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Italian word of the day: 'Bravo'

The Local Italy
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Italian word of the day: 'Bravo'
Photo: DepositPhotos"

We may have borrowed this word into English, but Italians still use it a lot more.


Bravo is what you might call a false friend: it looks familiar, but it's not quite the same in Italian as it is in English.

Just to be clear: it's not wrong to use bravo in Italy the same way we say it, to mean 'well done!' when you're congratulating someone – e.g. an actor – on their performance.

But remember, in Italian you'll need to modify the word according to who you're talking to: bravo for a man, brava for a woman, brave for multiple women, and bravi for multiple men or a mixed group.

Then there's the pronunciation: while in English we tend to stress the final 'o', in Italian the emphasis comes on the 'a' of the first syllable.

Then there are all the other times you can use the term apart from at the theatre.

Italians exclaim bravo in all sorts of situations where English speakers probably wouldn't bother saying 'well done': we've heard it said by waiters to diners for placing their order, by diners to waiters for getting their order right, in banks when the person behind the counter understands your request, even by doctors to patients as they're describing their symptoms (?!).

Perhaps they're just better at complimenting each other. Though we can't guarantee every bravo is sincere: you can also say it sarcastically – the verbal equivalent of a slow clap.

Hai perso il treno? Bravo.
You missed the train? Well done.

Bravo, ci mancava solo questa!
Oh great, that’s all we needed!

What's more, in Italian bravo isn't only an exclamation: as an adjective it's a way to describe a person (almost never a thing) as 'good', whether you mean they're skilful...

Sono brava in italiano.
I'm good at Italian.

È un bravo fotografo.
He's a good photographer.

... or well-behaved...

I bravi ragazzi non si comportano così.
Good boys don't behave like that.

Fai il bravo!
Be good!

... or honest and upstanding...

Abbiamo incontrato un sacco di brava gente.
We met a lot of good people.

'15 signs you're with a good guy' – headline from the Huffington Post

... or brave.

Sono i guerrieri più bravi al mondo.
They're the bravest fighters in the world.

Much less common (but rather charming) is using bravo to emphasize length or quantity – the same way you can say 'a good amount' in English, though in Italian you'll need to say 'my good amount'.

Mi sono fatto le mie brave otto ore di lavoro.
I put in a good eight hours' work.

Ho corso la mia brava mezz'ora.
I ran for a good half hour.

In which case, all we can say is: bravo!


Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.



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