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Italian word of the day: ‘Però’

It may be small, but this little word packs a punch.

Italian word of the day: 'Però'
Photo: DepositPhotos

Like many students of Italian, I first learned però as ‘but’ – but that ‘but’ doesn’t really do this ubiquitous word justice, as I soon found out.

That’s not to say you can’t use però just the same way you’d say a forceful ‘but’.

L’ho incontrata per strada, però ha fatto finta di non riconoscermi.
I saw her in the street, but she pretended not to recognize me.

É brutto, però è simpatico.
He’s ugly, but he’s nice.

But while in English we always put ‘but’ at the beginning of a contradicting clause – and the same goes for ma, the other common Italian word for ‘but’ – però can go in various positions in your sentence, including at the end. It’s like ‘though’ in that respect.

Non è mica scemo, però!
He’s not the least bit stupid, though! 

È bello, però.
It’s beautiful, though.
(NB: you’ll hear this phrase used all the time in Italy to excuse just about anything.)

And like ‘though’, però has what linguists call a “concessive value”: you can use it to concede that something is true even if you’ve just said something else that would suggest it isn’t.

In English we might also use phrases like ‘nevertheless’, ‘however’ or ‘yet’ to make the same point.

Sono stanca, non tanto però da non poter finire.
I’m tired, yet not so tired as not to be able to finish.

Se non vuoi andarci tu, devi però mandarci qualcuno.
If you don’t want to go yourself, you have to send somebody nevertheless.

I recently listened to an elderly (and I assume, hard of hearing) signora sustain a monologue about her summer plans for the duration of a 20-minute bus ride through Tuscany, fuelled largely by trailing “peròooooo…”s that allowed her to keep adding to her point. So do not be afraid to use però liberally.

In spoken Italian you can even reinforce it by preceding it with ma (‘but BUT’!), though the dictionary politely advises you not to do so in ‘proper’ language, for instance when you’re writing a formal letter.

Io ti aiuto, ma però qualche piccolo sforzo devi farlo anche tu.
I’ll help you, but you have to make a bit of an effort too. 

The one other use to watch out for is when you hear an Italian speaker exclaim però at the start of their sentence: it’s sometimes used to express surprise, in either a good or a bad way, like ‘well!’ or ‘wow’.

Però, che coraggio hai avuto.
Wow, how brave you’ve been.

Però, che maleducato!
Well! How rude!

And just in case you were wondering how important that little accent on the O really is: very. Without it, pero means something quite different – ‘pear tree’.

If you’re struggling to find it on your keyboard, these tips should help.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Spendaccione’

Spend a little time with this Italian word.

Italian word of the day: 'Spendaccione'

Chances are you know someone who today’s word would describe perfectly.

Helpfully enough for English speakers, the Italian verb spendere means what it sounds like: ‘to spend’.

And the noun spendaccione (hear it pronounced here) is used to describe a person who does just that, with reckless abandon.

The term could be literally translated as ‘big spender’, as the Italian suffix –one (pronounced oh-neh) makes any noun into a bigger version of itself.

But spendaccione isn’t a word you’d use to describe lavish displays of generosity from someone wealthy enough to afford it.

It’s more fitting for the flatmate who can never pay their share of the rent on time, but has no shortage of cash for new clothes and nights out. It’s the family member who always seems to be struggling to pay their credit card bill despite earning a decent salary.

Where does all their money go? Boh.

– Non posso permettermi di essere uno spendaccione come il mio amico Marco, che spende soldi senza pensarci due volte per cose frivole e inutili.

– I can’t let myself be a spendthrift like my friend Marco, who spends money without a second thought on frivolous and useless things.

As you can see, the term carries connotations of financial recklessness and irresponsibility – this person definitely isn’t spending within their means.

Italians might even say this person has le mani bucate, or ‘holes in their hands’. The money just seems to slip right through.

For the most hopeless spendthrifts of all, the harsher description of scialacquatore might apply, which literally sounds like ‘water spiller’ but means something like “waster” or “squanderer”.

– ha scialacquato tutto il suo

– he squandered everything he had

The person who’s the polar opposite of a spendaccione meanwhile could be described as being tirchio (tight-fisted) or having le braccine corte: literally ‘short arms’.

Like the English phrase “short arms and deep pockets”, it’s used to describe those people who are seemingly physically unable to reach their wallets when it’s time to pay for anything.

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.