Italian word of the day: ‘Bravo’

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

Italian word of the day: 'Bravo'
Photo: DepositPhotos

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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Italian expression of the day: ‘Conosco i miei polli’

We know what we're dealing with with this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Conosco i miei polli'

You don’t have to be a poultry farmer to go around telling people ‘conosco i miei polli’ – literally, ‘I know my chickens’ – in Italian.

There’s no perfect translation, but it means something along the lines of ‘I know who I’m dealing with/ what they can get up to/ what they’re like’; I know what to expect from them, for better or worse.

It usually implies slightly mischievously that the people or person being discussed could be troublemakers, and that the speaker has the necessary knowledge to deal with them effectively.

You might think of it as ‘I know what those little devils/rascals are like’ if referring to naughty children, or ‘I know how those jokers/b******s operate’ if discussing petty officials or difficult colleagues.

Saranno tornati entro la mattinata; fidati, conosco i miei polli.
They’ll be back by morning; trust me, I know what I’m talking about.

Conosco i miei polli; vedrete che arriveranno alla riunione con mezz’ora di ritardo e daranno la colpa al traffico.
I know them: you’ll see, they’ll get to the meeting half an hour late and blame it on the traffic.

Business Guy Nbc GIF by Sunnyside

According to at least one source, the full original phrase is ‘conosco i miei polli alla calzetta‘, or ‘I know my chickens by their stockings’.

It refers back to a time when chickens roamed the streets or shared courtyards freely.

So they didn’t get mixed up, each bird had a little scrap of coloured cloth tied around their foot that allowed each owner to quickly spot their chicken.

The next time you’re dealing with some tricky characters, you’ll know just what to say.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.