Italian You Won’t Learn in Class: Prego

Nov 30, 2015

As part of a continuing series on Italian you may not learn in class, Valeria Biancalani, an Italian teacher and the founder of Parlando Italiano, has written this guest post.

Ti prego

What does prego mean in Italian?

by Valeria Biancalani

If you have ever been to Italy or have just listened to Italian people talking, I'm sure that you have heard this word many times. But what exactly does prego mean in Italian? (Che significa esattamente prego in italiano?)

The most common translation in English is "You are welcome," but this is not the only one. In fact, this word is used in many different situations and with several meanings that change depending on the context. Let's learn about them together:

• "You're welcome"

You may already know that prego is normally used in response to thanks. In fact, when someone says "thank you" to us  (quando qualcuno ci dice grazie), in Italian we answer by saying "prego" (in italiano rispondiamo dicendo prego).  For example:    

    A: Ho un regalo per te (I have a present for you)

    B: Grazie! (Thank you!)

    A: Prego (You're welcome)


If we don't understand what our interlocutor is saying to us (quando non capiamo quello che il nostro interlocutore ci sta dicendo) or if they tell us something so unusual or unexpected that we can't believe it, we normally ask them to repeat it by saying "Prego?"

    A: Fra una settimana mi sposo (I'm going to get married in a week).

    B: Prego? (Sorry?)

    A: Fra una settimana mi sposo (I'm going to get married in a week).

    B: Veramente? Auguri! (Really? Congratulations!)

In this case, when we say "prego?" it's very important that we use the right intonation in order to emphasise the uncertainty of the question.

• "After you," "You first," etc. (Polite forms)

Prego can be used as an expression of courtesy (una forma di cortesia) to suggest, for example, if people are waiting in line, that someone goes ahead of another person and also as a polite way of telling someone to enter or to take a seat (per dire a qualcuno di entrare o di accomodarsi).

    A: Buongiorno, Signor Mancini (Good morning, Mr Mancini).

    B: Buongiorno Signor Rossi. Prego, si accomodi (Good morning, Mr Rossi. Please, take a seat).

    A: Grazie (Thank you).

As you can see, when we use prego as an expression of courtesy, we can sometimes translate it in English with "please."

Another example of this use of prego could be:

    A: Questi pasticcini sono proprio buoni. Posso prenderne un altro? (These pastries are really good. Can I have another one?)

    B: Prego! (Yes, please!)

*"I pray"

The Italian word prego comes from the verb pregare (to pray). Prego is the first singular person of this verb in the present tense. For example: Prego sempre il Signore di proteggere i miei figli. (I always pray for God to protect my sons.)

    Click here to watch a video about the different meanings of prego.

Valeria Biancalani is an Italian teacher and the founder of Parlando Italiano, an Italian language school that offers Italian lessons online with native and qualified tutors. 

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered, now in paperback, and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.




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