Five Italian words with unsatisfying English equivalents


If I’m speaking English with someone who I know speaks or understands Italian, I tend to inject the words below into conversation rather than use the English approximation. The Italian version is just better! Have a look at the five words below (in no particular order) and let me know if you agree, and whether there are others you’d add.



Anzi can be translated as “on the contrary”. Simple, right? Except in English it’s a mouthful. In Italian it’s a one-word zinger, ideal for the end of a sentence. For example, “It’s not that I don’t want to…. anzi“. Meaning: I want to very much. Saying “It’s not that I don’t want to…on the contrary” just doesn’t cut it. 




One definition of this word is “maybe”, but a more interesting use of the word is to mean “I wish!”, or “If only!”, as in “Come with me on vacation!” (“Dai vieni con me in vacanza!”), and the response: “Eh… magari!”. This one goes well with the hand signal that means what the heck are you talking about ….as if I could.




Sveglia means “awake”, and it means “alarm clock”, but the “sveglia” I like is an adjective defined in the dictionary as “clever”, which isn’t a perfect translation. It’s a big compliment to be called “sveglia” or “sveglio”, and personally I’d prefer to be “sveglia” than clever. Someone who is “sveglia/o” may not be brilliant or have lots of degrees or have solved some complex problem, anzi (none of those may apply). More likely it means that they are with it, they get it, they’re quick, they’re perceptive. 




Pazienza” is also a one-word zinger that does translate as “patience”, but in the same situation in English we’d say “don’t worry about it” or “go with the flow”, with a shrug. The thing about “pazienza”, is that in Italy you need quite a lot of it, so what makes the Italian word so different from the English, for me, is its cultural weight.




If it’s someone’s birthday, you say “auguri!”. If it’s New Year’s Day, you say “auguri!”. It’s the equivalent of the English “happy” in “happy birthday” or “happy new year”, except just saying “happy!” in English would get you odd looks, of course.

Got any to add or any other examples of how you use the words above? Please post in the comments!

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