Italian Word of the Day: Vivere (to live)

Do you love life, even when it gets you down? Then it’s time to learn one of the most essential verbs in Italian, vivere (to live)!

/vì·ve·re/ – [ˈvivere]
Italian word 'vivere'

Here is how it is conjugated in the present tense:

io vivo = I live
tu vivi = you live (informal)
lui vive = he lives
lei vive = she lives
Lei vive = you live (formal)
noi viviamo = we live
voi vivete = you live (plural)
loro vivono = they live

Vivere is an irregular second-conjugation verb ending in -ERE.

When used intransitively, vivere may take either essere or avere as its auxiliary, with the latter being preferred in modern Italian. When used transitively, on the other hand, vivere always requires the auxiliary verb avere. For example:

In general, the Italian word vivere aligns with its English equivalent, to live, but there are a few exceptions. Let’s explore the different nuances this verb encompasses:

To be alive

The first definition of vivere is, simply, to be alive. In other words, it is the opposite of morire (to die).

old man looking at calendar and remembering dates
L’anziano signore è stanco di vivere. = The old man is tired of living.

To exist in / for a certain time

Vivere is frequently employed to depict the duration spent in a particular place or the length of a person’s life.

Back view of young woman in straw hat and yellow dress with Positano village on the background, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Voglio vivere in Italia per un anno! = I want to live in Italy for a year!

To exist in a certain place or habitat

Vivere is also used to describe one’s continued existence or presence in a place, such as a country or a house. The verb abitare (to reside / dwell / occupy) can be used as a synonym in this case.

Red houses in Venice
Mi piace vivere qui. = I like living here.

To exist in a certain way

Finally, we can use vivere to characterise an individual’s lifestyle. At opposite ends of the spectrum, there’s vivere bene (to live well) and vivere male (to live poorly), along with a whole plethora of expressions in between such as vivere da solo (to live on one’s own), vivere in solitudine (to live in solitude), and vivere da sultano (to live like a king).

Traveler look at the mountain range.
Sto vivendo una vita piena di avventure! = I’m living a life full of adventure!

To experience / go through something

In this case, vivere takes a bit of a detour from its English counterpart. For instance, to convey that someone had a challenging experience, you can say in Italian that they “lived” through a tough situation (vivere una brutta esperienza). Similarly, you can “live” joyful moments in Italian (vivere momenti felici).

High angle view of depressed teenage boy sitting on floor
Non ti dico che cos’ho vissuto. = I won’t tell you what I went through.

Important note: While vivere is commonly taught as a verb, especially to beginners, it can also function as a noun with the meaning of “way of life” or “living.” For instance, il vivere in Italia would translate to “the way of life in Italy.

Using ‘Vivere’ with Prepositions

It isn’t uncommon to see vivere paired with the prepositions di, con and da.

When di is used, vivere means “to live on / by” something.

  • Vive di pane e pasta. = He lives on bread and pasta.
  • Vive di rendita. = He lives on a private income.
  • Devo vivere di espedienti. = I have to live by my wits.

When con is used, vivere means “to live for” something or someone.

  • Vivono per i loro figli. = They live for their children.

When da is used, vivere means “to live like” something or someone.

  • Vive da gran signore. = He lives like a lord.

Idioms featuring ‘vivere’

As you can imagine, there are numerous idiomatic expressions that incorporate the verb vivere, so we’ll focus on some of the most well-known and interesting.

Guadagnarsi da vivere

Literal translation: to earn to live
English meaning: to make a living

Vivere alle spalle di qualcuno

Literal translation: to live on someone’s shoulders
English meaning: to sponge off someone

Vivere nella bambagia

Literal translation: to live in cottonwool
English meaning: to live a sheltered life

Chi vivrà vedrà

Literal translation: he who lives will see
English meaning: time will tell

Vivi e lascia vivere

Literal translation: live and let live
English meaning: live and let live

Vivere alla macchia

Literal translation: to live in the Maquis shrubland
English meaning: to live/go into hiding

Note: Macchia in this case refers to the Mediterranean scrubland, a favoured location for bandits to hide. It does not mean macchia as in stain.

Ethics statement: Below you will find affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking the link, we will receive a small commission. To know more about our ethics, you can visit our full disclosure page. Thank you!

Lingopie (affiliate link) is the Netflix of language learning application that uses real TV shows and movies to help you learn a new language. You can choose a show to watch based on your fluency level, and use the interactive subtitles to get instant translations to help you learn quickly.

Are you interested in improving your Italian in a fun and stress-free manner? Then we highly recommend Serena Capilli's short stories in Italian (affiliate link), designed for beginners, advanced beginners, and lower intermediate learners (A1-B1 CEFR). These stories have been optimised for English speakers in search of a fun, laid-back learning experience! Read our full review here.

Leave a Comment