Italian word of the day: ‘Senti’

Listen up, because you'll hear this word a lot.

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

How do you get an Italian to listen to you? 

If you have a tried and tested method we'd love to hear it, but in the meantime we can tell you roughly how to ask. Or rather, command. 

Senti is the imperative form of sentire, the verb 'to hear' or 'to feel'. That makes it an instruction or an invitation – like 'listen'.

We should clarify that it's not necessarily what you say when you want everyone else to shut up and pay attention: that's more likely to be “zitto!” ('quiet!') or “ascolta[mi]!” ('listen [to me]!').

Senti is a (usually) different kind of 'listen': the kind you drop into a conversation with a friend when you want to signal you're about to get serious, that you're really getting to the crux or that you want to be frank.

Ok, senti, sarò sincero.
Right, listen, I'll be honest.

In English we often swap 'listen' for 'hey' or 'look'. It might mean 'pay attention to this', but it also might just be something you say to make your sentence a bit less abrupt.

Senti, ne parliamo in privato.
Look, we'll talk about it in private.

Senti, mi presti la tua auto?
Hey, will you lend me your car?

Remember that senti is the second-person singular (the tu form), so if you're addressing more than one person at once (voi), you'll need to make it sentite.

Va bene, sentite, ragazzi.
Alright guys, listen.

And just like in English, sometimes things have to be heard to be believed. If someone says “Senti questa!” ('Just listen to this!'), it's usually with a tone of incredulity – like saying, 'can you believe this?'

Even worse is if someone responds to you with “Senti chi parla…” ('Listen who's talking', or as we'd say, 'Look who's talking'), implying that you're a fine one to hold whatever opinion it is you've just expressed.

Unless, of course, you're discussing the merits of 1980s rom coms.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.