Mastering your numbers in Italian is an important skill. How else can you specify how many scoops of ‘gelato’ (ice cream) you would like, or ask what time the ‘museo’ (museum) opens, or find out how much a beautiful ‘borsa’ (bag) costs? We often learn numbers when we start learning Italian, but wherever you are on your learning journey, I hope these fun expressions using numbers will be interesting and helpful to you!

Let’s start with an expression similar to one we have in English:

Grazie mille - literally this means ‘thanks a thousand’ but would translate better as ‘thanks a million’. You would say this when you are really grateful for something someone has done. 

 

There’s a saying in English ‘to kill two birds with one stone’, which we use to talk about achieving something without excessive effort. In Italian this is: prendere due piccioni con una fava - to catch two pigeons with one fava bean. 

 

Here are some other idiomatic expressions using the number ‘due’ (two):

 

Fare due chiacchiere 

Literal translation: To have two chats

Real meaning: To have a little chat

 

Fare due più due

Literal translation: To make two plus two

Real meaning: To put two and two together i.e. to understand something with the information you have available

 

Due lati della stessa medaglia

Literal translation: Two sides of the same medal

Real meaning: Two sides of the same coin i.e. two things that are very closely related even if they seem different

 

Let’s look at some expressions using the numbers ‘tre’ (three) and ‘quattro’ (four):

 

Non c’è due senza tre

Literal translation: There’s no two without three

Real meaning: If something happens twice, it is likely it will happen again

 

Chi fa da sé fa per tre

Literal translation: He who does it by himself, does it for three people

Real meaning: If you want something done properly, it is better to do it yourself

 

In quattro e quattr’otto

Literal translation: In four and four eight

Real meaning: Quickly / suddenly / immediately, also similar to ‘in less than no time’ in English

 

Costare quattro soldi

Literal translation: To cost four coins

Real meaning: To be very cheap

 

Farsi in quattro

Literal translation: To make oneself in four

Real meaning: To work really hard

 

Partire in quarta

Literal translation: To leave in fourth gear

Real meaning: To start something with excitement and enthusiasm

 

Next we’re going to look at idiomatic expressions using some larger numbers:

 

Abbiamo fatto trenta, facciamo trentuno

Literal translation: We have made thirty, let’s make thirty one

Real meaning: If you’ve already worked hard to complete something, you can push yourself to go even further

Note: This expression is said to come from Pope Leone X. In 1517 he elected thirty new cardinals. He then realised he had left out one he knew would be a great asset so he added him onto the list, explaining that he had made thirty cardinals, now let’s make thirty one of them. 

 

Dirlo cento volte

Literal translation: To say it a hundred times

Real meaning: To say something over and over again

 

I would like to leave you with another great expression using the word ‘numbers’: ‘Dare i numeri’.

 

Literally this means ‘to give numbers’ but the real meaning is ‘to go crazy’ or ‘to lose your marbles’. Historically it comes from fortune tellers using various means such as astrology and dreams to predict the right lottery numbers to choose. As these often turned out to be false, the expression means someone is being silly or downright crazy!