Italian Word of the Day: Tigre (tiger)

The word for tiger in Italian is the feminine noun tigre (plural: tigri) which derives from the Latin tigris. It remains feminine regardless of whether you are talking about a male tiger (una tigre maschio) or a female tiger (una tigre femmina).


It is the largest of the so-called big cats (grandi felini) that make up the Panthera genus. The others are the lion, jaguar, leopard and snow leopard.

A differenza del leone e del leopardo, la tigre non ha l’abitudine di salire sugli alberi.

Unlike the lion and the leopard, the tiger is not in the habit of climbing trees.

tiger in the wild habitat with mountains in the background

The word for a tiger cub is either cucciolo di tigre or the diminutive tigrotto.

Today there are six subspecies of tiger still living in the wild. These are:

  • tigre siberiana = Siberian tiger
  • tigre del Bengala = Bengal tiger
  • tigre di Sumatra = Sumatra tiger
  • tigre malese = Malayan tiger
  • tigre indocinese = Indochinese tiger
  • tigre della Cina meridionale = South China tiger

Three additional subspecies went extinct at various points in time during the 20th century due to habitat loss and hunting:

  • tigre di Giava = Javan tiger
  • tigre di Bali = Bali tiger
  • tigre del Caspio = Caspian tiger

Saber tooth tiger (tigre dai denti a sciabola) is the colloquial name given to the extinct prehistoric mammal, the Smilodon. Despite being a member of the felid family, it was not closely related to tigers or other modern day cats.

The word tigre is a frequently used as an expression of cruelty and violence in similes and comparative statements. For example, saying that someone has a cuore di tigre (heart of a tiger) is synonymous with calling them fierce or ruthless.

Ogni tanto Guido diventa feroce come una tigre.

Sometimes Guido becomes wild like a tiger.

In political and journalistic language, the expression cavalcare una tigre (to ride a tiger) is used when someone tries to take control of a dangerous situation with the intent of gaining from it.

The expression tigre di carta (paper tiger), on the other hand, refers to a traditionally feared force (such as an army or dictator) that, however powerful it may seem, always has weak spot and can be overcome. According to Treccani, this expression comes from China and was used by communists to refer to the United States during the Maoism years.

Finally, pesce tigre (tiger fish) is another name for the piranha due to the aggressive nature of the fish.

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