Italian Language Blog

Misleading Word of the Day – part 7 Posted by on Sep 27, 2010 in Italian Language

Today’s ‘misleading word’ is yet another ‘false friend’, i.e. an Italian word that sounds more or less the same as an English word, but has a different meaning:

Italian word sounds like English actual meaning
geniale genial ingenious, talented

The English word genial is usually defined as: ‘jovial’, ‘kindly’, ‘sociable’, etc. It also has the secondary meaning of ‘showing genius’, and this is where we find the common Latin root which it shares with the Italian word geniale.

The Italian word geniale is defined as: ‘clever’, ‘ingenious’, ‘talented’, ‘gifted’. Here are some examples:

Roberta è un’artista geniale Roberta is a gifted artist
Claudio ha avuto un’idea geniale Claudio had a brilliant (or an ingenious) idea

Beware however of the word ingenuity!

Italian word sounds like English actual meaning
ingenuità ingenuity ingenuousness, naivety

Yes, unfortunately in English you have both ‘ingenious’ and ‘ingenuous’, the former meaning ‘clever at inventing’ or ‘constructing’, and the latter meaning ‘open’, ‘frank’, ‘innocent’. The Italian word ingenuità defines the latter of these two. Here are a couple of examples:

Claudio ha risposto alla domanda con ingenuità Claudio replied to the question  with naivety
È stata un’ingenuità da parte tua affidare un’incarico così delicato a Marco It was naive of you to entrust Marco with such a delicate task

If you want to say ‘ingenuity’ in Italian you should use the word ingegnosità:

Claudio ha risposto alla domanda con ingegnosità Claudio replied to the question  in an ingenious way
Gli Italiani sono famosi per la loro ingegnosità The Italians are famous for their ingenuity

To finish with, here is a popular Italian proverb:

La necessità aguzza l’ingegno (‘necessity sharpens ingenuity’, or ‘necessity is the mother of invention’).

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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Since English does not have an exact term for a naive young woman, we use the French word, ‘ingénue’.

    Do Italians also use the French ‘ingénue’ or do you have your own term? Do Italians use any French words for which they do not have an equivalent? English has many.


    • serena:

      @Vince Mooney Ciao Vince, I’m surprised that you didn’t make the connection between the French word ‘ingénue’ and the Italian word ‘ingenua’ (naive, feminine singular), e.g. ‘Lucia è una ragazza molto ingenua’.
      Yes, we use French words, for example: ‘camion’ (lorry), ‘équipe’ (team).
      Saluti da Serena

  2. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I’m surprised, too. I thought about it and I believe there is a reason. The word ‘ingénue’ is so very deeply connected in the American mind to the cinema, especially the film noir. I will bet that the word ‘ingénue’ to an American (who knows the meaning of the word) conjures up an entirely different image than the word ‘‘ingenua’ ‘ does for an Italian.

    ‘Ingenue’ is so strong a word that ‘ingenua’ didn’t even register with me as meaning the same thing. When you say ‘ingénue’, I can see the woman. I know what she is wearing and how her hair is styled!

    I think it is true that we see what we expect to see.


  3. roclafamilia:

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

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