Every language has its own particularities. When it comes to Italian, you soon realize that some words have double meanings. And figuring out the correct meaning depends on the context in which the word is used. Sometimes you may hear a sentence that seems to have a particular meaning, but that word and the sentence you heard the word in both means something really different.


Some Italians use these double meanings to make jokes as well. As an example, a joke would be with the double meaning and nuance of buttare (to throw away) and buttare la pasta (to put pasta in boiling water in order to cook it). If someone says, Butta la pasta! A funny guy might answer, No, e dopo che mangiamo? (No, what would we eat then?).


So, don’t get confused by Italian words with double meanings! In this article you will find seven Italian words and their double meanings (and even quadruple for one word) explained with clear examples.


What does rice have to do with laughing?



1. Riso


I’ll introduce the first word with an example of a possible misunderstanding. If you ask an Italian person Avete riso?, he or she may answer:


  • Sì, abbiamo riso tantissimo! Yes, we laughed a lot!


  • Sì, ne abbiamo diverse confezioni. Yes, we have various packages of it.


In the first answer, they thought you asked, “Did you laugh?” In the second answer, they thought you asked, “Do you have some rice?”


So the Italian word riso is both the past participle of ridere (to laugh) and the word “rice”.


For a clearer explanation I’ll make an example with both meanings:


First meaning:


  • Che mangiamo a pranzo? Prepariamo un po’ di riso? What will we have for lunch? Shall we prepare some rice?


Second meaning:


  • È davvero divertente! Non avevo mai riso così tanto! It’s really fun! I’ve never laughed like this before!


This double meaning of the word riso is also often used by funny Italians that like to make jokes.


Did you know that Italian has the same word for tongue and language? Let’s see how:



2. Lingua


The Italian word lingua means both “language” and “tongue”.


First meaning:


  • Quante lingue parli? How many languages do you speak? Oltre all’inglese parlo l’italiano. Besides English, I speak Italian.
  • The sentence Ho visto un bel film in lingua means that you watched a movie in its original language. In Italian, we should specify when we watched a movie in lingua, because in Italy all foreign movies are dubbed.


Second meaning:


  • Per parlare usiamo la lingua. To talk, we use the tongue.


When we go to the doctor, he may ask us Tiri fuori la lingua (please stick out your tongue).


I’ll save you from telling the story about the several jokes that those same funny Italians made when the matter is about speaking in a foreign language with an attractive foreigner and the prospect of French kissing him or her…


Now let’s see what connections may come from a music concert and your smartphone…



3. Batteria


The main meanings of the word batteria are “battery”, “accumulator”, “drums”, and “percussions”.


First meaning:


  • Il mio smartphone ha la batteria scarica, posso collegarlo ad una presa? My smartphone is running low on battery, can I plug it in please?


Second meaning:


  • Mio fratello suona la batteria da sette anni, è bravissimo! My brother has been playing the drums for seven years. He’s really good!


The original meaning of the word batteria was “artillery”, and it still has this different meaning in Italian. However, luckily we use this meaning of the word very rarely in comparison with the other meanings I have written.


Have you ever heard the sentence Ho preso una rosa rosa? Here is the explanation of this strange sentence:



4. Rosa


The word rosa means both “rose”, as in the flower; and “pink,” as in the color.


First meaning:


  • Ieri ho portato una rosa a Francesca e lei ne è stata contentissima! Yesterday I brought a rose for Francesca, and she was very happy!


Second meaning:


  • Ho comprato una camicia rosa e tutti mi hanno fatto i complimenti per quanto era bella. I bought a pink shirt and everybody complimented me on it.


…so if you hear the sentence…una rosa rosa, it’s not an echo, but a particular kind of flower.


Now let’s see what a blackberry has to do with a dark-haired girl…



5. Mora


The word mora means both “dark-haired girl” and “blackberry”.


First meaning:


  • Ieri ho conosciuto una mora bellissima, con degli occhi stupendi! Yesterday I met a fantastic dark-haired girl with beautiful eyes.


Second meaning:


  • Stamattina, mentre facevo una passeggiata, ho trovato una mora in un rovo. This morning, while walking, I found a blackberry in a bush.


In Italian we say Ogni rosa ha la sua spina, that is “Every rose has its thorn”, even if it is a pink rose. But the word spina doesn’t always mean “thorn”. Let’s see some other meanings.



6. Spina


The word spina has several meanings. The main ones are:


1. Thorn
2. Plug
3. Fish bone
4. Draught


First meaning:


  • Mentre raccoglievo le more in un cespuglio, mi ha punto una spina. While picking blackberries in a bush, I was stung by a thorn.


Second meaning:


  • Non riesco a trovare una presa per attaccare la spina del televisore. I can’t find a wall socket to plug the television set.


Third meaning:


  • È strano questo pesce: è senza spine. Isn’t it strange, this fish? It has no bones.


Fourth meaning:


  • Da bere prendo una birra alla spina. I’ll have a draught beer.


We now can see that spina has several meanings, so it’s a bit of a tricky word.


Luckily, the next word venti has only two meanings.



7. Venti


The word venti means both “winds” (plural for wind) and the number “twenty”. Let’s see some examples.


First meaning:


  • Meteo: Le temperature scendono, piogge e venti forti in tutta Italia. Weather forecast: Low temperatures, rain, and strong winds all over Italy.


Second meaning:


  • Adesso chiamo la pizzeria e prenoto un tavolo per venti, speriamo ci sia ancora posto! I’m going to call the Pizzeria and reserve a table for twenty. I hope there is still room!


Well then, you are now aware that several Italian words may have more than one meaning to them, and you now know seven of them. You can be sure that the next time you hear or read these words in a sentence, you’ll scan your mind for the right meaning -- and you won’t be deceived.


Continue practicing and studying Italian, and you will discover some other pearls hidden in this fantastic language!


Hero image by Alejandro Alvarez (CC0 1.0)