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Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: ‘Per cortesia’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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


It doesn’t take long for foreign nationals in Italy 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’.

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.

There is no official grammar rule on how to juggle these expressions, and their use is mostly regulated by unwritten social rules.

Of these three forms, 'per cortesia' is surely the most peculiar. (Click here to hear it pronounced)

The expression’s literal translation would be something along the lines of ‘as a courtesy’ or ‘as a kindness’, though 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. So, for conversations with anyone that you might consider a stranger, this is the go-to expression.

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

Certo, arrivo subito.

Excuse me, could you please get us the bill?

Sure, I’ll be right with you.


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

Certo. Provvedo subito a mandarli.

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

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 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’.

In ordinary conversations with friends, family or other acquaintances, Italians switch to the use of the informal ‘tu’ and simultaneously opt for either ‘per favore’ or ‘per piacere’.


The difference in meaning between the two expressions is negligible, so much so that they are 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.

Giampietro, la tua camera è un disastro. Puoi pulirla il prima possibile per piacere?

Giampietro, your bedroom is a mess. Can you please tidy up as soon as possible?


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

Certo. Eccola qua.

Could you lend me a pen? I forgot my pencil case.

Sure. There it is.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of the (very slight) difference between ‘per favore’ and ‘per piacere’.

Bear in mind that per favore will get the job done in almost any informal conversation. When in doubt, use that and you’re unlikely to go wrong.

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