Italian word of the day: ‘Complimenti’

Give yourself a pat on the back if you know how to use this common phrase.

Italian word of the day: 'Complimenti'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Did you know that Italian has at least two ways to say 'congratulations'?

There's auguri, which is what you'd say to someone on their birthday, at their wedding or the birth of their child. It comes from the verb augurare ('to wish', 'to bid') and is essentially like offering someone your 'best wishes': you're not just celebrating the occasion, but wishing them well for what comes next.

Auguri di pronta guarigione.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Complimenti, on the other hand, is for when you want to congratulate someone on a job well done. It means, literally 'compliments' – in the same sense that a satisfied diner might send their “compliments to the chef”.

Complimenti per la laurea!
Congratulations on your graduation!

But it also reflects a more general appreciation of something. Italian speakers use complimenti at times we'd rarely say 'congratulations' in English (much like they say bravo of things that wouldn't get a 'well done!' from an Anglophone).

It's tough to translate exactly what it means in this context, but essentially it's just a way to tell someone you like something they do, have or are.

Complimenti, parli molto bene l'italiano.
Nice one, you speak very good Italian. 

Complimenti, che bella casa!
What a lovely house you have!

While giving someone your complimenti is almost always positive (unless you're being sarcastic), the word can also refer to needless formalities – like 'fuss' or 'guff'.

When you want to skip the niceties and get to the heart of the matter, you tell someone not to bother with complimenti.

Lasciamo da parte i complimenti, non c'é tempo da perdere.
Let's not stand on ceremony, there's no time to waste.

Senza complimenti, gli dissi chiaramente ciò che pensavo di lui.
I told him clearly what I thought of him without sugar-coating it.

Leaving out the complimenti can make you sound a little brusque…

Senza tanti complimenti ha preso la mia macchina e se n'è andata.
Without so much as a 'by your leave', she took my car and off she went.

… but if someone else invites you to do it, it means they want you to make yourself at home.

Non fare complimenti, serviti!
Don’t be shy, help yourself!

And if that's not a compliment, I don't know what is.

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




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Italian expression of the day: ‘A meno che’

You might want some help mastering this phrase, unless your Italian is already advanced.

Italian expression of the day: 'A meno che'

It’s always helpful to have a little caveat up your sleeve when making plans – just in case something crops up and you need to change course.

In English, there’s a pretty simple way to express this idea: we just use the word ‘unless’ followed by the present simple.

Italian, however, is a bit more complicated. We need to add a non after a meno che – something that can trip up anglophones – and then follow this with a subjunctive, since we’re talking about a hypothetical situation.

Potremmo andare a fare un giro in bicicletta, a meno che tu non abbia da fare?
We could go for a bike ride, unless you’re busy?

La festa si terrà all’aperto, a meno che non piova.
She’ll have the party outdoors unless it rains.

To wrap your head around this addition of a negative, it can help to think of the Italian translation less as “unless XYZ is the case” so much as something along the lines of “as long as XYZ weren’t the case.”

A meno che is the most common variant you’ll hear, but if you want to mix things up a bit, you could instead use any of salvo che, tranne che, or eccetto che.

Il rimborso sarà effettuato entro 24 ore, signora, salvo che Lei non cambi idea prima di allora.
The refund will be processed within 24 hours, madam, unless you change your mind before then.

L’intervento chirurgico non è necessario, tranne che i sintomi non causino dolore.
Surgery isn’t necessary unless the symptoms are causing you any pain.

Unless you’ve been watching TV throughout this explainer, we’re sure you’ll be confidently using a meno che and its equivalents in no time.

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.