LearnItalianwith Us!

Start Learning!

Italian Language Blog

Italian Popular Sayings – A Quiz Posted by on Aug 31, 2018 in Culture, Italian Language, Quiz

Here’s a fun little quiz about detti popolari (popular sayings).

In Italy we have many weird and wonderful detti popolari, some of which have a similar equivalent in English, and others which need a bit of explanation in order to be understood. In the list of detti below, we’ve given their literal translation rather than their meaning. What we’d like you to do is briefly explain what each of them means, or give the English equivalent.
And just to make things extra interesting, we’ve thrown in a few ‘fake’ sayings invented by us … so watch out for those!

Here’s an example to get you started:

cadere dalla padella nella brace
literal translation = to fall from the pan into the embers
meaning = out of the frying pan into the fire

Now it’s your turn:

avere la luna storta/di traverso
literal translation = to have the moon sideways
meaning = ?

avere la luna sul gomito
literal translation = to have the moon on your elbow
meaning = ?

avere un diavolo per capello
literal translation = to have a devil on each hair
meaning = ?

il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi
literal translation = the devil makes the pans but not the lids
meaning = ?

alzare il gomito
literal translation = to lift the elbow
meaning = ?

piovere a gatti e cani
literal translation = to rain like cats and dogs
meaning = ?

avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca
literal translation = to have your barrel full and your wife drunk
meaning = ?

capitare a fagiolo
literal translation = to arrive like a bean
meaning = ?

chi fa per sé fa per tre
literal translation = who does for themselves does for three
meaning = ?

nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono
literal translation = the best wine is in the small barrel
meaning = ?

… c’è di mezzo il mare.

tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare
literal translation = between the saying and the doing there’s the sea in the middle
meaning = ?

il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio
literal translation = the wolf looses its pelt but not its vice
meaning = ?

la gallina che canta ha fatto l’uovo
literal translation = the chicken that sings laid the egg
meaning = ?

buttare via la gallina con le uova marce
literal translation = to throw away the chicken with the rotten eggs
meaning = ?

essere come il prezzemolo
literal translation = to be like parsley
meaning = ?

entrarci come i cavoli a merenda
literal translation = to fit in like cabbages at snack time
meaning = ?

Bacco, Tabacco e Venere, riducono l’uomo in cenere
literal translation = Bacchus, Tobacco, and Venus, reduce man to ashes
meaning = ?

prendere due topi con un gatto solo
literal translation = to get two mice with just one cat
meaning = ?

chi non risica non rosica
literal translation = who doesn’t risk doesn’t gnaw
meaning = ?

campa cavallo che l’erba cresce
literal translation = live horse that the grass grows
meaning = ?

l’erba voglio non cresce neanche nel giardino del re
literal translation = the grass ‘I want’ doesn’t even grow in the king’s garden
meaning = ?

la lingua batte dove il dente duole
literal translation = the tongue hits where the tooth hurts
meaning = ?

non è bello ciò che è bello, ma è bello ciò che piace
literal translation = it’s not beautiful that which is beautiful, but it’s beautiful that which pleases
meaning = ?

Have fun, and leave your answers in the comments section.

A presto!

Tags: ,
Share this:
Pin it

Comments:

  1. Dana Gotskind Weiss:

    Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca = To have your cake and eat it too

    Avere la luna storta = To have a screw loose (?)

    Non è bello ciò che è bello, ma è bello ciò che piace = Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

  2. Gill:

    Here’s my attempt at some of them:

    avere un diavolo per capello = to be really angry about something

    alzare il gomito
 = I know this is an expression for getting drunk, but can’t think of an English equivalent

    piovere a gatti e cani = raining cats and dogs?

    capitare a fagiolo = pure guess, but nothing ever happens?

    chi fa per sé fa per tre = Many hands make light work?

    nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono = the best things come in small packages?

    tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare = easier said than done?

    il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio = a leopard never changes his spots

    buttare via la gallina con le uova marce = throw out the baby with the bathwater?

    entrarci come i cavoli a merenda = squashed like sardines?

    prendere due topi con un gatto solo = get two birds with one stone?

    chi non risica non rosica = no pain no gain?

    l’erba voglio non cresce neanche nel giardino del re
 = “I want” never gets?

    non è bello ciò che è bello, ma è bello ciò che piace
 = beauty is in the eye of the beholder OR beauty is as beauty does?

  3. Alexander:

    avere la luna storta/di traverso
    To be in a bad mood

    avere la luna sul gomito
    To have a lunar disease (ha ha)

    avere un diavolo per capello
    To be enraged/angry

    il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi
    Once the crime/lie has been committed it’s not so easy to hide

    Alzare il gomito
    To drink (too much)

    piovere a gatti e cani
    A heavy rain fall BUT the Italians would say “Piovere a catinelle” it’s raining buckets

    avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca
    You can’t have your cake and eat it too (you must choose one or the other)

    capitare a fagiolo
    To come at the right time

    chi fa per sé fa per tre
    If you want something done (right) do it yourself

    nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono
    Good things come in small packages (it’s not the size of the gift but the gift itself)

    tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare
    Often promises are made without fulfilment (“it’s easier said than done”)

    il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio
    the leopard cannot change its spots; sometimes certain people are always the same down deep

    la gallina che canta ha fatto l’uovo
    I guess this has to do with being the first and bragging about it

    buttare via la gallina con le uova marce
    If all you want are eggs then the chicken is of no use

    essere come il prezzemolo
    To be everywhere

    entrarci come i cavoli a merenda
    Two things that don’t go together

    Bacco, Tabacco e Venere, riducono l’uomo in cenere
    It’s an admonition to slow down with these excesses (the god of wine (drinking), tobacco, the god of love (woman); enjoy life but don’t over do it

    prendere due topi con un gatto solo
    Kill two birds with one stone? ; probably a fake one

    chi non risica non rosica
    If you don’t try you’ll never “win”

    campa cavallo che l’erba cresce
    If you are hopelessly waiting for the grass to grow to feed the horse, well then, you are doing nothing to achieve your goal. It’s a metaphor for taking action to preserve one’s interests.
    “Campa cavallo” is used sarcastically to comment on empty promises, where a favorable outcome is difficult or not forthcoming.

    l’erba “voglio” non cresce neanche nel giardino del re
    This is what Italians tell their children when they continue to say “l want … , l want… l want…” because they want their children to use the nicer and more polite use of the word “vorrei” (I would like …)

    la lingua batte dove il dente duole
    “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”; the tongue tries to soothe the sore tooth and ignores the others; the complainers get the attention

    non è bello ciò che è bello, ma è bello ciò che piace
    To each his own; beauty is in the eye of the beholder

    • Alexander:

      @Alexander 🙁 l put a lot of work and energy into my post – l was hoping to get a reply :(…

      • Geoff:

        @Alexander Ciao Alexander, un attimo di pazienza per favore!

        E’ lunedì mattina, stiamo lavorando su due articoli per questa settimana, uno dei quali, la traduzione dell’articolo sui detti, va pubblicato oggi.
        Poi c’è una marea di commenti da controllare/approvare.
        Questo nostro non è un lavoro a tempo pieno, lo facciamo quando abbiamo il tempo, e non lavoriamo i weekend … un po’ di riposo ci vuole, no?

        Quindi, stai tranquillo e una risposta ci sarà! 🙂

      • Serena:

        @Alexander Salve Alexander, scusa per il ritardo!
        Bravo, hai fatto un buon lavoro, quasi tutte giuste!
        Saluti da Serena

  4. Jean:

    Continue creating pages such as this!
    So helpful and noteworthy.
    Pass this along.

  5. Judy Green:

    Just to say how much I love your blog and I sincerely hope you will post the translations to these proverbs because I have only ever heard about 4 of them.
    Presumably…..
    Alzare il gomito =“Cheers” / a drinking toast??
    Chi fa per sé fa per tre = easier to do things on your own?
    Il lupo perdere il pelo ma non il vizio = a leopard can’t change its spots
    Buttare via la gallina con le uova marce =to throw the baby out with the bath water
    Prendere due topi con un gatto solo= to kill two birds with one stone
    I think that piovere a gatti e cani is a spoof!

    • Geoff:

      @Judy Green Ciao Judy, we’ll be publishing the translations today.
      You’re correct, piovere a gatti e cani is simply my translation of the English saying. The Italian version is ‘piovere a catinelle’.
      As for buttare via la gallina con le uova marce … I made that up, but it is based on the English ‘to throw the baby out with the bath water’
      I also invented prendere due topi con un gatto solo based on ‘to kill two birds with one stone’
      The Italian version of that saying is prendere due piccioni con una fava

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  6. Teresina Pagliarulo:

    Fin da piccola in Italia ascoltavo questi proverbi a casa e con la famiglia per me sono molto saggioi e utili.

  7. Chippy:

    EVERYONE has put huge time and effort in to this great quiz. It’s been really interesting reading both the readers’ ideas and the responses. How you Geoff and Serena find time to do I all, I’ll never know!


Leave a comment: