Italian expression of the day: ‘Mi raccomando’

Be sure to get this phrase down if you ever want to ask for something important.

Italian expression of the day: 'Mi raccomando'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Our reader Pierre Kattar suggested that we feature today’s phrase, mi raccomando, which he says he first heard from his former mother-in-law as he prepared to take her daughter on a date.

“I didn’t know what it meant then but it sounded like a warning!,” he tells us. “I took it as: ‘You better treat her right, or else.'”

We don’t know his ex-mother-in-law, but we’d bet that’s probably a fair translation. Though it’s not the only one: as we’ll explain, mi raccomando is usually more of a request than a threat.

Raccomando – sounds a lot like ‘recommend’, right? So you’d be forgiven for thinking that the direct translation is ‘I recommend that…’ or, as our reader interpreted it, ‘you’d better…’.

Actually, in this case it’s a false friend. Yes, there is an Italian verb raccomandare that means ‘to recommend’, and yes, you can use it to give someone advice. 

Ti raccomando questo libro.
You should read this book (or: I recommend this book to you).

Ti raccomando di non fare tardi.
You’d better not be late.

But take a closer look at those two examples: the personal pronoun (ti – ‘you’) and the subject of the verb (raccomando – ‘I recommend’) don’t match. They involve two different people, you and me, because I’m giving you a suggestion.

Yet in the phrase mi raccomando, both pronoun and verb refer to one person alone – me. That’s because it’s actually the reflexive form of the verb: raccomandarsi, which means ‘to beg’ or ‘to implore’.

Si è raccomandato di fare presto.
He begged us to do it quickly.

Or, as a mother-in-law might say to her daughter’s suitor:

Mi raccomando: non perdere di vista mia figlia.
I beg of you, don’t let my daughter out of your sight.

While it sounds a bit theatrical in English, in Italian the phrase isn’t nearly so formal: it’s just a way of stressing that what you’re asking is important, a bit like we might start a request with ‘now remember…’ or ‘don’t forget…’.

Mi raccomando, scrivimi!
Don’t forget to write to me!

Mi raccomando! Non perderlo.
Now remember, don’t lose it.

State attenti, mi raccomando.
Please make sure you’re careful.

So if you hear someone tell you “Mi raccomando…”, there’s no need to panic.

This is the one and only time we’ll say this, but just do as Silvio Berlusconi advises and ‘make sure you behave’.

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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Italian expression of the day: ‘Farla franca’

You won't get away with neglecting to learn this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Farla franca'

If you like Italian detective or murder mystery novels, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter the phrase farla franca: to get away with something.

Con Poirot alle calcagna, l’assassino non riuscirà mai a farla franca.
With Poirot on the scent, the killer will never get away with it.

Pensavi davvero di potermi derubare e farla franca?
You really thought you could steal from me and get away with it?

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According to the Treccani dictionary, the expression comes from the bureaucratic use of the adjective franco to mean ‘free’, describing either people that are exempt from carrying out their duties (like off-duty naval officers) or goods that are exempt from tariffs and duties.

One of the first recorded uses of farla franca as a phrase comes from the early 14th century.

The Florentine historian Giovanni Villani wrote that in June 1322, the city of Florence celebrated the Feast of San Giovanni with a big fair, ‘la quale feciono franca’ for non-citizens – in other words, foreign merchants who came didn’t have to pay the usual taxes.

By the mid-1800s, the expression to mean escaping from some illicit act or risky endeavour without having to pay a penalty. In English (if you were being old-fashioned) you might talk in the same way about someone ‘getting off scot free’.

The la in farla franca is the part of the phrase that stands in for the ‘it’. It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to fare but can go somewhere else, as long as it’s there.

Non possiamo permettere che la faccia franca.
We can’t let him get away with this.

Pensa di poterla fare franca.
She thinks she can get away with it.

With this phrase now in your repertoire, there’s no telling what you’ll get away with.

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