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?

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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: ‘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.

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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.