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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘Figurati’

Once you’ve mastered this versatile phrase, we’ll bet you find a use for it at least once a day.

'Figurati' written on a black chalkboard with the italian flag.
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Figurati might look at first glance like one word, but it’s actually two words stuck together: the imperative form of the verb figurare – figura – coupled with the reflexive pronoun, ti, to make a command: figurati.

Its roots are in the Latin word figurare, meaning to form or shape something, and it comes from the reflexive form of the verb, figurare a sé: to create or form something to oneself. It essentially means ‘imagine it for yourself’ or ‘figure it out for yourself’, but its uses have expanded far beyond that.

While it’s most commonly seen in its informal form, figurati can also be used in the polite form (si figuri), in the first person plural, (figuriamoci), or in the second person plural (figuratevi). Note that while with tunoi, and voi we can tag the reflexive pronoun onto the end of the verb – figurati, figuriamoci, figuratevi – with the formal Lei it needs to go separately at the start: si figuri.

Got that? Buckle up, there’s a lot to cover here:

1) Don’t worry about it!

This is the most common use of the phrase and one you’ll quickly become familiar with if you live in Italy.

When used in this way, figurati can be used to reassure someone they’re not bothering you, as a way to respond to thanks, or to politely turn down an offer of help. While these are all slightly different uses of the phrase, they come under the banner of ‘don’t worry about it/it’s no problem’.

– Scusa, ti disturbo?
– No, figurati.

– Sorry, am I disturbing you?
– No, don’t worry about it.

– Grazie mille dell’aiuto di ieri.
– Figurati!

– Thanks so much for your help yesterday.
– Don’t mention it!

Vuole sedersi, signora?
– No, si figuri.

– Would you like to sit down, madam?
– That’s kind, but I’m fine.

– Vuoi che ti accompagni a casa?
– No, figurati!

– Do you want me to accompany you back home?
– No need, thanks!

2) Imagine that!

The second major use of the phrase most closely approximates to the English ‘can you believe it?!’, or ‘fancy that!’

Figurati che al ristorante ieri sera ho visto Chiara con uno dei calciatori della Roma!
– Yesterday evening at the restaurant I saw Chiara with one of the Roma players, imagine that!

– Figurati che il mio capo mi ha offerto il doppio dello stipendio se rimango con lui e non accetto questo nuovo lavoro!
– Can you believe it, my boss offered to double my salary if I stay with him and don’t accept this new job!

3) That figures

Feeling a bit salty?

When you’re entirely unsurprised by a situation because it’s in line with what you’ve been led to expect from someone or something, you can use figurati to somewhat sarcastically make your point.

It’s roughly equivalent to ‘I’m not surprised’, or ‘it figures’.

Gabriella mi ha scritto che non può uscire con noi stasera.
Figuriamoci, non vuole mai uscire con noi.

– Gabriella wrote to me to say she can’t come out with us tonight.
– What do you expect, she never wants to come out with us.

– Aspetta, non trovo la mia borsa, penso che l’abbia lasciata a casa.
– Eh, figurati….

– Wait, I can’t find my purse, I think I left it at home.
– Well, that’s a surprise…

4) There’s no way

The fourth major use of figurati, which again is somewhat sarcastic, is as a way of saying ‘it’s not true’/’there’s no way’.

It’s a bit like the English, ‘you seriously think…?’ or ‘how do you figure that?!’.

– Figuriamoci se Daniele viene per le dieci, sono già le 9.30 e non è ancora uscito da casa.
– There’s no way Daniel’s getting here for 10 o’clock, it’s already 9.30 and he’s not left his house yet.

– Ho visto la tua nuova macchina, è bellissima!
– Ma figurati, dove troverei io i soldi per comprare una macchina nuova?! Quella è di mia sorella.

– I saw your new car, it’s beautiful!
– You must be joking, where would I find the money for a new car?! That’s my sister’s.

– Hanno detto che pioverà più tardi.
– Figurati! Non ho visto nemmeno una nuvola nel cielo tutta la mattina.

– They said it’s going to rain later.
– No way! I’ve not seen one cloud in the sky all morning.

5) Much less/let alone

The final use of figurati (that we’ve found, anyway…) is for when you want to emphasise how difficult or improbable something is, in the way that in English we use ‘let alone’ or ‘much less’.

– Non sono riuscita a leggere il primo capitolo di Ulysses di James Joyce, figurati il libro intero.
– I didn’t manage to get through the first chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, let alone the whole book.

Non abbiamo abbastanza soldi per andare in vacanza ad Ostia quest’anno, figurati andare a Parigi.
– We don’t have enough money to go on holiday to Ostia this year, much less Paris.

See? You can fit figurati into more conversations than you thought.

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

This article was originally published in 2019

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Inciucio’

Here's a word you'll need to deal with ahead of Italy's elections.

Italian word of the day: 'Inciucio'

With two days to go until Sunday’s general election, there’s talk of a potential ’inciucio’ everywhere from the pages of newspapers to the heated conversations at sports bars up and down the country.

So what is an ‘inciucio’ and why does the word seem to be on everyone’s lips whenever Italy faces elections?

Briefly, ‘inciucio’ is political jargon that describes any type of dubious agreement or, if you will, compromise reached by two or more political parties generally holding opposite views and ideals.

There’s no direct translation into English, though a native speaker would probably refer to it as something of a dodgy backroom deal.

Non c’è una maggioranza chiara. 

Eh, figurati. Faranno il solito inciucio.

There isn’t a clear-cut majority.

Oh, that’s not new. They’ll go for the usual deal.

Such an agreement is usually necessary when forming a large coalition government, with terms largely assumed to be based on the “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” principle. 

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

With that definition in mind, it’s hard not to see why ‘inciucio’ is such a commonly-used word in Italy, a country whose political class has historically been partial to improbable alliances with their previously hated rivals. 

Cosa pensi delle prossime elezioni?

Preferisco non pensare. Ne ho avuto abbastanza di questi inciuci. 

What do you think of the next elections?

I’d rather not think. I’ve had enough of these political deals.

Purtroppo, con questa legge elettorale, l’inciucio tra partiti è l’unica via per avere un governo…

Fammi un piacere. Gli inciuci esistevano anche 60 anni fa, molto prima di questa legge elettorale.

Sadly, with the current electoral system, a compromise between different parties is the only way to form a new government.

Do me a favour. These types of agreements existed 60 years ago, well before the present electoral system.

While the noble art of the inciucio goes back a long way in the history of republican Italy, the term itself was only coined in 1995 by Massimo D’Alema, then secretary of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). 

The expression only rose to popularity a couple of years later, when the founder of the term thought it fit to put the word to good use and reached a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the then-leaders of Italy’s right-wing coalition – the agreement went down in history as the patto della crostata or ‘pie pact’ – but we’ll keep that story for another time.

Ever since then, the term ‘inciucio’ has been regularly used by political commentators as well as the wider public to discuss the various power plays of the country’s major political forces.

For instance, the most classic of inciuci was at the foundation of Giuseppe Conte’s first cabinet back in 2018, when Matteo Salvini’s League and Luigi Di Maio’s Five-Star Movement unexpectedly found sufficient common ground to form a coalition government.

So, will we see another inciucio this time around?

Given the unpredictable nature of Italian politics, you’ll forgive us for not ruling out the possibility of another inciucio just yet.

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