Italian word of the day: ‘Addio’

Time to say goodbye to all the confusion around Italian greetings.

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

When you first start learning Italian, you can mostly get by with a simple ciao and the occasional buongiorno or arrivederci. And if you're anything like me, you can continue getting by like that for a while.

But eventually we need to branch out a bit. And it would be a shame not to, since Italian gives us so many different greetings to choose from.

We all know that we shouldn't say ciao or even arrivederci to the doctor. or to that guy in the comune with the all-important stamps – the more respectful arrivederla comes in handy then.

And who can resist throwing a salve into the mix? Not only is it fairly polite, but using it makes you feel like an ancient Roman.

But I was confounded by addio. Do people actually use it in speech? And if so, when? Is it anything like the Spanish adios? And will Italians look at me (even more) strangely if I use it?

You might hear it in the phrase addio al celibato/nubilato – meaning a stag or hen party (or bachelor/bachelorette for our readers in the US.) While that sounds a lot like “goodbye to celibacy”, it would better translate as “farewell to the single life”.

In fact, farewell is the best translation for addio. Dated, slightly formal, and usually filled with drama, sadness, or irony.

Addio has a definitive air about it – it's practically a parting of the ways.

You might hear it at funerals, or when a relationship ends.


In romantic films or books dirsi addio can mean saying a definite goodbye.

– In realtà, è un addio per sempre.

– Actually, it's goodbye forever.

You'll also hear it used ironically. For example, when a much-disliked politician resigns Italian Twitter will quickly fill up wth comments about il lungo addio (the long goodbye.)

Or you could say something like:

– se arrivano i bambini, addio pace!

– if the children turn up, that'll be the end of our peace and quiet!

At the theatre, the final performance of a show is called the serata d'addio.

Addio is a little like the Spanish adios, though that's still commonly used, usually when you don't expect to see the person again soon.

But it's much more like the French adieu; dramatic and rarely deployed.

And the answer to my final question turned out to be a definite yes: if you use addio to say goodbye, Italians will most definitely look at you strangely. Perhaps they'll think you're breaking up with them, or going back to your home country for good.

If you are, then addio might actually be appropriate. Otherwise it's way too poetic – and final.

In most cases you're better off sticking with common goodbye phrases like ci sentiamo, a dopo, or just good old ciao.


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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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.