Italian Word of the Day: Sopravvissuto (survivor)

Sopravvissuto, the word for survivor in Italian, comes from the verb sopravvivere meaning to survive. It is formed of two parts: sopra (above) and vissuto (past participle of vivere ‘to live’).


If you are talking about a woman instead of a man, the masculine sopravvissuto becomes the feminine sopravvissuta. Their respective plurals are sopravvissuti and sopravvissute.

As in English, sopravvissuto can refer to someone who remains alive after a tragic event, or one of the last remaining members of a group or family.

Carlo è l’unico sopravvissuto della famiglia.

Carlo is the only survivor of the family.

Nuclear post-apocalypse. Sole survivor in tatters and gas mask on the ruins of the destroyed city
L’ultimo sopravvissuto = The last survivor

It cannot, however, be used figuratively to denote someone who copes well with difficulties in their life or has overcome a difficult experience. In that case, you’d use the word tosto/a (determined) or the pronominal verb farcela (to make it, to succeed at doing something).

Non ti preoccupare, ce la farà. Lei è una tosta!

Don’t worry, she’ll make it. She’s a survivor!

When used as an adjective, sopravvissuto can also translate as surviving. For example, i passeggeri sopravvissuti is how you would say the surviving passengers in Italian. Another possible translation is outdated or antiquated when talking about a person whose habits, principles or beliefs are out of touch with modern day ideologies.

Survivor’s guilt, known as il sindrome del sopravvissuto in Italian, is a mental condition that occurs when a person feels guilty about surviving a traumatic event when others did not.

A close synonym of sopravvissuto is superstite. It too can be either a noun (un superstite = a survivor) or an adjective (un passeggero superstite = a surviving passenger).

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