25 Essential Italian Idioms and Colloquialisms

Check out other posts in this series exploring proverbs in German, HungarianEnglish, Japanese, Finnish, Romanian, Czech, Portuguese and Estonian.


So, by now, you have been studying Italian for a little while, already feeling quite confident with the language. You are even able to manage the dreaded il Modo Congiuntivo. However, in certain situations it seems the locals are using terms and phrases that have a second, implied meaning which can be a little bit tricky to understand. This can be upsetting for anyone learning Italian, but don’t panic! They are just using idioms and colloquialisms native to their language. Moving forward, it will also help you to learn some of them.

Why Learn Idioms and Colloquialisms?

Whether you’re a beginner in learning Italian or an advanced speaker, learning some idioms and colloquialisms can really help you in your studies. Not only does using them make you sound more natural when you speak with other Italians, but they also build your confidence, making you sound a like a native speaker. In fact, in some cases, ideas or thoughts can be expressed more effectively by using idioms or colloquialisms than by using a long, complicated sentence.

Undoubtedly, idioms and colloquialisms reflect the historical and cultural circumstances in which they have evolved. This can also offer you some precious insight into the language you’re learning. Nevertheless, we are all citizen of the same planet, so many idioms and colloquialisms are nearly universal, expressing similar ideas in different languages. So, even in this list, you may find a lot of similarities with your own native language.

Italian Idioms and Colloquialisms

Taking inspiration from our previous post about 25 English idioms, here is a list of idioms in Italian that can help you with breaking the ice (or, rompere il ghiccio, if you’re in Italy) in your everyday conversation, as well as not panicking when they are used by Italians:

1. “I fatti parlano più delle parole.
This means that one can better judge people’s intentions by what they do rather than what they say. Similar to “Actions speak louder than words.”

2. “Oltre al danno, anche la beffa!
This means that you not only did you get ripped off (the injury), but you were also duped (insult). Similar to “Add insult to injury.

3. “Fare l’avvocato del Diavolo.
This means that you are presenting a counter argument in which you don’t really believe in, in order to start a debate. Similar to “Being the Devil’s advocate.

4. “Avere gli occhi più grandi dello stomaco.
This means that you are taking on more of something (food, task, project, etc.) than what you can process or handle. Similar to “Bite off more than you can chew.

5. “Calmare i bollenti spiriti.
This means that you are calming yourself or other people who are feeling angry. Similar to “Blow off steam.

6. “Mai giudicare dalle apparenze.
This means that you should not judge something or someone based only on its/their appearance. Similar to “Can’t judge a book by its cover.

7. “Piangere sul latte versato.
This means that you are complaining about a problem from the past that cannot be changed. Similar to “Crying over spilt milk.

8. “Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino.”
This means that being overly inquisitive, or sticking your nose in something can lead you into an unpleasant situation. Similar to “Curiosity killed the cat.

9. “Concedere il beneficio del dubbio.
This means that you should not doubt someone’s statement until proven otherwise. Similar to “Give the benefit of the doubt.

10. “Prendere due piccioni con una fava.”
This means you can solve two problems with one solution. Similar to “Kill two birds with one stone.

11. “È un gioco da ragazzi!
This means that a job, task, or other activity is very easy or simple. Similar to “Piece of cake!

12. “Quando parli del diavolo e spuntano le corna.
It is used when the person you have just been talking about arrives. Similar to “Speak of the devil!

13. “Tenere le dita incrociate.
This means to hope for a good outcome for someone or something. Similar to “Keep one’s fingers crossed.

14. “Sbarcare il lunario.
This means managing to stay alive, especially when one has very little money, or in very difficult circumstances. Similar to “Keep body and soul together.

15. “Ride bene chi ride ultimo!
It is said to emphasise that the person who has control of a situation in the end is most successful, even if other people had seemed originally to have an advantage. Similar to “He who laughs last, laughs longest.

16. “Aggiungere benzina sul fuoco.
This means to say or do something that makes a bad situation worse. Similar to “Add fuel to the fire.

17. “Pareggiare i conti.
This means to do something equally bad to someone who has done something bad to you. Similar to “Get even with someone.

18. “Bere come una spugna.
This is used when talking about someone who drinks a lot or too much alcohol. Similar to “Drink like a fish.

19. “L’ambasciator non porta pena.
It is said to warn someone not to be angry with the person who delivers bad news (for which they’re not responsible). Similar to “Don’t shoot the messenger.

20. “A caval donato non si guarda in bocca.
This is said to advise someone not to refuse something that is being freely offered. Similar to “Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

21. “Non dire gatto se non ce l’hai nel sacco.
It is said to emphasise that you cannot depend on something happening before it has happened. Similar to “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched!

22. “Avere lo stomaco di ferro.
This means you have a very strong stomach which can withstand bad food or anything nauseating. Similar to “To have a cast iron stomach.

23. “Farsi in quattro.
It means to try very hard to do something good or helpful. Similar to “Bend over backwards.

24. “Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio.
It means that a person’s character, especially if it is bad, will not change, even if they pretend that it will. Similar to “A leopard cannot change its spots.

25. “La mela non cade mai troppo lontano dall’albero.
This means a child usually has a similar character or similar qualities to his or her parents. Similar to “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

This post was written by Marzia P, our Italian teacher in Rome.