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Italian expression of the day: ‘Cambiare registro’

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: ‘Cambiare registro’
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Here's the Italian phrase you'll need if you're looking for a change.


If you live in Italy or have spent a considerable amount of time in the country, you may have overheard an Italian parent telling their child they needed to cambiare registro right after they threw a tantrum. 

If you work or have worked in Italy, you may also have had one of your superiors tell you that a cambio di registro was needed in the office. 

But what do Italians really mean when they tell someone they need to ‘change register’?

Italians use cambiare registro to tell someone that they need to change their behaviour, manners or way to approach a particular task (including work or school assignments), usually because they’re not particularly happy with the way they’re currently handling things. 

It is generally used with the verb dovere (must/have to), which must be conjugated according to the person who could do with a ‘change of register’. For instance:

Non hai passato gli ultimi tre test. Devi cambiare registro se vuoi tenere la tua paghetta settimanale.  

You failed the past three exams. You need to turn things around if you want to keep your weekly allowance.

La tua performance al lavoro e’ stata insoddisfacente questo trimestre. Devi veramente cambiare registro il prossimo mese.

Your performance at work has been unsatisfactory this quarter. You really need to turn things around next month.

You could also say that a situation you’re unhappy with needs ‘a change of register’, without addressing anyone in particular. 

Ci sono cose ovunque. C’e’ bisogno di un cambio di registro in questa casa.

There’s stuff all over the place. Changes are needed in this house.


As you can see from these examples, there’s no single way to translate the phrase into English, though ‘turning things around’ and ‘changing up’ are popular translations.

And if you’re wondering where the expression comes from, it has nothing to do with Italy’s Registry Office (or Anagrafe), nor with any other part of the country’s public administration. 

Cambiare registro was originally a music-related expression as it referred to the act of changing the tone or range (registro in Italian) of some musical instruments, including pipe organs.

But, as in the case of many other Italian phrases and expressions, its usage was later extended to daily life situations to express a need for major changes.

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