What Does “Prego” Mean in Italian? – 7 Possible Translations

Most people have encountered the Italian word grazie (“thank you”) at some point in their lifetime, even if they have no interest whatsoever in the language, but the same cannot be said for the standard response prego (“you’re welcome”).

So for anyone visiting Italy for the first time, it might come as a shock just how frequently this word is dropped into conversation, not just with the meaning of you’re welcome but also a range of other, lesser-known definitions.


But first things first, what is the origin of the word prego?

According to Treccani, the word is first attested in written Italian as a polite salutation only from the mid-nineteenth century. Perhaps even more surprisingly, it is not of Romance origin but rather draws inspiration from the Germanic bitte, which was widely used with the meaning “I request/pray for the honour of your command” among the members of high society. From then on, the usage of prego spread rapidly across Italy, above all as a response to grazie.

The word itself comes from the first-person singular present indicative of the verb pregare, meaning “to pray”.

Now let’s take a look at all the possible translations for prego in Italian. Prepare yourself: there are quite a few of them!

what does prego mean in italian

1. A courteous response to “thank you”

The translation of prego with which most learners are familiar is you’re welcome. In other words, it is a courteous way to respond to someone who thanks you.

Grazie per il tuo aiuto! – Prego, è stato un piacere.

Thank you for your help! – You’re welcome, it was a pleasure.

Grazie per avermi prestato la valigia, Mario. – Prego, figurati.

Thank you for lending me your suitcase, Mario. – You’re very welcome.

For a full list of possible responses to grazie, we suggest checking out our dedicated article!

Cropped shot of two colleagues shaking hands on the stairs

2. A courteous response to “sorry”

Far less known is the fact that prego can also function as a polite response to an apology, which in Italian can be expressed using expressions such as scusi, mi scusi and mi scuso. In English, we might say something along the lines of Don’t worry or It’s not a problem.

Mi scusi tanto. – Prego.

I’m really sorry. – Don’t worry, it’s fine.

In all honesty, it is fairly uncommon to hear prego used in this sense in everyday Italian, unless you are in a very formal context. You are much more likely to hear the responses Nessun problema! or Di nulla/niente!

Desperate guilty unshaven man shows clasped hands, says sorry for bad mistake, beggs for help, looks unhappily at camera, wears spectacles and casual jumper, poses indoor over rosy background.

3. Ushering someone into your home / a restaurant / an office

Whether you have been invited over to a friend’s house or have just stepped inside a restaurant or shop, you can expect to hear the welcoming greeting Prego! as you walk through the door. The English equivalent in this case would be “Come in!

Ciao, che bello rivederti! Prego, prego!

Hi, how nice to see you! Come in, come in!

Note that you will often hear the Italian for (come in and) make oneself at home (accomodarsi) following prego, as in Prego, prego, accomodatevi.

Prego, prego, accomodatevi!

Come in, make yourself at home!

Happy mature Asian woman inviting you to enter her house

4. Yes, it can also mean “please”

But it can only mean please in very specific circumstances. For example, if your friend is walking around with a plate of biscuits, she might say Prego! to you, meaning “Please, take one!” If, on the other hand, you are the one asking for a biscuit, she could respond with Prego! as a way of saying “Please, help yourself!

Likewise, if you are about to have dinner at a restaurant, the waiter might say Prego! to encourage you to take a seat.

Prego, si accomodi.

Please, have a seat.

Portrait of person sitting in waiting area, having checkup examination appointment with physician to cure disease diagnosis. Young adult in waiting room at hospital lobby before consultation.

Now imagine that you are standing in line to pay for something when you suddenly receive an urgent phone call. So as not to keep the person behind you waiting, you might move to one side and say “Please, go ahead!” to usher them forward. Surprise, surprise: in Italian, all you need is that useful little word Prego! to express the same meaning!

Prego, prego…devo rispondere a questa chiamata.

Please, go ahead…I have to take this call.

You may also hear prego accompanied by other words that reinforce the meaning, such as Prego, passi pure… devo rispondere a questa chiamata, with passi pure being a direct translation of go ahead.

To discover the other ways to say “please” in Italian, be sure to check out our dedicated article on the topic!

Doing their own thing on their devices.

5. Sorry, could you repeat that?

This meaning of prego is actually a very useful to learners of Italian, who may have difficulty understanding what is being said to them. Much like the English I beg your pardon? you can use Prego? with an interrogative intonation to ask someone to repeat themselves.

Prego? Non ho capito bene.

Pardon? I didn’t quite catch that.

young man having ear pain touching his painful ear

6. How can I help you?

Finally, returning to the shop scenario, you will often hear salespeople use Prego, signore / signora? to ask whether or not you require any assistance. Prego may or may not be accompanied by phrases such as Posso aiutarla? (Can I help you?) or Posso servirla? (What can I do for you? / How can I serve you?)

Prego signore, posso aiutarla?

Hello sir, can I help you?

Handsome young couple paying female sales assistant with credit card in clothes shop

7. Please / I beg you!

Up until now, we’ve been focusing on the usage of prego as an interjection, but as we mentioned in the introduction, it is also the first-person singular form of pregare (to pray).

Prego in this form appears in the expressions Ti prego! (informal), La prego! (formal) or Vi prego! (plural), all of which mean Please! or I beg you! They are used when you plead with someone, either because you want them to allow you do something, or you want them to do something for you.

Ti prego, mamma, fammi andare al concerto!

Please / I beg you, mom, let me go to the concert!

Non andate via, vi prego!

Don’t leave, I beg you!

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So now that you know exactly what prego means in Italian, are you ready to go out into the wild and use it? We certainly hope so! Speriamo di sì!

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