Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you heard words used in English that sound almost Italian in nature?

If you think you’ve heard words that sound Italian, you are probably right on.

There are many words used in English that derive from Italian words, and so they are often a part of conversation.

Today we’re going to look at some of the most common Italian words that are used in English, and how to use them in the right setting.

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We have a question from a listener that may be very helpful and interesting to you too.

Hi Lindsay,

I love your show, and you always provide such helpful material! I just listened to your episode about French words, which is great.

If I may offer a suggestion, I feel it could be interesting to make an episode about English words taken from Italian. Thank you in advance for all that you do, and I think an episode like this could be interesting and helpful.

Have a nice day,


Understanding Some Background

The listener is referring to an episode we just did recently, which was AEE 1458: This Episode Has A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

This is a great question from our listener, as there are so many words taken from Italian.

You might not even realize how many there are, and so this episode is a shoutout to Italy!

We have both had some wonderful experiences in Italy, and it’s a great country to visit.

Lindsay had a story about culture changes in ordering food as she ordered something called “prima plata” thinking it was an appetizer so she thought she would have to get more food.

When the food arrived it was actually the main meal—it was a huge steak and pasta, and clearly it was way too much food.

She misunderstood and that’s a common cultural adjustment, and so she ended up with a lot of food.

This can happen in any culture, and why learning some of the basic language can be helpful.

Looking At Italian Words Adapted To English Conversations

There are so many Italian words that have made their way into the English language.

You may have heard them or you may have even used them in your conversations before.

We’re going to look at these in some common areas so that you know what they are, how to use them, and you can see which ones may come up the most in English conversations.

General Conversation Words

  • Capisce: It’s like saying “agree?” In a slang way it’s almost like saying “understand?” You usually say this after you make a statement or give directions, and you want to be sure that the other person was listening. You hear this used in the show “Full House” a lot.
  • Diva: This is used to speak about somebody, usually a woman, who acts dramatic. She may make demands or act as if she’s entitled or deserves special treatment in some capacity. This is often used for a celebrity or star who acts over the top and demands special treatment.

Words For Food and Drink

  • Panini: This is talking about a special type of sandwich on a certain type of bred. It usually indicates that it is pressed or grilled in some way. This might be the plural, as the singular in Italian may be panino. Any of our listeners that know, we’d love to hear from you on that!
  • Al dente: This speaks to the way in which you cook something like pasta. It means that it’s a bit underdone, so it’s still a little firm and not overdone. It still holds the shape and integrity of the food in this way, and it’s the preferred way to cook it.
  • Trattoria: This means an Italian restaurant serving simple food. You may see this used about Italian restaurants in general abroad, particularly in the US. It tends to be a category name for an Italian restaurant, and so it works well in conversation.

Words With Music

As you will see, there are actually so many different words that come from the Italian language in this area.

Many of the words that we use to talk about or describe music or musical terms are of Italian descent in some capacity.

  • Alto: This applies to a woman with a lower singing voice or range. She can hit some of the lower notes as a woman, and this is an integral part of any choir or voice arrangement. This may also apply to a higher men’s range, and so this term is a very important part of vocal music.
  • Soprano: Simply put, this is the highest of the four standard singing voices. It is the high range that typically a woman can hit, and this is where she can really hit the high notes.
  • Forte: It means to play loudly, and so you can see why this may be used a lot in music. This can apply to voice or instruments, and solo or as an ensemble or a group.
  • Tempo: This is the rate or speed that music should be played. This is usually set by the conductor and the performers follow along to see what speed they should perform at.
  • Ballerina: This is a term you have probably heard used a lot as it’s quite common.

This refers to a female ballet dancer, and so it’s a very common part of conversations about dance.

Do you even think about these words being Italian?

They are used so much in English that you may not even think about it or realize it.

The Italian culture is very loved in the US overall, and so it’s natural that you may start to see why so many English words come from their language.

You may also see some Italian words or those similar to them in our coffee culture within the US.

Some of the words may be a bit different, but may be based upon something Italian in nature.

For example Macchiatos as a specialty drink or even Vente as a larger drink size.

The translation may not be direct, but the ideas are there and these words are based on Italian ones in origin.

You can check this link to see some of these words, and it can be a great source of information and helpful background. List of English Words of Italian Origins

Roleplay To Help

In this roleplay, we are focusing on some of the words that we have talked about today.

Notice how they are all a part of the conversation, and how they are used so seamlessly.

To set the scene, Lindsay and Michelle are food critics going over a restaurant that they just went to.

Lindsay: “So I loved that panini I had at that Trattoria. Did you like your food?”

Michelle:” It was good. I love my pasta al dente, and mine definitely was al dente. And I loved that they have a little quartet singing. It made for a great atmosphere.”

Lindsay: “Yes. The alto and soprano were the best, don’t you think!”

Michelle: “Yes, but I think that soprano was a bit of a diva. She wasn’t very nice when I spoke to her at the end.”

Lindsay: “That’s too bad. Ok, so it gets a good review…capisce?”

Michelle: “Capisce!”


We LOVE Italy—there is so much in the way of the expressions, the people, the food, and the culture.

This all bleeds into our language, and you will now notice so many different examples of this in conversation.

For listeners not from Italy, these words are important to know and you can use them with ease.

These are not just words used by Italian people, as these are now also kind of included in the English language.

So learn them today, practice them, and then use them in your conversations for a fun twist to keep things interesting.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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