Learning Italian: Common courtesies

Whether you’re visiting Italy or even planning to live there, you’ll want to be able to chat to people and get to know them better. The nuts and bolts of conversations revolve around common courtesies.

As in English, in Italian there are several ways you can ask someone how they are, and a variety of ways to reply. Among friends, the most common thing to say is come va? or come stai? (how are you?) or come te la passi? (how’s it going?). In a more formal situation, it’s best to use the polite form of the verb, so come sta? (how are you?).

When it comes to replies, there are, of course, a multitude of things you can say. We’re only going to cover a handful of them here to get you started. Assuming you’re well, the most straightforward reply to the question how are you? would be bene (fine), sto bene (I’m fine) or even benissimo! (great!). Other less positive replies could be così e così (so-so), non male (not bad), potrebbe andare peggio (could be worse).

To get the conversation going, you could flesh out your questions and answers a little.

Come va? – Bene, e tu?
How are you? – Fine, and you?

Come sta, signora? – Bene, grazie, e lei? [formal]
How are you? – Fine thanks, and you?

Salve! Come te la passi? – Non male, grazie. E tu?
Hello! How’s it going? – Not bad thanks. And you?

In any language, it’s good manners to say please and thank you. The most common way to say please in Italian is per favore, but per piacere and per cortesia are also used.

Thanks, as seen in the examples above, is translated by grazie. To be more effusive, you could say mille grazie or molte grazie (many thanks or thank you very much). You might also hear ti ringrazio, or the formal form la ringrazio, which literally means I thank you.

The response to grazie that you’re most likely to use or hear is prego (you’re welcome), or you could say di niente (not at all). For greater emphasis you can use s’immagini or si figuri in the formal form, and figurati informally (don’t mention it).

Due chili di arance, per favore.
Two kilos of oranges, please.

Grazie del regalo. – Prego!
Thank you for the present. – You’re welcome!

Molte grazie, Andrea. – Di niente, figurati!
Thanks very much, Andrea. – Don’t mention it!

Don’t forget to come back for the next blog post to help you continue with the conversation!

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