Italian proverbs

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A

  • Non affoga colui che cade in acqua - ma affoga chi male incappa.
    • Literal translation: Who falls in water doesn't drown - but who falls badly will.
  • "A buon intenditor poche parole."
    • Literal translation: "Few words to the good knowledgeable"
    • Idiomatic translation: "A word to the wise (is sufficient)."
  • "A correre e cagare ci si immerda i garretti."
    • Literal translation: "By running and defecating at the same time, you'll get crap on your heels."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Doing two things at the same time will result in a mess."
    • Original proberb in the dialect of Ferrara : "A corar e cagar as s'immerda i garit."
  • "A caval donato non si guarda in bocca."
    • Translation: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
    • Meaning: Judging a gift negatively will anger the giver.
  • "A chi dai il dito si prende anche il braccio."
    • Literal translation: "Give them a finger and they'll take an arm"
    • Idiomatic translation: "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile."
  • "Aiutati che Dio ti aiuta."
    • Literal translation: "Help yourself and God will help you."
    • Idiomatic translation: "God helps those who help themselves."

(Also known in the form "Aiutati che il ciel ti aiuta.", literal translation: "Help yourself and Heaven will help you.")

  • "Al contadino non far sapere quanto è buono il cacio con le pere."
    • Translation: "Don't let the peasant know how good the cheese with the pears is."

(Also known in the form "Al contadino non far sapere quanto è buono il formaggio con le pere.", translation is the same, but "formaggio" is the more common Italian noun for "cheese".)

  • "Amicu ca non ti duna, parendi ca non ti mpresta, fuili comu la pesta."
    • Sicilian translation: "Friend who won't give, relatives who won't lend you a hand, avoid them like the plague."
  • "Chi si alza sara abbassato - chi si abbassa sara inalzato."
    • Translation: Those who have airs will be laid low - those who abase themselves will be raised up.

B

  • "Il bue che dice cornuto all'asino"
    • Translation: "The ox saying 'horned' to the donkey"
    • Idiomatic translation: "The pot calling the kettle black"
    • Note: Italian double meaning: "cornuto" is a colloquial expression for "cuckold"

C

  • La lettera C è la piu soggetta al tradimento - cugino, cognato, e compare.
    • Literal translation: The letter C is most likely to betray - cousin, brother-in-law, god-father.
  • La calma è la virtù dei forti.
    • Literal translation: The calm is the virtue of the strong.
  • "Cane che abbaia non morde."
    • Literal translation: "The dog that barks doesn't bite."
    • Idiomatic translation: "The barking dog seldom bites."
  • "Campa cavallo, che l'erba cresce."
    • Literal translation: "Be alive horse, because grass grows."
    • Idiomatic translation: "While the horse starves, the grass grows."
  • "Campa cavallo!"
    • Idiomatic translation: "That'll be the day!"
  • "Chi bene incomincia è a metà dell'opera."
    • Translation: "Well begun is half done."
  • "Chi dice Siena, dice Palio."
    • Translation: "He who mentions Siena mentions the Palio" (that city's famous horse-race).
    • Note: said of something that one cannot mention without calling some other thing to mind.
  • "Chi dorme non piglia pesci."
    • Literal translation: "Those who sleep don't catch any fish"
    • Idiomatic translation: "The early bird catches the worm."
  • "Chi fa da sè, fa per tre."
    • Translation: "He who works by himself does the work of three (people)."
    • Idiomatic translation: "If you want something done, do it yourself."
    • Note: ironically contradicted by: "L'unione fa la forza" ("Union produces might.")
  • Chi ha la mamma sua non piange mai.
    • Translation: "He who has his own mother never cries."
  • "Chi la dura la vince."
    • Translation: "He who perseveres wins at last."
  • "Chi la fa l'aspetti."
    • Translation: "He who wrongs someone has to expect something in retaliation."
    • Idiomatic translation: "What goes around, comes around."
  • "Chi la sera i pasti gli ha fatti, sta a gli altri a lavar i piatti."
    • Translation: "If one cooks the meal then the others wash up."
  • "Chi lascia la strada vecchia per la nuova sa quel che lascia, ma non sa quel che trova."
    • Literal translation: "Who leaves the old street for the new one, knows what he left but not what he'll find."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know."
  • "Chi mangia solo crepa solo."
    • Translation: "He who eats alone dies alone."
  • "Chi parla in faccia non è traditore."
    • Translation: "He who speaks to your face is not a traitor."
  • "Chi pensa male fa peccato ma indovina."
    • Translation: "He who thinks badly commits a sin but hits the mark."
  • "Chi s'impiccia degli affari altri, di tre parte gliene resta due."
    • Translation: "He who meddles in others people's affairs will be left with two of three parts."
  • "Chi si volta, e chi si gira, sempre a casa va finire."
    • Idiomatic translation: "No matter where you go, your house is always there waiting."
  • Chi tardi arriva, male alloggia.
    • Translation: "Who came in late, finds a bad accomodation"
  • Chi tante male azioni fa, una grossa ne aspetta.
    • Translation: "He who does many bad deeds can expect a big one in return."
    • Idiomatic translation: "What goes around comes around."
  • "Chi troppo vuole, nulla stringe."
    • Translation: "He who wants too much doesn't catch anything."
  • "Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro."
    • Translation "He who finds a friend finds a treasure."
  • "Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano."
    • Translation: "He who goes slowly goes safely and goes far."
  • "Chi pò, non vò; chi vò, non pò; chi sà, non fà; chi fà, non sà; e così, male il mondo va."
    • Translation: "Who can do, don't want to; Who wants to, can't do; Who knows how to do, won't do it; Who does it, doesn't know how to; and, so, badly goes the world."
  • "Commediante! Tragediante!"
    • Literal translation: "Comedian! Tragedian!"
    • Note: exclaimed by Pope Pius VII during a violent scene that Napoleon made before him.
  • "Chi nasce asino non può morire cavallo"
    • Literal translation: "Who's born as donkey can't die as horse"
    • Note: Abruzzo's proverb

D

  • "Dai nemici mi guardo io, dagli amici mi guardi Iddio!"
    • Translation: "I (can) protect myself from my enemies; may God protect me from my friends!"
  • "Dare a Cesare quel che è di Cesare, dare a Dio quel che è di Dio."
    • Literal translation: "Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, give to God what belongs to God."
    • Translation: "Give credit where credit is due."
  • "Del male non fare e paura non avere."
    • Translation: "Do no evil and have no fear."
  • "Del senno di poi son piene le fosse."
    • Literal translation: "Graves are filled with after-the-fact wisdom."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Hindsight is always 20/20."
  • "Dio ci salvi dal povero arricchito e dal ricco impoverito."
    • Translation: "God save us from the enriched poor and from the impoverished rich."
  • "Donna che piange, uomo che giura, cavallo che suda, tutta impostura."
    • Translation: "A woman who cries, a man who swears, a horse that sweats, all imposture."
  • Tira piu una donna in salita che dieci paia di boui in discesa.
    • Translation: A woman can pull more weight uphill than ten pairs of bulls downhill.

E

  • "È meglio un uovo oggi di una gallina domani."
    • Literal translation: "An egg today is better than a chicken tomorrow."
    • Idiomatic translation: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"
  • "È la gaia pioggerella a far crescer l'erba bella."
    • Translation: "It's the merry drizzle that makes grass grow fine."

F

  • "Fatto trenta, facciamo trentuno"
    • Translation: "Having made thirty, we should make thirty-one" or better "Having made thirty, let's make thirty-one"
    • Note: said by pope Pope Leo X on July 1, 1517, when he created 30 new cardinals. Another priest, who seemed to him also worthy, was nominated during the ceremony.
  • "Fatti maschi, parole femmine."
    • Translation: "Facts are male, words are female."
    • Alternative: "Manly deeds, womanly words."
    • Note: Motto of the state of Maryland
  • I figli nati da appena tre dii - gli si deve dare i vizzi: non piu di li.
    • Translation: Children of three days - one has to spoil them: not more than that.
  • "Finchè c'è vita c'è speranza."
    • Translation: "Where there's life, there's hope."
  • "Fatti i cazzi tuoi, ca campi cent'anni."
    • Translation from Calabrian: "Mind your own business, and you'll live 100 years."

Better: Chi s'occupa coi i suoi propri affari, va continuare per cent'anni. ( Colui che s'occupa ...)

Whoever occupies himself with his own affairs will live a hundred years.

  • "Fra il dire e il fare c'e' di mezzo il mare."
    • Translation: "An ocean lies between what is said and what is done."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Easier said than done."
  • "Cuanti Strozo que vile in un piato de merde"

Mixed forms from Spanish and French but not dialectical Italian. Extremely vulgar.Better in Calabrian or Sicilian as: "Quanti stronzi si vede in un piato di merda."

    • "How many turds does one see in a plate of shit."

Idiomatically: "its all the same (bad) no matter what!"

  • "Fuggi da Foggia no per Foggia ma per i Foggiani."
    • Translation: "run away from Foggia not for Foggia itself, but for the people of Foggia."

I

  • "L'occhio del padrone ingrassa il cavallo."
    • Literal translation: "The eye of the owner fattens the horse."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Nobody takes care of one's business as does its owner."
  • "Il bicchiere della staffa."
    • Literal translation: "The (wine)glass of the stirrup."
    • Idiomatic translation: "One for the road."
  • Il buon giorno si vede dal mattino.
    • Literal translation: The good day can be seen from the morning.
    • Idiomatic meaning: The good person is evident from the beginning.
  • "Il mattino ha l'oro in bocca"
    • Literal translation: "The morning [the sun] brings gold in it's mouth."
    • Idiomatic translation: "The early bird gets the worm." or "He who wakes early meets a golden day." Essentially, one is more productive in the morning.
    • Note: This idiom replaces "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" in the Italian translation of Stanley Kubrik's The Shining. It is not a literal translation but is used as a saying that is trite due to over-use.
  • "In bocca al lupo."
    • Translation: "Into the mouth of a wolf."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Break a leg!"
    • Note: used by students to wish each other good luck before exams, the response to which is "Crepi!" ("May it die!")
    • Note 2: other variants:
      • "In culo alla balena!" ("Into the ass of a whale!"), sometimes added to "In bocca al lupo!", the response to which is "speriamo che non caghi!" ("hope it doesn't defecate [vulgar]")
      • "In groppa al riccio!" ("On an hedgehog's back!"), the response to which is "Con le mutande di ghisa!" ("Wearing underpants made of cast iron!")
  • "In un mondo di ciechi un orbo è re."
    • Translation: "In a world of blind people, a one-eyed man is king."

L

  • "L'Italia farà da sè."
    • Translation: "Italy will take care of itself."
    • Note: a common expression when Italy was in the process of reunification.
  • "La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi."
    • Literal translation: "The hurried she-cat has made blind kittens."
  • "La madre degli idioti è sempre incinta."
    • Translation: "The mother of idiots is always pregnant."
  • "La morte mi troverà vivo."
    • Translation: "Death will find me alive."
  • "La vita è come un albero di natale, c'è sempre qualcuno che rompe le palle."
    • Literal translation: "Life is like a christmas tree, there's always someone who breaks the balls."
  • "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate."
    • Translation: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
    • Note: inscribed above the Gates of Hell in Dante Alighieri's Inferno (III, 9)   Also commonly written (by the students) above the entrance to examination halls in universities.
  • "L'abito non fa il monaco."
    • Literal translation: "The habit does not make the monk."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Clothes do not make the man."

M

  • "Mal comune, mezzo gaudio."
    • Literal translation: "A common trouble is half joy."
    • Translation: "Trouble shared is trouble halved."
  • Il marito è una cosa appiccicata - un figlio é una cosa creata.
    • Translation: A husband is a sticky/sneaky/conny thing - a child is a created thing.
  • Il bene del matrimonio dura tre die - il male dura fino a la muerte.
    • Translation: The good marriage lasts three days - and the bad lasts til death.
  • "Il meglio è nemico del bene."
    • Translation: "The Best is the enemy of the Good"
  • "Meglio tardi che mai."
    • Translation: "Better late than never."
  • "Meglio un uovo oggi che una gallina domani."
    • Translation: "Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow."
  • "Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi."
    • Translation: "Put the cart before the horse."
  • "Mogli e buoi dei paesi tuoi."
    • Literal translation: "Wives and oxen from your own land."

N

  • "Nelle botti piccine ci sta il vino buono"
    • Translation: In the small barrels you find the good wine.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Good things come in small packages.

O

  • "Oggi a te, domani a me."
    • Translation: Today to you, tomorrow to me.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Every dog has its day

P

  • "Paesi che vai, usanze che trovi."
    • Translation: "The countries you visit, the customs you find."
    • Idiomatic Translation: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
  • La pazienza non'e mai troppa.
    • Translation: Patience is never too much.
    • Idiomatic Translation: You can never have too much patience.
  • "Per un punto, Martin perse la cappa!"
    • Translation: "Because of a period, Martin lost his post!"
    • Note: The meaning of the proverb is that details can make or break you.

(The origin of this proverb is a tale, in which an acolyte monk, Martin, was told to write the latin phrase "Porta patens esto. Nulli claudatur honesto": "Be the door (always) open. Be not closed to any honest (person)", referring to the door of the monastery. He instead supposedly wrote on that door "Porta patens esto nulli. Claudatur honesto.": "Be the door open to no one. Be it closed to honest (people)." Thus, he lost "the cape" (i.e.: the right of taking vows as a monk) because of a period, or dot (Italian language uses the same word). That to symbolize how little details make a big difference in meaning or results.)

    • English equivalent: For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.
  • "Più facile a dirsi che a farsi."
    • Idiomatic traslation:"Easier said than done."
  • Porta aperta per chi porta - chi non porta .. parta pur.
    • Translation: (tongue twister) Keep doors open for people who bring something - for those that bring nothing .. can leave
  • Non fare voti ai santi - e non promettere a piccirelli.
    • translation: Don't promise to the saints - and don't make promises to (piccirelli slang for insiginificant people).

Q

  • "Quando il gatto non c'è, i topi ballano."
    • Literal translation: "When the cat is missing, the mice dance."
    • Idiomatic translation: "When the cat's away, the mice will play."
  • "Quel che non ammazza, ingrassa."
    • Literal translation: "What won't kill you, will feed you"
    • Idiomatic translation: "That which doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."
  • "Quella destinata per te, nessuno la prenderà."
    • Literal translation: "No one will take the one who is destined for you."
    • Idiomatic translation: "True love waits."

R

  • La rabbia della sera - riponela per la mattina.
    • Translation: The evening rage - put it away for the morning.
  • "Rosso di sera, bel tempo si spera."
    • Literal translation: "Red sky in the evening, one hopes for good weather."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight."
  • "Ride bene chi ride ultimo."
    • Translation: "He who laughs last, laughs best."

S

  • Prendi chi li vale cento scudi - no chi si li porte.
  • double meaning: take that which is worth 100 scudi - not that which carries it
  • "Se non è vero, è ben trovato."
    • Translation: "If it's not true, it's a good story."
  • Essi sincero - e vai con Dio.
    • Translation: Be sincere - and go with God.
  • "La speranza è l'ultima a morire"
    • Translation: "Hope is last to die"
  • "Se si disperdono spine, non camminare scalzi."
    • Translation: Ïf you scatter thorns, don't go barefoot.
  • Non sputare in'aria - che ti ricade in testa.
    • Translation: Don't spit in the wind - it might land on your head

T

  • Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino.
    • Literal translation: "So often goes the cat to the fat that she loses her paw."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Curiosity killed the cat."
    • Idiomatic translation: "The pitcher goes so often to the well that it gets broken at last."
  • "Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare la donna mia..."
    • Translation: "So kind and so honest my lady appears to be .."
    • Note: famous opening lines of Dante Alighieri's Sonnet 26 from La Vita Nuova

(The word "onesta" is a female adjective. In modern Italian, in means "honest", but in the context could be also translated as "true" or "Fair")

  • "Tempo, marito e figli vengono come li pigli."
    • Translation: "Weather, husbands, and sons come as you take them."
  • "Tempo al tempo."
    • Translation: "All in good time."
  • "Tra il dire e il fare, c'è di mezzo il mare."
    • Literal translation: "Between doing and saying lies the sea."
    • Idiomatic translation: "Easier said than done."
  • "Traduttore, traditore."
    • Translation: "Translator, traitor."
  • "Tu duca, tu signore e tu maestro."
  • "Tutte le strade portano a Roma."
    • Translation: "All roads lead to Rome."

U

  • Una buona mamma vale cento maestre.
    • Translation: A good mother is worth a hundred teachers.
  • "Un baso no fa buso!"
    • Translation: "A kiss make no asshole!"
    • Note: Venice's proverb

V

  • "Vai in piazza e chiedi consiglio; vai a casa e fai come ti pare."
    • Translation: "Go to the square and ask advice; go home and do what you like."
    • Idiomatic translation: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
  • "Val più la pratica della grammatica."
    • Translation: "Experience is more important than theory."
  • "Vedi Napoli, e poi muori!"
    • Translation: "See Naples, and then die!"
    • Note: used to express admiration for Naples. Said by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe after visiting the city at the end of the 18th century.

Vicini - neighbours

  • Per anndare d'accordo co il vicino - devi stare con un-occhio aperto e l'altro non serrato.
    • Translation: To get on with your neighbours - you must go with one eye open and the other not closed.
  • Il pessimo vicini - e il parente piu stretto.
    • Translation: The worst neighbour - is the closest relation.

Vita - life

  • Nella vita - chi non risica - non rosica.
    • Literal translation: In life: who risks nothing - gains nothing.
    • Equivalent meaning: In life: nothing ventured - nothing gained.

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