Italian expression of the day: 'Ma va' là'

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Italian expression of the day: 'Ma va' là'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond"

There's no way you haven't heard this expressive Italian phrase.


Ever come across something in Italy you just can't believe? In a country filled with traditions, tales and people that are sometimes (literally) incredible, the chances are that sooner or later you'll need to express your surprise – even maybe, just maybe, your scepticism.

Today's phrase can help you there: ma va' là is a way to say 'no way', 'come off it', 'pull the other one'.

It literally means 'but go there' (va' being a contraction of vai, the command form of the verb andare, 'to go') – which may not sound like much at first, until you remember that English speakers tell people we doubt to 'get out of here!' too.

– Mi hanno detto che hai vinto al lotto.
– Ma va là!
– I heard you won the lottery.
– Yeah right!


You'll also hear ma va' on its own, which is used in just the same way.

Of course, a lot depends on tone: just like 'no way' in English, ma va' là can express disbelief, denial, genuine surprise or complete lack of it.

– L'anno scorso sono andato in vacanza in Puglia.
– Ma va'! Anche io!

– Last year I went on holiday to Puglia.
– No way! Me too!

– Ho fatto una scoperta incredibile: la miglior pizza del mondo è a Napoli.
– Ma va' là... 

– I've made an incredible discovery: Naples has the best pizza in the world.
– You don't say. (Imagine saying it with an ironic eye roll.)

For more inspiration, we'll leave you with a kids' song entitled Ma Va' Là, which involves a tall tale about frogs in Vietnam going to university to learn to ribbit. Listen out for the chorus:

Ma va' là, ma va' là,
Ma dai, che storia è questa?
Ma va' là, ma va' là,
Invece, invece è la verità.

Oh come on, oh come on, 
Seriously, what's this story?
Oh come on, oh come on,
And yet, and yet it's the truth.

Today's expression was requested by one of our readers. Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.


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[email protected] 2020/06/26 17:22
My American grandmother used to say "Oh go on!" in these circumstances, and it is in fact the exact translation!

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