Italian word of the day: 'Affannarsi'

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
Italian word of the day: 'Affannarsi'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

There's no need to work yourself up trying to learn this word.


If you've ever visited an Italian hill town, you'll know that puffing your way up and down its slopes, while often rewarding, isn't for the faint of heart.

And given the number of towns in Italy that are perched on a hilltop, it's not surprising that Italian has more than one word for wheezing or breathlessness.

The ones we're interested in today are the noun affanno, shortness of breath, and the related adjective affannato/a.

Ha tosse, affanno e febbre. Vorrei tenerla qui in osservazione.
She has a cough, shortness of breath and a fever. I'd like to keep her here for observation.

Arrivò in ufficio affannata, dopo essere corsa dalla stazione.
She got to the office breathless, having run from the station.

But affanno and affannato don't just refer to shortness of breath or wheezing.

An affanno (a fairly literary word) can be a worry, trouble, anxiety, or even sorrow or affliction.

Il romanzo la trasportava lontano dall'affanno della vita quotidiana.
The novel transported her far away from the troubles of everyday life.

Ha molti affanni in questo momento.
She has many worries at this time.


And affannato (again, used in quite a high/literary register) can mean troubled or tormented.

Nel mio sogno mi sono vista circondata da anime affannate.
In my dream I saw myself surrounded by troubled souls.

Meanwhile the more common reflexive verb affannarsi can mean to struggle, scramble, hustle or generally work yourself into a bit of a sweat to achieve something.

Si affannava per completare il progetto entro la scadenza.
He was scrambling to complete the project by the deadline.

Tutto questo affannarsi per un po' di soldi.
All this running around for a bit of money.

Dovete affannarvi se volete arrivare in tempo.
You need to hustle if you want to get there on time.

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