Italian Slang: The Devil is in the Detail
Knowing formal Italian is important for professional purposes and many other everyday situations a language learner can find himself or herself in. However, if you want to be well-versed and sound natural, you will need to work on your Italian slang.
This informal kind of language is very popular in speech among people of all ages. Today, we are going to learn some colloquial words and expressions that will make your next trip to Italy much easier.
Italian Slang Expressions
I remember my first visit to Italy to try out my language skills. I quickly realized that I spoke well but very formally. This did not bother people I had conversations with but they sounded distinctly different to me. As much as most of the time I got the main idea of what they were trying to say, I struggled with details. What I noticed is that Italians use a lot of small utterances, which are full of meaning. On the top of that, there were just many words I had never heard.
Here is a list of popular Italian slang expressions and phrases to help you avoid such a situation:
“Dai” is a second person singular of the verb “dare”, which means “to give”. The exclamatory use of the verb has nothing to do with its normal meaning and it translates as “come on”.
Ho lasciato la mia borsa a casa! (I left my bag at home!)
Ma no, dai! (Oh no, come on!)
It can also mean “stop” or “let it go”:
Perché non vuoi uscire con me? (Why don’t you want to go out with me?)
Dai! (Let it go!)
This exclamation is very popular. It means “I don’t know” and suggests you also do not care about knowing. Of course, you could just say “Non lo so” but a confidently used “Boh!” will convince people around you that you speak the language like a real Italian. Similar expressions worth remembering are “Chi lo sa?” (“Who knows?”) and less polite “Chi se ne frega?” (“Who cares?”)
Perché l’ha fatto? (Why did he do it?)
Boh! (I don’t know!)
Another often used Italian phrase is “figurati”. It is an Italian equivalent of “Don’t worry” or “It’s nothing”. You can use it either when someone thanks you for something or apologizes for doing something, like in the following examples:
Grazie per esser venuto! (Thank you for coming!)
Figurati! (It’s nothing!)
L’ho rovinato. Mi dispiace tantissimo! (I’ve destroyed it. I’m so sorry!)
Figurati! (Don’t worry!)
The expression “meno male” is a funny one. It literally means “less bad” but you should not use it to say “worse”. If this is the word you are looking for, say “peggio” or “peggiore”, depending on the context. “Meno male” surprisingly means “Thank goodness!”.
La mia gamba non è rotta. (My leg isn’t broken.)
Meno male. (Thank goodness!)
You do not have to be unnecessarily vulgar to express negative emotions with Italian slang. The expression “Fa schifo!” means “It sucks!” or “It’s disgusting!”. You can also say “Che schifo!” (How disgusting!) or “Mi fa schifo…” (It makes me sick…). All these expressions are widely used in informal conversations and even on TV.
Hai visto il nuovo film di Lucelli? (Have you seen the new film by Lucelli?)
Sì, fa schifo! (Yes, it sucks!)
Ho trovato un panino vecchio nella mia borsa. (I’ve found an old sandwich in my bag.)
Che schifo! (How gross!)
La violenza mi fa schifo. (Violence makes me sick.)
Anche a me! (Me too!)
You probably know the expression “magari” as “maybe”. That is all very well… but it can also be used as an idiom expressing a strong desire or hope, in the sense of “if only”. With men of few words sometimes it is not clear from the context which magari they mean. If that is the case and you are cool as a cucumber and do not want to ask for a clarification, try to pick up the meaning from the tone of voice and other non-verbal cues. Practice makes perfect!
Credo che vinca! (I believe he’ll win!)
Magari. (If only.)
Possiamo andare al cinema domani? (Can we go to the cinema tomorrow?)
Vediamo, magari. (We’ll see, maybe.)
You may have heard this word in Italian movies. “Basta” simply means “Stop!” or “Enough!”. Curiously, Polish borrowed it from Italian and uses it in exactly the same way.
Puoi al meno asseggiare? (Can you at least try it?)
No! Basta! (No! That’s enough!)
Other useful expressions with “basta” that can come in handy are:
Basta la parola – Just say the word (literally: the word is enough)
Mi aiuteresti? (Would you help me?)
Basta la parola. (Just say the word.)
Basta poco – You don’t need much/ It doesn’t take much.
Basta il pensiero. – It’s the thought that counts.
Basta crederci. – If you believe, anything is possible.
“Che figata!” is an exclamation expressing appreciation for something. It translates as “It’s cool!” or “It’s awesome”. It is very colloquial but also extremely popular.
Vado in vacanza in America. (I’m going on holiday to the States.)
Che figata! (That’s awesome!)
“Ti va?” is quite a useful way of saying “Does it suit you?” or “Does this sound okay?”.
Ci vediamo alle 6, ti va (bene)? (We’re meeting at 6, is that okay?)
By saying “ci sto!” you can express your agreement and enthusiasm. It is an Italian slang expression meaning “I’m down!” or “I’m in!”.
Andiamo a prendere una birra? (Do you want to grab a beer?)
Ci sto! (I’m in!/I’m down!)
You can also ask for someone else’s interest by using “ci stai?”.
Organizzo una festa domani, ci stai? (I’m organizing a party tomorrow, are you in?)
There are countless colloquial and slang expressions in Italian. It is impossible to cover them all but the ones I have listed here certainly be useful. The biggest challenge with slang is remembering to use it only in appropriate situations. In other words, you will not impress your boss with it! Another problem is that Italian slang keeps changing and evolving. To make sure you are not using outdated expressions, it is good to watch Italian movies, listen to podcasts and, if you can, visit Italy regularly.
Magdalena Osiejewicz-Cooper has lived in Bologna and Palermo. Apart from Italian she speaks fluent Polish and French. She is currently self-studying Spanish.