Italian False Cognates: common mistakes made by foreigners

So you’ve already taken a number of Italian language courses over a span of several months, you’ve attended every lesson, and followed self-study advice to the ‘T’…you think you’ve got the Italian language sorted?

While living in Italy I learned the hard way to be careful what I asked for! These are some common mistakes foreigners make with false cognates in Italy:

1. Don’t ask for ‘peperoni’ on your Pizza unless you have a taste for the hot-n-spicy! The first time I went to my boyfriend’s mother’s house for dinner (in Italy), she asked me if I preferred pepperoni or plain (Margherita) pizza. After requesting pepperoni on my pizza, I discovered the hard way that in Italian ‘peperoni’ are actually hot peppers! Out of embarrassment, I ended up eating the entire pie, sipping water after every burning bite. If you want pepperoni, order ‘salame piccante’ instead.

2. Looking to top your salad off with some crunchy ‘cocomeri’? Then I hope you like oil and vinegar on your watermelon, ‘cause that’s what you just ordered! The Italian word for cucumber is actually ‘cetriolo.’

3. Lost your camera and need to buy a new one? If you tell a salesperson that you’re looking for a ‘camera’, you may not like the response you’ll get. The word ‘camera’ in Italian actually means bedroom! Looking for a snapshot digital machine, then you should request a “macchina fotografica” instead.

4. Commenting on the colorful ‘confetti’ being thrown around at the Venice Carnivale? Well let’s hope you never get pegged in the head with Italian ‘confetti,’ which is the word for sugar-coated almonds. The little colorful pieces of paper being thrown around at carnivals and parties are known as ‘coriandoli.’

5. Need directions to the Gucci ‘fattoria’? If you’re looking for outlet shopping during your stay in Italy, don’t refer to them as ‘fattoria,’ unless you want to buy some farm fresh produce! Factory outlets are actually called “(gli) Outlet,” though the Italian word for factory is ‘fabbrica.’ A case in many where your English actually comes in handy during your stay on the boot!

Known for its vibrant culture, spectacular scenery, friendly people, and world famous cuisine, Italy will always leave you wanting to come back for more. Hopefully these tips will help to make your Italian adventure unforgettable for all the right reasons!

For a list of more false cognates or ‘Amici Falsi,’ you can also check out: 10 Italian False Friends.

Cactus offers Italian immersion courses in Italy, and Italian evening course in the UK, the US & Canada.

1 reply
  1. Linda Makins says:

    Hi there, I beg to differ over peperoni. Maybe it’s a regional variation, but in my bit of Italy (Provincia di Salerno) peperoni are lovely big fat sweet peppers, the hot little rascals are peperoncini (see the picture on the “amici falsi” page).
    Another one to beware of is the adjective “tremendo”, which is never used as we use tremendous in English to describe something great. i.e. a tremendous film, but rather it’s more or less equivalent to awful/terrible. I made that mistake many moons ago describing a friend’s beloved eight-year-old daughter, thinking I was paying a compliment. Luckily, we sorted out the mistake and still laugh about it now she’s a very accomplished and glamorous 22-year-old.


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