For members


The top ten Italian words that just don’t translate into English

Every language contains certain words or phrases that can’t be comfortably translated. And Italian is full of them.

The top ten Italian words that just don't translate into English
Some italian words can leave English speakers scratching their heads. Photo: Depositphotos

You’ll come across some of these words in everyday speech, while others are a bit more unusual. Here are just ten of our favourite ‘untranslatable’ Italian words.


This tricky word has many different meanings that don’t always directly translate. Typically, it’s translated as “even if”, “maybe” or “probably” in a sentence.

As an exclamation, “magari!” is an expression of a strong desire. For example, if someone asks if you’d like a free trip to Italy, you could say “magari!”. Although there’s no exact equivalent in English, in this context it means: “If only it were true!”


The next time you feel the need for a nap after indulging in a big lunch, blame abbiocco, the drowsiness that follows eating a big meal. Less dramatic than “food coma”, it”s a gentle word that evokes lazing around on a sunny afternoon.

READ ALSO: 12 of the most useful Italian words you need to know


Speaking of lazing aroud, that may be a close translation for this beautiful verb. Coming from the word meriggio (noon), it means to rest at noon in a shady spot. Perhaps the most famous example of this word can be found in a poem by the 20th century poet Eugenio Montale.


One of the newer words in the Italian language. This adjective, not yet officially included in the dictionary, can be used to describe a flower that has an especially high number of petals. It was coined in 2016 by a schoolboy in the town of Copparo, Ferrara.

Photo: Roxanna Salceda/Flickr


You may have heard the phrase “Non me ne frega” uttered in Italy, meaning “I don’t give a damn!” Well, in Italian there’s also a noun to describe someone who’s particularly prone to this way of thinking.


As a pejorative, “qualunque” can be translated as “whatever”, to indicate indifference. The noun qualunquismo means an attitude of distrust, scepticism and apathy, or “whateverism”.


You could translate this preposition as “upon” or “on top of”, but this little word is so packed with meaning that nothing the English language has to offer can quite do it justice.

READ ALSO: 21 mildly interesting facts about the Italian language



Do you suffer from the winter blues? This word is for you. It’s not always found in the Italian dictionary, and spellings vary – but in some parts of Italy you’ll hear meteopatico being used in conversational Italian to describe a person who wants to hide under the bedcovers until spring.


One of those untranslatable words that is uniquely Italian, and also fun to say. Basically sprezzatura is the art of doing something extremely well without showing that it took any effort.


The word to describe the aperitivo that gets out of hand. When you’ve eaten half the buffet and had several drinks, and can’t manage a proper dinner afterwards.

A word used often by students, apericena is a very handy way of having a cheap dinner and a drink, or just a light dinner when you’re not terribly hungry. And it’s definitely not the same thing as happy hour.

We couldn’t list every untranslatable Italian word, but there are plenty more curious words here. If you have a favourite that we haven’t written about yet, let us know! Members can sign in to leave a comment below.

Member comments

  1. Enjoyed this article a lot and just discovered by two new favourite words – abbiocco and meriggiare:)

  2. Love this! May I add magari = I wish; meriggiare = such a lovely word: Montale’s poem is one of my favourites; adosso = too near; meteopatico = weather sensitive; I never use sprezzatura – will do so from now on! Apericena (horrible word) for when you know you should be offering a supper, but can’t be bothered, so you put everything in fridge on the table with a couple of candles. Fun article. Thanks

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.