Italian expression of the day: Sfuggire di mano

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected] • 22 Feb, 2023 Updated Wed 22 Feb 2023 13:10 CEST
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Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Let's not let things get out of hand with this Italian expression.


At one time or another, we've all felt things slipping out of our control; getting 'out of hand', we might say.

That's a phrase that works in both English and Italian; sfuggire di mano literally means to escape or slip away from one's hand, and can be used in exactly the same way in Italian as in English.

La situazione rischia di sfuggire di mano
The situation risks getting out of hand.

L'emergenza sanitaria sta sfuggendo di mano a tutti.
The health emergency is spiralling out of everyone's control.


The expression, both in English and Italian, is thought to come from a time when a horse and carriage was a widely used mode of transport.

If as a driver you accidentally let the reins slip - literally, if they got out of your hands - you were faced with a runaway cart that could take off in any direction.

Like in English, the Italian phrase can be used somewhat jokingly or ironically.

Abbiamo iniziato come quattro amici in un bar... poi la cose è sfuggita di mano e ora siamo un'associazione di 500 membri.
We started out as four friends in a bar... then things got a bit out of hand and now we're an association with 500 members.

As shown in the example above, if you want to talk about 'it' or 'things' getting out of hand, you can use la cosa (literally, 'the thing'), or le cose (things); in the past tense you'll need to change the ending of sfuggire to agree with the subject.

If you want to specify whose control things are slipping out of, you can also use a reflexive pronoun.

Temo che le cose ci stiano davvero sfuggendo di mano.
I'm afraid things are really spiralling out of our hands.


'Bottas: "I was training for pain, physically and mentally, but things got way out of my control"' - from a recent news story on an F1 driver.

Note that if you want to say the opposite - that things under control or 'in hand' - you'd be less likely to say they're in mano than in pugno, the Italian word for 'fist'.

La polizia ha la situazione in pugno.
The police have the situation in hand.

You can also simply say things are sotto controllo (literally, 'under control').

Non si preoccupi signora, è tutto sotto controllo.
Don't worry madam, everything's under control.

With these phrases in your repertoire, we're sure you'll manage to keep things from getting out of hand: no matter what this week throws at you.

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



The Local Italy 2023/02/22 13:10

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