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Italian expression of the day: ‘Far cadere le braccia’

Keep your chin up, there's no need to feel disheartened about this phrase.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Far cadere le braccia'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

When you think about the imagery of this Italian expression, it clearly demonstrates the feeling of disappointment, exasperation or discouragement.

Far cadere le braccia (Far cah-DAR-eh leh BRA-cha) literally means to make your arms drop, or fall off.

When you’re so fed up of a situation or of what someone is saying, you might drop your arms to the floor, defeated and demoralised.


In idiomatic English, we might say, ‘Words fail me’ or ‘I’m absolutely speechless’.

Mi fai cadere le braccia. Perché sei così testardo?

Words fail me. Why are you so stubborn?

It’s likely to be accompanied by a sigh or a groan, just to really emphasise the level of discontentment with a situation.

As noted, it can be translated as feeling fed up or being at the end of your tether.

Mi fa cadere le braccia – ma perché capita tutto sempre a me?

I’m fed up – why does it always happen to me?

Queste stupide storie mi fanno cadere le braccia

These stupid stories are exasperating

To put it into the past tense, we need to use the auxiliary verb essere, because when we are dealing with verbs of motion such as cadere (to fall), Italian uses essere rather than avere.

Quando ho fallito il mio esame di guida, mi sono cadute le braccia

When I failed my driving test, I was down in the dumps

The phrase could also be translated to a single word in English in some contexts, conveying the idea of helplessness.

Talvolta ci siamo sentiti cadere le braccia

Sometimes we felt helpless

The reflexive verb sentirsi expresses the feeling – ci sentiamo (we feel) cadere le braccia (‘helpless’ in this conxtext).

La guerra è così travolgente. Ci sentiamo cadere le braccia di fronte ad avvenimenti che sembrano superarci

The war is so overwhelming. We feel helpless in the face of events that seem beyond us.

On the positive side, you can also use the phrase to cheer somebody up, to give them a pep talk and tell them to hang in there by not letting their arms drop.

Non farti cadere le braccia

Don’t get downhearted!

Keep your chin up!

Don’t give up!


An Italian song, Non farti cadere le braccia by Neapolitan singer Edoardo Bennato, talks about keeping going and not feeling downtrodden despite the hardships.

Non so se ti è capitato mai
di dovere fare una lunga corsa
e a metà strada stanco
dire a te stesso: adesso basta!
Eppure altri stan correndo ancora
intorno a te… allora:

Non farti cadere le braccia…

I don’t know if it ever happened to you
that you had to go for a long run
and halfway through, tired, you say to yourself: that’s enough!
And yet others are still running
Around you… then:

Don’t give up

Well that phrase wasn’t so exasperating to learn in the end! Keep your chin up (and your arms) and have a go at using it in your Italian conversation this week.

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

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Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It would only be polite to master the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

It usually doesn’t take long for foreign nationals residing or merely vacationing in the bel paese to realise that Italians have three different ways to express what in the English-speaking world is generally conveyed by means of a simple, unproblematic ‘please’.

Now, more often than not, the trio of expressions available in the Italian language – ‘per cortesia’, ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’ – creates a fair deal of confusion as to what form should be used and in what social circumstances.

Unfortunately, there is no official grammar rule on how to juggle the above-mentioned expressions and their use is mostly regulated by unwritten social rules and etiquette. So, to help you familiarise yourselves with the noble art of saying ‘please’ in Italian, here’s a breakdown of what each form is used for and, above all, on what occasions.

Of the three forms used by locals, ‘per cortesia’ is surely the most peculiar. The expression’s literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘as an act of courtesy’ or ‘as a kindness’, though, of course, it is generally rendered into English with the catch-all ‘please’.

According to tacit social rules, ‘per cortesia’ and its kin adverb ‘cortesemente’ are generally employed in formal settings, especially in interactions with people one is not acquainted with or does not know very well. So, for conversations with anyone that you might consider a stranger, this is the go-to expression.

Q: Mi scusi, ci potrebbe portare il conto, per cortesia?

A: Certo, arrivo subito.

Q: Excuse me, could you please get us the bill?

A: Sure, I’ll be right with you.

Q: Mi perdoni il disturbo, Dottor Rossi. Riuscirebbe a mandarmi i documenti in questione entro sera, per cortesia?

A: Certo. Provvedo subito a mandarli.

Q: I’m sorry to disturb you, Dr Rossi. Could you please send me the documents in question by this evening?

A: Sure. I’ll send them right away.

As you can see from the above examples, ‘per cortesia’ is usually placed at the end of a question and it is generally used together with the so-called ‘polite form’ (forma di cortesia), that is by addressing the person you’re communicating with as ‘Lei’ and conjugating verbs in the third person singular. 

The ‘polite form’ is usually scrapped in informal settings and so is ‘per cortesia’. Notably, in ordinary conversations with friends, family or other acquaintances, Italians switch to the use of ‘tu’ (i.e. they address the speaker with verbs in the second person singular) and simultaneously opt for either ‘per favore’ or ‘per piacere’.

The difference in meaning between the two expressions is somewhat negligible, so much so that they are often used interchangeably by most native speakers. 

However, for the sake of nitpicking, while both forms are used to ask something of people one knows very well, ‘per piacere’ is specifically used for fairly urgent and/or dramatic pleas. In other words, when you’re begging someone to do something, ‘per piacere’ is the right expression for the job at hand.

Q: Giampietro, la tua camera è un disastro. Puoi pulirla per piacere? Abbiamo ospiti a cena stasera.

Q: Giampietro, your bedroom is a mess. Can you please tidy up? We’re having people over for dinner tonight.

Q: Lo so che non ti piace come persona ma puoi fare uno sforzo e provare ad essere gentile, per favore?

Q: I know you don’t like her but can you please make an effort and try to be nice?

Q: Mi puoi prestare una penna, per favore? Mi sono dimenticato l’astuccio.

A: Ancora? Neanche per sogno! 

Q: Could you lend me a pen? I forgot to bring my pencil case.

A: Again? No way!

Hopefully, the above scenarios have given you an idea of the (very slight) difference between ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’. However, please bear in mind that the former will get the job done in almost any informal conversation, so, when in doubt, go for that and you’ll hardly ever go wrong.

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