It never rains but pours

Meaning: The expression outlines the misfortunes that don’t come one at the time, but often together with other problems.

Origin of this saying: This way of saying comes from the writing of Giovanni Pascoli, a famous Italian poet.

He wrote, “It’s raining on the wet: tears on blood, blood on tears”. 

27. Fare acqua da tutte la parti

Literal Translation: To lose water from all sides

English Idiom: 

Meaning: A situation with a lot of problems

Origin of this saying: this expression comes from the marine language, and refers to a ship with too many leaks on his keel, i. e. a situation with too many negative issues…

28. Essere in alto mare

Literal Translation: To be on the high seas

English Idiom: To have a long way to go 

Meaning: To be still at the beginning, not having done almost anything

Origin of this saying: It is a similitude to when one is offshore, far from the coast and the journey is still long.

28. O bere o affogare

Literal Translation: To drink or drown

English Idiom: To sink or swim

Meaning: To fail or succeed entirely by one’s own efforts

29. Fare un buco nell’acqua

Literal Translation: To make a hole in the water

English Idiom: A wild goose chase

Meaning: A failure

Origin of this saying: The origin of this Italian saying is to be found in its literal meaning. In fact, it is impossible to make a hole in the water, due to the force of gravity which has the effect of equalizing the level of the liquid. In this sense, the phrase has become synonymous with failure.

Italian Sayings About Time

30. Non vedo l’ora!

Literal Translation: I can’t see the time

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: I can’t wait – I’m looking forward to it

Origin of this saying: Probably it comes from the idea that waiting without looking at the time makes it seem like time is running faster.

31. Era ora!

Literal Translation: It was time!

English Idiom: It’s about time

Meaning: Finally!

32. Tempo al tempo

Literal Translation: Time to the time

English Idiom: All in good time

Meaning: Wait to see results…

33. Ad ogni morte di Papa

Literal Translation: Every time a Pope dies

English Idiom: Once in a blue moon

Meaning: Very, very rarely

Origin of this saying: It refers to the fact that the death of the pope is an event that occurs, as a rule, very very rarely.

34. Meglio tardi che mai

Literal Translation: Better late than never

English Idiom: Better late than never

Meaning: Better late than never

35. Alla lunga

Literal Translation: In the long

English Idiom: In the long run

Meaning: Over a long period of time

36. Non sono nato ieri

Literal Translation: I’m not born yesterday

English Idiom: I’m not born yesterday

Meaning: I’m enough experienced

37. A tempo perso

Literal Translation: In lost time

English Idiom: In spare time

Miscellaneous Italian Sayings

Food, Friends, Family: 12 Italian Ways of Sayings

More About Italian Sayings & Phrases

8 Italian Phrases Lessons You Should Take Now to Improve Your Italian

40 Cool Italian Idioms for the Smooth-talking Language Learner

11 Fabulous Italian Expressions And How To Use Them

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close