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Italian expression of the day: ‘Bella domanda’

Italian expression of the day: 'Bella domanda'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
If you've moved to Italy, chances are you have plenty of these.

If you spend any time in Italy at all, you’ll soon have more than a few questions. For example:

Is that office ever open? Have these drivers got a death wish? And why, exactly, are there so many different types of spaghetti in the supermarket?

Once you start trying to make sense of everyday life here, today’s phrase is one you might start hearing more often than you’d like.

– Di che tipo di modulo ho bisogno?

– Bella domanda

– Which type of form do I need?

– Good question

Especially when it comes to bureaucracy, rules or any sort of timetable, you might find that most Italians are often as stumped as we foreigners are – though no doubt they’ll be more confident about asking the person stood next to them, or slowing down the car to shout their query at a stranger.

So don’t be surprised if people respond (or stall for time) by saying “good question”, just as we do in English.

You’ll note that bella domanda may be used rather than buona domanda, particularly when no one knows the answer.

While both are correct, there’s a slight difference in the meaning.

Bella domanda sounds as though it would translate as ‘beautiful question’, or ‘nice question’, but the adjective bella here usually means that the question is a big one – as in, a bit too much for the person you’re asking to answer.

Depending on tone and context, it might even be used to mean it’s a “hell of a question”.

– È una bella domanda, e al momento siamo piuttosto occupati

– That’s a hell of a question, and we’re a little busy right now

If they say buona domanda, they could be remarking more on the fact that your question is clever, fair, or interesting.

Very simply put, this is because the adjective buona is usually used to remark on the positive ‘internal’ qualities of someone or something, while bella is more for commenting on appearances, and as in this case, can also be used to add emphasis (much as we might use ‘nice’ in English:)

– Un bel lettone

–  A nice, big bed

(Here’s some more detail on the usage and different spellings.)

Other common Italian responses to what friends call my mille domande (thousand questions) over the years include:

dipende da chi trovi

– It depends on who you ask/meet (literally: find)

Boh! Vediamo.
– Who knows? We’ll see.

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


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