How do you say good evening in Italian? How to say have a great day when visiting Italy? There are many colorful expressions in Italian that you can use to greet others and interact with them. Especially today, during tough times like this when we cannot travel and visit our favorite Italian cities due to lockdowns, quarantines and all the different shades of it, we are left to simply wonder on the internet and dream with open eyes in front of our screens. That doesn’t have to be time wasted however. If used in smart ways this time can be a great opportunity for you to research, prepare and plan your next dream trip to Italy. Let’s see Italian words and expressions you need to know before visiting Italy.
Before we dig in I want to share with you a couple of info with you to give some context. I live in Bergamo, Italy so I would lie if I said I can 100% relate with you. I live in the country you plan on visiting, and that probably gives us different perspectives, but also creates opportunities for sharing. I am huge lover of traveling and learning about new places and I am always trying to visit new, small cities in Italy myself! So, as I write this new blog for Garipalli (my new feat, feel free to take a look around the website if you would like) I set myself to help you plan your trip to Italy as soon as lockdowns are lifted (consider visiting my city Bergamo, a magical medieval town just outside Milan, a real gem). In this blog my goal is to help you experience Italy the most authentic way and live it the way locals do.
Going back to our main goal. One way to help you achieve that is to share with you over 50 Italian words and expressions that you need to know before visiting Italy. They will help you get around while in Italy and also make you look like a local to the eyes of locals. I organized them into the following categories:
• Italian greetings
• Italian courtesy words
• Speaking about time in Italian
• Getting around / asking for directions in Italian
• Asking for information in Italian
• How to say “I can’t speak Italian” and similars
• Italian words and expressions to use at Italian restaurants
• Italian expressions that make you look like a local
• Italian phrases that help you interact with the locals
Now without further ado, here are 50+ Italian words and expressions you should know before visiting Italy:
These are all forms of greetings. And as you may have expected, they are a lot, and all meant for different scenarios and situations. If you never learned about the Italian language you should know that Italian works on two different levels, or through two different codes: Dare del tu and Dare del lei. They literally mean Giving / using the you and giving / using the she. It may sound weird at first but it gets more and more natural as you try use them. We use Dare del tu (using you), which is the informal way of speaking, when speaking with someone that is younger than us, family members, friends, in informal contexts and other scenarios, but today let’s keep it simple. The same way works for Dare del lei (using she) which is the formal way of speaking, we use it when talking to people we don’t know, older people, formal situations and so on. For you traveling to Italy however, as people do not expect you to know all these rules, you shouldn’t worry too much and simply use what’s most comfortable and easy for you to memorize and use. Let’s begin.
The most widely known form of greeting. It means hi or hello and when in doubt, ciao works like a charm. It can be used at any time of the day, in all situations and both when meeting and leaving someone, which means you can use it also when saying goodbye. It’s informal, which means that normally we wouldn’t use it when speaking to a bank clerk, for example. But remember, when you are visiting Italy people do not have such expectations so do not worry too much.
Also this word means hi or hello but it’s the formal version of it. It’s part of the Lei code and for that reason it's preferred when using the formal way of speaking. Salve applies when meeting someone, not as common when leaving.
Literally goodbye. Used both formally and informally, is used when you are leaving a place.
• Buon giorno
Good morning. Used when meeting someone, like entering a store, only in the morning up until 12pm. Works perfectly both formally and informally.
• Buon pomeriggio
Good afternoon. Works the same way as buon giorno but only in the afternoon. It can be used between 12pm and, well, it depends. Some people use it until dinner time (I do), others until 6pm and others until 4pm. To be safe use it until 6pm. It can be used both formally and informally.
• Buona giornata
Have a nice day! Used both formally and informally when leaving a place and wishing a great day to everyone. It is not the same as Buon giorno. They sound similar but remember: Use Buon giorno when meeting someone, use Buona giornata when leaving.
• Buona sera
Good evening. Sometimes I hear people using it incorrectly as they use it when leaving a place. Buona sera should be used only when meeting someone, not when leaving. When leaving you can say Buona serata. Buona sera is best if used at night when meeting friends or walking into a restaurant. It’s fine for both dare del tu and dare del lei. When you stop using Buon pomeriggio, you start using buona sera.
• Buona notte
Good night. Only used when sending someone to sleep or leaving someone going home and you know is about to sleep. It’s implied and not always obvious, but if you are texting with someone and it’s 11pm, at the end of the conversation even if she or he might go to sleep at 4am, you could use it. You wouldn’t if it’s 1am and he or she is working the night shift, for example.
• A presto
See you soon. used when leaving, it expressese the implied intention to meeting again. You would say a presto to a friend, to the neighbor or local restaurant, don’t use it when you know you will never meet them again, it would probably sound weird. It’s fine for both dare del tu and del lei.
• A domani
See you tomorrow. Similar to a presto, the only different is that when leaving, instead of expressing the wish or intention to meet again soon, you are more specific and use tomorrow instead.
• A più tardi / a dopo
See you later. These two could be tricky. In English (and please correct me if I am wrong) you use see you later even when you know you won’t be meeting again that same day. You may say see you later to someone you know you will eventually meet again in the future. In Italian we use a più tardi or a dopo only when we have plans together for the same day like see you later at dinner.
Good by forever. This is a rather dramatic expression. We don’t really use it often as it is limited to those situations in which you met someone you know for sure you will never meet again. It’s being used less and less often nowadays. A simple good bye is probably less dramatic and achieves the same.
Italian courtesy words
Here are some words you will be able to use multiple times a day. They simply show politeness and good manners. Like in all languages, a kind thank you and please go a long way. Let’s go over the main ones.
• Per favore
Please. Pretty straight forward, this word is used when asking for something. Think of when ordering food, asking information, asking for a favor, for example mi da un fazzoletto per favore? Can I have a tissue please?.
• Per piacere
Please. works exactly like per favore, it’s only a matter of what you prefer. There is no better or worse between the two.
Thank you. As simple as that.
Your welcome. Same as in English. Use it after someone thanked you. No it has nothing to do with the Prego sauce (marketing. Yes?) But it does have a few more meanings and that can be confusing. On top of your welcome, prego can also mean I pray, or go ahead. While you will rarely find you self using it as a verb stating that you are actually praying, when used as go ahead, it becomes very useful. You and someone else are leaving a store at the same time? Open the door first and let the person leave first, when he or she will make eye contact simply say prego. You are saying, please, go first. You will look well mannered and considerate.
Not at all, no problem. It works interchangeably with prego. You use it when someone just thanked you for something and you want to say that no, it wasn’t a problem at all. (Figurati is the informal way of saying it. If you want to be formal say: si figuri).
Speaking about time in Italian
Here I am not so interested in going over ways of asking about the time (who does that today with all the technology?) but go over few key words you will hear or want to use when making plans or describing what happened/will happen.
When. It works both in questions (quando andiamo? When are we leaving?) and in statements (when I was young! Quando ero giovane! When I woke up... Quando mi sono svegliato).
• A che ora
At what time. It literally means at what hour. But we use it when meaning to ask things like what time does it open? What time should we leave? Used it this way: a che ora...(verb) apre?
Before, first, earlier. Think for example: eat it before it gets cold! Mangia prima che si raffreddi! Here it’s used as before. Now another example: First we eat, then we can go! Prima mangiamo, poi possiamo andare! Here it’s used as first (and then). Finally it can be used as earlier: earlier it was really cold outside! Prima faceva davvero freddo fuori!
Later, after. I will do it later. Lo faccio dopo. I will do it after I am done with this. Lo faccio dopo aver finito questo.
• Più tardi
Later. Works best when making plans for later.
Early, hurry up. It’s too early. è troppo presto. Or hurry up! We must go! Presto! dobbiamo andare!
Tomorrow. It sometimes can also be used more metaphorically, where we use domani (tomorrow) to refer to the future.
Getting around / asking for directions in Italian
I will go over these very quickly as they are self explanatory.
• Dov’è la stazione dei pullman
Where is the bus station?
• Dove posso prendere un taxi?
Where can I get a taxi?
• Mi può chiamare un taxi?
Can you call a taxi for me?
• Come arrivo all’aeroporto?
How to I get to the airport?
Asking for information in Italian
Here are some useful Italian words, expressions and questions you can use while in Italy.
• (Mi) Scusi
Sorry, excuse me. Scusi is used to apologies in all sorts of situations. Think you are walking in a crowded street and bump into someone. If you want to say sorry simply say scusi. Now scusi or mi scusi can also be used to grab someone’s attention, to call someone you don’t know. Think when you are lost, when you ask for informations or directions or when you need to order at the restaurant. Simply say Scusi or Mi scusi.
• Un informazione!
One information. You can use this one following mi scusi. Use it when you need directions, for example. You could say Mi scusi! Un informazione per piacere.
• Mi può aiutare?
Can you help? very useful if you get lost. It also can be used following mi scusi. Try to say Scusi! Mi può aiutare per favore?
• Non trovo...
I cannot find... Same as above, use it when you need help and you call on someone using mi scusi.
• Sto cercando
I am looking for... Same as above.
How to say “I can’t speak Italian” and similars
Italians, contrarily to common believes and mean stereotypes do speak some English. Especially the younger generations will use English with you easily. However, for as unfair sometimes stereotypes are, still a large part of the population is not familiar with the language (especially outside big cities). Italy has an outstandingly large elderly population and they do not speak English. If you find yourself speaking to someone in English and they reply to you in Italian do not panic and don’t think they are trying to be rude. They probably want to help but cannot do so in English. Instead enjoy the fact that despite language barriers they are trying to help you out and make sure they know you cannot understand them or that you speak only little Italian. Let’s see how.
• Parlo poco italiano
I speak only little Italian. Say these words and the people in front of you will probably find it cute and will try harder in helping you.
• Non parlo Italiano
I cannot speak Italian.
• Non parlo bene Italiano
I don’t speak well Italian. Similar to the first, say this if you wish for them to slow down when speaking.
Italian words and expressions to use at Italian restaurants
Eating great food at local restaurants in Italy is part of the experience. Didn’t you plan your trip partly because of that anyway? You can make your experience even more complete by ordering your food and interacting with the staff in their own language. Here are some key expressions in Italian you can use at the restaurant.
• Posso ordinare?
Can I order? Ask this to your waiter to show you already to order.
• Io prendo...
I will get. After you have chosen all the delicacies you will want to eat, simply name them after you say Io prendo...(io prendo la pasta al pesto, io prendo il risotto alla milanese, etc)
• Il conto per favore
Although when in Italy this could change based on the type of restaurant and region, usually you ask for the bill at the table. When you are done and wish to leave, simply call the waiter (scusi!) and ask “il conto per favore!” (See how all the pieces come together?) They will bring it to you, you will pay with cash or card and either way simply wait for the card or the change and go. No need to tip. The staff here is earning their salary.
Italian expressions that make you look like a local
• Per me un caffe liscio
For me a simple espresso. It’s what we say when we order coffee and all we want is a simple, plain espresso. While it is true that Italians only drink espresso (rather than black coffee) we have a myriad of different small variants of it and people can get very difficult with them. If you go to a local bar (bars in italy aren’t only for drinks but for coffee, breakfast and so on) try to listen to what others around you are ordering at the counter. You may hear: liscio, doppio, corto, lungo, macchiato, macchiato freddo, caldo, marocchino, corretto, corretto con grappa, in tazza grande, in tazza piccola, decaffeinato, caffe d’orzo and others. We have SO MANY variants of espresso coffee and to communicate that all you want is a simple espresso just say “per me un caffe liscio” “I will have a plain espresso”.
• Mi consiglia un vino buono?
Can you recommend a good wine? Nothing wrong with asking for recommendations. I do it myself all the time! I am huge lover of wine (and social drinking in general) but I have extremely limited knowledge on the matter. Not to mention the super long lists of wine you can choose from in some restaurants. Simply make up an idea of what your budget it, maybe the type of wine you are looking for and ask for help. Tell you waiter what you want to eat and ask “mi coniglia un buon vino?” And they will recommend what goes best with the food you are ordering. (Did you know we offer, among others, wine tasting experiences in Italy?)
• Dove posso bere un caffe buono?
Where can I get great espresso? Espresso is usually good regardless of where you go. As a tourist, however, you risk to end up in places that charge you 3 Euro for an espresso as bad as you would have it (sorry) abroad. Espresso should never cost more than 1.5 Euro (but usually 1 or 1,1) and some places offer better coffee than others. Feel free to ask for recommendations to by passers, they will appreciate your interest and effort and who knows.. you may even end up drinking it together. (you can also check out our espresso coffee tasting experience)
• Mi consiglia un ristorante tipico?
Can you recommend a typical restaurant? As mentioned, cuisine, norms and culture wildly change region by region, city by city. Some types of pasta could be great in a place and terrible in some others. Also some cities offer delicacies you not only won’t find outside Italy but you won’t find outside the city! Don’t miss the opportunity and ask around.
Italian phrases that help you interact with the locals
If you read some other posts by me on Garipalli you probably notice how big of a supporter of authentic traveling I am. And my definition of authentic traveling is traveling among and with the locals. I strongly believe that the best way to live and experience a place is through and with its people. So why not interact with them? Here, to finish up the article with extravagance, I list some easy expressions you can use when you want to make new friends and interact with he locals. I purposely left out cliches such as sei bellissima or other overly stereotyped phrases. Avoid cliches and naturally ask people to do stuff together! Of course some might look at you like you are weird but who cares? You will find many to be gladly surprised and probably happy to hang out. Here are some examples.
• Ti va di bere un caffè?
Would you like to have coffee together? It’s very common in Italy to ask and If someone hears it from a traveler or tourist it will have a much more special effect. Ask a local to grab coffee, who knows the stories you will share and the friends you will make.
• Hai da fare a cena?
Do you have plans for dinner? Not necessarily in a flirty way, but why not right? I spent a large portion of my life abroad where I didn’t know anyone. If there is one thing I learned is... who cares? brave in and give it a try, you will be surprised.
• Mi accompagneresti...?
Would you accompany me to..? Maybe you got lost and need directions. But if you realize what you are looking for isn’t so far away, instead of asking for directions ask to walk there together! If they are strolling nearby you they are probably not all that busy anyway.
• Cosa fai piu tardi?
What are you doing later? I do realize that most of the expressions I just covered can come off as flirty. But they don’t have to be. I once was visiting Florence with my girlfriend, we went out to eat fiorentina (a typical stake Florentine style) and were served by very friendly staff. We enjoyed our dinner, paid and left. Two hours later we were having a couple of drinks at a local bar we randomly walked by and we met the restaurant staff having a beer after work. We could have ignored them, coldly greeted them and continued with our night but instead decided to join them and live a super fun night we will remember for ever. So again: Why no??
If you made it this far it's proably because you have serious interest in the Italian culture and/or language, which means that you will do just great here. However if you have questions, feebacks or comments feel free to leave a comment or reach out. We at garipalli offer different resources to people like you interested in authentic traveling to Italy. We plan and offer a variety of experiences and learning activites and, among others, through this blog. We can learn a lot from you and are always open to feedbacks.
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