For more information on how to say these words, go to the pronunciation page.
Ways to say Hello
- Buon giorno/Buona sera = Good morning/Good evening. Polite/formal; definitely use with people you might call "Mr." or "Mrs./Ms." in English (superiors, authority figures, older people)
- People start saying buona sera between 2 and 4 in the afternoon
- buon pomeriggio (good afternoon) is pretty much only used on TV/radio
- Salve = Hello. A neutral greeting, used with social equals, sometimes with shopkeepers (less formal than buon giorno but more formal than ciao)
- Ciao = Hi. A familiar greeting, used for people you know or family. Use with people you would call by their first name.
- Pronto = Hello (telephone). Literally means "ready" (as in, "I'm ready to listen to you...").
Ways to say Goodbye
- Ciao = Bye. When used to mean "goodbye," it is less informal than as a greeting. A standard goodbye to shopkeepers is Ciao, grazie!
- Ciao Ciao! = Bye Bye (young kids)...you'll also hear Italians saying "Ciao" about 40 times as they hang up the phone
- Arrivederci = Goodbye. A more formal way to say goodbye.
- Arrivederla - even more formal
- Buona giornata/Buona serata = Have a good day/Have a good evening. A nice way to say goodbye to shopkeepers.
- You can also just say Buon giorno/Buona sera to mean "Goodbye, have a nice day."
- Buona domenica, "have a good Sunday," can also be heard on Saturday afternoon/evening.
- Ci vediamo = See ya later. Literally "we see each other."
- A dopo = Until later.
- A domani = Until tomorrow.
- Alla prossima = Until next time (we see each other)...especially useful if you see someone on a regular schedule (say, weekly)
Including some from Bare Bones Italian.
- Grazie = Thank you
- Prego = You're welcome/Here you go/Please go ahead/How can I help you (versatile!)
- Si = Yes
- No = No
- Per favore/Per piacere = Please
- Parla l'inglese? = Do you speak English?
- Non capisco/non ho capito = I don't understand/I didn't understand
- Cerco = I'm looking for
- Quanto costa...? = How much does ... cost?
- Dov'è = Where is...
- Di dove viene? / Di dove sei? = Where are you from? (Da also can mean "from" but implies motion...so Vengo da New York means, roughly, "I just came in from New York" but Vengo di New York means "I am from New York")
- Come se dice...? = How do you say...?
- Che cosa è questo? = What is this?
- C'è / Ci sono = There is... / There are... (Useful for questions: "C'e un bancomat?" = is there an ATM?)
4 translations for "Excuse me"
...know the difference!
- (Mi) scusi = Excuse me/can I have your attention (like "Excuse me, can I ask a favor?"...for example if you're asking for directions).
- Scusa is less polite, and scusate very formal or used if talking to more than one person.
- Permesso = Excuse me/can I get past you/with your permission (like "Excuse me, can I get by?" in a crowd)
- note that Italians have a much higher tolerance for body contact than Anglophones so they will only say this if the other person must move for them to get by
- Mi dispiace = Excuse me/I'm sorry (like "Excuse me, I didn't mean to knock you over!")
- as noted above body contact must be fairly violent to warrant this phrase)
- Attenzione = Excuse me/watch out (like "Excuse me, look out!", for example two people are carrying a ladder through a crowded piazza; this can be a somewhat ruder way to ask someone to get out of the way than permesso, but is also useful/appropriate for pointing out hazards ["Attenzione alla cacca!" = watch out for poo])
Basic Verb Conjugation
If you learn the basic Italian verb conjugations, it will be easier for people to understand you. The following are the 3 most useful verb forms, using parlare (to speak):
- parl-o = I speak (remove the "are" and add an "o")
- parl-a = You/he/she/it speaks (remove the "re")
- parl-iamo = We speak (remove the "are" and add "iamo")
Examples: Parla inglese? (Do you speak English?) Non parliamo italiano. (We don't speak Italian) Non parlo bene italiano. (I don't speak Italian well) Voglio parlare italiano. (I want to speak Italian)
The following verbs are irregular, but very important
- avere = to have; ho = I have, ha = you/he/she/it has, abbiamo = we have
- essere = to be, sono = I am, è = you/he/she/it is (accent doesn't change the pronunciation; e without an accent means "and"), siamo = we are
Examples: Sono americano (I am American) Il ristorante è vicino? (Is the restaurant nearby?) Abbiamo un problema (We have a problem) È aperto il supermercato? (Is the supermarket open?)
Note that to make questions, all you have to do is add an upward inflection (no need to change words around, etc.).
Other Useful Verbs
- Irregular verbs (yeah, a lot of the most useful/used ones are irregular...)
- andare = to go; vado = I go, va = you/he/she/it goes, andiamo = we go
- potere = to be able to; posso = I can, può = you/he/she/it can, possiamo = we can
- super useful! even if you don't know any other words, pointing to something and asking "posso?" helps a lot of situations
- sapere = to know; so = I know, sa = you/he/she/it knows, sappiamo = we know
- volere = to want; voglio = I want, vuole = you/he/she/it wants, vogliamo = we want
- you'll often hear the conditional tenses vorrei, vorrebbe, and vorremmo which mean "I would like", "you/he/she/it would like", and "we would like" respectively BUT it's probably easier for you to just use potere as a question for being polite: instead of Vorremmo un vino rosso ("We would like a red wine") you can just say Possiamo avere un vino rosso? ("Can we have a red wine?") or even Un vino rosso, per favore? ("Red wine, please?")
- avere bisogno = to need (so just conjugate avere like above and add bisogno...for example Ho bisogno d'acqua! = I need water!)...if you want to get fancy, you can learn the irregular verb dovere ("to have to")
- fare = to do; faccio = I do, fa = you/he/she/it does, facciamo = we do
- stare = to be; sto = I am/stay, sta = you/he/she/it is/stays, stiamo = we are/stay
- for transitory stuff, like how you are doing and location—can mean "to stay/remain"...hence "how are you doing" is Come sta? not Come è? Italianpills has a longer discussion of stare versus essere
- Regular verbs
- mangiare = to eat; mangio = I eat, mangia = you/he/she/it eats, mangiamo = we eat
- parlare = to speak; parlo = I speak, parla = you/he/she/it speaks, parliamo = we speak
Note also that the "-iamo" tense (we) can also mean "Let's...": Andiamo! = Let's go! Mangiamo! = Let's eat!
The simplest way is just conjugate avere and then add "-to" to the end of the verb stem:
- Ho mangiato = I ate
- Abbiamo magiato = We ate
- Ha parlato = You/he/she spoke
Some verbs (specifically action verbs like to come/go/ascend/descend/leave and "reflexive" verbs like to wash oneself/to get oneself up/to get oneself dressed) take essere instead of avere...so for example "I went" is technically Sono andato (not Ho andato). Still, at this point don't get too worried about the distinction—if you use the wrong word it will sound funny to Italians but they'll probably understand you.
Between the present tense, past tense, and time markers (like domani "tomorrow": instead learning how to say "I will go" you can just say Vado domani "I go tomorrow") you can make yourself understood in basic conversations. Don't be afraid of "caveman Italian"—just start speaking, and don't stress out about the grammar! For more information on verb conjugation (such as how to say "you-informal," "they" and "you guys," as well as all the other tenses so you don't have to talk like a cave man) check out the following:
- OnlineItalianClub gives a nice, slow introduction to verb conjugation with lots of explanation (beginner verbs [mostly present tense], pre-intermediate [past/future/etc], intermediate and upper-intermediate [both mostly "literary" verb forms])
- WordReference has a great website and app (iOS, Android) where you can look up the conjugation of any verb
- Connex-ita notes that you really only need to learn 5 tenses (present, "proximate" past, "imperfect" past, future, and present imperative) if you want to understand spoken Italian (most of the other tenses are more "literary")
- Wikipedia's page on Italian conjugation is pretty comprehensive if you want to learn all the details
- This cheat sheet (and this 1-page one) made by Duolingo contributors are great summaries of the top verbs/conjugations
...by the way, even Italians have trouble with some conjugations, like the congiuntivo (subjunctive), so Lorenzo Baglioni wrote this catchy song to explain it
Articles and Word Endings
Knowing how Italian changes based on "gender" and number, could avoid some confusing or embarrassing situations:
Usually masculine stuff ends in "o" (amico = "(male) friend"), and feminine stuff ends in "a" (amica = "(female) friend"). Plural masculine stuff ends in "i" (amici = "(male or mixed gender) friends") and plural feminine stuff ends in a "e" (amice = "(female) friends"). While you don't have to memorize the gender of every word to make yourself understood, it is a good idea to put the right ending on stuff with obvious gender (so you don't embaress someone by saying that they are your male friend when they are female, or vice versa).
Two additional notes that will help you understand Italian: These endings apply to adjectives as well, so it's il mio bello amico (my beautiful male friend) but la mia bella amica (my beautiful female friend). Second, as you saw in the examples, articles (the words "a" and "the") change as well:
Extra Credit: Advanced Articles
If you want to learn all the Italian articles, check out the following; don't worry too much about getting this right (if you say il zucchero instead of lo zucchero it won't be a big deal):
- l' = il/la + vowel (L'anno nuovo = The new year)
- lo = il + Z or S-c (Lo zucchero = The sugar; "S-c" means "s followed by a consonant" like gli Stati Uniti = the United States)
- gli = i/le + Z or S-c or GN or vowel or the word Dei ("Gods," as in Il Sentiero degli Dei "The Walk of the Gods")
- uno = un + Z or S-c
- un' = una + vowel
To learn more, check out http://www.geocities.com/f_pollett/i-2-4.htm, which covers articles in some detail. http://www.geocities.com/f_pollett/i-2-2.htm covers some exceptions and special cases of word endings Wikipedia's page on Italian Grammar also discusses word endings (as well lots of info about verbs).
- me = me
- lei = you/she
- lui = he
- loro = them
- noi = us
- mio/mia/miei = my
- suo/sua/suoi = your
- nostro/nostra/nostri = our
- Che (cosa) = What (as in Che cosa è questo? "What is this?" literally "What thing is this?")
- also can be used to exclaim "how ____" e.g. Che bello = How beautiful!
- Quando = When
- Quanto = How much
- Quanti = How many
- Dove = Where
- Come = How
- Quale = Which
- Chi = Who
- Perché = Why
- qui/qua = here (as in Viene qua! "Come here!"...note that qua is slightly less "precise" so qui means more like "right here")
- lì/là = there (là connotes slightly farther away, a bit like "over there"...note that these words are practically interchangeable; there is even much discussion amongst Italians as to the subtle differences)
- (in) vicino = close (by)/neighbor
- lontano = far (away)
- destra = right
- sinistra = left
- (tutto/sempre) diritto = straight
- avanti = forwards/ahead
- scendere = to go down/descend (e.g. Scenda, e poi a destra = "Go down and then to the right")
- salire = to go up/ascend
- di fronte a (or davanti) = across from (think "facing the front")
- a fianco di (or accanto) = next to (think "on the flank")
- dentro = in(side)
- fuori = out(side)
- sopra = over
- sotto = under
- dietro = after/behind
- su = up
- giù = down
Prepositions and other "Small Words"
These "connecting" words come in very handy...
- questo/a/i/e = this (sometimes abbreviated in compound words to sta as in stasera = this night = tonight)
- quello/a/i/e = that (extra credit: when used as an adjective, it combines with the article, e.g. quelle ragazze = these girls)
- con = with
- senza = without (as in Acqua con o senza gas? "Water with or without gas?")
- solo = only
- più = more (or "most" as in la più bella "the most beautiful")
- meno = less
- meglio = better
- peggio = worse
- così = like this/that
- per = for
- ancora = again (or "still" as in Ho ancora troppo pomodori! "I still have too many tomatoes!")
- già = already
- appena = just (Abbiamo appena mangiato! "We just ate!')
- niente = nothing
- nessuno = nobody/no one
- ogni = each
- tutto/a/i = every(one)
- quasi = almost
- altro = (an)other
- tra/fra = between (interchangeable words...the only rule is that it should "sound good" so one says tra fratelli "between brothers" not fra fratelli)
- qualcosa = something
- qualcuno = someone
- forse = maybe
- magari = maybe/perhaps but also "I wish!" or "If only!"
- boh = dunno (Quando arriva il treno? Boh.)
- beh = meh (Ti a piaciuto? Beh...non lo so)
- ciò che = (that) which (Italianpills has examples)
- Mi chiamo = My name is...
- Che peccato! = Too bad! (Literally: "What a sin!")
- Mannaggia! = Darn it!
- Davvero? = True? / Really?
- Dai! = Come on
- Bravo/a/e/i = Well done!
- Basta! = Enough! (e.g. telling someone to stop bothering you)
- Basta cosi, grazie = That will be all, thank you
- Auguri = congratulations / happy birthday / best wishes (more in Italy Magazine)
- domani = tomorrow (the joke is that this really means "not today")
- oggi = today
- ieri = yesterday
- dopo = after (in seguito = afterwards)
- prima (di) = before
- feriale = monday through saturday (often abbreviated "Fer")
- festivi = sundays and holidays (often abbreviated "Fest")
- ora = now
- adesso = right away/now
- un attimo = a moment/an instant (un attimo, per piacere = "just a moment, please")
- subito = soon (when John Paul II died, people cried Santo subito! "Make him a saint now!")
- mai = never
- sempre = always
- spesso = often
- giorno = day (think of a "journal," which you write in daily)
- settimana = week
- la prossima = the next...
- il/la ...scorso/a = the last...
- volta = time (as in la prossima volta "next time")
- ora legale = daylight savings time (literally "legal hours")
- tramonto = sunset (e.g. un'ora prima del tramonto = "one hour before sunset")
Adjectives and Adverbs
- tanto/molto = a lot of
- troppo = too many
- basta = enough (as in Basta pasta! "Enough pasta!" ...a common phrase is basta così, for "that will be all", if you're done ordering in a shop, literally "enough like that")
- abbastanza = enough/sufficient (a bit more formal)
- grande = big
- piccolo = small
- stesso = same
- poco (un po' di...) = a little (bit of)
- buono/a/i/e = good (can also mean "enjoy your..." e.g. buon natale = happy/merry Christmas)
- bene = well
- male = bad
- bello/a/i/e = beautiful
- facile = easy
- difficile = difficult
- piano = slow(ly), quiet(ly)...also as a noun means "floor" (like quarto piano = fourth floor)...can also mean "plan" or "plain" (as in flat)
- primo/a, secondo/a, terzo/a, quarto/a... = first, second, third, fourth
- nuovo = new
- vecchio = old
The following words are used to fill in conversations, and thus are common to hear as well as useful to know.
- Allora = Well then (a versatile word!)
- Dunque = Therefore/Well then/So/Accordingly/Consequently
- Poi = Then/Later
- Dopo = After
- Dopotutto = After all
- Ma/Però = But (però is a bit stronger)
- Anche = And also
- Ebbene = Well then (literally "and well...")
- Inoltre = Besides/Moreover
- Invece = Instead
- In qualche modo = Somehow
- Comunque = However/Anyhow (unque is roughly "ever/any"...so dovunque = wherever/anywhere, chiunque = anyone, ovunque = everywhere although dappertutto is more common)
- Quindi = Then/Therefore/So
- Ormai = By now/At this point/Already
- Oppure = Otherwise/Or
- Eppure = And yet/Still/Nevertheless
- Come stavo dicendo... = As I was saying...
- Vediamo un po' = Let's see...
- Senti = Listen / hear me out
- Guarda = Look (here)
- Cioè = That is / I mean / Namely / In other words
- Anzi = Actually / in fact / rather
On a separate page.
Also on a separate page.