Italian expression of the day: ‘Va bene’

It's alright if you don't know how to use this phrase - we've got a few tips.

Italian expression of the day: 'Va bene'

This is one of the most important phrases you'll need to know before coming to Italy. It means ‘ok’ or ‘alright’, and you’re going to hear it every five seconds.

Va bene literally translates as 'goes well' and, if things are going well, you’d use it in response to the question come va? (how’s it going?)

Just like ‘ok’, you can also use it to show that you understand what’s going on (that is, if you do.)

– il museo è stato chiuso un'ora fa

– The museum closed an hour ago

– Va bene, non fa niente

– Ok, never mind

But there are plenty of situations where you might use it. If you can imagine all the different contexts and intonations in which we could use the word ‘alright’ in English, then va bene is the Italian equivalent.

You’ll probably also hear it being shortened to “vabbè

This word can be just a shorter form of the same phrase. But in some contexts, it means “whatever”, not “ok”.

As the video below tells us, the difference is mainly about your enthusiasm for something.

If someone asks you, ‘Andiamo al cinema?’ and you respond ‘si, va bene’ it probably means you’d like to go to the cinema.

But if you respond with ‘vabbè’, you probably don’t care much about going to the cinema, but don’t have any other suggestions. You might shrug your shoulders when you say ‘vabbè’.

Just like in English though it all depends on the intonation.

A cheerful ‘vabbè’ just means ‘ok’, while I’ve seen Italians inject many layers of shade into a ‘va bene’ (when things were clearly not va bene at all.)

And sometimes it’s one of those words, like comunque, that is just inserted into conversations any time, meaning nothing much at all, as in: allora…va bene ('so then…alright’)

If things are going really well that day, you might even hear the superlative: ‘va benissimo!’

Va benissimo is one of my all-time favourite Italian phrases and I use it all the time, probably in places where it doesn’t really work. 

Ma eh, vabbè.

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Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

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