50 Common Italian Words Used in the English Language

There are literally hundreds of words in the English language that sound or look similar to their Italian equivalents. This isn’t because Italian had a direct influence on English but rather because French, an extremely similar Romance language, has existed in various dialectal forms on the British Isles since the time of the Norman Conquest in the 11th century.

In this article, I’m not going to be investigating Italian-sounding words that arrived through French. If I did, I’d be writing about almost 30% of today’s modern English vocabulary! Rather, I plan to focus on 50 common Italian words in English that arrived through Italian and, for the most part, still resemble Italian in terms of their pronunciation and spelling.

Iniziamo! Let’s begin! 馃檪


Common Italian Words Used in English


1. Volcano

Entered English in the 17th century from Italian.

English meaning: a mountain or hill with a crater or vent through which lava, rock fragments, hot vapour, and gas erupt from the earth’s crust

  • Plural: volcanoes or volcanos

Italian meaning: spelled vulcano; identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: vulcani
IPA: /vul藞ka.no/

2. Lava

Entered English in the 18th century from the Neapolitan dialect. Refers to lava stream from Vesuvius.

English meaning: hot molten rock erupted from a volcano

  • Plural: lavas

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: lave
IPA: /l脿路va/

3. Influenza

Entered English in the 18th century after an influenza epidemic broke out in Italy.

English meaning: a contagious viral infection of the respiratory passages, often abbreviated to flu

  • Plural: influenzas

Italian meaning: literally influence but can also refer to the respiratory infection

  • Plural: influenze
IPA: /influ藞蓻ntsa/

4. Fiasco

Entered English in the 19th century.

English meaning: a complete failure

  • Plural: fiascos

Italian meaning: to fail in a performance (figurative), a bottle or flask (literal)

  • Plural: fiaschi
IPA: /fi脿路sco/

5. Finale

Entered English in the mid-18th century.

English meaning: the last part of a piece of music or event

  • Plural: finales

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning but it can also mean final, end, conclusive (ex. il capitolo finale = the final chapter)

  • Plural: finali
IPA: /fi藞na.le/

6. Scenario

Entered English in the late 19th century.

English meaning: a written outline of the plot and scenes of a novel, film or stage work; a postulated sequence of events

  • Plural: scenarios

Italian meaning: scenery, view or landscape; a postulated sequence of events; backdrop or set of a film / theatrical performance

  • Plural: scenari
IPA: /蕛e藞narjo/

7. Solo

Entered English in the late 17th century as a musical term.

English meaning: for or done by one person alone; a musical or dance performance for one performer

  • Plural: solos

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; additional meanings include only, just and lonely

  • Plural: soli | Feminine: sola | Plural feminine: sole
IPA: /藞so.lo/

8. Opera

Entered English in the mid 17th century.

English meaning: a dramatic work with multiple acts set to music for singers and instrumentalists; the building where an opera is performed; a genre of classical music

  • Plural: operas

Italian meaning: a dramatic work with multiple acts set to music for singers and instrumentalists; a piece or work of art; a construction project; a creation

  • Plural: opere
IPA: /藞蓴.pe.ra/

9. Spaghetti

Entered English in the late 19th century when Italian immigrants moved to America.

English meaning: a noodle pasta; an Italian dish with noodle pasta and sauce

  • Plural: spaghetti (mass noun)

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Singular: spaghetto
IPA: /spa藞伞etti/

10. Pizza

Entered English in the early 19th century but only became popular when Italians began immigrating to the United States and Canada.

English meaning: a dish of Italian origin consisting of flat dough, tomatoes and cheese as well as other ingredients

  • Plural: pizzas

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; can also be an expression of boredom (Che pizza! = How dull!); a film canister

  • Plural: pizze
IPA: /藞pit.tsa/

11. Panini

Entered English in the mid 20th century.

English meaning: a toasted sandwich made with Italian bread

  • Plural: paninis or panini

Italian meaning: the plural of panino, which means sandwich or bread roll

  • Singular: panino
IPA: /pa路n矛路ni/

12. Pepperoni

Entered English in the early 20th century.

English meaning: a sausage seasoned with pepper; the pepperoni pizza is the classic American pizza

  • Plural: pepperonis

Italian meaning: peperoni (spelled with one p) is the plural of peperone which means pepper (referring to the fruit of the capsicum plant)

  • Singular: peperone
IPA: /pe路pe路r贸路ni/

13. Lasagna

English meaning: pasta in the form of sheets; an Italian dish consisting of lasagna noodles, cheese, meat/vegetables; may also be spelled lasagne when referring to the dish

  • Plural: lasagnes

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning but lasagna (singular) refers to the noodles whereas lasagne (plural) refers to the dish

  • Plural: lasagne
IPA: /la藞za刹.刹a/

14. Pasta

Entered English in the late 19th century.

English meaning: a dish from Italy consisting of dough made from durum wheat and water, which is stamped into various shapes and cooked in boiling water.

  • Plural: pastas

Italian meaning: in addition to the English meaning, it can also refer to dough, paste or pastry. Figuratively it can mean temperament or character.

  • Plural: paste
IPA: /p脿路sta/

15. Gelato

English meaning: an Italian style ice cream

  • Plural: gelatos

Italian meaning: ice cream; literally it means chilled

  • Plural: gelati
IPA: /d蕭e藞la.to/

16. Broccoli

Entered English in the mid 17th century.

English meaning: a variety of cabbage with heads of green or purplish flower buds

  • Plural: broccoli (mass noun)

Italian meaning: the plural of broccolo; same meaning as the English

  • Singular: broccolo
IPA: /藞br蓴kkoli/

17. Scampi

English meaning: Norway lobsters that have been prepared and cooked

  • Plural: scampi

Italian meaning: the plural of scampo; same meaning as the English

  • Singular: scampo
IPA: /sc脿m路pi/

18. Diva

Entered English in the late 19th century.

English meaning: a famous female opera or pop singer; a temperamental person (usually a woman) who is difficult to please

  • Plural: divas

Italian meaning: the feminine singular of divo meaning celebrity; diva can also refer to a temperamental woman just as in English

  • Masculine singular: divo | Masculine plural: divi | Feminine plural: dive
IPA: /d矛路va/

19. Ballerina

Entered English in the late 18th century.

English meaning: a female ballet dancer; also used to describe ballet flats (type of shoe)

  • Plural: ballerinas

Italian meaning: feminine of ballerino which means dancer, comes from the verb ballare (to dance); a kind of shoe

  • Masculine singular: ballerino | Plural: ballerini | Feminine plural: ballerine
IPA: /bal路le路r矛路na/

20. Duo

Entered English in the late 16th century as a musical term.

English meaning: a duet in music; a pair of people or things in music or entertainment

  • Plural: duos

Italian meaning: a pair of performers in music or entertainment

  • Plural: duo
IPA: /藞du.o/

21. Soprano

Entered English in the mid 18th century.

English meaning: the highest singing voice; a soprano singer; also used to describe instruments with a high pitch

  • Plural: sopranos

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; can also be used in geography to mean upper in reference to a place

  • Plural: soprani
IPA: /so路pr脿路no/

22. Terracotta

Entered English in the early 18th century.

English meaning: a type of fired clay that is brownish-red in colour; a colour; can also be spelled terra-cotta

  • Plural: terracotta

Italian meaning: can be used to refer to the fired clay or an artefact made with the clay

  • Plural: terracotte
IPA: /ter路ra路c貌t路ta/

23. Motto

Entered English in the late 16th century.

English meaning: a phrase that encapsulates the beliefs or ideals of an individual, family or institution; a recurring phrase with a symbolic significance in music

  • Plural: mottos or mottoes

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; can also mean quip or remark and in very rare literary cases, word

  • Plural: motti
IPA: /藞m蓴t.to/

24. Stanza

Entered English in the late 16th century.

English meaning: a recurring verse in a poem

  • Plural: stanzas

Italian meaning: a recurring verse in a poem; a room in a building

  • Plural: stanze
IPA: /st脿n路za/

25. Extravaganza

Entered English in the mid 18th century in reference to extravagant language or behaviour.

English meaning: an elaborate entertainment or production

  • Plural: extravaganzas

Italian meaning: spelled stravaganza; bizzare, overindulgent or eccentric behaviour

  • Plural: stravaganze
IPA: /stra路va路g脿n路za/

26. Ciabatta

English meaning: a flat Italian bread with a floury crust

  • Plural: ciabattas

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; also means slipper (footwear), power strip, multi-plug adapter and wreck

  • Plural: ciabatte
IPA: /t蕛a藞batta/

27. Minestrone

English meaning: a soup containing vegetables and pasta

  • Plural: none

Italian meaning: identical meaning to the English; can also mean hodgepodge or melting pot. In a figurative sense, it means confusing or mess.

  • Plural: minestroni
IPA: /mi.ne藞stro.ne/

28. Mozzarella

English meaning: a white Italian cheese made from buffalo or cow’s milk, often used as a topping on pizzas

  • Plural: mozzarella (mass noun)

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; can also mean a very pale person or a couch potato

  • Plural: mozzarelle
IPA: /mot.tsa藞r蓻l.la/

29. Pistachio

The late middle English pistace was superseded by the Italian pistaccio (now pistacchio) in the 16th century.

English meaning: an edible green seed; also the tree that produces the seeds

  • Plural: pistachios

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; spelled pistacchio

  • Plural: pistacchi
IPA: /pis藞tak.kjo/

30. Magenta

Entered English in the mid 19th century.

English meaning: a light mauvish-crimson colour; a reddish dye; one of the primary subtractive colours

  • Plural: none

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; named after the town Magenta in the province of Milan

  • Plural: none
IPA: /ma路g猫n路ta/

31. Zucchini

English meaning: another word for courgette, the immature fruit of a vegetable marrow

  • Plural: zucchinis or zucchini

Italian meaning: zucchine with an e is the plural of zucchina which is the diminutive of zucca (squash or pumpkin); refers to the same fruit as the English. Note that in certain dialects and regions, Italians use the masculine version, zucchino and zucchini which often refers to the plant that produces the vegetable.

  • Singular: zucchina
IPA: /zuc路ch矛路ne/

32. Stiletto

Entered English in the early 17th century.

English meaning: a woman’s shoe with a thin high heel; a short dagger with a tapering blade

  • Plural: stilettos

Italian meaning: only refers to the dagger; stiletto shoes are tacchi a spillo in Italian

  • Plural: stiletti
IPA: /sti路l茅t路to/

33. Casino

Entered English in the mid 18th century

English meaning: a building where gambling games are played

  • Plural: casinos

Italian meaning: can be a brothel or a term to describe a mess or chaos; also translates as racket or row; casin貌 with an accent on the o describes a gambling location

  • Plural: casini (casin貌 remains the same)
IPA: /ka.zi藞n蓴/

34. Mafia

English meaning: an organised international body of criminals based in Italy and the US; any organised group that acts like the Mafia

  • Plural: mafia

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: mafie
IPA: /m脿路fia/

35. Riviera

Entered English in the mid 18th century.

English meaning: a coastal region with a subtropical climate and vegetation such as the French Riviera

  • Plural: rivieras

Italian meaning: literally means coast, coastline or shore

  • Plural: riviere
IPA: /ri藞vj蓻.ra/

36. Ghetto

Entered English in the early 17th century.

English meaning: a part of the city occupied by minority groups, historically used in reference to the Jewish population; an isolated or segregated group or area

  • Plural: ghettos or ghettoes

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: ghetti
IPA: /藞伞etto/

37. Propaganda

English meaning: misleading or biased information used to promote a point of view or political cause; a committee of Roman Catholic cardinals responsible for foreign missions

  • Plural: propaganda (mass noun)

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: propagande
IPA: /pro路pa路g脿n路da/

38. Paparazzi

Entered English in the 1960s from the film La Dolce Vita.

English meaning: a group of freelance photographers who pursue celebrities to photograph them

  • Singular: paparazzo (not as commonly used as paparazzi)

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Singular: paparazzo
IPA: /pa路pa路r脿z路zi/

39. Malaria

Entered English in the mid 18th century.

English meaning: a fever caused by a parasite that invades the red blood cells, transmitted by female mosquitoes and common in tropical regions

  • Plural: none

Italian meaning: Identical to the English meaning. Literally translates to bad air (mal and aria)

  • Plural: malarie
IPA: /ma路l脿路ria/

40. Graffiti

Entered English in the mid 19th century.

English meaning: a writing or drawing scratched or sprayed on to a public surface such as a wall

  • Plural: graffiti

Italian meaning: plural of graffito which means a piece of graffiti; also used in archaeology to refer to prehistoric art; the past participle of the verb graffiare (to scratch)

  • Singular: graffito
IPA: /伞raf藞fi.ti/

41. Tarantula

Entered English in the 16th century.

English meaning: a large hairy spider found in tropical and subtropical America

  • Plural: tarantulas

Italian meaning: spelled tarantola in Italian; identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: tarantole
IPA: /ta路r脿n路to路la/

42. Bruschetta

English meaning: toasted Italian bread with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes

  • Plural: bruschettas

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning; can also refer to the children’s game drawing straws

  • Plural: bruschette
IPA: /brus藞ket.ta/

43. Confetti

Entered English in the early 19th century.

English meaning: small pieces of coloured paper thrown during a celebration

  • Plural: none

Italian meaning: plural of confetto which means a sugared almond sweet or pill; confetti are called coriandoli in Italian

  • Singular: confetto
IPA: /con路f猫t路ti/

44. Tombola

Entered English in the late 19th century from French or Italian.

English meaning: a game in which you draw tickets out of a revolving drum and win prizes

  • Plural: tombolas

Italian meaning: can refer to the game or the revolving drum itself

  • Plural: tombole
IPA: /t贸m路bo路la/

45. Cappuccino

From the Italian Capuchin because its colour resembles that of a Capuchin’s garment.

English meaning: a type of frothy coffee made with espresso and milk

  • Plural: cappuccinos

Italian meaning: identical to the English meaning

  • Plural: cappuccini
IPA: /cap路puc路c矛路no/

46. Macaroni

Entered English in the late 17th century.

English meaning: a type of pasta in the shape of narrow tubes; the pasta dish

  • Plural: macaronies

Italian meaning: spelled maccheroni; the plural of maccherone meaning the type of pasta

  • Singular: maccherone
IPA: /mac路che路r贸路ni/

47. Gonzo

Entered English in the 1970s from the Italian gonzo or the Spanish ganso.

English meaning: an exaggerated style of journalism; bizarre or crazy; a popular character in the Muppets

  • Plural: gonzos

Italian meaning: a fool, idiot or sucker

  • Plural: gonzi | Feminine: gonza | Feminine plural: gonze
IPA: /g贸n路岷搊/

48. Biscotti

English meaning: small rectangular biscuits containing nuts

  • Plural: biscottis

Italian meaning: plural of biscotto meaning biscuit or cookie; also refers to twice baked bread

  • Singular: biscotto
IPA: /bi藞sk蓴t.ti/

49. Piccolo

Entered English in the mid 19th century.

English meaning: a small flute sounding an octave higher than an ordinary flute

  • Plural: piccolos

Italian meaning: means small or tiny; a nickname for a baby or small child; the piccolo flute is called an ottavino in Italian

  • Plural: piccoli | Feminine: piccola | Feminine plural: piccole
IPA: /藞pik.ko.lo/

50. Vendetta

Entered English in the mid 19th century.

English meaning: when the family of a murdered person seeks revenge on the murderer and his/her family; a prolonged quarrel or campaign against someone

  • Plural: vendettas

Italian meaning: can mean either revenge in any sense of the word or punishment

  • Plural: vendette
IPA: /ven藞det.ta/