Speak Italian, a small guide

We found that Italian language makes fairly easy reading for anyone who has had the usual school Latin and who knows some French. It is a very beautiful language, this one formed by Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio from the degenerate Latin of the Dark Ages.

It is liquid and musical beyond all others and, comparatively, it is not hard.

Every letter has its value. Every word, almost without exception, ends in a vowel, which has a full syllabic value. Its idioms are much like the French. One odd quirk it has which should be understood at the outset.

The Vous of French, the Sie of German (as against the familiar tu and du) becomes in Italian Lei, which is literally she. It is a survival from obsolete forms of politeness (Your Excellence, Your Worship, etc.) which were feminine.

One thus says to a heavily bearded railway porter, “Ha Lei monetà? (Has she change?) meaning, “Have you change?” And to the albergatore (hotel proprietor), be he ever so masculine, one says, “Ha Lei una stanza?” i. e. Has she a room? meaning “Have you a room?” The plural of Lei is Loro but this is very unimportant.

Now we are determined in this lesson-by-a-duffer to be rigorously brief, to set down only the prime essentials. Here they are:


Follow in general the Latin you learned in school unless you are eighty or over, but:

c is soft (like ch in cheese) before e or i
g is likewise soft before e or i
sc is like sb before e or i
b is silent and hardly ever puts in an appearance except in the present indicative of avere (to have)
z is like tz or dz
ch is hard like k before e or i


You will have little trouble with this, as the stress generally comes “where it ought to,” though not in certain common words which might cause question. (Written accents, few in Italian, are grave, on a final vowel, as città. The acute accents marked here are inserted for purposes of stress only.)

trattoria-restaurant (of modest type)
latteria-dairy shop

Essentials of Speech

One must know how to count in cardinals up to twenty (preferably to one hundred); in ordinals up to ten.


1- un, uno, una,
2 – due
3 – tre
4 – quattro
5 – cinque
6 – sei
7 – sette
8 – otto
9 – nove
10 – dieci
11 – undici
12 – dodici
13 – tredici
14 – quattordici
15 – quindici
16 – sedici
17 – diciassette
18 – diciotto
19 – diciannove
20 – venti
30 – trenta
40 – quaranta
50 – cinquanta
60 – sessanta
70 – settanta
80 – ottanta
90 – novanta
100- cento


1st – primo
2nd – secondo
3rd – terzo
4th – quarto
5th – quinto
6th – sesto
7th – settimo
8th – ottavo
9th – nono
10th – decimo

One must know the days of the week.

(The first five have a written accent, hence also the stress, on the last vowel.)

Monday – Lunedì
Tuesday – Martedì
Wednesday – Mercoledì
Thursday – Giovedì
Friday – Venerdì
Saturday – Sabato
Sunday – Doménica

today – oggi (pronounce odgi)
day – giorno
tomorrow – domìni
yesterday – iéri
tomorrow morning – domattìna
week – settimàna
tonight – staséra
month – mése

The days of the month are important if a little less imperative.

May – Màggio
June – Giùgno

One must be able to discuss the time of day.

What time is it? – Che ora è?
Seven o’clock – le ore sette
Quarter past seven – le sette e un quarto
Half past seven – le sette e mezzo
Quarter of eight – le sette e tre quarti
Five minutes of nine – le nove meno cinque (nine less five)
Noon – mezzo giorno
Morning – mattina
Afternoon – pomeriggio

One should certainly know the Italian names of Italian cities.

Napoli – Naples
Milano – Milan
Róma – Rome
Torino – Turin
Firénze – Florence
Génova – Genoa
Venézia – Venice
Portofìno – Portofino
Càpri – Capri
Pòsitano – Positano
Tàormina – Taormina

The following thirty words (some doubletons) are very busy in the travel vocabulary of every day (along with the elemental si and no).

grazie (in three syllables) – thank you
prego – “don’t mention it”- extremely frequent in use, like the German Bitte
permesso – please (let me by or let me through); a prime essential in crowded conveyances
per piacére or per favore – if you please
quanto – how much? how many?
basta – enough (That’s enough!)
dove- (two syllables) where?
dov’è – where is, pronounced almost like dove
destra – right
sinistra – left
tutto diretto – straight ahead
va bene – all right
sùbito (or presto) – quickly
qui – here
adesso – now
quando? – when?
troppo – too or too much
grande – large
piccolo – small
questo (a, i) – this, these
chiave – key
in fretta – in a hurry
pronto – ready
il conto – the bill
niente – nothing
che – what?
treno – train
biglietto – ticket
autobus – autobus
a rivederla – au revoir (a rivederci to intimates)

The following greetings are tourist essentials:

Buon giorno – Good day – good morning
Buona sera – Good evening
Buona notte – Good night
Entrate – Come in
Ha Lei una stanza (or camera) – Have you a room?
Per due persone – For two persons
A che prezzo? – At what price?
(Qualche cosa) meno caro – (Something) less expensive.
E questa la più econòmica? – Is this (room) the cheapest?
Cercherô altrove – I will look elsewhere. (This may bring a more generous proposal from the proprietor.)
Ritornerò in pocchi minuti – I will return in a few minutes.
A che ora parte il treno per -? -At what time does the train leave for -?
Quale binario? – What track?
Bisogna cambiare? – Is it necessary to change trains?
Quanti minuti di fermata? – How long is the halt?
Due biglietti, seconda classe – Two tickets, second class
Semplice – One way; Andata e ritorno – Return (ticket)
E libero questo posto? -Is this seat free?
Da qui a – From here to
Quanta distanza c’è da qui a -? – How far is it from here to -?
Non ho tempo – I haven’t time
Svegliatemi alle sette – Wake me at seven
Dov’e il gabinetto (or toeletta) – Where is the toilet? (If you have seen the mystic figures over a door you won’t need to ask. That symbolism is universal in Europe. But WC is also much used.)

When I undertook to motor throughout Italy an entirely new crop of words and phrases began to take root in my personal vocabulary.

Here are ten of them.

motore – engine
benzina – gasoline
freno – brake
pneumatico – tire
libretto di circolazione – registration paper
patente (di abilitazione) – driving license
posteggio – parking place
autorimessa – garage
stazione di rifornimento – filling station
dove posso sostare – Where may I park?

And this is the end of the “lesson.” I have been emboldened to offer it because in traveling about one encounters many persons who speak not a word of English and who understand only the magic phrase “O. K.”

Similarly, in the small alberghi of Italian Riviera, Amalfi Coast and also in Rome, Venice or Florence the proprietors often speak no language other than their own, and a few words are certainly better than none.

They can be counted on to save their weight in euro.

Welcome in Italy.

Portofino World Site, a world apart.