Italian idioms and expressions: Unlocking the heart of the Language

Idioms are colorful threads that weave through the fabric of any language, giving it depth, personality, and cultural resonance.

Understanding idioms is essential for anyone learning a new language because they capture the unique ways in which native speakers think and communicate. Italian, with its rich cultural and historical heritage, is replete with idiomatic expressions that offer invaluable insights into its people and their way of life.

Let’s discover the importance of idioms in mastering Italian, navigating some common expressions, while acknowledging how Spaziolingua’s courses can help you become fluent in using them.


Popular Italian Idioms

Everyday idioms and their meetings

Italian is full of idioms used in daily conversations, each with its own unique flavor. For instance:

  • In bocca al lupo” (Into the wolf’s mouth): Used to wish someone good luck, similar to “break a leg” in English
  • Essere al verde” (To be at the green): Means being broke or out of money
  • Avere le mani bucate” (To have holes in one’s hands): Describes someone who spends money recklessly


Idioms related to food, weather, and emotions

Food, weather, and emotions are common themes in Italian idioms, such as:

  • Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco” (Not all doughnuts come out with a hole): Means that not everything turns out as planned
  • Piove sul bagnato” (It rains where is wet): Similar to “when it rains, it pours,” indicating that misfortunes often come in clusters
  • Avere il cuore in gola” (To have your heart in your throat): Describes the feeling of being very anxious or scared
  •  “Essere in alto mare” (To be in high seas): It means being far from a solution, akin to “being at sea” in English


Regional variations in idiomatic expressions

Italy is known for its rich linguistic diversity, with each region boasting its own unique dialects and idiomatic expressions. These regional variations reflect the local culture, history, and lifestyle, offering a fascinating glimpse into the country’s linguistic mosaic.

  • In Sicily, you might hear “Calati juncu ca passa la china” (Bend down, rushes, the flood is coming): Advising to stay low during hard times to avoid trouble
  • In Veneto, “Far i schei” (To make money): “Schei” is a Venetian term for money, emphasizing the region’s historical mercantile activities
  • In Tuscany, “Bischero” (Fool): A term used to affectionately or teasingly call someone foolish or silly
  • In Lombardy, “Tirat su i manigh” (Roll up your sleeves): Encouraging someone to work hard or put in more effort


READ ALSO: Mastering Italian for travel: Essential language skills for exploring Italy

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Using Idioms in Conversation


Contexts where idioms are commonly used

Idioms are prevalent in everyday Italian conversations, from casual chats with friends to formal business meetings. They are often used to emphasize a point, add humor, or express an idea more vividly. Understanding when and how to use these idioms appropriately is key to sounding natural and fluent.


Using idioms to become fluent: exercises for practicing idiomatic expressions

Incorporating idioms into your speech can significantly improve your conversational fluency. It shows that you have a deeper understanding of the language and can engage in more nuanced and expressive communication. Practicing idioms will help you become more attuned to the rhythm and intonation of native Italian speech.

Practical exercises for learning idioms might include:

  • Role-playing scenarios where idioms are naturally used;
  • Flashcards for memorizing idiomatic expressions and their meanings;
  • Listening to Italian media (movies, songs, podcasts) to hear idioms in context.


Cultural Insights Through Idioms


What the origins of idiomatic expressions reveal about Italian culture, history and values

Idioms are a window into the cultural values and historical experiences of a society.

For instance, the frequent use of food-related idioms in Italian reflects the central role of cuisine in Italian life. Similarly, idioms related to family and community underscore the importance of close-knit relationships in Italian culture.

Many idioms have fascinating historical origins:

  • Fare il portoghese” (To act like a Portuguese) originally referred to people sneaking into theaters without paying, supposedly imitating the Portuguese who had free entry in Rome
  • Salvare capra e cavoli” (To save both the goat and the cabbage) comes from an old puzzle about a farmer trying to transport a wolf, goat, and cabbage across a river without any being eaten



Mastering idioms and expressions through Spaziolingua’s courses

Spaziolingua offers specialized courses designed to help students master the use of the italian language, including the most interesting idioms and expressions.

Our courses cover a wide range of idioms, from the most common everyday expressions to regional and historical idioms. 

Spaziolingua’s classes include interactive sessions where students can practice using idioms in real-life scenarios, enhancing both their linguistic skills and cultural competence. Activities such as role-playing, group discussions, and multimedia resources make learning engaging and effective.


Idioms are an essential aspect of mastering the Italian language, offering rich insights into the culture and enhancing communication skills.

By understanding and using idiomatic expressions, language learners can achieve greater fluency and cultural connection. Enroll today at Spaziolingua to unlock the heart of the Italian language and deepen your linguistic and cultural understanding!

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