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Italian word of the day: 'Ferie'

The Local Italy
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Italian word of the day: 'Ferie'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Here's a word you'll be seeing everywhere in Italy this month.

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If you live in Italy, you'll be all too familiar with the scene: You arrive at your favouite pizzeria, only to find a sign hanging on the door saying 'chiuso per ferie'.

Of course. It's August.

It's the same story at the butcher's, the baker's and in some areas even the banks.

- Chiuso per ferie, di ritorno a settembre

- Closed for holidays, back in September

Millions of Italians leave for their summer break at the same time, around the beginning of August, and taking three weeks or the whole month off is far from unusual.

Ferie – the plural form offeria, which you’ll almost never hear – means 'holidays', but not necessarily the kind you set off on.
 
- Siamo tutti in ferie estive
- We're all on summer holiday
 
While the word vacanza usually refers to a holiday, or vacation, in the sense of a trip, ferie are often the holidays you claim from work – like ‘leave’ or ‘time off’.
 
You might also use the word vacanza.

- Quest'anno andremo in vacanza in Sicilia.

- We're going on vacation in Sicily this year.

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Vacanza can also be used in the plural, literally meaning 'vacations':

- le vacanze sono andate bene

- While this literally translates to the rather odd-sounding phrase 'The vacations went well', it simply means 'I/we had a nice holiday'.

The distinction between these two words becomes clearer when you go back to the Latin roots: while vacanza comes from vacantia – ’emptiness’ or ‘leisure’ – ferie comes from feriae, an ancient word for a ‘festival’ or ‘holy day’. 

Ho quindici giorni di ferie pagate.
I have two weeks’ paid leave.

Ha preso una settimana di ferie.
She took a week off work.

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It’s plural because it referred to holidays that were marked every year – like the Feriae Augusti, the festival of Roman Emperor Augustus - the summer celebrations introduced in 18 BC that are the origins of modern-day Italy's Ferragosto

These days, you’ll see ferie and vacanze used practically interchangeably for holidays of all kinds. 

But ferie seems to be more commonly used, especially when talking about vacations around the sacrosant Ferragosto holiday on August 15th. And some say it refers more to taking annual leave, whether you actually take a trip or not.

If you're planning to work in Italy, you'll want to ask your employer about ferie retribuite (paid holidays).

But ferie isn't just for August. Italians also use the phrase 'giorno di ferie' for any day they take off work for any reason.

 
- ho preso un giorno di ferie
- I took a day off
 
If you're lucky, this August you can say:

- ho fatto le ferie al mare 

- I spent (literally 'did') my holidays at the seaside
 
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