Sayings are integral part of a language, but especially of the culture of a country. In particular, in Italy we say that proverbs never fail. Do you know why?
10 ITALIAN PROVERBS that you MUST KNOW
But before starting, which are the most common proverbs in Italy? We chose 10 among the most famous ones!
1. A CAVAL DONATO NON SI GUARDA IN BOCCA [Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth]
This proverb means that every gift we get can be useful. So, judging and checking its quality not only would be rude, but could also turn against you. You will never know if that gift might turn out to be conveniente for you.
The origin of this proverb comes from long long ago, when in order to esteem a horse’s age you would need to check its teeth.
2. A BUON INTENDITOR, POCHE PAROLE [A word to the wise]
This saying indicates that when someone is smart and intuitive, they do not need many explanations to understand something.
This proverb has an ancient origin as well: it actually comes from a Latin comedy by Plauto called Persa.
3. CHI DORME NON PIGLIA PESCI [You snooze, you lose]
This proverb means that lazy people, who lounge and do nothing all day, do not get anything. Just like the fisherman asleep who cannot catch any fish.
4. IL LUPO PERDE IL PELO MA NON IL VIZIO [Old habits die hard]
This proverb means that it is very hard to eradicate old and bad habits, vices that are already part of our nature.
Originally, the protagonist of this expression – that comes from the Latin Svetonio – was actually a fox, and it was referring to the emperor Vespasiano, well known for being greedy, ill-tempered and determined to reach his own goals at any cost.
5. LA GATTA FRETTOLOSA FA I FIGLI CIECHI [Haste makes waste]
This proverb is used to say that everything must be done in its own right time (like giving birth), because if you do this in a rush, you might have negative consequences (like blind kittens). And you know, a blind cat will have a hard life for sure.
We have another saying with the same meaning: chi va piano, va sano e va lontano (He who goes slow, goes safe and far).
6. L’ERBA DEL VICINO È SEMPRE PIÙ VERDE [The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence]
This saying refers to a big problem of our society: envy!
When someone is envious, they actually do not appreciate the good things they have, because they always think that what others have is better, even if it is not the case at all.
7. RIDE BENE CHI RIDE ULTIMO [Who laughs last laughs best]
This proverb is a kind of warning! It means that you should never rejoice and celebrate before what is going on has come to an end, even if it looks like everything is turning to your favor. And it is not (only) about superstition, but because everything might change till the very end!
We use it especially in competitions, to warn the opponent that, even if they are in advantage, the match could still turn upside down.
8. IL BUON GIORNO SI VEDE DAL MATTINO [A good day starts from the morning]
This saying means that when a day starts in a good way, it will continue and end in a good way, too. Simple, right?
We use it for a single day, but also to indicate a whole event or situation.
For example: if we wake up filled with energies, we have a good breakfast, and then get the delivery of that online shopping we were waiting for… the rest of the day will be awesome for sure!
But this expression can also have a wider meaning: for example, we can use it for a kid good at school, to indicate that probably he will keep being good also when he will grow up.
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9. TRA I DUE LITIGANTI IL TERZO GODE [Two argue and a third benefits]
According to this saying, when two people argue over something, usually a third person prevail, because they wait for the moment of most weakness or distraction of the other two in order to win!
10. NON È TUTTO ORO QUELLO CHE LUCCICA [All that glitters is not gold]
This proverb is actually similar to other two: l’apparenza inganna (appearances can be deceiving) and l’abito non fa il monaco (clothes don’t make the man).
The three of them are used as a warning to avoid being superficial, and to be careful when judging someone or something from the appearances. You need to analyze things very well, because the first impression could be misleading.
Ok, now you know the most common sayings in Italy, but going back to our first question: why do we say that proverbs never fail?
Well, it is very simple: because we have one for every situation! Actually, proverbs contradicts one another very often!
Chi si somiglia si piglia [Like attracts like] BUT Gli opposti si attraggono [Opposites attract]
Quando si chiude una porta si apre un portone [When one door closes, another even better door will open in the future] BUT Chi lascia la via vecchia per la nuova, sa quel che perde e non sa quel che trova [Who leaves the old road to the new doesn’t know what he finds]
L’unione fa la forza [Unity is strength] BUT Chi fa per sé fa per tre [If you want something done, do it yourself ]
Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro [Who finds a friend, finds a treasure] BUT Fidarsi è bene non fidarsi è meglio [To trust is good, not to trust is better]
Non fare domani quello che puoi fare oggi [Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today] BUT La calma è la virtù dei forti [Calm is the virtue of the strong]
Chi tardi arriva male alloggia [Early bird gets the worm] BUT Chi va piano va sano e va lontano [He who goes slow, goes safe and far]
Now don’t miss the Latin expressions that are still used in everyday Italian!
If you want to learn Italian colloquial words and expressions, don’t forget to read our book Italiano Colloquiale!
Let’s see if you’ve mastered the contents of this class. Have a go at completing the exercises!