Best Italian Proverbs

My Roman neighbors love to give me advice. All of it is unsolicited, but not unwelcome.

Cesare, for example, will often stop me in the stairway to ensure that I know the proper techniques for creating a specific dish we spoke about recently (and he will bring me his own pots and pans to borrow when he is convinced that even if I did understand WHAT to do, I don’t how the correct implements for HOW to do it).

But the best little treasures of advice and insight always come in the form of Italian proverbs. Many Italian proverbs are regional and based on local sayings – but there are a few that you will hear over and over if you live in Italy.

Here are some of the best Italian proverbs:

Si dice sempre il lupo più grande che non è.
Which literally translates to: The wolf is made bigger than it is.
But actually means: Lying a little might make the story better. (Which – obviously – is totally true).

La troppa bonezza finisce nella monnezza.
This is the Italian way of saying that “nice guys finish last,” but it literally, “too much goodness ends up in the trash.”

Hills of Positano Italy

Far d’una mosca un elefante.
My mother used to always tell me to stop making a mountain out of a molehill. Don’t make a big deal out of something so small! In Italian, the proverb is a bit more creative: “To make an elephant out of a fly.”

 

La famiglia è la patria del cuore. 
Which means: home (or in this case, family) is where the heart is.

Senza tentazioni, senza onore.
Translation: Where there is no temptation there is no glory. Or, you have to overcome a few obstacles for real success.

Quando finisce la partita il re ed il pedone finiscono nella stessa scatola.
The English translation would be: When you finish the game, the king and pawn end up in the same box. In other words: we all meet the same end.

 

O mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa finestra.
This literally means “Either eat this soup or jump out of this window,” but it would be better known in English as “you can take it or leave.” Of course, the Italian version has to incorporate food!

 

 

La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi.
The most literal translation here would be “The hasty cat gave birth to blind kittens.” In other words, doing something too quickly can result in less-than-perfect results.

 

Al povero mancano tante cose, all’avaro tutte.
This is literally Italian for “the poor man is lacking many things, the greedy man all.” In English, it would be a warning that the greedy are never satisfied.

 

 

Cuando l’amico chiede, non v’è domani.
When a friend asks, there is no tomorrow.

 

 

And finally:
Chi non va non vede, chi non vede non sa e chi non sa se lo prende sempre in culo.

If you don’t go you won’t see, if you don’t see you won’t know, if you don’t know you’ll take it in the ass every time.

(How charming!)

Siena hills in Spring

Do you have any other favorite Italian proverbs or sayings?

(Or you might also like quotes about Rome and quotes about Venice).

 

12 Comments

  • Reply Sheila December 22, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Se non è vero, è ben trovato….. ?

  • Reply terra @ terragoes.com December 26, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    I love these! My friend is German and loves sharing some of the proverbs she grew up with – the direct translations are always entertaining!

    • Reply Natalie December 28, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      I LOVE proverbs in other languages – they always show that direct translation isn’t everything

      • Reply Fior DiMaggio October 21, 2018 at 3:14 pm

        “traduttore, traditore” (the translator is a traitor, meanings the translation is never right, perfect)

        • Reply Natalie October 21, 2018 at 9:50 pm

          That is so true!

  • Reply Mimi March 25, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    Chi va piano va sano e va lontano.
    (He who goes slowly goes safely and far).

    • Reply Natalie March 26, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      Love this one – so true!

  • Reply Gharbi May 25, 2018 at 1:50 am

    Amazing, the right proverbs to read today and share one of them..Senza tentazioni, senza onore

  • Reply Omar July 22, 2018 at 1:01 am

    IL LUPO PERDE IL PELO MA NON IL VIZIO.

  • Reply Giovanni47527 November 18, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Piu boschi si Gita, piu lupi si trove.

  • Reply Cassondra May 14, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Bisogna navigare quando il vento e propizio. Set sail when the winds are fair. I take it to mean avoid making a drastic change until things are calm.

    • Reply Natalie May 19, 2019 at 10:20 am

      That is a great one too!

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