The word prego is commonly used in many aspects of Italian life.
Perhaps the best known use of prego is after someone says, "Thank you." One polite answer is: Prego (you’re welcome).
But prego is also used to let someone pass, as in “go ahead.” This happens, for example, when you are in line at the supermarket and you let a person go ahead of you for whatever reason. Imagine the gesture you make when saying, “After you!” That’s when you might say prego (please, go ahead).
The original meaning of the verb pregare is “to pray.” It's used when pleading or begging, and it stands to reason that it's used in actual prayers (preghiere) as well. There’s a good example of this basic meaning of pregare in Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello. Desdemona says her prayers, and sings the Ave Maria in Italian: prega per noi (pray for us), she says, using the familiar imperative form. It’s one of Verdi’s most beautiful arias for soprano.
See the text and translation for this aria at the bottom of the lesson.
In a new film on Yabla Italian pregare is used in a sticky situation.
Manuela, ti prego, mi fai entrare?
Manuela, I'm begging you, will you let me in?
Caption 48, La Tempesta - film - Part 1Play Caption
The translation says, “I’m begging you,” but what we would likely say in English in this situation is simply “please.” The urgency is in the tone. When we want to roll our eyes and say "Oh please!" we can also use ti prego all by itself.
Italian uses the verb pregare in making formal requests. One important situation where you’ll hear the word pregare/prego is when taking a train or plane, or in any situation where you have to show a ticket or passport. In this case, it means “please:”
Biglietto, prego. -Non ce l'ho. -Centoventi euro di multa. -Non ce l'ho.
Ticket, please. -I don't have one. -A fine of a hundred and twenty euros. -I don't have it.
Captions 35-38, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato - Part 11Play Caption
It can also mean “you are kindly requested...”
I viaggiatori sono pregati di scendere dal treno.
Passengers are kindly requested to get off the train.
We can use it in the impersonal, too:
Si prega di non fumare.
You are kindly requested to refrain from smoking.
We have seen that pregare means to pray, but it also means to beg, to kindly request, to say "please," and to say "you’re welcome."
Attenzione: Prego does not mean “please” when asking for something like a cappuccino, or asking someone to do a favor. For this kind of “please” we need per favore or per cortesia.
Un caffé per cortesia.
A coffee, please.
Un biglietto per Venezia, per favore.
A ticket to Venice, please.
Mi passi il sale per favore?
Please pass the salt.
These are the words to Desdemona's aria from Otello.
Ave Maria, piena di grazia,
eletta fra le spose e le vergini sei tu,
sia benedetto il frutto,
o benedetta, di tue materne viscere, Gesù.
Prega per chi adorando a te si prostra,
prega nel peccator, per l'innocente,
e pe 'l debole oppresso e pe 'l possente,
misero anch'esso, tua pietà dimostra.
Prega per chi sotto l'oltraggio piega la fronte
e sotto la malvagia sorte;
per noi tu prega,
sempre e nell'ora della morte nostra.
Ave Maria... nell'ora della morte. Ave! Amen!
Hail Mary, full of grace
You are blessed amongst wives and maidens
and blessed be the fruit, o blessed one
of thy maternal womb, Jesu.
Pray for those who kneeling adore thee
Pray for the sinner, for the innocent
and for the weak oppressed;
and for the powerful,
they are also wretched.
Show your sweet compassion.
Pray for him who bows beneath injustice
and beneath the blows of cruel destiny;
Pray for us,
always, and at the hour of our death,
Hail Mary ... and at the hour of our death.