I’ve always thought that Italian was a beautiful language. I studied it throughout school and have a grandmother who speaks it fluently. But it wasn’t until landing in Italy that I began to realize how the language is actually spoken in everyday life.
Like in most countries, sayings vary from region to region, but there are certain phrases that are essential to get you through your adventures in the bel paese. From transportation and restaurant lingo to where to find the toilet, here my top 10 Italian phrases to know.
1. “Grazie mille.” You probably know the word grazie (pronounced grah-zi-e) which means “thank you.” But grazie mille means “thank you so much,” and can be used to thank your waiter after a delicious meal, the hotel concierge for their service, or in any other situation where you would like to express your gratitude.
2. “Dov’è il bagno?” When you’ve really got to go, it’s not an ideal time to be fumbling through your pocket vocabulary book to figure out the correct way to say, “Where’s the bathroom?” The correct way to ask for the toilet is dov’è il bagno (with a silent g). Speaking of the toilet, many public restrooms in Italy require a small fee to enter, so always have about €0.50 set aside in your wallet.
Viewfinder Tip: You are not required to tip at restaurants in Italy, as the service charge is usually already part of the bill. However, I always leave a tip for excellent service.
3. “Un caffè, per favore.” Brewed, American-style coffee does not exist in Italy. When you order un caffè?, you are ordering an espresso, and it will be a delicious one. On the subject of coffee in Italy, ordering a cappuccino or latte after breakfast is considered a no-no, so stick to espresso!
4. “Sono [your first name].” This is the correct way to introduce yourself to someone you are meeting for the first time.
5. “Piacere.” When you are introduced to someone Italian, they will usually also say piacere, which is the Italian equivalent of “nice meeting you.” Using this phrase will definitely give you some street credibility with your new Italian amici!
6. “Un biglietto, per favore.” Whether you are taking the train or the bus, you should simply ask for one ticket—un biglietto. You may be asked if your trip is andata e ritorno, which means round-trip, or senso unico, or one-way.
7. “Quanto costa?” If you would like to know the price of anything in Italy you can simply ask quanto costa; if you are asking the price of more than one thing or a pair, the plural equivalent is quanto costano.
8. “Parli inglese?” Italians appreciate when tourists attempt to use their language, but if you are really struggling, you can ask parli inglese to find out if they speak English. Most Italians in major cities like Rome, Venice, and Florence speak a good bit of English, but in the more rural areas you should definitely pack a few extra Italian phrases to get by.
9. “È buono.” There are two ways to say “good” in Italian—bene and buono. In a restaurant setting, you should opt for buono when asked how the food or wine tastes. If it’s one of the best meals that you’ve ever had—and the odds of this are large in Italy—you should exclaim buonissimo!
10. “Buongiorno / buona sera / buona notte.” The rule of thumb when saying hello throughout the day is this: From the morning until just after lunch time, you should say buongiorno, which means “good day.” From that point on, you should use buona sera, which means “good evening.” Only when you are heading home to bed should you say buona notte, which means “good night.”
What is your favorite Italian phrase?