Italian word of the day: ‘Comunque’

However this common word confuses you, it's worth trying to master.

Italian word of the day: 'Comunque'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Comunque is one of those words that make more sense when you hear them in context – and that's handy, since in Italy you'll hear it a lot.

It's used in a few different ways. One of the most common is to mean 'anyway' or 'in any case'.

Non sai dov'è? Grazie comunque.
You don't know where it is? Thanks anyway.

Sarà difficile trovarne… Comunque, ci proverò.
It will be difficult to find them… In any case, I'll try.

The difference is subtle, but comunque can also mean something more like 'but still' or 'nevertheless'.

Abbiamo avuto dei danni, comunque poteva andare peggio.
We had some damage but still, things could be worse.

Hai fatto bene a venire, comunque potevi avvisarmi.
I'm glad you came, nevertheless you could have warned me.

Now here's where comunque gets a little more complicated: it's also 'however' or 'no matter how'.

Questo documento, comunque interpretato, non prova nulla.
This document, no matter how it's interpreted, doesn't prove a thing.

But often when you're using it this way – especially when you start a sentence with it – you'll need to use the subjunctive, because you're talking about an indefinite possibility ('however that may be…'). 

Comunque vadano le cose, io ci sarò.
However things might go, I'll be there.

Comunque tu dica, sbagli.
Whatever you might say, you're wrong.

Comunque sia, preferirei restare.
However that may be, I'd prefer to stay.

However (!): that may be how comunque was originally used, when it used to be confined to relatively formal language, but nowadays the rules – especially in spoken Italian – are a lot less strict. As this style guide laments, it's common these days to hear comunque used without the subjunctive, more like plain old 'but' – or even as one of those common filler words that don't really mean a thing. 

Overheard in Rome practically every day: “Quindi, comunque, va be'…” (“So, anyway, alright…”). And if that's good enough for Italians, that's good enough for us! 

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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.

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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.