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).

/col·tèl·lo/
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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