Italian Word of the Day: Disfare (to undo)

The word disfare in Italian is a combination of the prefix dis- (the equivalent of the English prefix un-) and the verb fare (to do / make).

/di·sfà·re/

In addition to the verb to undo, which is the most literal translation, there are multiple ways of expressing this word in English, and as always, the surrounding context is key. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common scenarios in which disfare is used:

  • disfare un nodo = to undo / untie a knot
  • disfare un letto = to strip / take the sheets off a bed
  • disfare una valigia = to unpack a suitcase
  • disfare un pacco = to unwrap a package
  • disfare un lavoro a maglia = to unravel knitting
  • disfare una candela = to melt a candle
  • disfare un motore = to dismantle a motor
  • disfare una fasciatura = to unwind a bandage

Sono tornato a casa la settimana scorsa ma non ho ancora disfatto la valigia!

I came back home last week but I haven’t unpacked my suitcase yet!


Per favore disfate i vostri letti: voglio lavare le lenzuola.

Please strip your beds: I want to wash the sheets.


As you can see, in every case the verb involves the act of breaking down, destroying or dismantling something that has been done or made.

Black couple changing bed sheet together
Disfiamo il letto, amore? – Shall we take the sheets off the bed, love?

Disfare also exists in its reflexive form disfarsi, in which case it means to get rid of or to rid oneself of. It can be used for people and things as in the two examples below:

  • disfarsi di vecchi vestiti = to get rid of old clothes
  • disfarsi di un seccatore = to get rid of an annoying person

Voglio disfarmi di queste vecchie riviste. Ce ne sono troppe e occupano spazio.

I want to get rid of these old magazines. There are too many of them and they take up space.


You can also use disfare to say that you’re clearing a house (disfare la casa).

When disfarsi is an intransitive pronominal verb rather than a reflexive verb, some of the most common translations include:

  • to rot >> la frutta si disfa = the fruit rots
  • to melt >> la neve si disfa = the snow melts
  • to come undone >> il nodo si disfa = the knot comes undone
  • to pine >> disfarsi in lacrime = to cry one’s eyes out

Finally, we have the phrase È lui che fa e disfa (lit: He’s the one who does and undoes) which denotes a person who acts as he wishes.


Disfare: one verb, multiple conjugations

What’s interesting and somewhat perplexing about disfare, in contrast with many other verbs based upon fare (to do / to make), is that there are two conjugations possible for various tenses.

For example, all pronouns except voi (you plural) have two versions for the present tense, as you can see below. (The stressed syllable is underlined.)

io disfoio disfaccioI undo
tu disfitu disfaiyou undo (informal)
lui / lei disfa
Lei disfa
lui / lei disfa
Lei disfa
he / she / undoes
you undo (formal)
noi disfiamonoi disfacciamowe undo
voi disfatevoi disfateyou undo (plural)
loro disfanoloro disfannothey undo

The version in the second column follows the conjugation of the verb fare, whereas the version in the first column is the “irregular” form but the one to which my husband is more accustomed.

The Accademia della Crusca shows four tenses that use multiple conjugations (present, present subjunctive, future and conditional), although not all of them have two versions for each pronoun. Some aren’t very well-documented or are considered in disuse.

And if that weren’t enough, other sources like Garzanti show even more examples with additional tenses!

So, which is the correct version? Well, they both are. From a grammatical point of view, the verb should follow the conjugation of its base verb. So if I do is Io faccio, I undo should be Io disfaccio. But as we all know, languages are in constant evolution. The second version of disfare exists and is widely recognised. It likely started out as colloquial Italian before making its way in the written language too.

Did you know that…?
The only other verb based on fare in Italian that follows a similar conjugation pattern to disfare is soddisfare (to satisfy).


Fare e Disfare by Cesare Cremonini

The song is part of Cesare Cremonini’s fifth studio album Logico (logical).

Ho una città dai marciapiedi di roccia
Così forti e antichi che non temono la pioggia
E se c’è il sole ci posso camminare
Ma non so con chi parlare

Eppure c’è qualcuno che lo sa chi sono
Qualcuno che non deve chiedermi perdono
Ma quando il vino delle tre sta per finire
Non sa più che cosa dire, eh

Vorrei fermare il tempo e viaggiare
Svegliarsi lontano non può farci male
Crescendo senza perdere tempo
Lasciandosi portare dal vento
Guarire ogni male
E poi fare e disfare
E poi fare e disfare
E poi fare e disfare

Ho camminato scarpe piene di rabbia
Per così tanto che ora non temono la sabbia
Ma quando vedo il sole nascere o morire
Ho già voglia di partire

Eppure c’è una strada che non sa chi sono
Uno specchio a cui non chiedere perdono
Per quella strana voglia di essere migliore di come sono, eh

Vorrei fermare il tempo e viaggiare
Svegliarsi lontano non può farci male
Crescendo senza perdere tempo
Lasciandosi portare dal vento
Guarire ogni male
E poi fare e disfare
E poi fare e disfare
E poi fare e disfare

I have a city with sidewalks made of rock
So strong and ancient that they don’t fear the rain
And if it’s sunny I can walk along them
But I don’t know who to talk
to

Yet there is someone who knows who I am
Someone who doesn’t need to ask me for forgiveness
But when the three o’clock wine is about to run out
He doesn’t know what to say

I would like to stop time and travel
Waking up far away can’t harm us
Growing up without wasting time
Letting the wind carry us
To heal every pain
And then do and undo
And then do and undo
And then do and undo

I walked in shoes full of anger
For so long that now they don’t fear the sand
But when I see the sun rise and set
I already want to leave

Yet there is a road that doesn’t know who I am
A mirror to which you cannot ask for forgiveness
For that strange wish to be better than what I am

I would like to stop time and travel
Waking up far away can’t harm us
Growing up without wasting time
Letting the wind carry us
To heal every pain
And then do and undo
And then do and undo
And then do and undo

Leave a Comment