Italian expression of the day: 'Alle prese con'

The Local Italy
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Italian expression of the day: 'Alle prese con'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Hopefully you won't be struggling with this phrase by the time we're done.


Life can be a struggle at times, and never more so than when you're trying to catch (or dodge) its curveballs in a foreign language.

We might not be able to help you with that, but what we can do is give you the words to describe your struggle in Italian.

Essere alle prese con (qualcosa) is to be struggling or dealing with a difficult situation or challenge.

È alle prese con il suo passato.
He's struggling with his past.

È alle prese con la sua tesi di dottorato.
She's grappling with her PhD thesis.

The singular form, presa, from the verb prendere, 'to take', is a grip or grasp:

Scambiamoci i posti, così avrai una presa migliore.
Let's switch places, that way you'll get a better grip.

Queste scarpe hanno perso la loro presa.
These shoes have lost their grip.

Tentò di liberarsi dalla presa del nemico.
He tried to wriggle free of his enemy's grasp.

It also means 'outlet' or 'socket' (think of the outlet 'gripping' the plug):

Scusi, sto cercando una presa per ricaricare il mio cellulare.
Excuse me, I'm looking for an outlet to charge my phone.


Essere alle prese con qualcosa, then, comes from the idea of wrestling or 'grappling' with something.

It's not far off the English expression "come/get to grips" with something - and like that phrase, essere alle prese con (qlcs) has its origins in the idea of hand to hand combat with an opponent.

It's worth noting, though, that to "get to grips" with a situation or challenge implies that you're taking steps to effectively deal with it, while to be alle prese with a problem indicates that you're still in its throes.

Non posso uscire stasera, sono ancora alle prese con i compiti di matematica.
I can't come out tonight, I'm still wrestling with this maths homework.

All'epoca era alle prese con l'alcolismo.
He was struggling with alcoholism at the time.

Mollate tutto e venite subito, siamo alle prese con un sospetto omicidio qui.
Drop everything and come right away, we're dealing with a suspected homicide here.


Whatever you're alle prese with this week, we hope learning this phrase will at least have lightened your Italian homework load.

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