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Italian expression of the day: ‘Di fretta’

When learning this Italian phrase, take the time to make sure you get it right

Italian expression of the day: 'Di fretta'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Dashing around in a panic after drinking three cups of coffee and forgetting the time. Speeding towards a traffic light that’s just about to turn red. Arriving at an office to file paperwork a few minutes before it closes for lunch. D any of these scenes sound familiar?

I don’t know about you, but today’s phrase, di fretta, is one I’d use to describe how the Italians in my life often do things.

It sounds a bit like the English verb “fret”, meaning worry. Fittingly so, since even if doing things in this last-minute, disorganised manner isn’t making you stressed, it’s probably making other people feel like tearing their hair out.

Di fretta (pronounced ‘dee fret-tah’) is an adverbial phrase meaning “hastily”, “rushed” or “in a hurry”. It’s a synonym of the more formal precipitosamente.

– Un lavoro fatto di fretta 

– A rushed job

In other words, it’s the opposite of piano piano, or con calma.

You could use the phrase to describe yourself:

– Non posso fermarmi a chiacchierare con te: sono di fretta!

– I can’t stop and chat with you, I’m in a rush! 

(This is not something I ever hear people say in southern Italy.)

But be careful.

The similar adverbial phrase in fretta looks like it means the same thing at first. However, you can’t use it in exactly the same way. That little preposition makes a big difference.

Put simply: Di fretta means hastily, in a rush

In fretta means quickly, rapidly

For example:

– Vado di fretta

– I’m in a rush (at the moment).

– Vado in fretta

– Literally “I go quickly” – I’m a fast walker/driver, generally speaking.

Confusion arises because in fretta can also be used when talking about someone rushing, or going too quickly – although in that case you’d usually add troppo:

– Parli troppo in fretta

– You speak too quickly (in general, and possibly also right now)

It’s easy to use the wrong one. Even Italian native speakers themselves can make the mistake of saying “sono in fretta”, which dictionaries agree is not grammatically correct.

Sono di fretta is the right way to tell someone you’re in a rush.

And once Italian habits start rubbing off on you, no doubt you’ll be using this one a lot.

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Avere un diavolo per capello’

No need to blow your top about this Italian phrase.

Italian expression of the day: 'Avere un diavolo per capello'

At one point or another, we’ve all had un diavolo per capello – ‘a devil by the hair’.

This isn’t a devil on your shoulder – the little voice encouraging you do so something bad or mischievous.

The demon is this phrase isn’t devious but seething, making the person whose locks it is clutching furious, enraged, or extremely irritable.

State attenti alla signora Russo, ha un diavolo per capello stamattina. 
Watch out for Mrs. Russo, she’s in a foul mood this morning.

Ha abbandonato la riunione con un diavolo per capello.
He walked out of the meeting in a fury.

You might picture someone tearing their hair out in rage, or a furious djinn perched on someone’s head directing their movements.

Angry Inside Out GIF by Disney Pixar

Another common Italian expression involving the devil is fare il diavolo a quattro.

This phrase can mean any of raising hell – either by causing a ruckus or kicking up a fuss – or going to great lengths to get something.

Ha fatto il diavolo a quattro quando le hanno detto che l’orario di visita era finito e non l’hanno fatta entrare.
She screamed blue murder when they told her visiting hours were over and wouldn’t let her in.

Ho fatto il diavolo a quattro per ottenere quel permesso.
I fought like hell to get that permit.

It’s unclear quite how a phrase which literally translates as something along the lines of ‘doing the devil by four’ came to have its current meaning – according to the Treccani dictionary, there are a couple of explanations.

One is that in some profane medieval art that involved religious imagery, the devil was often depicted along with the number four.

Another is that when the devil was represented on stage, he had so many different guises that four actors were required to play him in order to avoid having too long a time between costume changes.

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