Italian expression of the day: ‘Alla mano’

Italian expression of the day: 'Alla mano'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's a phrase that's worth keeping handy.

You probably already know the word mano (‘hand’). You may even know the phrase man mano (‘little by little’). And if you’re a grammar pro you’ll also know that despite the ~o at the end, the noun is actually feminine (la manole mani). 

Click below to hear mano pronounced:

Of the many phrases the word features in, one of the most useful is alla mano: literally, ‘to hand’. 

You can use it exactly the same way we would in English, to say that something is close by and ready to use, either literally or figuratively.

Sono arrivata all’aeroporto con le valigie pronte, il biglietto alla mano.
I arrived at the airport with my suitcases ready, ticket in hand.

Bisogna parlare con i fatti alla mano.
We should speak with facts at the ready.

But you can apply the phrase to people as well as things, in which case it means something different: ‘affable’ or ‘easygoing’. 

Se hai bisogno di aiuto, puoi chiedere a Alessio. È un tipo molto alla mano.
If you need any help, you can ask Alessio. He’s a very affable guy. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the phrase suggests someone is ‘under the thumb’: it doesn’t mean they’re submissive or malleable, just that they’re approachable, down-to-earth and ready to help. In other words, just the kind of person you want to have on hand.

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.

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