After seeing popular Italian sayings, it’s time now to talk about the most common Italian proverbs.

What are Italian Proverbs and why learn them?

Italian proverbs are popular sayings widely used and of ancient traditions. They condense a lesson, a rule or a though derived from experience. You should learn them for many reasons. First of all, if properly used, they can make you sound like a local during a conversation; secondly, you’ll have the chance to know more about Italian habits, culture, and customs after reviewing them; in the third place, learning them by heartcould be a great exercise to improve your vocabulary and your memory.

In this regard, here is a list of 22 common Italian proverbs that preserve Italian linguistic heritage.

Let’s see all of them together!

And if you want to improve your vocabulary, I also suggest to you these books:

1. A buon intenditor, poche parole 

Italian Proverbs - A buon intenditor, poche parole

Let’s start with one of the most well-known Italian proverbs you will surely hear during a trip to Italy. Since an equivalent in English doesn’t exist, a possible translation could be a word to the wise

Regarding its meaning, you are supposed to use it when referring to a brainy and perceptive guy. It refers to people who can understand everything from just the context without needing more explanations.  

2. Chi dorme non piglia pesci 

This is probably one of the most popular Italian proverbs. It can be translated as who sleeps catches no fish. Its meaning is similar to the English saying you snooze, you lose. Generally, it means thatlazy people will hardly be able to achieve something good in life.      

3. Il buongiorno si vede dal mattino

This other famous Italian saying is placed in the third place of our list. It means a good day starts from the morning. It is mostly applied in case your day starts in a good way; nevertheless, you can use it oppositely and ironically. For example, if everything is going bad from the moment your day has started until now. In that case you have every right to say that il buongiorno si vede dal mattino!        

4. Ride bene chi ride ultimo 

Italian Proverbs - ride bene chi ride ultimo

Moving on, I’m going to introduce another of the most used Italian proverbs. Literally who laughs last laughs best, this aphorism is mainly employed in competitions, and matches as a kind of warning. It actually means that you better not celebrate, or exult before what is going on has yet to pass. This because the situation might change unexpectedly and at every moment. Therefore, in case you are challenging a friend of yours and you are losing badly, don’t give up and tell your opponent that ride bene chi ride ultimo!      

5. Il lupo perde il pelo ma non il vizio

At the same time, here is another equally important maxim. Literally meaning the fox loses its fur but not its bad habits, it may be rendered in English as old habits die hard. Basically, you can apply it when you want to convey that some people can change appearance or behavior, but their nature still remains the same. Seeing that it conveys a quite pessimistic perspective on life, I suggest you use it only on specific occasions (e.g. when being ironic) and sparingly because it could be even offensive to someone.       

6. L’erba del vicino è sempre più verde 

Italian Proverbs - l'erba del vicino è sempre più verde

How to tell your Italian friend he is dissatisfied with everything concerning his life and he is envious of someone else’s stuff? Easier than ever before! Just say l’erba del vicino è sempre più verde when you notice that he doesn’t appreciate everything he has now, or keeps on complaining about how miserable his existence is for no good reason. 

I’m sure you’ll have the chance to hear the Italian version of this international saying from a native speaker himself when in Italy.         

7. Meglio soli che male accompagnati 

Among the several Italian proverbs you can bump into, you should consider this one, too. Standing for better alone than in bad company, the aphorism in question might be very useful when wanting to communicate that sometimes you better embrace the loneliness instead of spending time with bad or unworthy people who can prevent you from achieving your goals and carrying out your life plans. 

8. La mamma dei cretini è sempre incinta 

Italian Proverbs - la mamma dei cretini è sempre incinta

In my opinion, this is one of the funniest Italian proverbs you can listen to. Indeed, I always smile every time a friend of mine tells me that the mother of idiots is always pregnant after seeing a person acting foolishly, or doing something notably stupid. Furthermore, a rude option to this idiom could be la mamma degli stronzi è sempre incinta where the term cretini (idiots) shall be replaced by the curse word stronzi (assholes). However, the English equivalent is there’s one born every minute.     

9. Le bugie hanno le gambe corte 

To continue, we have to cite this other maxim whose literal translation is lies have short legs. It is primarily applied when stating that lying is meaningless since lies don’t get you anywhere. Plus, they are often counterproductive because they can backfire on you, or perhaps hurt someone. Finally, they don’t last long because the truth always comes out in one way or another. So, if you have the feeling the guy you are talking to is uttering tons of lies, try to say le bugie hanno le gambe corte in order to intimidate him!     

10. Piove sempre sul bagnato

Italian Proverbs - piove sempre sul bagnato

Coming to the half of this article, let’s continue to mention the best Italian proverbs going ahead with this other interesting idiom which literally means it always rains on the wet. Apart from the reference to Italian weather, it is required when wanting to indicate that things keep going wrong for those people who have bad luck the whole time; on the contrary, the same things keep going great for those guys who are already lucky.           

11. Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca

Why can’t you have a full cask and a drunk wife at the same time? That’s what they say in one of the most appreciated Italian proverbs! You must know that it is chiefly employed when you are called to decide between two options which are both tempting. Considering that you cannot have everything you want concurrently, you are compelled to choose and give up on one of them. Anyway, a similar meaning also appears in its English version: you can’t have your cake and eat it too.      

12. È inutile piangere sul latte versato

Equally important is the current aphorism that may be intended as it’s pointless to cry on spilled milk. To clarify, you can resort to it when someone you know is really sorry about something that has already happened and so impossible to be changed. Since things can’t be any different, all you need to do is give it up and go on with your life.    

13. La notte porta consiglio 

Italian Proverbs - la notte porta consiglio

Are you still there? May I have your attention a little longer? Fine, here is another of the most famous Italian proverbs. Specifically, this one, meaning night brings advice, is largely applied when facing important decisions to make. What to do if still unsure and in trouble the night before? Just sleep on it and take your choices with a fresh mind when the morning comes!  

14. Quando il gatto non c’è i topi ballano  

Additionally, there is one more maxim that is widely used by most Italians. As in the English version when the cat’s away, the mice will play, you are suggested to employ it when someone feels free of doing everything they want ignoring any presumed danger (in this case a person, a specific situation, etc.), or consequences that can still occur at any time. 

Fun fact: in the Italian adaptation the mice dance instead of playing!         

15. Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca 

Italian Proverbs - il mattino ha l'oro in bocca

By the same token, we can find a further idiom belonging to the greatest Italian proverbs. Translated as the morning has gold in its mouth, it is principally used when you want to highlight the fact that in the very early hours of the morning you are usually more productive at work. Instead, the English equivalent the early bird catches the worm has almost the same meaning, but it mainly focuses on the concept of catching the best opportunities when starting early in the morning.

However, this aphorism goes against stereotypes about Italian people!     

16. A mali estremi, estremi rimedi 

On the contrary, this aphorism conveys the idea that in some circumstances you are obliged to contemplate extreme solutions to solve a quite harsh problem after trying everything. In fact, it is normally applied when talking about serious situations, or making reference to problematic issues. A possible translation in English might be desperate times call for drastic measures.    

17. L’abito non fa il monaco

We shall now proceed to another of the most familiar Italian proverbs. Coming from the religious world, it can be rendered as clothes don’t make a man, even though the English interpretation corresponds to don’t judge a book by its cover. Regarding its usage, it is commonly employed in case you intend to state that you shouldn’t judge someone by their appearance, but rather by their qualities and actions. For this reason, you’ll certainly use it when addressing shallow and vain people.       

18. La pazienza è la virtù dei forti 

Italian Proverbs - la pazienza è la virtù dei forti

Similarly, a precious saying to keep in mind is the following: la pazienza è la virtù dei forti (in English patience is a virtue). All of us sometimes get angry or lose our temper when dealing with bad moods, stressful events, or iniquities. Despite that, there are still people who manage to keep calm and not overreact when something negative occurs. Consequently, these individuals are strong enough to handle the best human virtue: patience!    

19. Chi trova un amico trova un tesoro 

In the same way, we cannot forget another of the most common Italian proverbs. In particular, the aphorism chi trova un amico trova un tesoro (literally meaning he who finds a friend, finds a treasure) is widely known and ordinarily applied when asserting that a friend can be considered as something invaluable you need to take care, or somebody you can trust and lean on.   

20. Tutto fumo e niente arrosto 

Italian Proverbs  Tutto fumo e niente arrosto

In the meantime, an extra idiom to report is tutto fumo e niente arrosto. Standing for all bark and no bite, it is almost used to describe those moments where people trying to appear more self-confident and braver suddenly become shy when it comes to taking action. A similar meaning can be also applied to untrue and disappointing products or initiatives that are extremely advertised and passed off as the coolest ones. 

21. Chi fa per sé fa per tre 

Likewise, an additional maxim to indicate is chi fa per sé fa per tre that can be translated as if you want something done well, do it yourself

In this case, you are going to use it when meaning that whoever does something on their own does it better than three people together. Moreover, this saying also suggests that feeling responsible for what you do prevents you from accepting compromises. Hence, remember to employ it when the person you are speaking to thinks you are incapable of doing something on your own.   

22. La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi 

Italian Proverbs - La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi

In conclusion, I would like to point out the last of my favorite Italian proverbs: la gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi. Why quote a hasty cat giving birth to blind kittens? Quite simply, this idiom reminds you that you should not do things too quickly because they might turn out badly. For this reason, you are suggested to take your time when doing something without rushing, as at this time while reading the current article!   

Ready to start a conversation with one of the Italian proverbs mentioned above? Be valiant enough to tell your silly friend that la mamma dei cretini è sempre incinta, or he has to stop complaining because è inutile piangere sul latte versato!      

By: Alfonso Di Somma

Born and raised in Italy, he is an Italian professional translator and a tireless traveler. His main passion? Foreign languages!