Italian Words That Don’t Mean What You Think

There are plenty of them.

Many Italian language newbies make the mistake of thinking that because some Italian words sound so similar to English words, they can assume they know their meanings. This is where things can go wrong and misunderstandings can ensue.

There is a heap of Italian Words that closely resemble their English counterparts.

Take the words ending in “tion” in English, like station, information, frustration. In Italian, their counterparts are stazione, informazione, and frustrazione. These are easy peasy examples that can lure novice Italian speakers down the wrong path of making assumptions. Already, many English speakers “wing it” by taking English words and just adding a vowel at the ends calling them Italian. Yikes. Maybe they’ll draw kindly laughs, but they’re also risking scorn or derision.

I’ve been tripped up plenty of times.

Which is why I’m sharing a few choice Italian words that I’ve had to commit to memory. Thanks to my wonderful private Italian tutor, I’ve started to eliminate many such vocabulary potholes.

Rumori

The usual temptation is to assume this means “rumors” when instead it actually means “noise/s” (though I consider rumors noise!). If you want to know an often used word for gossip/rumors, that would be…

Italian Words whose meanings are mistaken based on how they are spelled or how they sound.

Voci

This is one of the many Italian words with double meanings. It actually means “voices” as well as “rumors.”

Italian Words whose meanings are mistaken based on how they are spelled or how they sound.

Fastidioso/a

This means “frustrating” and has been one of the hardest words for me to retain. I was certain that this was the Italian equivalent of fastidious. Imagine listening to a conversation in which someone is describing a person with this word. You think, “Ah, this person pays attention to the smallest details,” when, in fact, the person they’re describing is believed to be quite frustrating!

Italian Words whose meanings are mistaken based on how they are spelled or how they sound.

Annoiato/a

Nope, this doesn’t mean “annoyed” as a person might be tempted to believe. It means “bored.” Closely related is…

Noioso/a

This is the adjective form of the above and means “boring,” instead of “noisy” as many people immediately think.

Delusione

This list of possibly confusing Italian words continues with this one that you easily could deduce as meaning “delusion” since it is almost identical. No, it means “disappointment.” If you’re “disappointed,” you’re “deluso/a.”

And, one more…

Italian Words whose meanings are mistaken based on how they are spelled or how they sound.

La commozione

Don’t assume it means “commotion,” following the strings of -tion words with which I started this post. No, it means “overwhelming emotion” in the sense of being overcome at a wedding or similar emotional event.

So, my friends, these Italian words serve as an important warning as to why it’s not wise to make assumptions about their meanings just because so many other Italian words have very similar English counterparts (spelling and meaning). Take it from one who has stumbled many times in this regard and who is hopefully on his path to having a more comprehensive command of the language.

And, if you’re boning up on lesser-known Italian words and phrases, be sure to check out my YouTube channel and my “Italian Snippet” about Italian idiomatic expressions (hint: they’re quite entertaining!)

By |2020-08-31T17:26:37+02:00August 31st, 2020|Speaking Italian|2 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

2 Comments

  1. Mark Hinshaw September 1, 2020 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Jed,

    Good post.

    Another word that is easily confused is “preoccupato.” It sounds like “preoccupied,” i.e. distracted.
    Yet, it means something completely different — worried.
    Linguists have a clever name for these words — “false friends.”

    Another variant on this is slightly incorrect pronunciation.
    Italian waiters must stifle smirks when English-speaking customers order “pene” rather than “penne.”
    Not at all the same thing.

    • Jed September 3, 2020 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      Hi Mark, Thanks for sharing another excellent example that can trip people up. I like knowing that “false friends” is a descriptor of such words. And, you mention something else VERY important, the importance of enunciating double consonants. There are so many examples of words that are dangerous or embarrassing when the consonants are not delivered correctly!

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