Untranslatable Italian Words

July 30, 2018 10:30 am

Allora: a complete meal

The Italian language is full of colourful and funny expressions, sounds, interjections and fillers, which might be very difficult to explain to a non-native speaker who is willing to learn, or to a foreigner who regularly encounters them in different contexts and struggles to grasp their meaning.

In my experiences abroad and as an Italian teacher to foreigners, I came across many words and expressions that I took for granted before, but I found it difficult to explain in a linear way.

Let´s briefly go through some Italian “untranslatable” words whose meanings can completely change depending on the context.

Allora- adverb

The adverb allora derives from Latin ad illam hōram, literally “in that moment”.

Next time you go to Italy or you listen to an Italian native speaker, try to count how many times he or she says it.

There’s a high probability you will lose count and that you won´t understand the exact meaning.

To put things in order, let’s try to make a list of possible uses by trying to imagine this adverb as a food-item that could always potentially be present in a three course meal (and beyond).

Allora -starter-antipasto

Preparing the stomach, taking time and entertainment – that’s what starters are for.

Well, that is the exact reason why in Italy we love to have some starters before the proper meal:

We love taking our time before we do anything. Even when we talk.

Before giving a speech or formulating a sentence, we all need some time to warm up and to carefully choose what we want to say. So, basically this adverb’s function can be used to introduce something else.

If your boss starts a speech with allora, you’d better start running. If your partner does, he or she will probably make a long list of negative behaviours that you have had over the past few months.

If your university professor raises his voice saying allora, he is probably giving a clear signal: “I want to start my lesson, sit down, stop talking and just listen”.

This word is a blessing for politicians when they are asked an uncomfortable question, because they can gain more time to defend themselves.

Allora-first meal

Italians love innovation but they are also attached to traditions.

That’s why, strolling around the main Italian cities, you will come across a lot of modern restaurants, still serving traditional recipes.

Italian love their past, and eating hand-made dishes according to traditions is a fabulous way to remember it.

In parallel, a second use of allora, (normally followed by past tenses), is to place thing in the past

e.g: Allora Roma era molto diversa.

Then/ at that time, Rome was really different

Allora- second meal and side-dish

A second meal in Italy is always accompanied by a side-dish.

What would an arrosto be without potatoes?

Allora, in all its nuances, also has the magical power of linking two sentences that are consequential, in a similar way to “so”.

e.g: il ristorante era chiuso e allora siamo andati via

The restaurant was closed and we went away.

Allora- dessert

Like a dessert, allora can be used to close the circle in some way.

For example, when a decision has finally been taken.

Allora facciamo cosi, partiamo alle cinque.

Let’s leave at five then.

Se hai deciso che devi licenziarti, allora fallo.

If you want to resign, then do it


There are still many uses left to tackle, but our meal is over!

Written by Flaminia Paternoster – Terminology and Communications Trainee at TermCoord

 5,566 total views,  3 views today

Categorised in:

Leave a Reply