Italian Word of the Day: Furbo (cunning / clever)

The adjective furbo in Italian is used to describe a person who is good at avoiding deception and traps, getting out of dangerous situations, or working a situation to his or her advantage.

In English, you could describe such a person as cunning / sly / crafty if you are being critical of them, or clever / smart / canny if you are showing admiration for their cunningness.

It is thought to derive from the French fourbe which means deceitful.


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cover image with the word “furbo” and its translation written on a notepad next to a cup of cofee

Adjectives such as furbo have four possible endings, depending on whether the noun being described is masculine, feminine, singular or plural:

  • furbo = masculine, singular
  • furba = feminine, singular
  • furbi = masculine, plural
  • furbe = feminine, plural

If you tell someone to farsi furbo (lit: to make oneself clever), you are asking them to smarten / wise up because you feel their intentions or thoughts aren’t very intelligent.

Stasera vado in discoteca… – Ma fatti furbo! Domani hai l’esame!

I’m going to the disco tonight… – Oh come on, smarten up! You have your exam tomorrow!

A cunning boy
Un ragazzino con un sorriso furbo – A boy with a cunning grin

Furbo may also denote things, such as ideas or projects, that demonstrate cunning. For example, un piano furbo would be a cunning plan in Italian.

What’s more, furbo and its corresponding feminine and plural forms may also be used as a noun to mean cunning person. From this sense of the word we get the augmentative forms furbone and furbacchione, which are humorous ways of saying crafty old devil or sly fox.

You may also hear the idiomatic expressions:

un furbo di tre cotte

(lit: a cunning person cooked thrice)

A person of extremely subtle cunning. The expression di tre cotte originates from the refining process of foods.

un furbo matricolato

(lit: an out-and-out cunning person)

Matricolato describes someone who is very skilled or experienced at something that is detrimental to other people.

un furbo di prim’ordine

(lit: a first-class cunning person)

Di prim’ordine translates as first-class or first-rate.

furbo come una volpe

(lit: as sly as a fox)

The volpe (fox) is considered a cunning and sly animal, hence the simile.

A very common expression featuring furbo as a noun is fare il furbo which means to be tricky or to get clever (with someone).

Non fare il furbo con l’insegnante, hai capito?

Don’t get clever with the teacher, understand?

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