Italian Word of the Day: Mascherina (face mask)

If I had to pick one Italian word to define the year 2020, I would be sorely tempted to go with mascherina (feminine, plural: mascherine) which is the Italian word for a mask that filters air.


The diminutive of maschera (the word for any generic mask), it literally translates as little mask.

È obbligatorio indossare la mascherina quando si entra in un negozio.

It is mandatory to wear a mask when entering a shop.

A reusable mask is known as a mascherina riutilizzabile or mascherina lavabile (lit: washable mask), a single-use mask is a mascherina monouso and a surgical mask is a mascherina chirurgica.

Woman wearing protective mask and taking train
Indossa una mascherina – She’s wearing a mask

Of course, masks that protect you from viruses and pollution aren’t the only kind of mascherine you’ll see people wearing. There is also the domino mask (a rounded mask, used during Carnevale, covering only the area around the eyes) and the sleep mask people use to cover their eyes (also called mascherina per dormire, mascherina da / per la notte).

Figuratively speaking, mascherina can also refer to a child (most often a young girl) in costume. It is from this meaning that we get the idiomatic phrase Ti conosco mascherina! which literally translates as I know you, masked one! It is addressed to a person that you recognise despite them being in disguise, or to a deceitful person in order to let them know that you’ve figured out their game.

Mascherina is also the word for a spot or patch on a dog, cat or any other animal’s face that is a different colour to the rest of its coat. Some other possible translations include the toe cap of a boot and the grille of a car. For the latter, Italians also use the word griglia (grille).

Car dealership, closeup view on automobile radiator grille
La mascherina di un SUV. = The grille of an SUV.

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