Getting Emotional in the Italian Language

Nov 22, 2013

Italian emotion face

Le emozioni


Are Italians more emotional? (Sono più emotivi, gli italiani?)

I cannot speak for Italy’s 60 million citizens, but l’italiano certainly echoes with emotionalism (a word with several Italian equivalents: emotività, emozionalità, temperamento emotico). In Italian the verb emozionare translates as "to thrill or excite." And la bella lingua certainly does.

While English-speakers “feel” an emotion, Italians use, not just the verb sentire, but also provare, which can translate as try, test, prove, experience—and try on (as in clothes). The first time I heard an Italian exclaim, “Provo disgusto!”(I feel disgust), I thought she was “trying on” a sense of outrage— quite effectively. You can also “have” emotions in Italian, as in avere paura (to have fear, which implies a sense of both possessing and being possessed).

As in English, le emozioni can be positive o negative. Simply reciting a sampling of positive feelings—coraggio (courage), felicità (happiness), gioia (joy), ottimismo (optimism), soddisfazione (satisfaction), sollievo (relief), speranza (hope)—creates a profound sense of calma (calm). Negative emotions like agitazione (agitation), disperazione (despair), irritazione (irritation), odio (hate) and rabbia (anger) practically whip the soul into a frenzy (which translates into the delectable word forsennatezza).

For students of Italian, emotions are great vocabulary builders because when you learn a noun, such as frustrazione, you can usually figure out the corresponding adjective (frustrato). But stai attento (pay attention)!

You may feel noia (boredom), but you are annoiato (bored). You may experience piacere (pleasure) but you are compiacuto (pleased). And when you respond with compassione, you become compassionevole. Essere vergognoso means to be shy if referring to someone but shameful if referring to something.

So how else might you feel in Italian? Here are some possibilities:

arrabbiato -– annoyed or angry

contento –- content or happy

deluso — disappointed

eccitato — excited

imbarazzato –- embarassed

orgoglioso -– proud

scandalizzato — shocked, outraged

sconvolto — upset

sentimentale — romantic, sentimental

sorpreso –- surprised

spiacente –- sorry

triste — sad

If someone points out that you’re being sensibile, this doesn’t mean you’re practical and level-headed. In Italian, sensibile translates as "sensitive"—which is not such a bad thing to be. You can find a useful lesson and audio guide to the emotions at dante-learning online language school.  

Words and Expressions

Meglio aver paura che buscarne –- better to be afraid than to be sorry.

Esserci del tenero –- “to be some tender in it,” a way of describing a romantic bond between two people

Contento lui, contenti tutti -– “happy he, happy everyone”; as long as he’s happy

Ferire i sentimenti di qualcuno –- to hurt someone’s feelings

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

Click below  for a lilting ode to the emotions:


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