Italian Words in English

“If I spoke Italian, I’d be in Italy in a minute.”

Bonnie Badelia, an American actress

Italian and English belong to different language groups: Italian is a Romance/Romanic language and English is West Germanic. Even so, they have a lot in common. For example, the most common word order is the same – subject + predicate + object. As for the vocabulary, the number of Italian loanwords used in the English language is pretty large. It should be noted that Italian bears the closest resemblance to Latin. And about 80 percent of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed mainly from Latin (source). Speaking of numbers, 45% of all English words have French origin (source), and French is a Romance language, just like Italian. All of these facts suggest that Italian and English have more in common than we might think. Interestingly, even the name a major English-speaking country has Italian origin – America is named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

But, perhaps, the majority of Italian loanwords are related to music (Italian is the language of classical music), cuisine, art and architecture.

MUSIC 

In fact, there is a huge number of Italian music terms used in English. That’s because many important early composers were Italian. See the table below to know some of the most commonly used terms:

Word  Meaning / picture Example
Bass [beɪs] the lowest range of musical notes, or a man with a singing voice in this range He sings bass. In fact, he is his country’s leading bass.
Cello [‘ʧeləu] pexels-photo-37719 I play the cello.
Concert a music performance I’m playing in a concert at the church hall next Friday.
Diva [‘diːvə] a very famous female singer She is an opera diva.
Duet [dju’et] a song or other piece of music sung  or played by two people I heard you singing duets after dinner once.
Impresario [ˌɪmprɪ’sɑːrɪəu] a person who arranges  different types of public  entertainment He is a famous theatrical impresario.
Maestro [‘maɪstrəu] a man who is very skilled at playing or  conducting music His technique is that of a maestro.
Piano pexels-photo-112989 I’m learning to play the piano.
Solo alone, without other people He used to play with a group but now he’s going solo.
Violin [ˌvaɪə’lɪn] pexels-photo-111287  She plays the violin with great expression.

CUISINE

We have the Italians to thank for numerous coffee terms which we use or hear every day (read Coffee English to learn or brush up on interesting coffee vocabulary). Apart from espresso, Italy is home to many tasty dishes popular all over the world. Many foods have names of Italian origin as well:

Word Meaning / picture Example
Broccoli [‘brɔkəlɪ]  broccoli-vegetable-food-healthy-47347  If you are trying to eat healthier, vegetables like broccoli should be at the very top of your grocery list.
Cauliflower [‘kɔlɪˌflauə]  pexels-photo-461245 Cauliflower is one vegetable that deserves a regular rotation in your diet.
Grappa [‘græpə]  a type of Italian brandy Grappa is a uniquely Italian drink.
Lasagne (British English) / lasagna (American English) [lə’zænjə] thin, wide sheets of pasta, or a dish consisting of layers of this combined with two different sauces Lasagne are wide, flat pasta, and possibly one of the oldest types of pasta.
Macaroni [ˌmæk(ə)’rəunɪ] pasta-food-oil-63244 Macaroni and cheese is a popular dish in North America.
Mozzarella [ˌmɔtsə’relə]  a soft white Italian cheese True mozzarella cheese is made from water buffalo milk.
Pepperoni [ˌpepə’rəunɪ] a spicy pork / beef sausage, used especially on pizza Pepperoni is characteristically soft, slightly smoky, and bright red in color.
Pistachio [pɪ’stɑːʃɪəu]  pistachios-12161 Pistachios are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, protein, and various nutrients.
Pizza [‘piːtsə]  pexels-photo-263041 The term “pizza” was first recorded in the 10th century.
Risotto [rɪ’zɔtəu]  a dish of rice cooked together with vegetables, meat etc. There are many different risotto recipes with different ingredients.

ART & ARCHITECTURE

Word Meaning / picture Example
Apartment (mainly American English) flat I don’t have the keys to the apartment.
Balcony [‘bælkənɪ] pexels-photo-784149 Let’s have a drink on the balcony.
Caricature [ˌkærɪkə’tjuə] a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect There have been some efforts to produce caricatures automatically using computer graphics techniques.
Fresco [‘freskəu] fresco-wave-stone-carving-54085 Michelangelo’s famous  frescoes are in the Sistine Chapel /ˌsɪstn ˈæpəl/.
Graffiti [græ’fiːtɪ] pexels-photo-63238 When graffiti is (more formally “are”) done without a property owner’s permission it is considered vandalism.
Grotto [‘grɔtəu] a small cave, especially one that is made to look attractive Archaeologists are still searching for the entrance of the grotto.
Madonna a picture or model that  represents Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ Madonnas are central icons for both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Replica [‘replɪkə] an exact copy of an object A replica is an exact reproduction.
Veranda [və’rændə] a raised, open area, often covered, attached to the front or side of a house Every evening they sat on the veranda drinking wine.
Villa [‘vɪlə] a house, usually in the countryside or near the sea They have a villa in Portugal.

Of course, there are many more English words that are actually Italian: novel, scenario, orange, sepia [‘siːpɪə], costume, jeans, stiletto, lagoon, archipelago, riviera [ˌrɪvɪ’eərə] and bank, carton are all of Italian origin. Some of them  entered the English language through French.

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