Italian word of the day: ‘Prego’

It's only polite to know this crucial Italian term.

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

A reader recently wrote to ask about the use of a word you’ll hear at least a dozen times a day in Italy: prego.

It’s a great reminder that it’s always important to get the basics right – and this word is one you need to master from the get-go. It’s every bit as fundamental as per favore (‘please’) and grazie (‘thank you’), and arguably more versatile.

Click here to hear prego pronounced.
The most common translation is ‘you’re welcome’: prego is what you say when someone else thanks you.

– Grazie mille!
– Prego.

– Thanks very much!
– You’re welcome.

Similarly, it can means ‘that’s quite alright’ – whether someone’s thanking you for something that’s no big deal or asking your forgiveness.

– Mi scuso per il ritardo.
– Prego.

– Sorry I’m late.
– It’s fine.

But prego can also take on the sense of ‘please’ – when you’re encouraging someone to make themselves at home, for instance, or inviting them to follow you. Think of this version as ‘you’re welcome to [do something]’.

Ne prenda ancora, prego!
Please, have some more!

Prego, si accomodi.
Please, take a seat.

You can also use prego this same way to assent when someone asks you for permission – like ‘yes, please do’. 

– Posso prenderlo?
– Prego!

– Can I take it?
– Please do!

It all makes sense when you consider where prego comes from: the verb pregare, which means ‘to pray’ or ‘to beseech’. Remember how in English you sometimes hear “pray tell”? It’s effectively “please tell” – just the same as Italian, but we use it a lot less nowadays.

Prego is the first person singular in the present tense (‘I pray’), but you might encounter it in other conjugations in formal Italian – for instance, in the conditional tense or the impersonal third person – when someone’s making a really polite request. 

La pregherei di non fumare.
I would beseech you to please refrain from smoking.

Si prega di bussare prima di entrare.
You are kindly requested to knock before entering.

When you use a pronoun to address the request to someone in particular, it turns prego into more of a supplication: ‘I beg you’.

Ti prego, non farlo!
Don’t do it, I beg you!

But to go back to plain old prego, there’s one final use that comes in very handy.

You can also use it to ask someone politely to repeat themselves when you haven’t understood: like saying ‘pardon?’

Come hai detto, prego?
What did you say, pardon?

If you want to polish your Italian manners further, find out the difference between the phrases ‘per favore‘ and ‘per cortesia’ here.

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

This article was originally published in 2019.

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Italian word of the day: ‘Ciofeca’

Here’s a useful word for when you just can’t stomach your drink.

Italian word of the day: ‘Ciofeca’

Who hasn’t at least once in their lives experienced the feeling of utter disappointment and existential despair that comes with opening a drink at the end of a hard day at work and finding it absolutely undrinkable?

Though the English language has no shortage of nouns for undrinkable drinks (swill, slop, bilge water, etc.), Italians also have a number of words suited to the occasion.

While schifezza (crap) and porcheria (filth) are valuable options, today’s word, ciofeca (pronunciation available here) is the more specific word you might want to use in this scenario.

Ciofeca is generally used for any drink which tastes so bad it is undrinkable, especially bad coffee and bad wine

Perché stai facendo quella faccia?
‘Sto caffè è una ciofeca… 
Why are you making that face?
This coffee is swill…

Non ci tornerò mai in quel posto. Il vino che abbiamo preso l’ultima volta era una ciofeca. 
I’m not going back to that place. The wine we got last time was hogwash.

As for the word’s etymology, scholars have hypothesised that ciofeca might derive from the Arabic word šafaq’, which means ‘bad drink’, or from the Spanish ‘chufa’, the type of almond used to make syrup. 

What’s certain is that the Italian version of the word first appeared in Naples and then spread to the rest of the peninsula over time.

It’s also widely believed that the ‘nationalisation’ of the noun happened largely thanks to legendary comedian Totò, who used the word ciofeca in his sketches and movies.

Nowadays, the word is used all over Italy and, in some instances, its scope has been extended to indicate anything of poor quality, not just drinks.

In these cases, ‘ciofeca’ might be translated into English as ‘rubbish’ or ‘garbage’. 

Mi hanno regalato un aspirapolvere senza filo per il mio compleanno.
Ah, com’è?
E’ una ciofeca… 
They got me a cordless vacuum cleaner for my birthday.
Oh, how is it?
It’s rubbish…

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