Italian Lessons


Breathing in Italian : Let Us Count the Ways, Part 2: il respiro

In part 1, we looked at the noun il fiato (the breath).

Il respiro

Respiro is another word for "breath." But first came the verb respirare (to breathe). It came from the Latin spirare (to breathe). In fact, we can see the logic in the prefix re-. You breathe in and out and repeat it as long as you live. In Italian, spirare (to expire) can indicate the last breath you take before you die (no more repeating it!), and in fact, in English, "to expire" is another way to say "to die."


Il respiro corto, la difficoltà a respirare,

Shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing

a parlare, tipo apnea,

and speaking, as in apnea,

era presente nel diciotto virgola sei per cento dei casi.

are present in eighteen point six percent of the cases.

Captions 37-38, COVID-19 - Domande frequenti

 Play Caption


Il respiro means "the breath," but this noun is also used figuratively. It can mean "breathing room," or when you finally have a moment to yourself.


No, Sergio, è il primo giorno che ho un po' di respiro,

No, Sergio, it's the first day I've had a bit of a breather,

però oggi le guardo, promesso. -Mm.

but today I'll look at them, I promise. -Hm.

Captions 24-25, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP8 - Morte di un buttero

 Play Caption


Even more figuratively, respiro is used to mean the scale or scope of something, especially when it's large-scale.

Un festival ad ampio respiro is a festival that covers lots of different kinds of things


Respiro can also mean "spirit" or "atmosphere."


Questa breve guida alternativa vuole rendere accessibile il respiro della città eterna

This brief alternative guide wishes to render the spirit of the Eternal City accessible

a chi del turismo di plastica ne ha abbastanza

to those who've had enough of plastic tourism

Captions 13-14, I Love Roma - guida della città

 Play Caption


The adjective form respiratorio is just like the English "respiratory."


Il nuovo coronavirus è un virus respiratorio

The novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus

Caption 5, COVID-19 - Domande frequenti

 Play Caption


La respirazione

When we talk about the act of breathing, we use la respirazione.


Santo, per migliorare la qualità del sonno

Santo, to improve the quality of one's sleep,

basterebbe fare ogni sera un esercizio di respirazione

one simply needs to do breathing exercises every night

prima di addormentarsi. Vero o falso?

before going to sleep. True or false?

Captions 14-16, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 1

 Play Caption


What about breathing in and breathing out?

We use inspirare and espirare.


Inspirando percepiamo il fianco destro che si espande, si allunga, si stira.

Inhaling we perceive the right side expanding, lengthening, stretching.

Ed espirando osserviamo come il corpo tende a scendere sul fianco sinistro.

And exhaling we observe how the body tends to get lower on the left side.

Captions 10-11, Corso di Yoga - Ardhakatichacrasana

 Play Caption


Italian also uses the verbs inalare (to inhale) and esalare (to exhale). The noun connected with these verbs is alito, yet another word for "breath!" But this is not the act of breathing. It is rather the breath itself. If someone has bad breath, it's l'alito cattivo.


Hai un alito da far schifo da quando fumi.

You have disgusting breath from all your smoking.

Caption 21, Dafne - Film

 Play Caption


False friend alert!

There have been several new words to assimilate in this lesson. But we'd like to mention a word that is similar to one of the words above, but means something completely different and might cause confusion.

You might want to use inspirare to mean "to inspire," and there would be a certain logic in that, but the Italian word, although similar, is different, lacking the n. We need to use ispirare.


Questo film è ispirato alla vita di Adriano Olivetti,

This film was inspired by the life of Adriano Olivetti,

Caption 67, Adriano Olivetti - La forza di un sogno Ep.2

 Play Caption


There is more to say about breathing, including when we can't breathe!  But it will be for another lesson. 

Meanwhile, go ahead and check out part 1 if you haven't read it yet.


You May Also Like