15 Italian Idiomatic Expressions with ‘Avere’ (to have)

Avere (to have) is one of the most important words in the Italian language. Not only does it function on its own as a verb but it also forms an essential component of compound tenses such as the passato prossimo (present perfect) and futuro anteriore (future perfect). For this reason, it appears in numerous idiomatic expressions in the Italian language.

Below we’ve listed fifteen of the most frequently used idioms with the verb avere. Some you may recognise due to a similar expression existing in English, whereas others will be completely unfamiliar. We hope you enjoy using them with your Italian friends and family!


1. Avere le braccine corte

Literal translation: to have short arms
English meaning:
to be cheap, stingy (because your arms are too short to reach into your pocket for your wallet)


2. Non avere peli sulla lingua

Literal translation: to not have hairs on your tongue
English meaning:
to not mince your words


3. Avere molto sale in zucca

Literal translation: to have lots of salt in your pumpkin
English meaning:
to be smart, to have common sense


4. Avere gli occhi più grandi dello stomaco

Literal translation: to have eyes bigger than your stomach
English meaning:
to have eyes bigger than your stomach


5. Avere un cervello di gallina

Literal translation: to have a hen’s brain
English meaning:
to not be very intelligent

Trivia: Interestingly, scientific research has proven that the small head and brain of the chicken (and other birds) is not synonymous with a lack of intelligence. A chicken has the same number of neurones as a small primate. It can remember and share information with other chickens, and it can recognise a face. It can also calculate volume and distinguish various quantities. Source: Corriere

hen at an organic farm

6. Avere il dente avvelenato

Literal translation: to have a poisonous tooth
English meaning:
to be full of resentment or to hold a grudge against someone


7. Avere culo

Literal translation: to have ass
English meaning:
to be lucky

Note that culo, although a very popular word in the spoken language, is not the most elegant word in Italian to describe the backside. Less vulgar terms include sedere and didietro.


8. Avere un piede nella fossa

Literal translation: to have one foot in the grave
English meaning:
to have one foot in the grave


9. Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca

Literal translation: to have a full barrel and a drunk wife
English meaning:
to have your cake and eat it too


10. Avere le mani in pasta

Literal translation: to have your hands in the dough
English meaning:
to have a finger in the pie, to be involved

dough for bread in someone's hands

11. Avere le mani d’oro

Literal translation: to have gold hands
English meaning:
to be gifted in doing things


12. Avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto / avere le fette di salame sugli occhi

Literal translation: to have eyes covered in ham / to have slices of salami on your eyes
English meaning:
not seeing or not wanting to see something obvious


13. Avere un chiodo fisso in testa

Literal translation: to have a nail fixed to your head
English meaning:
to be obsessed with something


14. Avere le mani bucate

Literal translation: to have holes in your hands
English meaning:
to be a big spender


15. Avere le mani legate

Literal translation: to have tied hands
English meaning:
to have your hands tied

hands tied with a rope

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