Once I was interviewed for a podcast, and when I heard the episode air a few days later, I was so impressed! I sounded like the most articulate, informed, confident interviewee to ever grace the airwaves. And then I realized that something was missing...they had edited out all my ums, ahs, wells, likes, sos, and okays. In short, they had cut all the filler words I had used to buy time while I cleared my thoughts or formed a complete sentence.
These filler words are used in all spoken languages, including Italian, and are an important way to signal to others in the same conversation that you are pausing to think but have not yet finished what you want to say.
As a beginning speaker, you’ll find that filler words - ‘parole riempitive’ or ‘intercalari’ in Italian - are especially important to maintain the flow of a conversation despite the fact that it may take you longer than a native speaker to formulate what you would like to say.
Here are a few important and common filler words to use during your next chat in Italian:
Filler Words to Use at the Beginning of a Statement
These fillers are an excellent tool to buy time when you begin a sentence or statement, but need a few seconds to organize your thoughts. They are also ideal for those times when you are asked a question but need to consider your answer.
The most common are:
Ehm - um
Beh - a shortened version of ‘bene’, or well
Dunque - so
Allora - so
Ecco - there. Use this when you are about to agree with another statement.
Mah - a version of ‘ma’, or but. Use this when you are about to contradict another statement.
Senti - listen, or hear me out
Guarda - look
Mica - non or not
Sai - you know
Fammi pensare (or Mi faccia pensare when using the formal tense) - let me think
Onestamente - honestly
Dove vuoi mangiare stasera? - Where do you want to eat tonight?
Onestamente, mi va la pizza! - Honestly, I’m craving pizza!
Senti, c’è una pizzeria buona proprio qui vicino. - Listen, there’s a good pizzeria near here.
Dunque, se chiamiamo ora facciamo in tempo per prenotare. - So, if we call now, we’ll be able to reserve in time.
Middle Filler Words
In conversation, you often need to buy time not only at the beginning of a sentence or statement, but also while you are speaking. The right word may not come to mind immediately, or you may have to decide what to say next.
Here are a few of those “get out of jail free” filler words to help you through a sticky spot:
Tipo - like
Cioè - I mean
Sai - you know
Diciamo - let’s say
Che so io/Che ne so - what do I know
Praticamente - practically
Tutto sommato - after all
Nel senso - I mean
Onestamente - honestly
Per intenderci - to understand each other
Sostanzialmente - essentially
Ho aperto il frigo e praticamente era vuoto, tipo non c’era rimasto neanche, che so io, una fetta di melone o, diciamo, un litro di latte...cioè, tutto sommato, non era proprio un bel modo per cominciare la giornata. - I opened the fridge and it was practically empty, like there wasn’t anything left, even, what do I know, a slice of melon or liter of milk...I mean, after all, it wasn’t really a nice way to start the day.
Whereas other filler words are used to buy time while we finish a statement or sentence, final fillers are used to signal to the others in the conversation that we have finished talking and the conversation can move on.
In formal speeches, common fillers are:
In conclusione - in conclusion
Insomma - in short
E quant’altro - and so on. Use at the end of a list.
To signal the end of an informal statement in conversation, use:
Che dire - what can I say
Bene - well
Vabbè - whatever
Or the internationally recognized “ok”!
Abbiamo provato quel nuovo ristorante ieri sera. Vabbè, diciamo che non è stato particolarmente buono, insomma. - We tried that new restaurant last night. Well, what can we say, it wasn’t that good, in short.
Remember, if you need more time to gather your thoughts, you can always use more than one filler word at a time!