Italian Word of the Day: Nottambulo (night owl)

If you are a person who is habitually wakeful or active at night, you might receive the nickname nottambulo which is the word for night owl in Italian. In particular, it indicates those who tend to spend the night walking or enjoying themselves in public places.


It is a combination of the Latin words nox noctis (night) and ambulare (to walk), and is modelled on the word funambulus (tightrope walker). In ancient Italian, it used to refer to a sleepwalker but today the term sonnambulo is used instead.

Ho un fratello nottambulo e una sorella sonnambula.

I have a brother who is a night owl and a sister who sleepwalks.

Nottambulo can be used as a noun to denote a person, or as an adjective to describe a person, situation or habit. In either case, the ending changes according to the gender of the person and the number of people in question:

  • nottambulo = night-owl (a man)
  • nottambula = night-owl (a woman)
  • nottambuli = night-owls (a group of men / men and women)
  • nottambule = night-owls (a group of women)
man sitting at his desk in front of his computer in the dark
Il nottambulo lavora tutta la notte. – The night owl works all night.
  • un amico nottambulo = a friend who is a night-owl
  • una vita (da) nottambulo = a life lived at night
  • abitudini nottambule = night-time habits

Da giovane ero un gran nottambulo ma adesso che sono invecchiato, vado a dormire presto.

When I was young I was a real night owl but now that I’m older, I go to bed early.

The opposite of nottambulo is mattiniero which is the word for an early bird, whereas synonyms include the informal tiratardi (literally ‘pulling late’) and the literary nottivago (literally ‘night wandering’).

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