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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day qualcosa non torna
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

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

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Così’

This Italian word is so useful to know.

Italian word of the day: 'Così'

The Italian language features plenty of very versatile little words, like allora, ecco, quindi, insomma, cioè, and così, which have a multitude of uses and come in handy in all sorts of situations.

Helpfully, as Italian native speakers will demonstrate during almost any phone call, these words can also be used as fillers at times when you’re not sure what to say – but are still talking anyhow:

Ecco, così è, così siamo messi, così è andata

There you go, that’s the way it is, that’s where we are, that’s how it went

Today’s word might just be the most versatile of them all.

Così is a word that you’ll hear used all the time in spoken Italian, in all sorts of different ways. Here are a couple that you’ve probably heard or used yourself:

È così – That’s how it is (literally ‘it is so’)

Basta cosi? – Is that all?

Per così dire – so to speak/as it were

Non si fa così – don’t do that/that’s not cool (literally ‘it’s not done like that’)

As you can probably tell, così in its most common usages translates roughly into English as so, thus, such, that, or like this.

You pronounce it ‘koh-zee’ – click here to hear some examples.

Much like the English ‘that’, così can also be used to add emphasis, as in così tanto (‘so much’) or così poco (so little), or to modify an adjective:

Non è così comune

It’s not that common

It’s used to mean ‘so’ as in ‘therefore’:

C’era sciopero dei treni, così non siamo potuti partire.

There was a train strike, so we couldn’t leave.

You could even use it like this to stress how strongly you feel:

Siamo così così dispiaciuti per ieri sera.

We’re so, so sorry for last night

But normally, when you see it doubled up, it has a different meaning.

Così così is the equivalent of ‘so-so’ in English, which means ‘not good, not bad’ – but is the sort of phrase you might euphemistically use to indicate that you’re not feeling well, or didn’t like something very much.

Com’era il film? 

Così così… ho visto di meglio.

How was the film? 

So-so, I’ve seen better.

(Here, you could also use the word insomma instead of così così)

Le case sono mantenuti solo così così.

The houses aren’t very well maintained.

These are just a few of the many possible uses of così, but we’re sure you can see why this is a word every Italian learner should be familiar with. 

È così utile sapere! (It’s so useful to know)

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

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