Italian Lessons


Lessons for topic Slang and idiomatic expressions

Siamo alla frutta!

La commedia all'italiana (Italian-style comedy) is created to makes us laugh. But for those of us learning Italian, it's also a great opportunity to learn a lot of new expressions and plays on words that lace most Italian comedies. 


One of these comedy films on offer at Yabla Italian is Un figlio a tutti costi (a child at all costs). The first segment of the movie is short on dialogue because it contains i titoli di testa (the opening credits): But at a certain point, there is a great idiomatic expression that is worth knowing about and — why not? —memorizing. A couple is complaining about their financial situation to their accountant or attorney.


Qua tra IVA, Irpef e bollette,

Here, what with VAT, personal income tax, and bills,

praticamente siamo alla frutta.

we are basically at the bottom of the barrel.

Captions 14-15, Un Figlio a tutti i costi - film

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As many of us know by now, Italian meals, the main ones anyway, feature all or some of the following courses:


primo piatto
secondo piatto

Although not last on the list, la frutta is the last thing we eat (although it can also come before the dessert, as well). 

This tells you where the expression got its content. It implies "the end, the last thing." When, at the end of the meal, la frutta è arrivata alla tavola (the fruit has been served), the meal is, for all intents and purposes, over.

Siamo alla frutta!

Somehow, the idea of the fruit at the end of a meal has been adopted into Italian colloquial speech as a way of saying, "I'm on my last legs," "We're scraping the bottom of the barrel," "I'm done for (I can't continue)." Although it may be used in the singular: Sono alla frutta, it is more common to hear it in the plural, as a very general comment: Siamo alla frutta! 

Here are some situations in which essere alla frutta is the perfect expression to use.

You are just about out of gas in the car.
Your wallet is empty, or just about.
You have been working on something for hours and need a break.
You have to come up with an idea, you've been trying, but at this point, the ones you come up with are really stupid.
You are hiking with a friend but can't keep up. Maybe you need some fuel.
You are trying to make a relationship work, but it might be time to call it quits.
Your computer is about to give up the ghost, it's so old.


So, things are not quite over, but just about. 


Fun fact:
Siamo alla frutta!  is a common expression to use when you are having money problems but in the scene in question, there's an additional implication in the use of an expression having to do with fruit. The man speaking is calling attention to the voluptuousness of the woman at his side. He calls her fragolina (little strawberry). There's nothing innately Italian about that allusion, but now that you are more familiar with the expression siamo alla frutta, the scene will make a bit more sense and perhaps make you chuckle. The man wanted to keep the "fruit" image in the forefront.

If you feel adventurous, send us your Italian sentences with, as a tag: Siamo/sono alla frutta!


Ho pagato tutte le bollette e l'affito per questo mese,

I paid all the bills and the rent for this month,

e ora sono alla frutta.

and I am high and dry / scraping the bottom of the barrel.


Or you can put it at the beginning: 

Sono alla frutta. Vado a prendermi un caffè.

I'm wiped out. I'm going to get some coffee.


Divertitevi! (Have fun!)

We'll publish your sentences (with corrections). Let us know if you want your name associated or not! Write to us at

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When the Noun Pezzo (Piece) Is Used to Mean "Time"

In one of Yabla's offerings this week, there is a curious little modo di dire we'd like to take a look at here. The expression da un pezzo involves the noun pezzo (piece), a word we don't necessarily think of when thinking of time.  So it's worth having a closer look.


Un pezzo has a cognate in "a piece," and in many contexts, that's the translation. But if you look in a dictionary, we find that pezzo also means "a while," "a long time." Who knew?


Io voglio un figlio mio, Orazio.

I want my own child, Orazio.

Semmai nostro. -È ovvio.

If anything, ours. -It's obvious.

Altrimenti sarei già mamma da un pezzo.

Otherwise I'd already have been a mom for a while.

Captions 28-30, Un Figlio a tutti i costi - film

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So when someone asks you,

Da quanto tempo vivi in Italia? (How long have you been living in Italy?)


You can reply using a period of time:

Vivo in Italia da dieci anni (I've lived here for ten years).


Or you can just be vague:

da molto tempo (for a long time).


But you can also say,

da un pezzo (for a long time, for a good while).


And another way we can translate this into English is with "for some time."


È per i piccoli spostamenti nella tenuta,

It's for small trips on the property.

però è ferma da un pezzo.

But it's been idle for some time.

Captions 6-7, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne

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We don't necessarily need to use da (from, since).  We can use the verb essere in the present tense (third person singular), which in this case corresponds to the past continuous in English.


Sì. Ho pagato la protezione.

Yes. I paid for protection.

È un pezzo che la pago.

I've been paying for a while now.

Captions 21-22, L'oro di Scampia - film

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So let's say two friends get together after a long time. There are various ways we can comment. Note that we use the present tense in Italian, but we use the present perfect in English.

Non ci vediamo da un pezzo (We haven't seen each other in a while / in a long time).


È un pezzo che non ci vediamo (It's been a while / a long time since we last saw each other).


Non ci vediamo da un sacco di tempo (We haven't seen each other in a really long time).


È un sacco di tempo che non ci vediamo (We haven't seen each other in a really long time).


Non ci vediamo da una vita (We haven't seen each other in ages [in a lifetime]).


È una vita che non ci vediamo (It's been ages [a lifetime] since we last saw each other).


We hope you can add this to your Italian conversational toolbox. It might save you trying to figure out how to say a year, or use some other complicated construction. Need more info? Write to us at

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3 Need to Know Italian Expressions for Arguing in Italian

This week's segment of Sposami happens to have several idiomatic expressions that are worth looking at.



In the following example, the verb rompere (to break) is used, together with the direct object scatole (boxes). This is a euphemism, a polite way to say palle (balls). Although it is very easy for Italians to have the more vulgar expression on the tip of the tongue, they will avoid it in polite company, and will use scatole instead of palle.


Bruna ha il marito in cassa integrazione

Bruna's husband has been laid off

e fa di tutto anche lei per farsi licenziare

and she's trying her best to get fired,

rompendo le scatole in continuazione con rivendicazioni sindacali.

as well by pestering us [breaking our balls] constantly with union demands.

Captions 13-15, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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If you don't know it's a euphemism, the expression makes little sense, but it's also handy to know that you can just use the verb rompere and the message will get across, all the same, guaranteed, cento percento (100%).


Oh, ma hai finito di rompere?

Oh, but have you finished bugging me?

Caption 30, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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You can just say when someone is pestering you,

Non rompere! (Don't bother me!) 


The noun form is used a lot, too, to describe someone who keeps pestering you.

È un vero rompiscatole (he/she is a real pain).


Ai ferri corti

This next idiom has interesting origins. Of course, you don't need to know its origins to use the expression. You do need to know that when a relationship becomes strained, and is on the verge of a rupture, you may well be ai ferri corti. If you are thinking in Italian, you can imagine the scene of two people no longer speaking to each other, or if they do speak, whatever they say is misconstrued, and sparks fly. You're dangerously close to the breaking point. If you watch the movie Sposami on Yabla, you'll get the picture!


Lo so che siete ai ferri corti, non me ne importa niente.

I know that you are at loggerheads. That doesn't matter to me.

Caption 27, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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When we have to translate ai ferri corti, it's a bit trickier. We have to go to a word we no longer use much: Loggerheads. To be at loggerheads. A log is a thick piece of wood, and indeed "loggerhead" once meant "blockhead," as in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, act IV, scene IV [i.e. 3]: "Ah you whoreson loggerhead, you were born to do me shame."

And later, "loggerhead" meant an iron instrument with a long handle and a ball or bulb at the end (thus the name), used, when heated in the fire, for melting pitch and for heating liquids. This makes sense with the Italian ferri, as we are talking about iron tools or possibly weapons. Think of a blacksmith's tools. We can imagine that this tool used to melt pitch, if short, will be very, very hot. Or we can think of the sword and the dagger, also made of ferro (iron). When our swords are broken or gone, and we're using daggers, we are dangerously close. In any case, the conflict has gotten dangerously heated. 


La frittata


Perché lo conosco, lui ha una capacità nel rivoltare le frittate

Because I know him. He's very capable of flipping omelets [turning the tables]

che non ci puoi credere.

like you wouldn't believe.

Captions 36-37, Sposami - EP 1 - Part 4

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A popular quick meal for Italians is the frittata. The word has gained popularity even in English, but for those unfamiliar with it, it's the Italian version of an omelet, but usually flatter and less fluffy than the French kind, and often containing finely chopped vegetables and grated Parmesan cheese. 

You have to flip the frittata over to get it cooked on both sides. 

When you twist the argument, you're flipping it. You were to blame, but you twist things in such a way that it looks like the other person is at fault. Literally, it is flipping a situation around to be in one's favor despite not being in the right. We can also translate it with "to turn the tables."

There are a few other variations of this expression:

rovesciare la frittata (turn the frittata over)

rigirare la frittata (flip the omelet over again)

girare la frittata (flip the omelet)


But they all mean basically the same thing.


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