Italian word of the day: ‘Spesso’

Once you've learned this little word, you'll want to use it as often as possible.

Italian word of the day spesso
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Spesso (SPEH-ssoh) is a handy little adverb to have up your sleeve. It means ‘often’ or ‘frequently’, and can be used in an Italian sentence pretty much just as you’d use it in English.

Dovresti venire a trovarmi più spesso!
You should come and visit me more often!

Ti capita spesso di perdere l’autobus e di arrivare tardi al lavoro?
Do you often miss the bus and get to work late?

Maria De Filippi Succede GIF - Maria De Filippi Succede Coincidenze GIFs

But spesso doesn’t just mean often: it can also be used as an adjective to mean thick or dense.

Il fumo era così denso che non riuscivo a vedere la faccia di nessuno.
The smoke was so thick I couldn’t see anyone’s face.

Bear in mind that adverbs don’t change their form in Italian, but adjectives do, so when spesso is being used as an adjective, it needs to change its ending to agree with the sentence subject.

Non possiamo scappare da qui, i muri sono spessi almeno 2 metri!
We can’t escape from here, the walls are at least 2 metres thick!

Vorrei la mia cioccolata calda non troppo spessa, per favore.
I’d like my hot chocolate not too thick, please.

When it’s being used as an adverb, spesso is sometimes paired with the word volentieri (vol-ent-ee-EH-ree) to create the phrase spesso e volentieri.

If you’ve come across the word volentieri in other contexts, you might find this slightly confusing: by itself, it usually means ‘happily’ or ‘gladly’.

Spesso e volentieri, however, doesn’t mean ‘often and gladly’ but ‘very frequently’ or ‘more often than not’.

Spesso e volentieri ordino del cibo da asporto invece di cucinare dopo aver finito il lavoro.
More often than not I order take out instead of cooking after work.

Now you know this word, we imagine you’ll find yourself wanting to use it spesso (e volentieri!).

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: ‘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.