Ten words Italians are so sick of hearing

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Photo: Roberto T
10:47 CET+01:00
Even the most competent of Italian speakers will occasionally slip up, and the majority of native speakers will be forgiving as long as you’re making the effort. But here are ten mistakes that are sure to grate on the ears of your Italian friends.


Photo: Colin Gordon

Annoying Italians and coffee shop workers the world over, the all-too-common error of pronouncing "espresso" as "expresso" is the quickest way to confirm that your mother tongue isn’t Italian.

Pronouncing “ci” as “see”

A common mistake made by native English speakers when learning Italian, the tendency to mispronounce words like “Ciampino” (as in Rome's Ciampino airport) and “arancini” is sure to make the ears of your Italian friends bleed. Use the word ‘cappuccino’ as your guide: followed by ‘a’ ‘o’ and ‘e’, it’s a hard ‘c’ but followed by ‘i’ or ‘e’ it’s soft (like the way 'ch' is pronounced in English).


Photo: Andy Ciordia

Asking for a “panini” (the plural for sandwich), when you want just one sandwich ('panino') is a sure-fire way to confirm your non-nativeness to any Italian you meet. As this word has been woven into English, it takes time to remember that it’s 'un panino' and 'due panini'.


Forgetting to pronounce the 'e' at the end of grazie is another direct route to confirming your foreign status, if your sub-standard knowledge of the many kinds of pasta isn’t quite doing the trick already.

No problemo

The tactic of adding an 'o' to the end of an English word when you’re stuck for the Italian one may work a lot of the time, but when overdone it makes native Italian speakers cringe. In this case, the correct expression is “nessun problema”.

Using pronouns

“Io sono...” is a phrase which can give away your non-native status before you’ve even introduced yourself. Although using the personal pronoun is rarely technically ‘wrong’, in Italian it is usually saved for special emphasis. Most of the time, it’s simply not necessary and overuse of ‘io’ will mark you out as a foreigner.

Mispronunciation of double consonants

Photo: Lucas

A double consonant produces a short vowel sound in Italian, but this subtle-yet-important difference can pass beginners by. Asking to borrow a 'penna' (pen) can elicit some strange looks if you pronounce it as pena, meaning 'pain'.

Por favor

A common mistake made by Spanish-speaking Brits in Italy is to over-rely on the similarities between the two Latin languages. While knowledge of Spanish will help you understand many Italian words, slipping in the occasional 'por favor' (please) or 'gracias' (thank you) is an instant giveaway that you’re still not fully confident in Italian. In Italian, it's 'per favore'. 

False friends

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Photo: Tine Steiss

Words such as 'camera' (room) or casino ('chaos' or 'brothel') can produce puzzled looks if used in the wrong context. Italians everywhere must be left scratching their heads when tourists ask them to take a photo with their camera.

Words in the wrong gender

Photo: Thomas Rousing

Grammatical gender is the bane of native English speakers’ lives. Assuming that 'foto' (photo) is masculine because it ends in a typically masculine 'o', or that 'problema' (problem) must be feminine because of its final 'a' is an understandable error, but one that will single you out as a non-native. Even more confusingly, in their plural form both of these examples switch back to the expected gender ('le foto' and 'i problemi') - for an English speaker, it’s all too much to handle.

By Ellie Bennett


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