Italian Language Blog

Le Conte Italiane Posted by on Mar 31, 2016 in Culture, Italian Language

As promised in yesterday’s blog, here is a small collection of conte (counting games) that I’ve selected from many many examples. Most of these conte contain the idiomatic expression toccare a qualcuno (to be somebody’s turn). For an explanation of le conte see here. I’ve also included translations for the two baffling barzellette (jokes) from yesterday’s blog.

N.B. In Italian, CD is pronounced 'chee dee'. The inventor of the CD is dead ... We are sorry ('chee dee' spiace = ci dispiace).

N.B. In order to get this joke you need to know that, in Italian, CD is pronounced ‘chee dee’. Translation: The inventor of the CD is dead … We are sorry!! (‘chee dee’ spiace = ci dispiace!!).

Conta conta tamburino
che il nemico è qui vicino,
se giochiamo in compagnia
il nemico scappa via
Fafofì, fifofà, a chi tocca non si sa
Fafofà, fifofì, chi comanda eccolo qui!

Count count drummer boy
because the enemy is nearby
if we play with others
the enemy will run away.
Fafofì, fifofà, whose turn it is no one knows
Fafofà, fafofì, here’s the one who’s in charge!

Conta dieci, conta venti,
leva tutti e quattro i denti,
poco male ti farà

se nel cielo volerà.
Vola vola, canta canta,
scrivi sulla carta bianca.
Io ti scrivo e ti rispondo,
ho girato tutto il mondo
fino al giorno ventitrè:
a star sotto tocca a te!

Count ten, count twenty
remove all four teeth
it won’t hurt you much
if you fly into the sky (heaven)
Fly fly, sing sing
write on white paper
I write to you and reply to you
I’ve travelled the whole world
until the twenty-third day
it’s your turn to be it!


This is a complicated play on words. In Italian, Hindu is written Indù (remember the silent Italian h). But Indù also sounds like Italian dialect for ‘in due‘ (two of them). Therefore, in trì is a dialectal version of in tre (three of them).

Il rinoceronte che passa sul ponte
che sta sull’attenti,
che fa i complimenti,
che dice buongiorno
girandosi attorno.
Gira e rigira, la testa mi gira,
non ne posso più
e puff cade giù:
a star fuori sei proprio tu!

The rhinoceros who goes over the bridge
who stands to attention
who pays compliments
who says good day
looking around.
Turn and turn again, my head spins
I can’t do it any-more
and puff fall down:
it’s your turn to be out!

I tre saggi di Baviera
hanno per barca una zuppiera
che se a galla fosse stata
la conta sarebbe continuata
anche fino a centoventitrè:
toccherebbe pre-ci-sa-men-te a te!

The three wise men of Bavaria
have a tureen for a boat
that if it had been floating
the count would have continued
even up to one hundred and twenty three:
it would be exactly your turn!

Mariolino birichino
tutti i giorni va a Portofino
e va pure in Portogallo,
se si sveglia al canto del gallo.
Certe volte si sveglia alle tre:
a giocare tocca a te!

Mariolino, mischievous little boy
goes to Portofino every day
and even goes to Portugal
if he wakes with the cock’s crow.
Sometimes he wakes at three:
it’s your turn to play!

Tre gattini tre gattini
se ne van per i camini
i gattini sono tre
a star sotto tocca a te!

Three little cats three little cats
go off amongst the chimney stacks
there are three little cats
it’s your turn to be it!


Here’s a nice easy one for you: Government Health Warning NEVER SWALLOW CHEWING GUM!!!

Sette, quattordici, ventuno, ventotto
questo è il gioco di Paperotto
Paperotto è in medicina
fuori tu che sei regina
la regina è andata a Roma
a comprare la corona
la corona è già venduta
la regina è svenuta
è svenuto pure il re
a star fuori tocca a te!

Seven, fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight
this is the game of Paperotto
Paperotto is in medicine
get out you who are the queen
the queen went to Rome
to buy the crown
the crown was already sold
the queen fainted
the king fainted as well
it’s your turn to be it!

Now, off you go and have fun playing in the park, but don’t stay out too late or the lupo cattivo will eat you all up!

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  1. Lynn Stewart:

    I love your blogs and have learned so much from them. Just wanted to say that the font on this conte blog (and this same font on several others recently) is quite difficult to read because the letters partially overlap between lines.

    • Geoff:

      @Lynn Stewart Ciao Lynn, thanks for your kind comment, and for the heads up on the font. Are you talking about the font (Gabriola) that I used for the actual conte? It appears fine in my browser, but if it’s hard to read for you I’ll try changing it back to the font that I used to use for that style (Segoe Print).

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

      Edit: I’ve been doing some tests, and discovered that the problem isn’t the typeface but the fact that wordpress (the blogging software used by our company) removes the correct line spacing and crams everything together. I’ll have a word with my line manager to see if there’s anything that can be done. Thanks once again for pointing this problem out, we certainly don’t want our readers struggling to make sense of the text.

  2. Lesley:

    I read the counting verses out loud in italian and just loved the rhythm of the lines.

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