Italian sayings are often imaginative and expressive beyond one’s wildest expectations, so if you want to live and breathe Italian like a native, then you must know the most essential sayings in Italian. 

Famous Italian phrases have been immortalized, like "La Dolce Vita" from the iconic Fellini film, capturing the essence of the sweet life. This article explores the 15 most useful Italian sayings you must know, giving you insights into the language and culture of Italy.

Capisce

1. "In bocca al lupo"

Translation: "In the mouth of the wolf"  

Meaning: Good luck (similar to "Break a leg")  

Response: "Crepi il lupo" (May the wolf die)

I use it all the time when someone is about to take an exam, whether at school (for my youngins) or the doctor (for my not so youngins). If someone says “In bocca al lupo,” you always have to answer “crepi il lupo” or simply “crepi.”  Why?

Simply put, when you’re about to take on a difficult or uncomfortable situation, it’s akin to being swallowed by a wolf.  Well, when you’re in the wolf’s belly, why not give it your all and burst through that belly, killing the wolf and saving yourself?  I know, it sounds grotesque, but the point is that you have overcome a challenging situation! 

There's also a funny and vulgar alternative: “in culo alla balena!” (lit. in the whale’s ass)!

Don’t ask me how Italians came to that phrase. 

2. "Chi dorme non piglia pesci"

Translation: "Those who sleep don't catch fish"  

Meaning: The early bird catches the worm

This is one of my favorites and one of the most common Italian sayings! I say this all the time, jokingly, to Gosia (my Polish friend), who always wakes up around 9 AM. She knows the expression by heart. I am an early bird and that’s when I tend to be at my most productive.

I haven’t learned 15 languages by sleeping in, so my advice to you, fellow language learner, is to seize the morning to do something in your target language(s)! 

3. "Tra il dire e il fare c'è di mezzo il mare"

Translation: "Between saying and doing, there is the sea"  

Meaning: Easier said than done

This is an Italian phrase to know, because it means you’ve been indifferent about a situation.  Personally, I  use it all the time to push friends and family to take action. I mention it in my Luca Speaks 11 language video (the Italian part). It signifies that one thing is to speak, talk, and discuss, and another is doing. I always advocate for “do first,” discuss later.

Why?  Doing something drives your motivation for more action whereas sitting down and doing nothing will only further your delay in doing something productive! 

4. "Non vedo l'ora"

Translation: "I can't see the hour"  

Meaning: I can't wait

When it comes to “top Italian phrases” this one has to be in the top 5 of the most commonly used within all of Italy.  It’s used to express enthusiasm in various situations. And the beauty of it?

It’s very flexible, because you can use it as a stand-alone sentence or attach it to a verb to add some variety to your list of  Italian expressions.

Example:

An attractive lady: Ci vediamo domani allora (I’ll see you tomorrow then)

You: Non vedo l’ora!

Or:

Non vedo l’ora di vederti domani! (I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!)

Non vedo l’ora di cominciare turco (I can’t wait to start learning Turkish)

5. "Chi va piano va sano e va lontano"

Translation: "He who goes slowly goes safely and goes far"  

Meaning: Slow and steady wins the race

This is what my grandmother always said when I got impatient. It’s the equivalent of “Slow and steady wins the race,” and it’s also my recommendation for language learners! 

Take it easy because language learning is a LONG road. Don’t be the hare, be the tortoise my friends! 

6. "Meglio tardi che mai"

Translation: "Better late than never"  

Meaning: It's better to do something late than never at all

One of the most famous Italian phrases, it’s the equivalent to “better late than never.” I use it often, half-jokingly, for example, when a friend calls me after we haven’t talked to each other for quite some time. 

Speaking of which, have you started learning your target language?  Regardless of your age, you’re never too old to take that first step [hyperlink the too old article]. 

7. "Il mattino ha l'oro in bocca"

Translation: "The morning has gold in its mouth"  

Meaning: The early bird catches the worm

This is another personal favorite to use.  Next to my place in Rome, there’s a wonderful cafe that opens just a bit earlier than the rest in the neighborhood.  The owner is a very nice guy and we often joke about getting up early to do what we need to do.  He does it for his business and I do it for my languages.

You see?  These common Italian sayings are bringing people together! We both agree that the morning is the most precious part of the day, where your mind is at its peak clarity and you can tackle the day head on without any intrusive thoughts. 

8. "È inutile piangere sul latte versato"

Translation: "It's useless to cry over spilled milk"  

Meaning: There's no use crying over spilled milk

Among the most classic Italian expressions, it’s obviously a time-honored life lesson. What is done is done, you cannot undo it, so the only option left is to move on and do something else! 

Example:

You: Ho versato del latte sulle mie scarpe nuove! (I spilled milk on my new shoes)

Friend: Inutile piangere sul latte versato! (There's no use crying over spilled milk)

9. "L'erba del vicino è sempre più verde"

Translation: "The neighbor's grass is always greener"  

Meaning: The grass is always greener on the other side

Another popular Italian phrase that’s just as common in English.  Life can get pretty rough at times, but it’s all about perspective and there’s no need for comparison.  As the old saying goes, “comparison is the thief of joy.” 

Example:

YouTuber: Quel tizio ha fatto 10 milioni di visualizzazioni e io ne ho fatte solo 3 con l’ultimo video! (That guy got 10 million views, and I only got 3 million on my last video!)

Friend: L’erba del vicino è sempre più verde! (The neighbor's grass is always greener!)

10. "Ogni morte di papa"

Translation: "Every death of a pope"  

Meaning: Once in a blue moon

Surprise, surprise, but I use this one all the time!  I often say it when people ask about whether or not it snows in Rome. Feel free to come up with your own examples to talk about something that rarely happens. 

Example:

A Roma nevica veramente ogni morte di Papa! (In Rome, it really snows once in a blue moon!)

11. "Andare liscio come l'olio"

Translation: "To go smooth as oil"  

Meaning: To go smoothly

This is a great Italian saying to describe how something went, be it a doctor’s appointment, an important test or a job interview. It doesn’t have to be as serious as the examples I’ve brought up.  However, one absolutely dead serious aspect about this quote? Its mention of oil (as in olive oil), it’s something that Italians cannot live without.  When we do something “with oil,” it’s easy, natural and without any hassle.  Without oil? Well, I can’t share those sayings with you… at least, not today. 

Example:

Friend: Com’è andata l’intervista? (How did the interview go?)

You: È andata liscia come l’olio! (It went smooth as oil!)

12. "Avere le mani bucate"

Translation: "To have holes in one's hands"  

Meaning: To be a big spender

My father, a frugal individual when it came to money, used to use these exact Italian words to describe my poor financial habits.  Young Luca was not the wisest wolf on Wall Street with his wallet, but over time, I eventually became a little more like my papa. 

Example:

My father: Hai riportato qualcosa indietro? (Did you bring something back [aka the change]?)

Me: No, ho speso tutto. (No, I spent all my money)

My father: Hai proprio le mani bucate! (You really have holes in your hands!)

13. "Essere in gamba"

Translation: "To be in leg"  

Meaning: To be clever, capable, or talented

This is a fitting Italian phrase for Al Pacino’s acting, Leonardo’s painting and Rita Levi-Montalcini’s expertise at neurobiology. You get the idea, it’s used to describe the concept of “being on your feet” as if you're ready to take action and do your best at all times. 

Example:

Me: Ieri ho finalmente conosciuto la tua amica Maria! È bravissima! (Yesterday, I finally met your friend Maria! She’s amazing!)

My friend: Sì, Maria è proprio in gamba! (Yes, Maria is really in leg!)

14. "Piove sul bagnato"

Translation:: "It rains on the wet"  

Meaning: When it rains, it pours / Bad luck comes all at once

When it feels like the tidal wave of torturous misfortune is neverending, feel free to use this common Italian saying.  I have had a few of these spells recently in my personal life, but do you know what always happens to lift my spirits? Language learning! 

Example:

Me: Oggi non solo sono stato bocciato all’esame, ma ho anche avuto un incidente con il motorino. (Today, not only did I flunk the exam, but I also had a scooter accident)

Friend: Piove sul bagnato! (When it rains, it pours!)

15. "Chi trova un amico trova un tesoro"

Translation: "Who finds a friend finds a treasure"  

Meaning: A good friend is invaluable

To end on a positive note, I love this Italian expression because it encapsulates the profound truth that friends are crucial in one’s life. In Italy, having a circle of friends and family is pivotal. My neighborhood really feels like an extended family of sorts and not a day goes by where it doesn’t make me smile. 

Example:

I recently met Desh from Sri Lanka and Abdel from Morocco. During one of our walks, I said, “Chi trova un amico trova un tesoro.” E io ne ho trovati ben due! (Who finds a friend finds a treasure. And I found two at once!)

What Say You?

Those 15 Italian sayings should be plenty for you to work into your learning sessions.

Afterall, they’re more than just phrases; they are a window into the Italian way of life, filled with wisdom, humor, and insight. Whether you are learning Italian or just looking to understand the culture better, these top Italian phrases are essential. 

Remember, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears and never regrets.."
Embrace these famous Italian phrases, and you’ll not only speak like an Italian but you’ll also start to think and live like one! 

In bocca al lupo!

Written by Luca Lampariello

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.


You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
>
Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!