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Italian expression of the day: 'Neanche per sogno'

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: 'Neanche per sogno'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

There's no way you can get by without learning this phrase.


Most Italians learn the meaning of neanche per sogno very early on in their lives, as the expression is a favourite response of Italian parents everywhere.

From a grammatical standpoint, neanche per sogno is a fairly uncomplicated expression as it is made up of ‘neanche’ (not even), ‘per’ (here translatable as ‘in’) and ‘sogno’ (dream). 

A literal rendition of the idiom would be ‘not even in a dream’, indicating the speaker’s utter disinclination to undertake a particular action, be that in the real world or even in their own subconscious.

It's not just to be used with kids either: you can use it for anything that you have a strong desire to avoid. 

Neanche per sogno has no real equivalent in the English language but a number of English idioms have a similar meaning.

These include 'in your dreams', ‘no way’, ‘no chance’, ‘not in a million years’, 'don't even think about it' or ‘(you can) forget about it’.

Regardless of how you choose to translate the expression into English, its overall meaning is pretty unequivocal as it expresses a categorical 'no' to whatever proposition one has been presented with.

In other words, it’s just a very assertive way of saying: “It’s never going to happen.” 

Mamma, possiamo comprare i nuovi Lego di Harry Potter?

Neanche per sogno! Costa troppo.

Mum, can we buy the new Harry Potter Lego set?

No chance! It’s far too expensive.


Depending on what part of Italy they’re from, native speakers might choose to use ‘neppure’, ‘nemmeno’ or ‘manco’ instead of ‘neanche’. 

All these adverbs have exactly the same meaning - ‘not even’. So, whichever version you decide to go for, the meaning remains unchanged.

Vado a fare il bagno. Vieni?

Manco per sogno. Ho appena mangiato due piatti interi di melanzane alla parmigiana.

I’m going swimming. Are you coming?

No chance. I’ve just had two full plates of eggplant parmesan.


It is also worth pointing out that many native speakers often place ‘ma’ (‘but’ in English) before ‘neanche’ or any of the other applicable adverbs. This is a way to bestow further emphasis on the expression, as in the following example: 

Vorresti provare a fare paracadutismo?

Ma neanche per sogno!

Would you like to try skydiving?

Not in a million years!

As these scenarios show, ‘neanche per sogno’ is an informal expression which is mostly used in everyday situations. I

In a formal setting, you might want to opt instead for more refined expressions such as ‘non mi sembra proprio il caso’ (‘I really do not think that’s appropriate’) or ‘non sono assolutamente d’accordo’ (‘I absolutely disagree’).

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