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Italian word of the day: ‘Assaggiare’

Have you given this word a try yet?

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

This word is for those of us whose primary goal in Italy is to sample as much wine, cheese, gelato and olive oil as possible.

If you want a little taste of anything, assaggiare is the transitive verb you’ll need.

– Ti piacerebbe assaggiare il vino?

– Magari!

– Would you like to taste the wine?
– I certainly would!
Pronunciation: note that the double ‘g’ in this word is soft. It’s pronounced ‘ah-sad-jar-eh’, with a slight stress on the third syllable.
I learned to use this word thanks to – who else? – my suocera, or Italian mother-in-law, who is forever imploring me to try every dish on the table, every fresh vegetable plucked from the garden, and every type of homemade jam, wine, cheese, and cake she and the extended family has produced (and as they live in the rural south, we’re talking about industrial quantities).
A typical dinner table conversation between us goes something like this:

– Hai assaggiato la mozzarella?

– No, grazie. Sono piena. Ho mangiato troppo.

– Ma l’ho appena fatto sta mattinaAssaggia un po’, dai.

– Va bene, solo un pezzetino.

– Have you tasted the mozzarella?

– No, thanks, I’m stuffed. I’ve eaten too much.

– But I just made it this morning. Try a bit, come on.

– Alright, just a little piece.

The Italians in your life will probably most often use the verb in the imperative form, like this:

– Assaggia com’è buono!

– Taste how good this is!

As you can see, this verb can translate as “try”, “taste”, or “sample”. 

When I first started studying Italian, I made the mistake of using the verb provare, meaning “to try”, whenever I wanted to try anything – from trying on clothes in a shop (when it would be correct) to tasting wine (not really correct).

While you could use provare in that sense and be understood, it’s not quite right. Provare is more commonly used when talking about testing, trying out or attempting to do something:

– Provaci e vedrai! 

– Try it and see!

Or you can even use it like this:

– Ci ha provato con tutte in ufficio 

– He’s tried it on with every woman in the office

Instead of provare, Italian has quite a few other words to use when it comes to sampling foods. 

As well as assaggiare, you could usassaporare, degustare, gustare, pregustare, or even sperimentare.

Unlike provare, these words are all given as synonyms of assaggiare in most dictionaries.

Be warned though: these verbs are probably too flowery for most situations – your local cheese shop owner might assume that you’re a little eccentric if you start using them all. In most cases, assaggiare is the word you really need.

Happy tasting!

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

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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.