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Italian expression of the day: 'Mi sa'

The Local Italy
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Italian expression of the day: 'Mi sa'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

We reckon you’ll get the hang of this phrase no problem.


Ever get a hunch, a feeling, a firm sense that something is the case?

Italian has an expression for that: mi sa.

The sa comes from the verb sapere, but it's the sense of the word that means 'to taste/smell' rather than 'to know'.

Questo palazzo sa di limoni.

This building smells of lemons.

We can also employ this use of sapere figuratively, to say that something immaterial 'has the flavour' of something or 'lacks flavour'.

Il suo nuovo romanzo non sa di niente.

His new novel is bland (or 'doesn't taste of anything').

This is where today's expression comes in. When we add the object pronoun mi to say mi sa, you’re literally saying 'it smells to me like…' to express that you’ve been given a certain impression.

It’s similar to the English 'It sounds/looks like…', but is more poetic, because this is after all the language of Dante and Petrarch we’re talking about (and in).

Mi sa che si sta ammalando.

I think she’s coming down with something.

Mi sa di fregatura.

It sounds dodgy to me.


You can also use the phrase to make a prediction.

Non verrà con noi questo weekend, mi sa. Ha troppo da fare.

I don’t reckon he’ll come with us this weekend. He’s got too much to do.

Or to inform someone about a situation no one has any control over, in the way in English you tell someone you’re afraid something is the case (whether or not that's true).

Mi sa di non essermi spiegato bene.

I'm afraid I haven't explained myself well.

Mi sa che dovrai farmi entrare allora.

I’m afraid you’ll have to let me in now.


Mi sa is synonymous with mi sembra (‘it seems to me’), and pretty much interchangeable with penso or credo (I think/believe), right down to its use as a way of answering yes or no in response to a question.

Mi sa di si/no.

I think so/I don’t think so.

The only real difference is mi sa suggests a little more certainty than penso or credo, as well as allowing you to bring some implied objectivity to what is really just your own opinion.

Mi sa che tocca a te lavare i piatti.

I'm pretty sure it’s your turn to do the dishes.

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