Italian Proverbs: Learn Italian Language & Culture – 2 Birds with 1 Stone!

The knowledge of some Italian proverbs is very important if you want to understand the culture of Italy and the Italian mentality.

Through proverbs you can learn many Italian words & some grammar rules too.

The title of this page contains a common English proverb that has the same meaning of an Italian proverb, with a different wording:

Prendere 2 piccioni con una fava

Kill 2 Birds with 1 Stone

The literal translation is “To catch 2 pigeons (piccioni) with 1 broad bean (fava).

Proverbs are very important for the Italian learner, because Italian speakers like them a lot and use them very often:

L’erba cattiva non muore mai

Bad weeds never die.

In this case the difference between the 2 language is in the use of the plural (weeds) against the singular (l’erba – the grass). Besides the English language has a specific word (weeds) that doesn’t exist in Italian and must be translated with “erba”.

Learning New Italian Words & Beyond

Proverbs also will allow you to learn the Italian verb tenses are used too, and many other aspect of grammar. But take a look with me at how much Italian you can learn through proverbs. Proverbs are, in fact, folk wisdom at your service!

With proverbs you have a “learn one, get three” chance in your Italian learning endeavor:

  • Learn new words
  • Study Italian grammar
  • Discover Italian culture

In fact, the knowledge of Italian proverbs is a great step forward for those who want to learn the Italian language at an advanced level.

On this page we present several proverbs that will help you to start with the first step:

In addition to the importance they have in the everyday language of all peoples, proverbs help to understand the way Italian people think.

Inserting proverbs and sayings into the conversation can be a way to create greater harmony with the interlocutor both in a friendly conversation and in a business conversation.

So, try to learn the following proverbs, with an eye to the pleasure of discovering a culture that is ancient and different from yours.

Italian Culture and Proverbs – The Cultural Diversity with English

The understanding of cultural diversity is crucial in language learning. This is especially true when an English speaker begins to study a neolatin language like Italian.

Per le lingue straniere abbiamo studiato differenze culturali tra proverbi inglesi, tedeschi, italiani e dialettali. Così abbiamo scoperto che, talvolta, lo stesso significato viene espresso nelle diverse lingue con proverbi ed espressioni diverse che rispecchiano l’ambiente, le tradizioni e le credenze dei vari popoli.

So you will find 4 different types of Italian proverbs:

1. Italian Proverbs very similar or equal to English proverbs

In this case you can literally translate the saying from Italian to English and viceversa:

For example you can say:

L’amore è cieco = Love is blind

Essere un pesce fuor d’acqua

English Idiom: Being a fish out of water.
Meaning: Being uncomfortable in a certain situation or environment

Here’s another Italian proverb that has the English equivalent:

Oggi a me, domani a te.

Literal translation:Today for me, and tomorrow for you.
English proverb: Today me, tomorrow thee.

2. Italian proverbs with a slight different wording than their English counterpart

For example, “Out of sight out of mind” becomes in Italian:

Lontano dagli occhi, lontano dal cuore. 

This proverbs is quite similar to the corresponding English proverb, but its literal translation is:

“Far from the eyes, far from the heart.”

As you can see, in this proverb the concepts are the same, to see and to feel, but in Italian the heart substitutes the mind… Most likely this happens because Italians are “passionali” (passionate), so what matters is the heart and not the mind!

3. Italian Proverbs with the same meaning as the equivalent English proverbs but with a total different wording

Piuttosto di niente, è meglio piuttosto

  • Translation: Anything is worth more than nothing.
  • English equivalent: Better a lean jade than an empty halter.

4. Italian Proverbs with no English equivalent

ItalianTranslationMeaningIn bocca chiusa non entrano mosche.Flies don’t enter a closed mouthSometimes, it’s best to keep your mouth shut.Quel che non strozza, ingrassa.What doesn’t choke, fattens.What doesn’t choke you, strengthens you.Far buon viso a cattivo gioco. In bad times, show a good faceFace obstacle with your head held high.

And now some grammar you can learn through the proverbs:


Pronouns in Italian Proverbs

One of the most common pronoun used in Italian proverbs is the interrogative pronoun “Chi” (who). Here some example:

Chi Troppo Vuole Nulla Stringe

The literal translation is: “He who wants too much grasps nothing”

There’s a similar English problem with a different wording: “Grasp all, lose all”.

This Italian proverb is pretty different in English:

Chi dorme non piglia pesci

The early bird gets the worm

The literal translation should be: “He who sleeps doesn’t catch fishes.”

Here’s another Italian Proverb with the pronoun “ti” = you (the object pronoun for “tu”):

Aiutati che il ciel t’aiuta

Do Your Best, God Will Do The Rest

Again, the literal translation should be: “Help yourself that heaven helps you.”

In this case we have a peculiar form of Italian reflexive verbs that’s build with the of imperative tense of “aiutare” and the object pronoun “ti”:

Aiuta + ti = Aiutati

Another pronoun often used in proverbs is “lo” that means “him”

The Expression “C’è” in Italian Proverbs

“C’è” occurs often in Italian proverbs in its negative construction“non c’è”, meaning “there’s not, there are not”. The exact translation is:

ci = there

è = is (third person singular of essere [to be])

ci + è = c’è

The final combination c’è is the result of the so called elision, i.e. the omission of the final vowel before a word beginning with a vowel.

Here’s a popular Italian proverb with “c’è”:

Non c’è due senza tre 

Literally: “There’s not 2 without 3.” A near-equivalent English expression is “All good/bad things come in three’s” or “Trouble (always) comes in threes”.

Here’s another popular Italian proverb with “c’è”:

Non c’è fumo senza arrosto

There’s smoke without fire

The literal translation is: There’s no smoke without roast.

2 Italian Proverbs with the Verb “Fare”

Here’s 2 proverbs with the verb “fa” (makes), the third person of fare:

L’unione fa la forza

Literally: Union makes strength. English equivalent: United we stand, divided we fall; Union is strength.

L’abito non fa il monaco

Clothes do not make the man

Literally: “The habit doesn’t make the monk.”

The complete translation of the present tense of fare:

Io faccio = I make/doNoi facciamo = We make/doTu fai = You make/doVoi fate = You make/doLui/lei fa = He/she makes/doesLoro fanno = they make/do

Italian Proverbs with “Quando” (When)

One of the most used conjunctions in Italian proverbs is “quando” (when):

Quando il gatto non c’è, i topi ballano.
When the cat’s away the mice will play.

Here’s a pretty negative Italian proverb:

Si stava meglio quando si stava peggio.

One was better off, when things appeared to be really bad.


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