10 classic Italian proverbs to master

Whether it’s about daily habits, manners or human nature in general, Italians have some very classic proverbs that seem to fit any circumstance.

Some of them very international, some more local and ‘in dialect’, take a look at the following and judge for yourself how much the Italian ‘nonni’ have in common with your culture!

Il buongiorno si vede dal mattino

This proverb, quite literal in meaning, says a good day starts in the morning, and it can be interpreted both as short or long term. It is about the importance of a good start, and how that can be foreshadowing for the rest. If you have a great morning, then it is likely that the rest of the day will also be very positive. You have a child that aces all his classes in elementary school- he’s likely to be very successful all through college. Make sure you don’t exaggerate though, just because you didn’t hear the alarm in the morning, should not mean the rest of your day is going to be ruined!

Far d’una mosca un elefante

Similar to ‘To make a mountain out of a molehill’, in this case ‘To make an elephant out of a fly’, this proverb is about making a big deal out of something very small and insignificant – exaggerating the situation. So if you hear your Italian friends say ‘non fare di una mosca un elefante’, you should probably keep calm and minimize the drama factor : )

O mangiar questa minestra o saltar questa finestra

This classic Italian saying literally means ‘Either eat this soup or jump out of this window’, and is interpreted as ‘take it or leave it’. Minestra, originally used to symbolize the food on the table, can be a symbol for anything according to the situation. The saying is also frequently used about accepting a situation, settling for something /being happy with what you have and can’t change, to avoid unfortunate results.

Ride bene chi ride ultimo

A saying that sounds very familiar to many cultures, ‘Who laughs last, laughs best’ is commonly used also in Italy. Be careful my friends, as this ancient Italian proverb also warns you, you can never know how something will turn out until the last minute, so make sure you don’t celebrate in advance! A proverb that you will hear a lot from the opponents in a sports competition – or in soccer stadiums- especially if your team is in advantage during half time!

La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i figli/gattini ciechi

‘The cat in a hurry gave birth to blind kittens.’ This saying is another way for Italians to underline the importance of patience, patience, patience. Italian culture is about taking your time, whether if it is for a dinner party or for work purposes, and this proverb is ideal to remind your loved ones to keep calm because rushing something can end up in imperfect results. 

Chi dorme non piglia pesci

A proverb of the sea, ‘Who sleeps does not catch fish’, is about the importance of hard work and to remind that lazy people do not get anything. Fisherman, who would sleep in and be lazy, wouldn’t be able to catch any fish and come home empty handed – just like in the story of the ant and the grasshopper from La Fontaine, or every individual that prefers to ‘take it easy’ a bit too often!

Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio

‘Old habits die hard’ – in this case though, the proverb translates to ‘The fox loses its fur but not its bad habits’. The saying is from Latin ‘Vulpes pilum mutat, non mores’, and the ‘fox’ in question is originally Emperor Vespasiano, who was known for being greedy and ruthless. So people may change appearances and even behavior but their true nature remains the same.

L’erba del vicino è sempre piu verde

Another quite international saying, ‘The grass is always greener on the other side’, - in Italy translates as ‘The grass is always greener on the neighbor’s side’. Our keyword for this classic proverb is envy! Jealousy is a part of human nature –whether it is in Italy, Brazil or the North Pole- and people tend to want what they cannot have.

Meglio solo che male accompagnato

‘Better alone than in bad company.’ Italian culture is about socializing, very crowded dinner tables, aperitivos in piazzas with friends and hospitality ,however, this proverb warns about how to pick your companionship, and says that it’s better to stay alone than to spend time with unworthy people.

Amor senza baruffa fa la muffa/ L'amore non è bello se non è litigarello

Two alternatives of the same saying, ‘Love with no quarrel gets mold’ and ‘Love is not beautiful if it does not include arguments’, these proverbs make the perfect reference to the amiable and passionate nature of the Mediterranean culture. According to these proverbs, a few arguments in the relationship would keep things alive and spicy. However, if you are indeed in a relationship, this proverb comes with a disclaimer: try at your own risk!!!