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Italian word of the day: ‘Prestito’

Italian word of the day prestito
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
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Whether it’s borrowing a friend’s glassware for a dinner party or applying for credit from the bank to start your own business, sometimes you need to ask for a loan.

To do that in Italian, you’ll need the word prestito (pronounced PRESS-teet-oh), which directly translates as ‘loan’.

Devo chiederti un prestito.
I need to ask you for a loan.

Ho ottenuto un prestito dalla banca.
I got a loan from the bank.

Unlike in English, where the distinction between ‘lend’ and ‘borrow’ can get even native speakers confused, in Italian, you can conveniently use prestito for both.

‘To lend’ is dare in prestito – literally, to give as a loan – while ‘to borrow’ is prendere in prestito – literally, to take as a loan.

Posso prendere in prestito le tue ciabatte per andare alla piscina?
Can I borrow your flip flips for the swimming pool?

Quel libro me l’ha dato in prestito Claudio.
Claudio loaned me that book.

Borrow Shannon Noll GIF by Greyhound Australia

The verb form prestare (to loan) is similarly uncomplicated: ‘to lend something to someone’ translates directly as prestare qualcosa a qualcuno.

Se mi fate questo favore vi presto la macchina per il weekend.
If you do me this favour I’ll lend you the car for the weekend.

Ci presteresti la tua penna?
Could you lend us your pen?

‘To borrow’, however, doesn’t exist in Italian as a verb in its own right, so you’ll either need to use the formulation prendere in prestito or switch around your sentence subject and object so ‘lend’ becomes the operative verb (e.g., ‘can I borrow your book’ becomes ‘can you lend me your book’).

You’ll see the word prestito pop up in a number of contexts and phrases – one of which is prestito linguistico, meaning ‘loan word’, i.e. a word taken from another language. 

A synonym for prestito linguistico is forestierismo – itself a kind of loan word, as it comes from the Latin foristarius, meaning ‘person who is or comes from the outside’.

Italy has loaned plenty of words to other languages over the last few centuries, but anglophones might be surprised to learn it’s also taken a quite a few from other languages, including English and German.

Like good neighbours, all languages benefit from a bit of reciprocal loaning every now and then – even if both parties might baulk at some of the results.

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


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