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Italian expression of the day: ‘Al volo’

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

We’re sure you’ll learn this Italian phrase in no time.

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If you’ve ever found yourself at an Italian airport and looked up at the departure board, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the word volo, which is the Italian equivalent of ‘flight’ – but also the first person singular of the verb volare (to fly) in the present tense.

And if you’re a fan of classical music, you may of course have heard of Italy’s famous opera trio Il Volo (‘The Flight’).

But what do Italians mean when they say they’re going to do something al volo (hear it pronounced here)? 

Much like its closest English equivalent, ‘on the fly’, al volo has very little to do with aircraft or flying as it’s one of the most common Italian phrases to say that you’re doing something ‘quickly’ or ‘readily’, often without having prepared it or thought about it much beforehand.

Facciamoci una pasta al volo e poi usciamo.

Let’s cook some pasta on the fly and then get out.

Ho dovuto preparare la presentazione al volo perché non mi avevano avvisato della riunione.

I had to put the presentation together on the fly as I’d not been notified of the meeting. 

But usage of al volo is not limited to practical actions or tasks you may do quickly and without much thought. 

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In fact, you can also pair it with the verb capire (understand), comprendere (comprehend) or imparare (learn) to say that you grasped something ‘immediately’ or ‘in no time’, meaning you won’t need any further explanation. 

Tuo figlio capisce tutto al volo. Ha un grande futuro davanti a lui, a mio parere.

Your son understands everything in no time. He’s got a great future ahead of him, in my opinion.

And if you haven’t fully understood or grasped something on your first try (which is painfully likely when dealing with Italy’s infamous red tape, even for locals), don’t worry: you’ll always have the option to ask a domanda al volo, or a ‘quick question’, to clear up your doubts. 

Another popular way to use the phrase is in relation to big opportunities, whether that be in life, in education or at work. So an opportunity that va presa al volo must be seized immediately as it’s too good to be missed. 

Finally, if you're planning on watching Euro 2024 matches on Italian TV over the next month, you may hear football commentators use al volo multiple times while analysing a match as colpire la palla al volo means to strike it while it’s in the air, or ‘volley’ it.

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Rossana Dowsett 2024/06/16 18:28
"Messa in piega" at the hairdresser's... to this day, I don't know what that hair option is!

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