Italian Word of the Day: Rotto (broken)

The adjective rotto in Italian can refer to anything that is damaged, out of order or in pieces including machines, clothes, household objects, and body parts to name a few. It is the past participle of the verb rompere meaning to break.


Being an adjective, rotto also has corresponding feminine and plural forms with different endings:

  • un braccio rotto = a broken arm (masculine singular)
  • una bottiglia rotta = a broken bottle (feminine singular)
  • dei bicchieri rotti = broken glasses (masculine plural)
  • delle scarpe rotte = worn-out shoes (feminine plural)

Ho trovato un sacco di vecchie scarpe rotte in cantina. Si potranno riciclare secondo te?

I found a lot of worn-out shoes in the basement. Do you think they can be recycled?

In addition to the literal meaning, there are also a few figurative meanings including:

  • interrupted or non-continuous >> una voce rotta = a broken voice
  • to be accustomed to >> essere rotto alla fatica = to be used to hard work
  • extremely tired >> sentirsi tutto rotto = to be aching all over
Cat and broken glass vase of flowers
Un vaso rottoA broken vase

In rare cases, rotto can also be used as a noun. For example, you can say un rotto nella manica to mean a rip in one’s sleeve.

Strictly in its plural form rotti, it refers to negligible quantity of money which is added to a given figure.

Ho pagato seicento e rotti euro per la macchina fotografica.

I paid six hundred something euros for the camera.

From this word we also get the term rottame which means piece of junk, scrap or wreck in reference to either a thing or a person.

Italian idioms with the word ‘rotto’

Avere le ossa rotte / la schiena rotta

Literal translation: to have broken bones / to have a broken back
English meaning: to be really tired, to be exhausted, to be worn out

Sembrare un disco rotto

Literal translation: to seem like a broken record
English meaning: to sound like a broken record, to repeat yourself

Farcela per il rotto della cuffia

Literal translation: to make it through by the rip of one’s cuff
English meaning: to barely make it (to get by the skin of one’s teeth)

Per il rotto della cuffia is difficult to translate word for word because of the origin of the expression and the old meaning of the word cuffia. According to Accademia della Crusca, it originates from the chain mail or leather shield which a knight would wear inside his helmet. To receive this kind of shield damage during a battle would mean coming very close to a deadly wound.

Another explanation links the meaning of cuffia to the perimeter of a city. Passare per il rotto della cuffia would have meant to get through a small crack in the wall.

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