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Eight Italian words native speakers would never use

Jessica Lionnel
Jessica Lionnel - [email protected]
Eight Italian words native speakers would never use
People dining 'al fresco' (or is it all'aperto?) in Italy. Photo by: Jeenah Moon / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP.

After reading this article, you should know never to order a panini to eat al fresco.


Often viewed as the most romantic language in the world, Italian has millions of speakers, predominantly residing in Italy, San Marino, The Vatican and Switzerland.

However the way the language is used by these speakers isn't always what visitors expect: confusion arises as some of its words have crept out into the big wide world and taken on new meanings elsewhere.

READ ALSO: 15 Italian words that change their entire meaning with one letter

Let’s take a look at some of the words you'll need to be careful using around native speakers - and which you'll never hear them use themselves (at least, not with the meaning you might expect.)


Firstly, never go to order a coffee in Italy and ask for a "latte". You'll be sorely disappointed as in Italian latte simply means milk. 

Instead what you want to order is a caffè latte. While a cappuccino, espresso or macchiato are all more common options in Italy, caffè latte does exist - it just might not look like the one on Starbucks menus.


British English speakers call it parmesan (ˈpɑːməzæn). Americans call it parmesan too, but with a ‘zh’ sound instead of an ‘s’ (ˈpɑːrməzɑːn). But it's not the pronunciation you'll need to beware of in Italy - this is not a case of tomato/tomato or potato/potato.

Parmesan is something different to Italy's Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, which can only be produced in the cities of Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia. Anything else produced elsewhere is not Pamigiano Reggiano.

READ MORE: What’s the difference between parmesan and Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano cheese?

Parmigiano Reggiano is the cheese to find if you ever find yourself at an Italian supermarket or restaurant. It is pronounced like this: parmi- JA-no.


Parma Ham

On the subject of things from the city of Parma: some non-Italian speakers will often ask for Parma ham (or prosciutto di Parma). It's popular, but it's not the only option: Parma ham is just one type of prosciutto.

READ ALSO: Four myths about ‘traditional’ Italian food you can stop believing

There are so many types of prosciutto in Italy, such as San Daniele or Prosciutto Toscano. Although if you do ask for Parma ham, it's not a mistake to be embarrassed about - you just may not get exactly that type.


The plural form has become commonly used in English to mean a single toasted ciabatta sandwich. But when you're in Italy, one is a panino, two or more are panini.

Of anything you take away from this article, this is probably the most important as it will save you money - and space in your stomach for other Italian fare.

Note also that the word is used for various types of sandwich in Italy, and an Italian panino is unlikely to be toasted.

Al fresco

This is the last one based on Italian food.

No Italian ever wants to eat al fresco. Instead, they’d rather eat all’aperto, which means in the open. Granted, al fresco sounds a lot cooler (it does literally mean in the cool), but it's not correct to use.



This is more of a pronunciation error rather than a vocabulary error, yet it is important to know that if you say grazi-A as a thank you to an Italian native speaker, they would be exceptionally confused. Grazia is a female name. 

READ ALSO: Buongiorno, buonasera, buonanotte: How to greet people like a local in Italian

Grazi-EH is the correct way to say thanks. Of course, things get complicated when you are saying thanks to someone named Grazia.


Most of us have seen the films by Martin Scorcese in which characters say "capiche" (ca-PEESH) a lot.

It's become commonly used in English, but beware of this 'fake' Italian word. Native speakers would not say "capiche" but capisci (ca-PEESH-ee) which means 'you understand', or capisce (ca-PEESH-ay) which means 'he/she understands'. These are conjugations of the verb ‘capire’, to understand.

Whilst capisci is grammatically correct, it is usually used within sentences. Native speakers instead tend to use hai capito? when asking someone whether they understand.


The hit film V for Vendetta takes on a whole new meaning when you discover in Italian the word means something similar, but different.

Vendetta does mean 'vengeance', but not vendetta, so here it fails to highlight the extent of said vengeance. 

A faida, which translates to feud, is much more applicable here. Think of it like a blood feud, as in Romeo and Juliet.

Have you encountered any language faux pas in Italian? Let us know in the comments section below.



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