Rick Steves Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary


By Rick Steves

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Buon giorno! From ordering calamari in Venice to making new friends in Tuscan hill towns, it helps to speak some of the native tongue in Italy. Rick Steves offers well-tested Italian words and phrases that come in handy in a variety of situations. Inside you’ll find:
  • Key phrases for use in everyday circumstances, complete with phonetic spelling
  • An English-Italian and Italian-English dictionary
  • Tips for small talk and local lingo with Rick’s signature sense of humor
  • A tear-out cheat sheet for continued language practice as you wait in line at the Sistine Chapel (no internet connection required!)
Informative, concise, and practical, Rick Steves Italian Phrase Book is an essential item for any traveler’s pocket.


Hi, I’m Rick Steves.

I’m the only monolingual speaker I know who’s had the nerve to design a series of European phrase books. But that’s one of the things that makes them better.

You see, after more than 30 years of travel through Europe, I’ve learned firsthand: (1) what’s essential for communication in another country; and (2) what’s not. I’ve assembled the most important words and phrases in a logical, no-frills format, and I’ve worked with native Europeans and seasoned travelers to give you the simplest, clearest translation possible.

But this book is more than just a pocket translator. The words and phrases have been carefully selected to help you have a smarter, smoother trip in Italy. The key to getting more out of every travel dollar is to get closer to the local people, and to rely less on entertainment, restaurants, and hotels that cater only to foreign tourists. This book will not only help you order a meal at a locals-only Venetian restaurant—but it will also help you talk with the family who runs the place...about their kids, travel dreams, and favorite flavors of gelati. Long after your memories of museums and Roman ruins have faded, you’ll still treasure the personal encounters you had with your new Italian friends.

While I’ve provided plenty of phrases, you’ll find it as effective to use even just a word or two to convey your meaning, and rely on context, gestures, and smiles to help you out. You could walk into a post office and struggle with the Italian phrase for “I would like to buy stamps for two postcards to the United States, please.” Or you can walk up to the stamp counter, smile, show the clerk your postcards, and say “America, per favore (please).” And…presto! You’ve got stamps. (For more advice, see the Tips for Hurdling the Language Barrier chapter on here.)

To get the most out of this book, take the time to internalize and put into practice my Italian pronunciation tips. But don’t worry too much about memorizing grammatical rules, like the gender of a noun—forget about sex, and communicate!

This book has a nifty menu decoder and a handy dictionary. You’ll also find tongue twisters, international words, telephone tips, and two handy “cheat sheets.” Tear out the sheets and slip them into your pocket, so you can easily memorize key phrases during otherwise idle moments. A good phrase book should help you enjoy your travel experience—not just survive it—so I’ve added a healthy dose of humor. And as you prepare for your trip, you may want to read the latest edition of one of my many guidebooks on destinations in Italy.

Italians are more social and communal than most Europeans. And because they’re so outgoing and their language is so fun, Italians are a pleasure to communicate with. Be melodramatic and talk with your mani (hands). Hear the melody; get into the flow. Italians want to connect, and they try harder than any other Europeans. Play with them. Even in non-touristy towns, where English is rare and Italian is the norm, showing a little warmth lets you hop right over the language barrier.

My goal is to help you become a more confident, extroverted traveler. If this phrase book helps make that happen, or if you have suggestions for making it better, I’d love to hear from you at rick@ricksteves.com.

Buon viaggio! Happy travels!

Getting Started

User-friendly Italian is easy to get the hang of. Some Italian words are so familiar, you’d think they were English. If you can say pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti, you can speak Italian.

Italian pronunciation differs from English in some key ways:

C usually sounds like C in cat.

But C followed by E or I sounds like CH in chance.

CH sounds like C in cat.

G usually sounds like G in get.

But G followed by E or I sounds like G in gentle.

GH sounds like G in spaghetti.

GLI sounds like LI (pronounced lee) in million. The G is silent.

GN sounds like GN in lasagna.

H is never pronounced.

I sounds like EE in seed.

R is rolled as in brrravo!

SC usually sounds like SK in skip.

But SC followed by E or I sounds like SH in shape.

Z usually sounds like TS in hits, and sometimes like the sound of DZ in kids.

You can communicate a lot with only a few key Italian words: prego, va bene, così, questo/quello, and vorrei.

Prego (preh-goh) is the all-purpose polite word. It can mean “May I help you?” or “Here you go” or “You’re welcome” or “After you” (when someone’s holding the door for you).

Va bene (vah beh-nay), meaning “It’s good,” is used constantly. It’s the all-purpose “OK” that you’ll hear a hundred times a day.

Così (koh-zee) basically means “like this.” It can be handy, for instance, when ordering food (to show them how much of the eggplant you want on your antipasti plate).

Questo (kweh-stoh, “this”) and quello (kweh-loh, “that”) combine conveniently with gestures. Just point to what you want and say quello.

Vorrei (voh-reh-ee) is an easy way to say “I would like.” It’s the standard and polite way to make a request in Italian. Vorrei un caffè, per favore (I would like a coffee, please).

A few language tips will help you learn some Italian and get the most out of this book. For instance, have you ever noticed that most Italian words end in a vowel? It’s o if the word is masculine and a if it’s feminine. So, a baby boy is a bambino and a baby girl is a bambina. A man is generoso (generous), a woman is generosa. In this book, we sometimes show gender-bender words like this: generoso[a].

Adjective endings agree with the noun. It’s cara amica (a dear female friend) and caro amico (a dear male friend). Sometimes the adjective comes after the noun, as in vino rosso (red wine). Adjectives and nouns ending in e don’t change with the gender, such as gentile (kind) or cantante (singer)—the same word applies to either sex.

Plurals are formed by changing the final letter of the noun: a becomes e, and o becomes i. So it’s one pizza and two pizze, and one cappuccino and two cappuccini. If you’re describing any group of people that includes at least one male, the adjective should end with i. But if the group is female, the adjective ends with e. A handsome man is bello and an attractive group of men (or men and women) is belli. A beautiful woman is bella and a bevy of beauties is belle.

The key to Italian inflection is to remember this simple rule: Most Italian words have their accent on the second-to-last syllable. To override this rule, Italians sometimes insert an accent: città (city) is pronounced chee-tah.

Italians are animated and even dramatic. You may think two Italians are arguing when in reality they’re agreeing enthusiastically. Be confident and have fun communicating. The Italians really do want to understand you, and are forgiving of a Yankee-fied version of their language.

Here’s a quick guide to the phonetics used in this book:

ah like A in father
ay like AY in play
eh like E in let
ee like EE in seed
ehr sounds like “air”
ew like EW in few
g like G in go
ī like I in light
oh like O in note
oo like OO in too
ow like OW in now
s like S in sun
ts like TS in hits

Italian Basics

Hellos and Goodbyes

Struggling with Italian


Simply Important Words

Sign Language

Italian / English Dictionary

English / Italian Dictionary

Be creative! You can combine the phrases in this chapter to say “Two, please,” or “No, thank you,” or “Open tomorrow?” “Please” is a magic word in any language. If you know the word for what you want, such as the bill, simply say Il conto, per favore (The bill, please).

Hellos and Goodbyes


Meeting and Greeting

Moving On

Hello. Buongiorno. bwohn-jor-noh
Do you speak English? Parla inglese? par-lah een-gleh-zay
Yes. / No. Si. / No. see / noh
I don’t speak Italian. Non parlo l’italiano. nohn par-loh lee-tah-lee-ah-noh
I’m sorry. Mi dispiace. mee dee-spee-ah-chay
Please. Per favore. pehr fah-voh-ray
Thank you (very much). Grazie (mille). graht-see-ay (mee-lay)
Excuse me. (to pass) Permesso. pehr-meh-soh
Excuse me. (to get attention) Mi scusi. mee skoo-zee
OK? Va bene? vah beh-nay
OK. (Things are going well.) Va bene. vah beh-nay
Good. Bene. beh-nay
Great. Benissimo. beh-nee-see-moh
Excellent. Perfetto. pehr-feh-toh
You are very kind. Lei è molto gentile. leh-ee eh mohl-toh jehn-tee-lay
It’s (not) a problem. (Non) c’è problema. (nohn) cheh proh-bleh-mah
It doesn’t matter. Non importa. nohn eem-por-tah
You’re welcome. Prego. preh-goh
Goodbye! Arrivederci! ah-ree-veh-dehr-chee

Per favore is the basic “please.” You might hear locals say per piacere (for my pleasure), which is used to sweetly ask for a favor. Per favore often comes at the beginning of a request, while per piacere normally goes at the end.

Grazie, an important word that means “thank you,” often sounds like graht-see; Italians barely pronounce the final syllable: graht-see(ay).

Meeting and Greeting
Good morning. / Good day. Buongiorno. bwohn-jor-noh
Good afternoon. Buon pomeriggio. bwohn poh-meh-ree-joh
Good evening. Buona sera. bwoh-nah seh-rah
Good night. Buona notte. bwoh-nah noh-tay
Hi. / Bye. (informal) Ciao. chow
Hello. (informal) Salve. sahl-vay
Welcome. Benvenuto. behn-veh-noo-toh
Mr. Signore seen-yoh-ray
Mrs. Signora seen-yoh-rah
Miss Signorina seen-yoh-ree-nah
My name is ____. Mi chiamo ____. mee kee-ah-moh ____
What’s your name? Come si chiama? koh-may see kee-ah-mah
Pleased to meet you. Piacere. pee-ah-cheh-ray
How are you? Come sta? koh-may stah
Very well, thank you. Molto bene, grazie. mohl-toh beh-nay graht-see-ay
Fine, thanks. Bene, grazie. beh-nay graht-see-ay
And you? E Lei? ay leh-ee
Where are you from? Di dove É? dee doh-vay eh
I am from ____. Vengo da ____. vehn-goh dah ____
I am / We are… Sono / Siamo… soh-noh / see-ah-moh
Are you…? Lei É…? leh-ee eh
…on vacation …in vacanza een vah-kahnt-sah
…on business …qui per lavoro kwee pehr lah-voh-roh

People use the greeting buongiorno (good morning / good day) before noon. After lunch, some people shift to buon pomeriggio (good afternoon), but many stick with buongiorno until mid-afternoon, when they switch to buona sera (good afternoon / evening). Some shorten it to a very casual sera. At bedtime, say buona notte (good night). Informal greetings (ciao and salve) are the same all day long.

In Italy, saying hello is important. When entering a shop, always offer a buongiorno or buona sera before getting down to business.

Moving On
I’m going to ____. Vado a ____. vah-doh ah ____
How do I go to ____? Come arrivo a ____? koh-may ah-ree-voh ah ____
Let’s go. Andiamo. ahn-dee-ah-moh
See you later. A più tardi. ah pew tar-dee
See you tomorrow! A domani! ah doh-mah-nee
So long! (informal) Ci vediamo! chee veh-dee-ah-moh
Goodbye. Arrivederci. ah-ree-veh-dehr-chee
Good luck! Buona fortuna! bwoh-nah for-too-nah
Happy travels! Buon viaggio! bwohn vee-ah-joh

Struggling with Italian

Who Speaks What?

Very Italian Expressions

Who Speaks What?
Italian l’italiano lee-tah-lee-ah-noh
English inglese een-gleh-zay
Do you speak English? Parla inglese? par-lah een-gleh-zay
A teeny weeny bit? Nemmeno un pochino? neh-meh-noh oon poh-kee-noh
Please speak English. Parli inglese, per favore. par-lee een-gleh-zay pehr fah-voh-ray
Speak slowly, please. Parli lentamente, per favore. par-lee lehn-tah-mehn-tay pehr fah-voh-ray
Repeat? Ripeta? ree-peh-tah
I understand. Capisco. kah-pees-koh
I don’t understand. Non capisco. nohn kah-pees-koh


On Sale
Sep 3, 2019
Page Count
464 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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