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 tu, noi, 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.
– 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 accompagno 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 resto 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.
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This article was originally published in 2019