Italian Word of the Day: Orso (bear)

The word for bear in Italian is orso and it derives from the Latin word ursus.

italian word for bear

It is a masculine noun that takes the following definite and indefinite articles:

  • l’orso = the bear
  • gli orsi = the bears
  • un orso = a bear
  • (degli) orsi = (some) bears

Today only eight species of bear are still in existence:

  • orso polare / bianco (polar bear)
  • orso bruno (brown bear)
  • orso del bambù / panda gigante (giant panda)
  • orso nero / baribal (North American black bear)
  • orso dal collare / orso tibetano (Asian black bear)
  • orso dagli occhiali (spectacled bear)
  • orso giocoliere (sloth bear)
  • orso malese (sun bear)
close-up of a brown bear
Un orso bruno – A brown bear

Bears – like humans – tend to be omnivorous (onnivoro) with the only exceptions being the panda gigante which feeds almost exclusively on bamboo, and the orso polare which is mostly carnivorous (carnivoro).

Typically solitary animals, they are adept runners, climbers and swimmers and use caves (caverne) and logs (tronchi) as their dens (tane). Most species hibernate (andare in letargo) during the winter for up to 100 days.

Sulle Alpi, l’orso bruno va in letargo per non più di quattro mesi.

In the Alps, the brown bear hibernates for no longer than four months.

The diminutives orsetto and orsacchiotto literally mean small bear and may be used to refer to a bear cub or a teddy bear in Italian. Another possible name for bear cub is cucciolo di orso whereas a teddy bear may also be called an orso di peluche.

teddy bear on a bench
Un orsacchiotto = A teddy bear

Figuratively speaking, an orso is a grumpy, unsociable person who dislikes the company of other people. This is where the expressions fare l’orso and essere un orso (to be unsociable) come from.

Dai, non fare l’orso. Vieni a ballare con noi!

Come on, don’t be so unsociable. Come and dance with us!

In the expressions camminare come un orso (to walk like a bear) and ballare come un orso (to dance like a bear), it is also a simile for someone who moves in an awkward and ungraceful manner.

Expressions featuring ‘orso’

Invitare l’orso alle pere

Literal translation: to invite the bear to the pears
English meaning: to offer someone an opportunity they’ve been waiting for

Pelare l’orso

Literal translation: to skin a bear
English meaning: to face a difficult or impossible task

Vendere la pelle dell’orso prima di averlo ucciso

Literal translation: to sell the bear’s skin before killing it
English meaning: to count one’s chickens before they’ve hatched

Ethics statement: Below you will find affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking the link, we will receive a small commission. To know more about our ethics, you can visit our full disclosure page. Thank you!

Lingopie (affiliate link) is the Netflix of language learning application that uses real TV shows and movies to help you learn a new language. You can choose a show to watch based on your fluency level, and use the interactive subtitles to get instant translations to help you learn quickly.

Are you interested in improving your Italian in a fun and stress-free manner? Then we highly recommend Serena Capilli's short stories in Italian (affiliate link), designed for beginners, advanced beginners, and lower intermediate learners (A1-B1 CEFR). These stories have been optimised for English speakers in search of a fun, laid-back learning experience! Read our full review here.

Leave a Comment