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Italian Idioms - Italian idiomatic expressions

Languages are brimful of typical expressions called "Idioms".

People who speak Italian (or whatever other language) use idioms in their everyday conversations.

Therefore, these expressions are indispensable if you want to learn a language, but a non-native speaker will find them pretty illogical and hard to learn, because their specific meaning doesn't correspond to their literal one.

There is oftentimes no way of supposing the meaning of an idiom merely by looking at the single words it contains.

However, don't worry, because I'm going to write each Italian idiomatic expression together with its literal English translation, its equivalent English idiom and its idiomatic meaning, so that you can learn easily.


Fare i salti mortali

Literal translation:To make mortal jumps

Equivalent English idiom:

To bend over backwards

Meaning: To make an extraordinary effort to do something.

From now on, I'm going to add, bit by bit, many Italian idioms to this page.

To start, here there are the first six of them:


Literal translation .. .....

Equivalent English idiom

Acqua in bocca!

Water in the mouth!

Mum's the word


keep quite, not to say anything.

Acqua passata

Past water

Water under the bridge


something belongs to the past and isn't important or disturbing any more.

Essere al verdeTo be at the greenTo be broke


to have no money; not to have enough money.


Fare passi da gigante to make giant steps
to progress by leaps and bounds


to make extraordinary progress in a short period of time.


Mettere il bastone tra/fra le ruoteTo put the stick between the wheelsTo throw a monkey wrench (or spanner) in the works


to hinder the carrying out of an activity or plan.


Perdere le staffeTo lose the stirrupsTo fly off the handle


To lose self-control by getting extremely angry.


That's all; arrivederci!

22 commenti:

Brenda ha detto...

What does "La dente specula" mean, please?

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Ciao Brenda,

I think that what you meant is “La gente specula”; it means: “People speculate”.

Don't hesitate to ask again!


Yellow Room ha detto...

My mother in law has an expression that means " What you put in is what you find."; can you tell me the italian words for it. I think it is something like "Que si met, que si drove" I don't know any italian at all and that is as close as I can come.

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Yellow Room, the translation of that meaning is

"quello che si mette è quello che si trova"


"ciò che si mette è ciò che si trova".

From this meaning, it sounds to me that your mother-in-law's expression is the Italian proverb: quello/ciò che semini, raccogli.


Nuwella ha detto...

grazie, this was helpful

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Nuwella, grazie for what you said!

Anonimo ha detto...

Awesome website, I had not come across grassosalvato86.blogspot.com before during my searches!
Continue the fantastic work!

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Anonymous, grazie! Please, come as many times as you want. You're welcome!

Diane ha detto...

My aunt used to say....'death likes privacy'. She's gone now and I wonder if it is an italian idiom. How can I say it -- anyone? grazie tutto

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Diane, "death likes privacy" translated into Italian is: "alla morte piace la privacy", but it is not an Italian saying.
Italian has different expressions related to "death", but not the one you mentioned.



Anonimo ha detto...

Per favore, Signore

My family wishes to put a phrase on my sister's footstone which is a quotation from our grandfather. He was born in Trentino and he called my sister "il cullo," meaning the first and best cut of the bread. My sister was the first-born of his only son, my father.

In my research I've only found that "culo" is slang for rear end. Could that also be a term of endearment, like popo?

Molto grazie,
Signorina Facchini

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Salve Signorina Facchini,

Il culo or culetto (its diminutive) del pane is the most crusty part of bread, and many people consider it as the best piece. Therefore, I can definitely understand why your grandfather called your sister "il culo"; though, he used this expression in his own way to show his love and affection for her, but actually, “culo” is not an endearment term; we never use it in this way.

Molte grazie anche a Lei,

Cobalt Violet ha detto...

Ciao! These are so fun! Is there an expression in Italian similar to "you get what you pay for?"

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Ciao! I'm happy you liked my blog.

In Italian, an expression with the same meaning of "you get what you pay for" is "tanto paghi/spendi, tanto hai" literally translated as what you pay/spend, what you have.

Grazie a te!

frankieFATALE ha detto...

Salve signore,

Sono studio il primo corso d'italiano e le sue poste aiutano con il mio diario per italiano. Grazie!

I hope I worded that correctly, please bare with me because I am a beginner. My first semester in italian is coming to an end so I decided to start a journal written in italian. To practice during the break and perhaps be fluent upon completing my final italian course.

What I find most helpful about your blog is the "examples" link, which gives you an idea of how to conjugate the verb and how to speak it! I found that my issue isn't necessarily how to pronunciate, it is when and when not to "tie words together" or when to place the pauses. Or does that even matter?

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Salve Frankie,

I am very happy that you found the "examples" helpful.
As a beginner, you did a great job with: Sono studio il primo corso d'italiano e le sue poste aiutano con il mio diario per italiano. Grazie!. However, let me correct it:

Studio il primo corso d'italiano e i suoi post mi aiutano con il mio diario per l'italiano. Grazie!

As you can see, the correspondent Italian word for "post" relative to a blog remains post (it is not "posta", whose plural is "poste"). Post is a word that Italian has imported from English, and in general these imported words are only used in their singular English form also when they indicate more than one thing or person, so we don't use the "s" at the end of them.

For example, we are not going to say: i suoi posts, le sue tre e-mails, i suoi sette softwares, but i suoi post, le sue tre e-mail, i suoi sette software.

Good pronunciation is important! You don't have to speak Italian like a native speaker; it is fine to have a different accent, but it is necessary that you are able to speak clearly, so that you will be understood when you say something.

I think that you have got one of the most important ingredient for learning Italian, that is: passion.

You are at a beginner level now; therefore, it is normal to find difficulty in trying to tie words together or in putting the correct pauses.
However, with passion, practice and time your difficulties are going to vanish.


Julia Robert ha detto...

Thanks for sharing this nice post. Idioms can have a literal meaning in one situation and a different idiomatic meaning in another situation. It is a phrase which does not always follow the normal rules of meaning and grammar. Learn English Idioms to improve English Language.

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Julia, thank you for your useful link.

Anonimo ha detto...

Is there an expression in Italian that is equivalent to"he marches to the beat of his ow drummer"?

grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Two correspondent Italian equivalents of he marches to the beat of his own drummer are (lui) fa a modo suo and (lui) fa di testa sua.

(Lui) fa a modo suo literally means he does (things) in his own way.

(Lui) fa di testa sua literally means he does (things) of his own head.

The idiomatic meaning of both these Italian equivalents is he does things the way he wants without taking other people into consideration.

Anonimo ha detto...

I'm looking for a way to say the italian equivalent of 'anything under the sun' ie. everything. Was wondering if there was a better way of doing so?


grassosalvato86 ha detto...

Ciao Greg,

In Italian, for anything under the sun (that is literally translated into qualunque cosa sotto il sole), we can use tutto il possibile, tutto ciò che è possibile (also with other tense forms of the verb essere), ogni cosa possibile, or simply di tutto.


Ho fatto tutto il possibile per convincerlo a rimanere, ma se ne è andato.

I did anything under the sun to convince him to stay, but he went away.

Thank you for stopping by,