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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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For members


Italian expression of the day: ‘Si tratta di’

What's this phrase all about?

Italian expression of the day: 'Si tratta di'

Today’s expression is one you’ll hear a lot in spoken Italian.

It’s also a tricky one for anglophones to wrap our heads around, because although it appears simple – ‘si tratta di’ basically means something along the lines of ‘it concerns/discusses/deals with/is about’ – it actually doesn’t translate very cleanly into English most of the time.

Let’s start with the use that’s easiest for us to grasp: asking and answering what something’s about/what it concerns.

– Pronto, sono l’ispettore Jackson, posso parlare con la signora Hoffman?
– Sì, sono io – posso chiedere di cosa si tratta?

– Hello, this is Inspector Jackson speaking, can I speak with Mrs. Hoffman?
– Yes, this is she – may I ask what this is concerning?

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We can also use the phrase to say that something is ‘a matter of’ or ‘a question of’:

Se si tratta di qualche ora, rimarremo qui ad aspettarla.
If it’s a question of hours, we’ll stay here and wait for her.

Ora si tratta solo di scoprire dove ha lasciato le chiavi.
Now it’s a just a matter of figuring out where she left the keys.

And si tratta di can also be as a translation for ‘when it comes to’.

Adoro mangiare bene, ma quando si tratta di cucinare sono una frana.
I love eating well, but when it comes to cooking I suck.

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Where things start to get a bit more complicated is that you’ll often see the phrase used where the English translation doesn’t require anything.

For example, you might hear the following exchange at work:

– Michela non viene al lavoro oggi perché la sua bambina è malata.
– Spero che non si tratti di nulla di grave.

– Michela’s not coming into work today because her little girl’s sick.
– I hope it’s nothing serious.

You could say ‘I hope it doesn’t consist of anything serious’, which would get you closer to a direct translation – but in English this would sound oddly formal and overblown (in the above example we use tratti rather than tratta because spero che requires the subjunctive).

What if you want to say that a certain thing – a song, a book, a film, a speech – discusses or ‘deals with’ certain themes or issues?

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Firstly, note that impersonal si there. It’s standing in for a subject, which means we can’t have both the subject and the si in the same sentence together – one of them has to go.

You can say, for example, ‘Il suo terzo libro tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘her third book deals with ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom.’

Or you can say, ‘Nel suo terzo libro, si tratta delle idee di pressione sociale e di libertà personale‘ – ‘In her third book, she discusses ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom” (a more literal translation would be ‘in her third book, ideas of societal pressure and personal freedom are discussed’, which sounds a bit awkward in English).

You could ask:

Di cosa tratta il libro?
What does the book discuss?


Di cosa si tratta nel libro?
What’s discussed in the book?

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What you can’t do is say, ‘Il libro si tratta di…’ or ask ‘Di cosa si tratta il libro?’. Neither of these constructions work because you can’t have both the impersonal si and the subject (in this case, il libro) together.

What if you want to say, for example, ‘the book/film is about…’?

The easiest way to do that is either to just say ‘il film parla di…‘ – ‘the film talks about…’ ; or ‘il film racconta la storia di…’ – ‘the film tells the story of…’:

Il film parla di un robot che vuole distruggere la razza umana.
The film’s about a robot who wants to destroy the human race.

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Il libro racconta la storia di un ragazzo che scopre di essere un mago.
The book tells the story of a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

Hopefully now you have a better idea of what this phrase is all about!

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