As you probably already know, it is very important to be able to tell or respond to a story in a language. Anecdotes are short stories about something that happened to you or to someone you know, and they are one of the most powerful tools to improve your communication skills. This article is an action packed collection of useful Italian expressions to kick-start your fluency improvement routine.


How to tell your story


OK, you have an incredible story to tell your Italian friend and you really want to be understood and sound natural. So, where do you start? Well, first of all (or in Italian, innanzitutto), your story should be quite short and contain simple grammar so that it is easy to follow. When telling a story, it is very important to try using sequencing and linking words that show the chronological sequence of events. Some of these words are: anzitutto, poi, dopo, alla fine, and so on.


  • Anzitutto / per prima cosa (ho fatto la valigia). First of all, (I packed my suitcase).
  • Dopo (ho controllato di avere tutti i documenti). Then, (I checked that I had all my documents).
  • Prima di (fare la valigia, ho cambiato dei soldi). Before that, (I exchanged some money).
  • Dopo (aver cambiato dei soldi, sono andata a bere un caffè). After (exchanging the money, I went to the bar for a coffee).
  • Poi (ho chiamato un taxi per l'aeroporto). Then, (I called a taxi to the airport).
  • Più tardi (mentre ero bloccata nel traffico mi sono resa conto che…). Later on, (when I was stuck in traffic, I realized that…).
  • Ma prima (avevo controllato male la mia prenotazione)... But before all that, (I incorrectly checked my reservation)...
  • Alla fine (ho realizzato di essere arrivata all'aeroporto sbagliato e per un volo che non sarebbe partito fino al giorno dopo)! Finally, (I realized that I arrived at the wrong airport for a flight that didn't leave until the next day).
  • Così (ho scelto il primo volo disponibile, che pensa un po', era per le Maldive!... e sono partita)! So, (I chose the first flight available, and fancy that, it was to the Maldives! And I left)!


How to introduce an anecdote


An anecdote is a story that emerges naturally in conversational discourse. Imagine that you want to talk to a friend about a particular place, person or thing, or something that has happened to you in the past. How do you make a connection? How do you introduce your story? Here are some phrases that you can use to introduce an anecdote:


  • Ti ho già raccontato che cosa mi è successo ieri? Have I already told you what happened to me yesterday?
  • Non crederai mai che giornata pazzesca ho avuto! You'll never believe the crazy day I had!
  • Ti ho mai detto che una volta…? Did I ever tell you about the time I…?
  • Non dimenticherò mai quella volta che… I'll never forget that time when...
  • Avresti dovuto esserci! You should have been there!
  • Sai, mi è successo qualcosa di incredibile… You know, something incredible happened to me...
  • Lo sai cosa mi è capitato? Do you know what happened to me?


Setting the context


Imagine that you are watching the first scene of a movie. Where does it take place? Who are the principal characters? When you tell a personal anecdote, strive to create a “movie-like” experience, planting your audience deeply in the moment. This basically means that you should provide a brief background onto which to lay the foundation of your story, so that your listeners can imagine themselves in the situation and really connect with you.


  • Be' è stato un po' di tempo fa! Well, it was a while ago!
  • Conosci….(una persona o un luogo)? Do you know… (person or place)?
  • Hai presente la casa rossa vicino alla mia? You know the red house near mine?
  • Ti ricordi di quella volta che sono andata in vacanza in Sardegna? Do you remember that time that I went on holiday to Sardinia?
  • Sarà stato circa due anni fa… It must have been about two years ago…
  • Be' lo sai che avevo prenotato un volo per l’Alaska, no? Well, you know I bought a flight to Alaska, right?


Telling the story


Imagine you are a movie director: moving your camera, tracking the movements of a character or zooming in on an object. Now, frame your story. Take the listener on a journey and unleash your creativity! And most importantly, experiment with new expressions and words and have fun with it! Here are some suggestions to help you develop your story.


  • Praticamente / in pratica stavo tornando da lavoro, quando improvvisamente… Basically, I was on my way back home from work, when all of a sudden…
  • Ho notato che… / Mi sono resa conto che (una persona mi stava seguendo). I noticed that… / I realised that (a person was following me).
  • Era una donna strana, mi ha fermato e per qualche motivo mi ha chiesto… It was a strange woman. She stopped me, and for some reason she asked me…
  • Ti immagini? Can you imagine?
  • Pensa che proprio in quel momento ha iniziato a piovere, che sfortuna! Consider that right in that moment, it started raining. Tough luck!
  • E di colpo, mi sono girato e le ho chiesto… And suddenly, I turned around and I asked her…
  • Allora lei mi ha detto… Then she told me…
  • Ho pensato che fosse un po' strano... I thought it was a bit strange…
  • E poi, dopo essersene andata… And then, she went away…
  • Non potevo crederci! I couldn’t believe it!
  • Non me lo sarei mai aspettato! I would have never expected that!
  • E comunque… And by the way...
  • Per fortuna avevo il cellulare con me. Luckily, I had my mobile with me.
  • E' successo tutto così in fretta. It all happened so quickly.
  • Alla fine sono arrivato a casa. Finally, I got home.
  • E' stato come in un film. It was like a movie.


Adding emphasis


I remember that when I was learning English, the majority of the time I didn’t know how to tell a story so that the listener would engage with me. When I spoke, I used to focus much more on grammar and accuracy than on emphasis. How wrong I was! I now know that when you are telling a story, you should focus on being creative and adding emphasis so that you can really connect with your listener. In fact, research in Spain has shown that when we listen to an interesting story that is told well, our whole brain is put to work. So, try to make your story not just ordinary, but incredible!


Here are some expressions you can use to add emphasis:


  • Non ci crederai mai, ma… You’re not going to believe this, but…
  • Avresti dovuto sentire / vedere… You should have heard / seen...
  • Figurati che… Imagine that…
  • E la cosa più strana / la cosa più divertente / la cosa migliore / la cosa peggiore è stata… And the strangest thing / funniest thing / best thing / worst thing was…
  • Non ho mai sentito / visto una cosa simile in vita mia. I’ve never heard / seen such a thing in my life…
  • Ma non è finita qui! But it doesn't end there!
  • Pensa che mi è toccato… Imagine that I had to…
  • Meno male che avevo il telefono. Thank goodness I had my telephone.


Ending a story


I know that trying to tell a story in another language can be difficult. However, it might even be harder when attempting to provide a satisfying ending! You want to end it in a memorable way and you may want to surprise, shock, amuse or provide the listener with some useful insight about the experience. Good anecdotes can even change the way people think about things. So, here are some suggestions on how to end a story in Italian.


  • E poi, come se non bastasse… And then, to top it all off…
  • E il bello è che… And the best bit about it is that...
  • Proprio quando pensavo che le cose non potessero andare meglio / peggio è successo che... Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better / worse, it happened that...
  • E non immaginerai mai cos'è successo alla fine… And, you’ll never guess what happened in the end...
  • Fortunatamente, alla fine… Luckily, at the end...


However, hanging on to a topic for too long can make a conversation boring, so it’s a good idea to end with a kind of explanation about what happened:


  • Comunque, per farla breve… Anyway, to cut a long story short…
  • Allora, alla fine, la storia è che... So, in the end, the story is that...
  • Quindi, in poche parole… So, in short...
  • In pratica è saltato fuori che…. / è venuto fuori che… Basically, it turned out that…
  • Insomma... Well / I mean…
  • Be' diciamo solo che è stata una bruttissima serata! Well, let’s just say that it was an awful night!


Reacting to a story


“Oh come on! Really? That’s crazy!”


Do you have trouble finding the proper Italian words to react to what people say to you?  Most of the time, you have them on the tip of your tongue, but for some reason they don’t come out! The following Italian phrases and expressions are all used to show your interest and react to a story someone has told you. Experiment with them next time you speak Italian with a friend or teacher!


  • Ma dai! / Ma va! / Ma va là! Get outta here! What are you talking about?
  • Non ci credo! I can't believe it!
  • Davvero? Really?
  • Scherzi? Stai scherzando? Are you kidding?
  • Pazzesco! Crazy!
  • Incredibile! Unbelievable!
  • Cavoli! Cavolo! What the heck!
  • Mamma mia! Mamma mia!
  • Madonna! Good God!


You should note that Madonna can be considered rude in Catholic environments, as can "oh my God!" However, it's normally very common and can express surprise (good or bad), disapproval, as well as a few more things depending on one’s facial expressions, hand movements and tone...


  • Accidenti! / Caspita! Wow!
  • Oh noooo... Oh noooo…
  • Ma pensa un po’! Just think of that!
  • Ma non mi dire! / non me lo dire! No kidding!
  • ah, ooh, aah… ah, ooh, aah...
  • Cioè… You mean… (request for explanation)
  • Che schifo! Yuck / How gross!
  • Che bello! How beautiful! / How wonderful!
  • Che tristezza! What a shame! / How sad! / What an embarrassment (with disdain)!
  • Che figura! What a poor show!
  • Che brutta figura! / Che figuraccia! What a bad show!
  • Che vergogna! What a shame!
  • Che storia! What a story!




We can use different tenses to tell stories and anecdotes. Jokes (or barzellette in Italian) are often in the present tense:


  • Un bambino va dal padre e dice: Papà cos' è la politica? A child goes to his dad and says: Dad, what is politics?


However, we generally use the passato prossimo or the imperfetto to talk about past events.


  • Avevo una prenotazione per il 10 maggio… I had a booking for the 10th of May...
  • Ho preparato la valigia e infine ho chiamato un taxi. I packed my suitcase and then I called a taxi.


You can also use the past continuous to describe activities in progress at the time of your story, or to describe the background:


  • Stavo andando in bicicletta, quando… I was riding my bike, when...


Furthermore, you don’t always need to tell your story as one chronological event after the other. You can use the past perfect (simple or continuous) to make your story more interesting by talking about things that happened before the events in your story:


  • Ho controllato la mia prenotazione che avevo fatto tre giorni prima. I double checked my reservation, which I had made three days prior.


Remember that using present tenses can make the story seem more real and immediate. Thus, you can switch to the present simple or the present continuous to put the listeners inside the events and make them feel as if they are experiencing it in real-time. This is known as the historic present.




If you want to make your story more interesting, try to use a wide range of words. It is important to try to vary your vocabulary, and remember that you can "exaggerate" when you tell a story. So instead of using words like carino or brutto, experiment with more interesting words, such as fantastico, meraviglioso, orribile, pazzesco, terribile or incredibile.


Finally, remember that when speaking Italian, gestures are very important. Make good eye contact, use the right intonation and try to experiment with gestures as well!


Now, look at these two versions of the same anecdote and compare the differences. Both versions are correct, but the alternative version is a more natural way of telling a story, joke or anecdote in spoken Italian.


Original version


Ero al cinema e stavo guardando un film quando il telefono della persona vicino a me ha incominciato a suonare e ha risposto. Le persone lo guardavano e scuotevano la testa in segno di disapprovazione.


Successivamente arriva anche il proprietario il quale mi dice di uscire dalla sala. Quindi sono dovuto uscire con lui e spiegargli che non era il mio telefono, ma quello della persona seduta vicino a me.


Il proprietario si è scusato e mi ha regalato alcuni biglietti per il cinema. E’ stata una fortuna perché  il film non mi era piaciuto comunque.


Alternative version


Non immaginerai mai cosa mi è successo ieri! Conosci quel cinema in Corso del Popolo? Be’ sono al cinema che sto guardando un film e dopo un po’ comincia a suonare il telefono del tizio vicino a me. Insomma, risponde e comincia parlare senza fine e poi va avanti per ore!


Praticamente tutti si sono girati a guardarlo e a fare ‘no’ con la testa. Il bello è che poi è arrivato il proprietario e mi di ha detto di andare via. Che figuraccia! Cioè, pensava che fossi io al telefono! Te lo immagini?


Mi è toccato andare fuori con lui e spiegargli che non era il mio telefono, ma della persona vicino a me. Meno male che mi ha creduto e alla fine mi ha persino regalato dei biglietti per il cinema. Alla fine mi è andata pure bene perché il film non mi piaceva nemmeno!


Telling stories is a very useful skill for developing your fluency, and practicing this skill should be an important part of learning Italian. To boost your confidence and to get used to speaking Italian fluently, practice telling your personal anecdotes in front of a mirror.


Say every sentence out loud to yourself and focus on speaking fluently instead of correctly. Even if you have nobody to talk to in Italian, you can still build confidence and master fluency on your own time. And if you want to know more or practice this further, be sure to book a lesson with me! I’d love to speak with you!


Image Sources


Hero Image by Thomas Szynkiewicz (CC BY 2.0)