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Italian expression of the day: 'Ci mancherebbe'

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Italian expression of the day: 'Ci mancherebbe'
Photo: DepositPhotos
17:37 CET+01:00
Need some assistance with this confusing phrase? We're happy to help.

Confession: ci mancherebbe (pronounced "chee mank-eh-reb-beh") still makes my brain hurt a bit. 

I first encountered it in restaurants, where it would come in reply to my requests for another bottle of water or an extra plate. "Is that a... yes?", I wondered.

It was, but it took me a little while to work out why. The full phrase is ci mancherebbe altro, which literally means 'something would be lacking otherwise'. In other words, waiters were telling me that there'd be something terribly amiss if they weren't to give me what I asked.

In contexts like this – when you're responding positively to someone's question – ci mancherebbe means 'certainly', 'of course', 'by all means'. Or when you've just done them a favour and they thank you, you can use it to tell them 'don't mention it', 'it's no trouble'.

– Posso prendere in prestito questo libro?
– Ci mancherebbe!

– Can I borrow this book?
– Of course you can!

– Grazie mille per essere venuto.
– Ci mancherebbe.

– Thank you so much for coming.
– Don't mention it.

Apart from politeness, ci mancherebbe carries the connotation that the answer to the question is natural or inevitable. So it can also serve as a synonym for 'obviously'.

But here's where it gets really confusing: the same phrase can also mean the exact contrary: 'obviously not'

If someone makes an ask of you that you think is out of order, for example, you might indignantly reply "Ci mancherebbe!" to mean that you think they're out of line ('something would be missing' if you granted their request).

– Posso prendere in prestito questo libro?
– Ci mancherebbe altro, non pensarci nemmeno!

– Can I borrow this book?
– Of course you can't, don't even think about it!

It doesn't always have to be an answer, either. You can use it more generally to express your displeasure about something, like saying 'that's the last straw' or 'that's the last thing we need'.

Non mi saluti dopo tutto quello che ho fatto per te...? Ci mancherebbe!
You don't even say hello to me after all I've done for you...? That's the last straw!

Una gomma a terra, ci mancherebbe altro!
A flat tyre, that's all we need!

While those examples relate to something that has already happened, you can also use it to talk about something you don't want to happen. Ci mancherebbe can also mean 'heaven forbid!'

Non vorrei impartire lezioni a nessuno, ci mancherebbe.
I don't want to give anyone lessons, heaven forbid. 

Ci mancherebbe che facessi gli stessi errori.
Heaven forbid you make the same mistakes. 

NB: ci mancherebbe che... ('heaven forbid that...') should be followed by the subjunctive, as you'll see in the second example above.

You see my confusion? My advice is not to think about the literal meaning too much: just think of ci mancherebbe as an expression of emphasis ('yes, of course!' or 'of course not!'), and go by tone and context to judge which. Or just wait and see what your waiter brings you.

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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