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Italian expression of the day: ‘Stare con le mani in mano’

Don’t just sit on your hands – get to learning this phrase.

Italian expression of the day stare con le mani in mano
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

In English, we ‘sit on our hands’ when we’re lazing around doing nothing; in Italian you stare con le mani in mano.

It literally means ‘to stay with your hands in your hand’, which gives you a pretty good visual picture of what’s involved (although does confusingly imply the existence of a third hand).

Non stare lì a guardare con le mani in mano, vieni ad aiutarci!
Don’t just stand there with watching, come and help us!

Se ne stanno con le mani in mano ad aspettare un miracolo.
They’re sitting on their hands waiting for a miracle.

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You may be wondering why mano takes the feminine form (una mano, le mani) despite looking like it should be masculine with those o/i endings.

The answer is that it comes from the Latin manus, which is a fourth declension feminine noun, and that stuck as the noun evolved into its modern day Italian form.

In the Latin it’s also an anomaly, as almost all other Latin u-stem declension nouns are masculine in gender; but unfortunately we can’t consult with a contemporary Latin speaker to ask them why they made an exception of manus .

To stare con le mani in mano doesn’t necessarily imply laziness or a lack of willingness to take action – it could also mean you’re forced to be idle against your will because you have nothing to do.

In this situation it’s less a case of sitting on your hands and more one of twiddling your thumbs.

Non le piace stare così, con le mani in mano.
She doesn’t like having to sit on her hands like this.

Non possiamo semplicemente starcene con le mani in mano mentre gli altri cercano di trovare una soluzione.
We can’t just sit here twiddling our thumbs while the others try to find a solution.

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If you find yourself sitting on your hands or twiddling your thumbs, try going through our Word of the Day archive and seeing how many Italian words and expressions you can memorise.

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

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Italian word of the day: ‘Quanto meno’

At least give this Italian word a try.

Italian word of the day: 'Quanto meno'

Here’s a useful adverb to have on hand when practicing your conversational Italian: quanto meno.

It can be used in a couple of different ways, but most commonly means ‘at least’.

We’re calling this a word rather than an expression because although ‘quanto meno’ is slightly more common in contemporary Italian, it can equally be written as ‘quantomeno’.

In many contexts, quanto meno and almeno are effectively synonyms. The only difference is that almeno simply means ‘at least’, while quanto meno sometimes implies a more emphatic ‘at the very least’ or ‘as a minimum’.

Mi potevi almeno accompagnare alla stazione.
You could have at least accompanied me to the station.

Se avessi saputo prima avrei potuto quanto meno darvi una mano.
If I had known earlier I would have at least been able to give you a hand.

Il traffico sulla strada per Como è stato tremendo.
Quanto meno avete avuto bel tempo.

The traffic on the way to Como was terrible.
– At least you had good weather.

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In other situations, however, quanto meno takes on a different meaning, becoming ‘to say the least’:

I suoi piani sono quanto meno avventurosi.
Her plans are adventurous to say the least.

I risultati sono preoccupanti, quanto meno.
The results are disturbing, to say the least.

There’s a third word that’s another synonym for ‘at least’: perlomeno. You’ll sometimes see it separated out into three words: per lo meno. Again, it can often be used more or less interchangeably with almeno.

Vorrei prendere perlomeno una settimana di vacanza quest’estate.
I want to take at least one week off this summer.

Perlomeno and quanto meno can also both mean something like ‘at any rate’.

Non verrebbe mai a trovarmi a casa, perlomeno.
She would never come to visit me at home, in any event.

Sei molto più in forma di me, quanto meno.
You’re in much better shape than me, at any rate.

None of these are to be confused with the quite different tanto meno, which means ‘much less’:

Non ho mai incontrato Laura, tanto meno sua sorella.
I’ve never met Laura, much less her sister.

Può a mala pena dirlo, tanto meno farlo.
He can barely say it, much less do it.

Got all that? Now see if you can fit quanto menoperlomeno and almeno into at least one conversation this week.

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.