Italian Phrases You Won’t Learn in Class: Go figure!

Sep 15, 2014

In our continuing series of posts, Riccardo Cristiani, the head Italian teacher at Dante Learning, helps us understand the different meanings and forms that "figuring" takes in Italian. 

Blog go figure guy

Figurati, figuariamoci, che figura!

A guest post by Riccardo Cristiani

Recently  a student asked me the difference between “figurati,” “figuriamoci”  and “fare una figura” – all very common expressions. A very smart question since if you check the verbs “figurare” and “fare una figura" in an Italian dictionary,  you will see they have many different meanings.   

Figurati and Figuriamoci

• Ti ringrazio per il tuo aiuto. (Thank you for your help,)

Figurati! Non c’è di che.

Figurati literally means “imagine or picture that,” but this translation is sometimes misleading. If you read or hear it after a "grazie,"  it simply means, “You are very welcome, don’t mention it.”  

Another interesting way to say you are welcome in Italian is non c’è di che, literally, there’s nothing to be thankful for. But just as when we say "welcome" in English,  we don’t think about the literal meaning. It’s just an interiezione, an automatic answer.

• La ringrazio per il suo aiuto (I thank you for your help)

• Si figuri!

This is the polite version of the informal thank you–you're welcome formula in the first example. You   change Figurati to Si figuri to say you “are welcome” to a stranger, using the formal Lei.

• Mario ti ha telefonato? (Has Mario phoned you?)

• Figurati! (Figuriamoci!)

This is yet another meaning of figurati and figuriamoci. It implies, "Mario didn't call me — you can picture that  because  you  know how he is."  In this case figurati! means, “of course not, don't even mention that, you know the answer."

We can use the first-person plural figuriamoci (noi — we), which has the same meaning  but with an impersonal tone. "Figuriamoci se il capo mi darà un aumento."  (My boss will never give me a salary increase, we already know that, don't we?)

Another difference between figurati and figuriamoci is that we don’t usually use the latter to mean “you are welcome.”.

Figurati and figuriamoci can also reinforce a previous statement, as in the English “let alone…”:

• Non mi piace molto il pesce, figuriamoci quello crudo. (I don’t much like fish, let alone when raw.)

Non ho tempo per leggere il giornale, figuriamoci un libro! (I dont have time to read the newspaper, let alone a book!)

Figurati or figuriamoci also can translate as an ironic "tell me about it!"

• Come al solito Stefano non si è ricordato del nostro anniversario, figurati! (As usual Stefano forgot about our anniversary,  tell me about it!)

* Firenze in estate è piena di turisti come al solito, figuriamoci! (Florence in the summer is full of tourists. Tell me something I don’t know.)

If you try using figurati and figuriamoci in conversations, your spoken Italian will sound more natural to native speakers.

Figurarsi and Fare Una Figura

Phrases such as fare una brutta/bella figura or che figura! are tough to translate into English. If we go for “to make a bad impression,” we think about somebody who didn’t positively impress other people .

Che figura! is different and refers to an embarrassing event, that is, a single episode  as in "Mentre parlavo avevo la cerniera aperta, che figura!" (When I was talking, the fly of my pants was open, che figura!)

In Italian, the suffix –accia gives a negative meaning to almost every word, for example, Che figuraccia! (What an embarrassment!) If we don’t say bella or brutta before figura, it means brutta by default:  Che (brutta) figura!

The opposite is fare una bella figura. In this case we can safely translate it as “to make a good impression,” not necessarily related to a single event. Visit our site and listen to the examples in this article with our free podcast.

Dante-Learning is an online Italian language school based in Milan and Tokyo, with students from many countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan.

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.  Click here to read her other blog, "Discovering Mona Lisa." 

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