Italian word of the day: ‘Forza’

The encouraging word we all need to hear right now.

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

Here's a word we've been hearing even more than usual lately.

One thing many of us love about Italian culture is the kindness and encouragement you get almost constantly from total strangers. “Brava!“, they shout, when this foreigner manages to accomplish even the most basic of tasks.

But that generous Italian spirit is proving invaluable right now, with everyone in Italy living under quarantine – and some finding it pretty difficult.

Today's word is another you'll hear people shouting when they want to cheer you on.

Forza literally means force, or power.

But also, as one Italian dictionary puts it, “the ability to face the difficulties of life.”

Used in this context, forza means something like “come on” or “you can do it!”

Almost like saying “be strong” or “you’ve got the strength to do this.”

A banner hung from a balcony reads: “Come on guys. Everything will be alright. Let's stay at home.” Photo: AFP

And it’s often used along with dai, which also means “come on”.

– Dai, forza, andiamo!

– Come on, come on, let’s go!

Just like with dai, you need to say this word with plenty of conviction.

The verb forzare meanwhile is used to talk about being forced to do something, much like you would in English:

– hanno forzato la mia volontà

– they forced me into it

And the phrase per forza can mean the same thing:

– l'ha fatto per forza

– he was forced to do it

Confusingly, the very same phrase can also be used as an adverb to mean “obviously,” “of course” or “necessarily”

– Non dovete dire qualcosa per forza.

– You don't have to say anything, obviously.

– Se lo chiedi così, per forza dirà di sì.

– If you ask like that, of course he'll say yes.

It’s always a very useful word to have in your vocabulary. But when times get hard, it's absolutely essential. Maybe it's just me, but even just saying it loud makes me feel a bit more capable.


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: ‘Per cortesia’

It would only be polite to master the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It usually doesn’t take long for foreign nationals residing or merely vacationing in the bel paese to realise that Italians have three different ways to express what in the English-speaking world is generally conveyed by means of a simple, unproblematic ‘please’.

Now, more often than not, the trio of expressions available in the Italian language – ‘per cortesia’, ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’ – creates a fair deal of confusion as to what form should be used and in what social circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is no official grammar rule on how to juggle the above-mentioned expressions and their use is mostly regulated by unwritten social rules and etiquette. So, to help you familiarise yourselves with the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian, here’s a breakdown of what each form is used for and, above all, on what occasions.

Of the three forms used by locals, ‘per cortesia’ is surely the most peculiar. The expression’s literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘as an act of courtesy’ or ‘as a kindness’, though, of course, it is generally rendered into English with the catch-all ‘please’.

According to tacit social rules, ‘per cortesia’ and its kin adverb ‘cortesemente’ are generally employed in formal settings, especially in interactions with people one is not acquainted with or does not know very well. So, for conversations with anyone that you might consider a stranger, this is the go-to expression.

Q: Mi scusi, ci potrebbe portare il conto, per cortesia?

A: Certo, arrivo subito.

Q: Excuse me, could you please get us the bill?

A: Sure, I’ll be right with you.

Q: Mi perdoni il disturbo, Dottor Rossi. Riuscirebbe a mandarmi i documenti in questione entro sera, per cortesia?

A: Certo. Provvedo subito a mandarli.

Q: I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Rossi. Could you please send me the documents in question by this evening?

A: Sure. I’ll send them right away.

As you can see from the above examples, ‘per cortesia’ is usually placed at the end of a question and it is generally used together with the so-called ‘polite form’ (forma di cortesia), that is by addressing the person you’re communicating with as ‘Lei’ and conjugating verbs in the third person singular. 

The ‘polite form’ is usually scrapped in informal settings and so is ‘per cortesia’. Notably, in ordinary conversations with friends, family or other acquaintances, Italians switch to the use of ‘tu’ (i.e. they address the speaker with verbs in the second person singular) and simultaneously opt for either ‘per favore’ or ‘per piacere’.

The difference in meaning between the two expressions is somewhat negligible, so much so that they are often used interchangeably by most native speakers. 

However, for the sake of nitpicking, while both forms are used to ask something of people one knows very well, ‘per piacere’ is specifically used for fairly urgent and/or dramatic pleas. In other words, when you’re begging someone to do something, ‘per piacere’ is the right expression for the job at hand.

Q: Giampietro, la tua camera è un disastro. Puoi pulirla per piacere? Abbiamo ospiti a cena stasera.

Q: Giampietro, your bedroom is a mess. Can you please tidy up? We’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Q: Lo so che non ti piace come persona ma puoi fare uno sforzo e provare ad essere gentile, per favore?

Q: I know you don’t like her but can you please make an effort and try to be nice?

Q: Mi puoi prestare una penna, per favore? Mi sono dimenticato l’astuccio.

A: Ancora? Neanche per sogno! 

Q: Could you lend me a pen? I forgot to bring my pencil case.

A: Again? No way!

Hopefully, the above scenarios have given you an idea of the (very slight) difference between ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’. However, please bear in mind that the former will get the job done in almost any informal conversation, so, when in doubt, go for that and you’ll hardly ever go wrong.

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