Italian Word of the Day: Coltello (knife)

The word for knife in Italian is coltello. It comes from the Latin cultellus which in turn is the diminutive form of the word culter (knife).

cover image with the word “coltello” and its translation written on a notepad next to a cup of coffee

Here are the definite and indefinite articles that must be used with this masculine noun:

il coltello
the knife

un coltello
a knife

i coltelli
the knives

dei coltelli
(some) knives

A few different kinds of coltelli with which you may be familiar include:

  • coltello da tavola = table knife
  • coltello a scatto = switch-blade
  • coltello da caccia = hunting knife
  • coltello da cucina = kitchen knife
  • coltello da pane = bread knife
  • coltello da tasca = pocket knife
  • coltello multiuso = multi-tool knife

Ci vuole molto tempo prima che i bambini imparino ad usare un coltello correttamente.

It takes a long time for children to learn how to use a knife correctly.

man using whetstone to sharpening chef knife
Sta affilando il coltello = He is sharpening the knife

Coltello can also be used figuratively to denote suffering or violence. For example, un coltello nel cuore (lit. a knife in the heart) is an expression that refers to a painful episode.

L’incarcerazione del figlio fu un coltello nel cuore per il padre.

The son’s imprisonment was a knife in the heart for the father.

Una lotta a coltello / a colpi di coltello (lit. a fight with knives / made with knife blows) means a wild, violent fight, but it can also refer to a tight race between two or more protagonists. A storia di coltello refers to a story filled with drama, feuds and revenge.

Idioms featuring the word ‘coltello’

Avere il coltello dalla parte del manico

Literal translation: to have the knife by the handle
English meaning:to be in an advantageous position, to have the upper hand

Prendere il coltello per la lama

Literal translation: to grab the knife by the blade
English meaning: to shoot oneself in the foot, to cause oneself harm

Avere il coltello / essere con il coltello alla gola

Literal translation: to have a knife / to be with a knife to one’s throat
English meaning: = to have a knife to one’s throat

Affondare il coltello nella piaga

Literal translation: to sink the knife into the wound
English meaning: to rub salt into somebody’s wound

Da tagliarsi con il coltello / che si taglia con il coltello

Literal translation: to be cut with the knife / which is cut with the knife
English meaning: an allusion to something that is very thick, such as fog, or intense, such tension between people (e.g. c’era una nebbia da tagliarsi con il coltello = there was a fog so thick you could cut it with a knife)

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