Italian Word of the Day: Soprammobile (knick-knack / ornament)

A blanket term for any decorative or artistic object kept on a shelf or piece of furniture, regardless of its value, is soprammobile (masculine, plural: soprammobili) in Italian. Some possible translations in English are knick-knack, shelf ornament or decorative piece.


It is a combination of two words: sopra meaning on top of or above and mobile meaning furniture or piece of furniture. The ‘m‘ is doubled due to a linguistic phenomenon called syntactic gemination (raddoppiamento fonosintattico).

Some specific kinds of soprammobili include:

  • soprammobile in vetro = glass ornament
  • soprammobile d’argento = silver ornament
  • soprammobile di porcellana = porcelain ornament
  • soprammobile in legno = wooden ornament

Hanno una casa piena di soprammobili. Spolverarla dev’essere un incubo!

They have a house full of knick-knacks. It must be a nightmare to dust!

modern yellow shelf covered in knick knacks
Uno scaffale con diversi soprammobili – A shelf with various knick knacks

A small soprammobile can also be called a ninnolo (masculine, plural: ninnoli).

Although not mentioned in most dictionaries, soprammobile can also be used in a figurative way to say that a person feels excluded, ignored, neglected or is not allowed to do much. It’s not an extremely popular usage but my Italian husband has heard it, albeit only in situations that allow for some poetic license. According to La Repubblica, it can also refer to a person who is nice but lacks intelligence.

La ragazza è andata via. Era stufa di sentirsi un soprammobile.

The girl left. She was tired of feeling useless.

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