Italian word of the day: ‘Ferie’

Italian word of the day: 'Ferie'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's a word you'll see on shop doors all over Italy this summer.

Most likely you will have bumped into this word already this summer, and if not you certainly will this weekend: the Ferragosto holiday on August 15th is when most of Italy is “chiuso per ferie” – ‘closed for holidays’. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy’s national summer holiday

Photo: Signoinlop via Flickr

Ferie – the plural form of feria, which you’ll almost never hear – means “holidays”, but not necessarily the kind you set off on.

While the word vacanza usually refers to a holiday in the sense of a break or trip, ferie are often the holidays you claim from work – like ‘leave’ or ‘time off’.

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

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

The distinction 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’. 

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

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

Dove vai in ferie quest’anno?
Where are you going on holiday this year?

In settembre finiscono le vacanze estive e inizia il lavoro.
In September the summer holidays are over and it’s back to work. 

And if that’s too depressing to contemplate, comfort yourself with the fact that the right to paid holidays is written into the Italian Constitution – for many employees, at least 28 days a year.

Buone ferie!

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

Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.