Italian Word of the Day: Letto (bed)

The word for bed in Italian is letto (masculine, plural: letti). It derives from the Latin lectus of the same meaning.

IPA: /lèt·to/

Amongst the different kinds of beds in existence, some popular options include the letto singolo (single bed), letto matrimoniale / letto doppio (double bed), divano letto (sofa bed) and my all-time favourite as a child, the letto a castello (bunkbed), which literally translates as castle bed.

When talking about the size of the mattress, Italians tend to use the following expressions:

  • letto a tre piazze = king-sized
  • letto a due piazze = queen-sized
  • letto alla francese = between a queen and a small double
  • letto a una piazza e mezza = small double
  • letto a una piazza = single
smiling woman stretching on bed after waking up
Si è alzata dal letto. = She got out of bed.

The diminutive lettino, in addition to meaning little bed, may also used to denote cribs, cots and fold-up beds used for camping.

A few verbs you’ll often see paired with letto include:

  • andare a letto = to go to bed
  • tornare a letto = to go back to bed
  • mettere / portare a letto = to put to bed
  • stare a letto = to stay in bed
  • restarsene a letto = to have a lie in
  • alzarsi dal letto = to get out of bed
  • fare / rifare il letto = to make the bed
  • essere a letto = to be in bed

Vai a letto che è tardi!

Go to bed as it’s late!

Just as in English, the expressions andare a letto con qualcuno (to go to bed with someone) and andare a letto insieme (to go to bed together) are euphemisms for to have sex.

An idiom that doesn’t exist in English however is andare a letto con i polli / con le galline (to go to bed with the chickens). Before you get any strange ideas, this expression has nothing to do with giving up your comfy bed for a sensual night in the chicken coop! Rather it describes someone who goes to bed early, in the same way chickens go to sleep when the sun sets.

Gianni va sempre a letto con i polli perché si alza molto presto al mattino.

Gianni always goes to bed early so that he can wake up early in the morning.

A bedroom is called either a stanza da letto or camera da letto. Whereas stanza on its own refers to any generic internal space separated by walls, camera is often used to talk about bedrooms even when it isn’t followed by da letto.

While flipping through advertisements in a rental or holiday brochure, you will definitely come across the expression posto / posti letto. This simply refers to the number of beds available at the accommodation.

Ogni stanza ha tre posti letto con possibilità di aggiungere un letto in più.

Each room has sleeping accommodation for three people and an additional extra bed upon request.

Usefully there is no need to translate the phrase bed and breakfast because Italians have adopted the English expression!

In both English and Italian, bed / letto can refer to things besides the piece of furniture used for sleeping. In geology, one might talk of rock beds (letti di rocce) or river beds (letti del fiume) whereas when cooking up a fancy meal, you might place the main course on top of a bed of salad (letto di insalata) or a bed of purée (letto di pure).

aerial view of a river bed
Il letto del fiume = The river bed

Finally, you will also hear letto as the past participle of the verb leggere (to read). For example ho letto quel libro la settimana scorsa means I read that book last week.

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