Europe Italy Travel

Useful Italian Words and Phrases

This isn’t the usual list of Italian words and phrases you often see in phrase books. This personal collection is based on travels in Italy during last October, roaming the north and south of the country for twenty days.

I am far from speaking like a native Italian but being a francophone gives me the ability to understand the language with relative ease. All it takes is a couple of days in Italy and I get acclimatised to speak it. Sadly, it is a skill that I lose the moment I return home.

Italian is a musical language. My French teacher often told me, On chante l’italien! / We sing the Italian language. Her advice has served me well. If you attempt to speak Italian with the same inflexion as English, you will not sound authentic. Give each word its own rhythm. Listen to how the Italians sing their words. Repeat them to yourself without being self-conscious and you may even surprise yourself at how well you can sound.

The Basics

Buongiorno (bwon journo) – good morning
Buona sera (bwona she-rah) – good evening
Buona notte (bwona not-teh) – good night

Never has my French teacher been more correct. Italians sing these greetings. Unlike the low tone of how we say ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’, buona sera has a lovely lingering melody. Quite often, these greeting are politely followed by Signora or Signore.

Scusi (scoo-zee) – excuse me
Per favore (pear fa-voh-reh) – please
Grazie (grah-zyeh) – thank you
Prego (preh-go) – a multi purpose word ranging from a follow up to grazie, or please take a seat, or
Permesso? (pear-mess-o) – May I?

During train trips to various cities in the Veneto region, I noted the following three lines exchanged in dialogue among train travellers.

Buona giornata (bwona djor-na-ta) – Have a good journey/day
Arriverderci (arri-veh-der-chi)
Ciao ciao ciao (chao chao chao) – Bye

I never understood why ciao came in threes.

OK, a doppo (a dop-po) – See you later.

General Words

Dime (dee-meh) – tell me
Ascolta me (as-col-ta meh) – listen to me
Magari (ma-gah-ree) – I wish
Complimenti (comp-li-men-tee) – my compliments, goes with bravo or brava (for a female)
Allora (al-lohra) – The equivalent of the French alors, literally, it means then. But it can be used as a conversation filler or a transition in speech. One day I will write an ode to my favourite Italian word. Allora… It holds so much promise!


Vendesi – for sale
Pubblicità – advertising
Sala d’attesa – waiting room
Ingresso or Entrata– entrance
Uscita – exit
La Cassa– the cash desk
Senso unico – one way
Vietato fumare – no smoking

I was surprised to return to Italy after a few years and see so many no smoking signs.

Public Transport

Two very useful words when looking up bus, train and ferry timetables:

Feriale – working days
Festivi – Sundays and public holidays
Binario – train platform
Fermata – stop, as in bus stop or train stop
Treno regionale per Verona – This is the regional train going to Verona
Ferma a tutti le stazione – stops at all the stations
Siamo in arrivo a Venezia Mestre – This is an announcement you’ll hear on the trains as they approach a particular station. After catching a few trains, it became a melody to my ears.

Toilet Signs

Servizi (sehr-vee-tzee) – toilets.
Il bagno and la toilette are also used.

Donne – Women
Uomi – Men
Signore – Ladies Room
Signori – Men’s Room

Restaurants, Bars, Trattoria

Buongiorno, per due (bwon journo pear doo-eh) – Good morning. A table for two.

A simple greeting to use when asking for a table for two. Sometimes, when the Italian in me awakens and I speak with my hands, I signal the number with my fingers.

Per mangiare (pear man-jia-reh) – to eat
Per bibire (pear bee-bee-reh) – to drink
Per l’aperitivo (pear la-peh-riti-vo)– to have an aperitif

Depending on the time you arrive, it is polite to indicate to the waiter if you’d like to eat, drink or just enjoy an aperitif.

Scusi, permesso? – Excuse me, may I?

A handy phrase with many uses. May I sit down? May I get past you? I even used it to ask if I could borrow the salt from May I borrow the salt on your table?

E occupato? – Is it occupied?

Anything from asking if the seat is taken, or if someone is using the toilets.

Il conto, per favore (il kon-toh pear-fa-voh-reh) – the bill (check), please.

Or if you’re a graduate of the Marcel Marceau school of mime, as Mr G often does, you can signal for the bill.


Birra alla spina (birra al-la spee-na) – beer on tap
Bevande (beh-van-deh) – drinks
Calice di vino rosso (ka-li-cheh dee vee-no rosso) – glass of red wine
Bicchiere di vino bianco (beek-yeh-reh dee vee-no rosso)– glass of white wine
Bottiglia (bott-eelya) – bottle
Una mezza (oona mez-za) – half (a bottle usually)
Acqua minerale naturale– (akwa mi-neh-rah-leh na-too-rah-leh) – still mineral water
Acqua minerale frizzante – (akwa mi-neh-rah-leh free-zan-the) – fizzy mineral water

When it comes to coffee, il caffè, read about the coffee facts I learnt while in Italy.

Eating and Food

Prenotazione (preh-no-tah-zyo-neh) – breakfast
Pranzo (pran-zo) – lunch
Cena (tche-nah) – dinner
Pane (pah-neh) – bread
Sale e pepe (sah-leh eh pepp-eh) – salt and pepper
Forno a legna (for-no a len-ya) – wood-fired oven
Formaggio (for-mah-djyo) – cheese

Buon viaggio e buon appetito!

~ ~ ~

Other language guides: Useful Tahitian Words and Phrases


This article is posted on - All rights reserved - Copyright © 2018.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.