When I was a kid back in Canada, my friends and I used to have competitions in class to see who could roll their Rs the longest, much to our teachers’ chagrin. Now, I don’t have many claims to fame from my school years, but I can proudly say that when it came to tongue trilling, I was always the winner.
Little did I know that this seemingly useless skill would serve me well later on in life when I moved to Italy – the land of the rolled R!
This sound is one of the most distinctive in Italian, and is also one of the hardest for English people to pronounce. You can substitute it with either the English R (alveolar approximant) or the rolled French R (voiced uvular fricative), but doing so will give your accent a distinctly foreign sound. In short, try you best to master the rolled R if you want to sound as Italian as possible!
There are numerous words that start with the letter R, some of which are the most beautiful in the Italian language. Let’s take a look at a few of my favourites now!
1. Ruscello (stream)
One of the most pleasant sounds to the human ear is that of a babbling brook. In Italian, the word for a brook, stream or creek is ruscello which, to me, is more evocative of flowing water than any of its English equivalents!
Ascoltavo il ruscello e guardavo l’acqua scorrere.
I listened to the stream and watched the water flow.
2. Rubinetto (faucet / tap)
When you want to wash your hands, there is only one logical place to go: the lavandino (sink) where you turn on the rubinetto. Personally, I feel the faucet is rather undeserving of such a romantic sounding word, don’t you?
Ricordati di chiudere il rubinetto quando ti lavi i denti.
Remember to turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.
3. Respiro (breath / breather)
The word respiro can be used to refer to both breath (air taken into or expelled from the lungs) or breather (a brief pause for rest). It shares the same origin as the word respire in English, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to remember!
Il mio primo bacio mi lasciò senza respiro.
My first kiss took my breath away.
4. Rossetto (lipstick)
Going on a date? Then you might want to slap on some rossetto! This word, which means lipstick, derives from the adjective rosso or “red” in Italian and literally translates as little red.
Marcella si mette sempre un rossetto troppo carico.
Marcella’s lipstick is always too bright.
5. Risotto (risotto)
Anyone who enjoys Italian cuisine will already be familiar with the word risotto, a delicious dish of rice cooked in stock with ingredients such as vegetables, meat or seafood. Unsurprisingly the word sounds as pleasant as the dish itself!
Mia mamma ha preparato un buonissimo risotto con gli spinaci.
My mum prepared a delicious risotto with spinach.
6. Ritratto (portrait)
A photograph, painting or sketch depicting a person (especially a face) is called a ritratto in Italian. It comes from the verb ritrarre meaning “to paint, sketch, or portray”.
C’è un ritratto dei miei nonni sul muro.
There is a portrait of my grandparents on the wall.
7. Rosa (rose)
It’s pretty easy to guess the meaning of rosa given that it sounds very similar to the English. But with the added ‘a’ on the end, it sounds so much sweeter!
Dovrei regalare una rosa alla mia ragazza?
Should I give a rose to my girlfriend?
8. Rinascere (to be reborn)
The verb rinascere can take on the literal meaning of being “reborn” or the metaphorical sense of getting a new lease of life after a period of strife. Either way, it is a beautiful word with an equally beautiful meaning.
Mi sono sentito rinascere dopo tutte le difficoltà che ho attraversato.
I felt like a new person after all the difficulties I overcame.
9. Rimbalzare (to bounce)
The fun Italian word rimbalzare means to bounce and is mostly used when referring to bouncy objects like balls.
Questa palla di gomma rimbalza bene.
This rubber ball bounces well.
10. Rigoglioso (lush)
If your friend has a garden that is verdant and abound with blooms, you could say that it is rigoglioso or lush / luxuriant. You can also use it to describe a person who is thriving or blooming.
Un giardino rigoglioso è il sogno di qualsiasi amante degli spazi verdi.
A lush garden is the dream of any lover of green spaces.
Learn how to roll your Rs like a pro by following the instructions in this video by our friends at My Italian Circle! We know you can do it!
Do you have a favourite Italian word beginning with R you’d like to share? If so, why not leave us a comment below!
Heather Broster is a graduate with honours in linguistics from the University of Western Ontario. She is an aspiring polyglot, proficient in English and Italian, as well as Japanese, Welsh, and French to varying degrees of fluency. Originally from Toronto, Heather has resided in various countries, notably Italy for a period of six years. Her primary focus lies in the fields of language acquisition, education, and bilingual instruction.