Learn just a handful of Italian words and phrases… and you can transform your trip to Italy! That’s because, while English is common in Italy’s larger cities and tourist destinations (including hotspots like Florence, Rome, Venice, and the Amalfi coast), it’s not as widely spoken in Italy’s smaller towns and countryside.
So to experience off-the-beaten-path Italy, a little Italian goes a long way! (And don’t worry about practicing on locals; Italians tend to be friendly and patient with foreigners).
Have no idea where to start? Here’s help, including some of the most useful Italian words and phrases you’ll love having on hand!
A quick word on Italian pronunciations
In more off-the-beaten-path towns, like Matera, it’s useful to know some Italian words and phrases before visiting.
Even if you don’t learn a single Italian phrase, knowing how to pronounce the language can be a big help—if only to, say, order items off a menu, tell a taxi driver your hotel address or ask a local what the next metro stop is… and be understood!
Italian words can be rather long (and poetic!), but here’s a helpful tip for pronouncing them: most of the time, stress falls on the second-to-last syllable. (So “Venezia” is “Ve-NE-zia”; “castello” is “cas-TELL-o”).
Vowels show up a lot in lyrical Italian. So just remember that “a” is pronounced like the a in father, “i” like the “ee” in greet, and “u” like the u in rule. The vowels “e” and “o” can be open or closed, depending on the word.
Meanwhile, many consonants sound like their English equivalent. The most important exceptions: the letter “c” before “i” or “e” is pronounced like a “ch,” “g” before an “i” or “e” is pronounced like the g in “general,” “h” is always silent, “r” is almost always rolled and “z” is pronounced like the “ds” in “lads” at the beginning of the sentence, and like the “ts” in setsin all other cases.
Double consonants can be a bit tricky, but here are some rules to remember: “ch” sounds like the “c” in “car,” “gli” sounds like the “ll” in million, “gn” sounds like the “ny” in “canyon,” and “sc” sounds like the “sh” in “shush” before i and e, and like “sk” in “skip” in all other cases.
Got that? Great! Now, here’s a quick starter guide to essential Italian words and phrases… and, of course, you’ll now be able to pronounce them!
Common Italian greetings
On a piazza like this one, expect to hear lots of Italian greetings!
Buongiorno: Good morning. Usually said until 4pm.
Buona sera: Good evening. Usually said after 4pm.
Buona notte: Good night. Only used to say goodbye, it is usually said before parting ways after 10pm, or before going to sleep.
Ciao: Hello or goodbye. A very informal greeting.
Salve: A way to say hello, used especially in Rome (it’s Latin!) and, in formality, in between “ciao” and “buongiorno.”
Arrivederci: A formal way to say goodbye. Literally means “until we see each other again.”
Other common Italian phrases
Per favore: Please
Grazie: Thank you. You may also hear “grazie mille” (literally “a thousand thanks”) to mean many thanks.
Prego: You’re welcome
Mi chiamo…: My name is… You may also say “Sono….”
Non parlo italiano: I don’t speak Italian
Parla inglese?: Do you speak English? This is the formal version, but you can also ask parli inglese? if you’d like to be informal.
Sì: Yes. Other popular affirmations: va bene (fine), okay.
Dove: Where. You may ask “Dov’è (street or landmark)…?” for directions.
Getting around an Italian city? A little Italian will go a long way! Photo by David McSpadden
Helpful words for getting around Italy
Macchina: Car. Also known as auto
Autobus: Bus. A coach bus is sometimes referred to as pullman
Banca: Bank. Be sure to ask for a bancomat if you’re looking for an ATM
Buon appetito! (Trofie pasta and pesto in Genova, Liguria)
Other popular Italian phrases
Allora: Perhaps one of the most popular Italian words, allora is a great way to transition between sentences. It can also be used to start a sentence or question like “so…”, “well…” or “therefore…” and as a reference to a time in the past.
Dai: This exclamation is short, but packs a lot of meaning. Can be used for exclamations like “come on!” or disbelief, like “really?!”.
Bello: Literally means “beautiful”, but can also be used to say something is nice, like a dress for example. Bello (for males) and bella (for females) is commonly used as a salutation between friends and acquaintances.
Buon appetito: Enjoy your meal. Almost always said when a meal is served.
Buon viaggio: Have a nice trip
Which Italian words and phrases have you picked up along your travels in Italy? Let us know in the comments!