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Expressing Emotions in Italian

Expressing Emotions in Italian

Even if you have been living in Italy for a short time, you will have noticed that the Italian language is complex. It encompasses verbal, facial and gestural communication. Communicating feelings and emotions seems to come easy to Italians, but for those of us who come from more reserved cultures, we sometimes need to learn it.

Here I will share some of my tips and insights on learning how to communicate feelings and emotions for expats living in Italy.

Hatred, anger and unreason whips the soul into a frenzy and translates into the diabolical word forsennato.  Simply pronouncing it [for-sen-NA-to] creates a sense of impatience and annoyance.

Derived and composed of fuori (out of) and senno (bosom). Much like the English words: furious, crazy, out of his mind, a maniac.

Chi è che urla come un forsennato?”    (Who’s that screaming like a maniac?)

E’ un forsennato con cui non è possibile discutere! (He’s a crazy person you can’t reason with!)

Humans feel and express a range of emotions but we rarely feel emotions one at a time. That’s why forsennato is a perfect word, it doesn’t describe a singular emotion but impeccably describes a whirlwind of emotions and behavior.

Plutchik’s Wheeel of emotions / Wikimedia

Even if you have been living in Italy for a short time, you will have noticed that Italians are expressive both verbally and non-verbally. Not only through hand gestures but facial expressions as well. Learning Italian doesn’t just mean being grammatically correct with proper pronunciation. Using emotion and gestures is an important part of the way Italians communicate too.  

Cultural differences may hold us back from using emotion to express ourselves and we may even feel silly. My Russian friend once told me,“Why does everyone smile? If you smile all the time in Russia, they think you are the town fool!”

Italians also tend to say what they think and do not hold back when they disagree on something. I come from an Irish-Catholic household where the moto was “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Discovering the directness of the Italians was a little shocking yet intriguing. Even after living here many years, I still don’t have the courage to say “Stai bene? Sembri stanca, non hai dormito abbastanza?” (Are you ok? You look tired, didn’t you get enough sleep?)  

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that!

Verb: LIKE

You can always use a “thumbs up” and a smile to show you like something!
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

When we learn a new verb in Italian we usually learn the conjugations for verbs ending in –ere, –are or -ire . There is usually a set pattern and once you learn the pattern you can start conjugating, except when it’s irregular.

Although the verb LIKE follows the normal conjugation rules of ‘ere’ verbs, it is intransitive and has a different subject+verb pattern.

You have to think of the sentence in backward sort of way; “to me like pizza, to you like pizza, to him like pizza” etc.

One of the most simple ways to express emotion or approval is to say if you like or don’t like something. The Italian verb piacere (to like) is one of the most confusing verbs to learn. It’s irregular and so hard to learn!

I like pizza.
You like pizza.
He likes pizza.
We like pizza.
You like  pizza.
They like pizza.  
Mi piace la pizza.
Ti piace la pizza.
Gli piace la pizza.
Ci piace la pizza.
Ti piace la pizza.
A loro piace la pizza.  

If you want to say “I like you” the conjugations are so confusing ! In a way, you have to think that the verb conjugates with the object not the subject.

I like you.
You like me.
She likes him.
We like them.
They like us.  
Mi piaci.
Ti piaccio.
A lei piace lui.
Ci piacciono.
A loro piace.  

Verb: LOVE

In English, we use the same expression “I love you” for romantic love, friendship and to express our love affair with chocolate. In Italian, there are different ways to express those things.

Amare (to love) is what you find in the dictionary for love, but in Italian you would say “Ti amo” (I love you) to your lover but you would say “Ti voglio bene” (I care about you) to your mother or your best friend. To express your love for your favorite dessert, you’d say “Adoro il tiramisu!” (I adore tiramisu).

Vocabulary: EMOTIONS

Learning the words for actual emotions is the easier way. In English you can simply use the verb to be + adjective;  Io sono/ Lui è (I am/He is) + aggettivo.

In Italian in some cases you need to use the verb avere (to have).

Sono triste (I’m sad), Sono arrabbiata (I’m angry), Sono felice (I’m happy), Ho paura (I’m afraid), Ho vergona (I’m ashamed).
Keep in mind you need to change the final vowel a/o for feminine/masculine.

If you already speak a Romance language, Italian will be easy for you. For English speakers, some words are simple to understand like frustrata (frustrated) or romantico (romantic) whereas other Italian words are sometimes hard to recognize but can be learned.

Here is a list of feelings and emotional adjectives that might help you express your feelings in Italian.

Afraid  (avere) Paura  
Amused  Divertito  
Angry  Arrabbiato  
Anxious  Ansioso  
Ashamed  (avere) Vergogna  
Awkward /uncomfortable  Non sono al mio aggio/ scomodo  
Bored  Annoiato  
Calm  Tranquillo  
Compassionate  Compassionevole  
Confused  Confuso  
Desperate  Disperato  
Determined  Determinato  
Devoted  Devoto  
Disgusted  Disgustato  
Distrustful  Diffidente  
Entranced  Estasiato  
Envious  Invidioso  
Excited  Eccitato  
Frustrated  Frustrato  
Helpless  Indifeso  
Horrified  Inorridito  
Indignant  Indignato  
Interested  Interessato  
Joyful  Gioioso  
Nostalgic /Homesick  Nostalgico / Ho nostalgia di casa  
Proud  Orgoglioso  
Romantic  Romantico  
Sad  Triste  
Satisfied  Soddisfatto  
Shocked  Scioccato  
Sympathetic  Comprensivo  

Sometimes you need gestures to convey what you want to say, and many times it will come naturally, but we will leave that for another day!

More resources for learning Italian

Italian Verb Conjugator

Let’s Speak Italian: An overview on Basic Italian Language

Hope this list was helpful. If you found it useful, please share on social media and give us a Mi Piace!

Article by Celia Abernethy, Easy Milano Editor
Featured photo by Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

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Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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