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Italian word of the day: ‘Mica’

Many Italian learners say they don't understand this word at all, not one bit.

Italian word of the day: 'Mica'
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Mica is one of those words that seem almost deliberately designed to trip language learners up. I remember my Italian teacher attempting to explain it to the class and being greeted by a room full of stares that ranged from uncomprehending to suspicious (to be fair, he probably shouldn't have attempted it in the first week). 

Well, here I am taking up the gauntlet. Stay with me, folks, and I'll try to pin down the notoriously elusive meanings of mica.

Let's start with the one that's perhaps easiest to grasp: you can use mica to reinforce a negative statement, like saying 'not at all' or 'not one bit'. 

Non è mica vero!
That's not true at all!

Non ci credo mica.
I don't believe it one bit.

It's even come to function as a negation all on its own: often you'll hear Italians drop non ('not') and use mica in its place. 

Mica male, questa pasta.
This pasta isn't bad.

Sono mica stanca.
I'm not at all tired.

Used this way, it can have a slightly sarcastic tone, as if you're really stating the obvious. It's a bit like when we say something's 'hardly' the case in English.

Mica c'è tanto da stare allegri.
There's not much to be happy about or That's hardly something to be happy about.

Mica sono stupido.
I'm hardly stupid or I'm not stupid, you know.

Now bear with me, because here's where things get a little tricky. That's how mica works in statements. But it's also a neat way of asking a question.

By using mica to make a negative phrase that you put to someone else, you're indicating that you're not sure of what you're saying – are they?

(Non) hai mica visto i miei occhiali?
You haven't seen my glasses, have you?

(Non) ti sarai mica offeso?
You’re not offended, are you?

What's the difference between that and a normal question? Let's take the example in English: if you ask “Have you seen my glasses?”, that doesn't give any information about how what you're expecting the answer to be. But if you ask “You haven't seen my glasses, have you?”, it indicates that you're not holding out for “Yes”. In fact, it sounds like the more likely answer is “No”.

You ask a mica question when you want to signal that you're not expecting a yes – whether because it's really unlikely, or just because it sounds less demanding, more polite. It's the equivalent of starting your question with 'I don't suppose…' or 'By any chance…'.

Non hai mica trovato il mio portafoglio?
Have you found my wallet by any chance?

Avete mica il pane senza sale?
I don't suppose you have any unsalted bread?

As you can see, mica does an awful lot of work: it changes the tone of a phrase in a way that English requires a whole bunch of words to achieve.

Mica male for such a small word, no? 

This article was originally published in 2019

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

Member comments

  1. Your Italian Words’ section is great fun
    The lay out very special and the words are, of course, tremendously interesting and well explained and amusing to read. After so many years in Italy there were still a few I never heard of.
    If I may say so, I hink it is a waste to let them linger in the anals of
    The Local.
    Would it be an idea to make a little booklet of those words and expressions. So one can present newcomers and oldtimers in Italy with an unexpected little present. And others as well
    I noticed that so many foreigners immediately start with these words as they hear them so often. ‘Allora’ is the greatest favourite according to a friend who was counting how many times it was used in an hour, followed by ‘mica male’. Some,more adventurous used ‘che casino’. My favourite is: ‘Ci mancherebbe altro’. Dorothey

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Quanto meno’

At least give this Italian word a try.

Italian word of the day: 'Quanto meno'

Here’s a useful adverb to have on hand when practicing your conversational Italian: quanto meno.

It can be used in a couple of different ways, but most commonly means ‘at least’.

We’re calling this a word rather than an expression because although ‘quanto meno’ is slightly more common in contemporary Italian, it can equally be written as ‘quantomeno’.

In many contexts, quanto meno and almeno are effectively synonyms. The only difference is that almeno simply means ‘at least’, while quanto meno sometimes implies a more emphatic ‘at the very least’ or ‘as a minimum’.

Mi potevi almeno accompagnare alla stazione.
You could have at least accompanied me to the station.

Se avessi saputo prima avrei potuto quanto meno darvi una mano.
If I had known earlier I would have at least been able to give you a hand.

Il traffico sulla strada per Como è stato tremendo.
Quanto meno avete avuto bel tempo.

The traffic on the way to Como was terrible.
– At least you had good weather.

At Least You Tried Trash GIF - At Least You Tried Trash Bart Simpson GIFs

In other situations, however, quanto meno takes on a different meaning, becoming ‘to say the least’:

I suoi piani sono quanto meno avventurosi.
Her plans are adventurous to say the least.

I risultati sono preoccupanti, quanto meno.
The results are disturbing, to say the least.

There’s a third word that’s another synonym for ‘at least’: perlomeno. You’ll sometimes see it separated out into three words: per lo meno. Again, it can often be used more or less interchangeably with almeno.

Vorrei prendere perlomeno una settimana di vacanza quest’estate.
I want to take at least one week off this summer.

Perlomeno and quanto meno can also both mean something like ‘at any rate’.

Non verrebbe mai a trovarmi a casa, perlomeno.
She would never come to visit me at home, in any event.

Sei molto più in forma di me, quanto meno.
You’re in much better shape than me, at any rate.

None of these are to be confused with the quite different tanto meno, which means ‘much less’:

Non ho mai incontrato Laura, tanto meno sua sorella.
I’ve never met Laura, much less her sister.

Può a mala pena dirlo, tanto meno farlo.
He can barely say it, much less do it.

Got all that? Now see if you can fit quanto menoperlomeno and almeno into at least one conversation this week.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here. Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.