4 Indispensible Italian Words of Politeness (& how to Use Them).

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Although you might not have any Italian language skills before your Italy trip begins, it is a good idea to learn a few phrases of politeness – for any language – before you travel to another country. Politeness is a great way to get the job done, even if you are struggling with the rest of the language.

Italian beginners quickly notice that there are some polite words that can have multiple meanings or that you shouldn’t use in certain situations. This article will cover four polite terms that can help you navigate through a variety of Italy experiences.


pronunciation: SKOO|zee

The verb “scusare”, which means to excuse, is probably obvious from the way it sounds. However, there are a few specific uses for this word in Italy. They do not include trying your luck through crowds.

In particular, “scusi”, the imperative form, is what you would say to someone to ask for directions, get a price on something, or apologize. These are the examples in Italian:

  • Scusi, dov’e il bancomat? = Excuse me! Where is the bank machine?
  • Scusi, quanto costa? = Excuse me, what does it cost?
  • Scusi! Oder Mi scusi! = I’m sorry!


pronunciation: pehr|MEH|soh

Although it is quite common for English speakers to say “Sorry” when trying to push through crowds, “scusi”, which is the Italian word for “make room” or “get out of their way,” is not the most common. Permesso is a contraction of the verb permettere, which means to allow or permit. When you are on a bus, and need to pass someone at the door, you basically say “Permit me to get through,” as opposed to “Permesso.”


pronunciation: PREH|goh

Students learning Italian will quickly learn how to say “grazie” – thank you. This is often followed by the phrase “prego”, which means you’re welcomed. Prego can also be used in a variety of other contexts, but it is best to not assume that it means “you are welcome”.

Prego is used the same way that an English speaker might use “After you” or “Please” when opening a door. It is also used by waiters at bars, restaurants, and gelato shops to signify, “Please, Tell me what you’d prefer.”


pronunciation: POH|soh

Posso is derived from the verb potere, which means to be capable of. I find it one of my most useful polite Italian words. It is a simple word that can instill trust and respect in anyone. It can be translated as “May I?”. If you have mastered gestures and are able to indicate what you want, all you need is one word.

You might be in a small church, and there are no signs prohibiting photography. However, you want to make sure that you aren’t offending anyone. You can find someone to help you, then point your camera at them and say “Posso?” If you are shopping at an outdoor fruit market, you might not know if it is one of those places where you should not touch the fruits. Point to the apples and gesture to the vendor to grab one. Even if you don’t speak Italian, it is respectful to ask permission.

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4 Responses to “4 Inspensable Italian Words Of Politeness (& how to Use Them),”

  • Jessica, your blog is always a pleasure. I want to thank you especially for the alert regarding the passport rule of 6 months. I immediately notified 20 of my fellow travelers who will be visiting Florence in the Fall. Although I was aware of the changes, I didn’t know about them for 3 months. Keep up the great work!

    • Jess has the following:

      Patrizia, what a lovely comment! We are grateful. Thank you so much for the passport note. It’s still a surprise that it wasn’t announced in a major way when it took place in January. It probably didn’t because I don’t think any of my Italy-based friends would have seen it.

  • Your post is great! It’s similar to the first pages of my book Conversational English for Travelers, “Just the Important Phrases.” Your explanations are very helpful in understanding the culture and language of Italy. I am so glad that you have your blog!

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