Italian Word of the Day: Attraversare (to cross / go through)

An Italian word that many of our readers have asked us to write about is the verb attraversare. If you haven’t watched many Hollywood films set in Italy, you might be curious about why this word is so popular. Let’s discover the reason now!

/at·tra·ver·sà·re/ – [attraverˈsare]
italian word attraversare

In the movie Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts’ character embarks on a journey of self-discovery, traveling to three different countries, including Italy. During her time there, she becomes enamoured with the word attraversiamo, the first-person plural form of attraversare, appreciating both its phonetically pleasing sound and meaningful essence. You can watch the moment she discovers the word in the clip below.

Now, in the film, the word is described as meaning “to cross over,” which is accurate, but it also has the simpler meanings of “to cross” or “to go through.” One phrase I say to my son every day is:

Some other obstacles you can attraversare include rivers (fiumi), tunnels (gallerie), ponti (bridges), railway tracks (binari) and woods (boschi) to name a few.

Depending on what you are crossing, and how you cross it, the translation for attraversare will vary. For instance, while in English we say “to walk / swim / bike / ride / fly across / through (something)” using a specific action verb, Italians generally use the verb attraversare followed by the means or manner of transportation.

  • to run across / through = attraversare di corsa
  • to bike across / through = attraversare in bicicletta
  • to drive across / through = attraversare in macchina
  • to fly across / through = attraversare in aereo
Hike in Wind River Range in Wyoming, USA. Autumn season.
Come facciamo ad attraversare il fiume? = How are we going to cross the river?

Attraversare is a regular -ARE verb, so it conjugates like this in the present tense:

(io) attraverso = I cross

(tu) attraversi = you cross (informal, sing.)

(lui) attraversa = he crosses

(lei) attraversa = she crosses

(Lei) attraversa = you cross (formal, sing.)

(noi) attraversiamo = we cross

(voi) attraversate = you cross (plural)

(loro) attraversano = they cross

And since many of you are keen on knowing more about the first-person plural form, it’s worth noting that attraversiamo can signify both “we cross” or “let’s cross,” depending on the context. Compare the two example sentences below:

  • Dai, attraversiamo la strada. Il semaforo è verde! = Come on, let’s cross the street. The traffic light is green!
  • Se attraversiamo qui, ci mettiamo solo cinque minuti per arrivare a casa. = If we cross here, it will only take five minutes to get home.
Young woman crossing a suspension bridge.
Sta per attraversare il lungo ponte. = She’s about to cross the long bridge.

Of course, like many verbs, attraversare also embodies a figurative meaning, which is “to go through” “to cross” or “to experience“.

For example, you can attraversare un periodo difficile (go through a difficult period) and a thought can attraversare la mente (go through one’s mind).

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