Italian Word of the Day: Donna (woman)

Donna (plural donne) is a common first name given to women in the English language, but did you know that it actually means woman, lady or female in Italian?

IPA: /ˈdɔn.na/

It was originally an honorary prefix meaning lady of the house and is the equivalent to the masculine Don (master of the house). Both originate from the Latin dominus.

Luisa è una donna molto gentile.

Luisa is a very kind woman.


Oggi viene la donna delle pulizie.

Today the cleaning lady is coming.


When talking with close friends, you can use the word donna to mean wife or partner. If you don’t know the other person very well, it is better to use moglie (wife) or compagna (partner).

Come sta la tua donna?

How is your wife / partner?


In the world of cards, donna is the word for queen. It can also be found in the word primadonna which, as in English, can mean either a leading lady in a performance or a temperamental person with an inflated view of their own importance.

There are many other words featuring the noun donna. Here are a few:

  • donna di servizio = housekeeper
  • donna di mondo = (lit. woman of the world) socialite
  • donnaiolo = womanizer
  • nobildonna = noble woman (part of an aristocratic family)
  • buona donna = simple women, but can also mean prostitute

Trivia: in the south, a women can be called with the noun donna preceding her name. It is a sign of respect. Buongiorno Donna Assunta (Good morning Assunta).

March 8th is internationally known as La Festa della Donna or International Women’s Day. Italians celebrate this occasion by presenting women across the country with small bunches of yellow blossoms called mimosas (mimose). When I was an au pair in Turin, I remember walking through Piazza Vittorio on my way to work, only to be stopped four times by complete strangers who wanted to give me a bouquet of these fragrant flowers!

Bouquet of fresh Spring blooming Mimosa branches in enamel vase in hands of young woman, white background
Una giovane donna con un vaso di mimose in mano – A young woman holding a vase of mimosas

Song

There are many Italian songs dedicated to women. One of the most famous was written by the musician Zucchero in 1985.


Idioms

There are a number of idioms and expressions based around the word donna, and unfortunately, most of them aren’t particularly flattering! Here are some of the most common:

Chi dice donna dice danno

  • literal : who says woman says harm
  • meaning : women spell trouble

La donna è mobile qual piuma al vento

  • literal : the woman is mobile like a feather in the wind
  • meaning : women are fickle

Donna al volante pericolo costante

  • literal : a woman behind the wheel is a constant danger
  • meaning : women are dangerous drivers

Le donne ne sanno una più del diavolo

  • literal : women know one more than the devil
  • meaning : women know everything

Tre donne fanno un mercato e quattro una fiera

  • literal : three women make a market and four a fair
  • meaning : the more women there are, the more noise they make

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