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Why learn the 1000 most common Italian words?
Are you trying to learn Italian?
The best way to get started is to memorize the 1000 most common Italian words.
Many language experts will point out that focusing on the basic vocabulary in any language is the best investment for your time.
You will rarely use complicated or trivial words in your daily life when speaking with friends, colleagues, or family members.
So why not focus on getting familiar with only the words you know you’ll use?
With the basic words, you can make simple phrases for your first Italian conversation or your next trip to Italy!
With basic Italian words, you’ll start forming sentences in Italian and ultimately have flowing Italian conversations.
How much can you say with 1,000 words?
How much can you understand with the top 1000 most common Italian words?
A study revealed how much you can understand with 1000, 2000, or 3000 words.
Studying the first 1000 most commonly used Italian words in the language will familiarize you with:
- 76.0% of all vocabulary in non-fiction literature
- 79.6% of all vocabulary in fiction literature
- 87.8% of vocabulary in oral speech
Studying the 2000 most commonly Italian used words will familiarize you with:
- 84% of vocabulary in non-fiction
- 86.1% of vocabulary in fictional literature
- 92.7% of vocabulary in oral speech
And studying the 3000 most commonly Italian used words will familiarize you with:
- 88.2% of vocabulary in non-fiction
- 89.6% of vocabulary in fiction
- 94.0% of vocabulary in oral speech
If you’re an ambitious language learner, you can certainly learn 3,000 of the most common words for 94% comprehension.
However, for most of us, we want to optimize for what’s the best return for our time.
Based on this study, it seems that 1,000 most common words are the best bet.
The reason is, you have to memorize 3x (or 2,000 more words) to be able to understand only 6.2% of vocabulary in oral speech.
It doesn’t seem very exciting considering how valuable your time is.
In fact, we’ve seen that most Italian learners can get to a comfortable conversation speaking level with less than 1,000 Italian words.
If you listen to Italian music to learn this beautiful language and improve your Italian pronunciation, choose the right Italian songs because some lyrics aren’t exactly what you’d say in real life.
Frequent Italian words: facts and figures
The Italian language is estimated to be made out of a total of 450000 words with the largest Italian dictionary having over 270000 words.
This can seem a really big and frightening number to someone wanting to start learning Italian, but here’s the good news: you only need to know roughly 5% of the total words to be fluent in Italian.
This means that focusing your efforts on learning the most frequent Italian words you will be fluent in Italian in no time.
What’s even more encouraging is that knowing as little as 100 words helps you understand half of the words in an article or book written in Italian.
Learn the most common 1000 words and you get to a 75% understanding of texts in Italian.
Also, each new word you learn helps you guess the Italian meaning of up to 135 words you have never seen before.
This means that knowing only 1000 words helps you guess up to 135000 Italian words.
Doesn’t seem that frightening now, right?
The problem with lists of common Italian words
Now that you know what you can do with 1000 words in the Italian language, the question is: how to learn these basic Italian words?
Many people make flashcards with word lists.
These word lists are usually generated from a huge multi-billion sample of language called a corpus which ensures all topics and text types are covered and the word list reflects how words are used by real users.
On the internet, you can find quite a few lists of the most 1000 common Italian words like this, this, and this.
Some of these lists of 100, 500, 1000, and 2000 basic Italian words are available for free in PDF or CSV format.
However, many are not very useful because they include “function words” like “for, but, when”.
For example, here are the top 50 words from one of those lists:
non che di e la il un a è per in una sono mi ho si lo ma ti ha le cosa con i no da se come io ci questo qui hai bene sei tu del me mio al solo sì tutto te più della era c lei gli
Does that help? No.
Even though these words are frequent and useful, they don’t make any sense per se and need a context to be practiced and mastered.
Another reason for not using them is how different forms of the same word are counted.
Some wordlists are not lemmatized.
This means that different forms of the same words are not counted together, i.e. goes, went, gone, going and go. This is generally more practical.
Ironically, one of the largest lists of Italian words is made from movie subtitles, which are often a translation of foreign movie scripts. Often, they’re not even professionally translated.
So, they don’t reflect the way an Italian speaker really talk.
In other words, the top 1000 Italian words are not the same for everyone.
The 1000 most used Italian words depend on who uses them, and on their purpose.
The best list of common Italian words
This is what you were looking for: the best list of common Italian words.
The smartest word list for the Italian language I’ve found so far is this.
It’s divided into:
- Italian nouns
- Italian adjectives
- Italian verbs
- Italian function words like and adverbs, prepositions, articles
Judging from the words, I guess they were taken from newspaper articles.
The picture below is a preview. As you can see, the words are arranged according to parts of speech.
Feel free to download it and edit it as you wish.
However, this list lacks a translation.
For my translation, keep reading!
Top 1000 common Italian words with English translation
The list of common Italian words I recommend doesn’t come with an English translation, so I translated the words for you.
Open the spreadsheet below to see the list of the top 1000 most frequent Italian words with English translation:
- Italian nouns make the longest list
- Then come Italian adjectives with translation
- Italian verbs with English translation in the infinitive form
- Other Italian words include adverbs, prepositions, and adjectives
You may also download the file to edit it as you wish.
Download the list in Google Sheet format.
To download it in a printable PDF format, just tell me where I should send it.
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What are the most common words used in Italian?
Let’s start with some of the most common Italian words used in this popular language:
volta (as in “many times”)
time and weather
What are the 100 most common words in Italian?
Even from a list of 1000 words, it still makes sense to start memorizing the 100 most common Italian words.
That’s your foundation to start forming an Italian phrase and ultimately have flowing conversations.
Indeed, you will rarely use complicated words in your daily conversations with friends, colleagues, or family members.
You find the 100 most common Italian words on the top of the list.
Once you’re done with them, you can move on to the other 900 words.
While apps like Quizlet and Anki are popular choices, I still recommend learning these words by putting them in context, for example in conversations with native speakers.
Learn more about Italian words.
What is the most popular Italian word?
You only need to look at the top of this list of the 1000 most used Italian words.
According to the list above, the most popular Italian word is a noun: cosa.
The word cosa in Italian gets so many colours and flavours according to the context.
Let’s see a few examples:
E’ la cosa piu’ bella che abbia mai visto.
It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
In this sentence, cosa doesn’t get any specific meaning besides the generic ”thing” we’re referring to.
Cosa mangiamo stasera?
What do we eat tonight?
In this sentence cosa is actually used to refer to something which, in this specific context, can be replaced with “food”.
We give for granted that we’re talking of food because of the type of question we do.
This would already be enough to make it to the top 1000.
Ti ricordi quella cosa che avevi visto tempo fa? L’ho vista anch’io ora!
Do you remember that thing you saw a while ago? I’ve just seen it now!
Again, the use of cosa, in this context, is referred to as a generic “thing” that could be potentially anything (A star? A spoon? A mouse? A spaceship? A waterfall?).
In this 3rd example, is that we use cosa in the same way you’d say “thingy” when you don’t remember the actual name of an object.
“Cosa” is a noun, thus you will need to remember, in this specific 3rd scenario, to also decline it according to what are you referring to/pointing at.
If you’re referring to a piatto (male noun meaning plate, dish) then you should say coso if you’re referring to it.
If you’re referring to some specific breed of conigli (means “rabbits”) then you will need to use the plural form of the noun which would be cosi (sounds a little bit rude).
With so many uses, it’s no wonder that it ranks #1 among the top 1000 most common Italian words in the Italian language.
Learn more about other meanings of the word cosa in Italian.
The most popular Italian word
We just told you the most popular word is cosa. However, deciding which is the most popular Italian word is not so simple.
Here’s another very common Italian word: ciao.
Ciao means hello and is pronounced as “chaw” since it’s a word Italians use every day.
It is mainly used in informal contexts. You can say ciao to friends and family members.
Ciao comes from the Venetian dialect (spoken in the Northeast of Italy), more specifically from the phrase s-ciào vostro, literally meaning “I am your slave”.
In the 17th century, this expression was used by servants when addressing their employers.
Often, s-ciào vostro was shortened to simply s-ciào and then to ciào.
With time, this word lost all its servile connotations and started to be used as an informal greeting (instead of Buongiorno, Buona Sera or Buona Notte).
Read more about the most popular Italian word.
The verb mangiare in Italian
This is probably the most important Italian verb you need to know if you’re planning to go to Italy!
It is well known all around the world that the boot-shaped peninsula has a huge eating culture.
Mangiare is a regular verb of the first conjugation and follows the typical –are pattern:
Io mangio= I eat
Tu mangi= you eat
Lui/Lei mangia= He/she eats
Noi mangiamo= we eat
Voi mangiate= you (plural) eat
Loro mangiano= they eat
Here’s a list of all the Italian meals you will find yourself invited to by your Italian friends:
light meal, nibble
spuntino di mezzanotte
Just so you know, it is incorrect to use mangiare followed by the meals we just described above, so we DO NOT SAY: mangiare colazione, pranzo, etc.
Instead, for colazione, spuntino, merenda, and aperitivo, we use the word fare (to do):
to have breakfast
fare uno spuntino
to have a nibble
to have a snack
to have an aperitif
To talk about lunch (pranzo) and dinner (cena), we actually use these verbs:
to have lunch
to have dinner
Learn more about the verb mangiare and other Italian food phrases.
Are flashcards useful to learn common Italian words?
Now that we’ve shown you the benefits of focusing on the common words, let’s go over the methods to memorize them.
Anki is a digital flashcard creator that’s fairly popular in the language learning community.
You can use it to create your flashcards and its function goes beyond language learning.
The user interface is not the most modern, but it gets the job done.
Plus, you can use your phone, desktop, or tablet to learn basic Italian words.
Memrise has a more friendly user interface for creating and reading digital flashcards.
Our favorite part about Memrise is the ability to leverage the other digital flashcards that other community members have created.
For learning Italian, you’ll find several flashcard collections you can choose from.
Here’s an example of how to go through flashcards with Quizlet:
Does that help? Maybe, but it has some serious limits.
The problem with flashcards of common words
Now that you’re about to rush to download an app to memorize the top 1000 Italian words, I’ll spoil the fun.
This point is going to upset a lot of people.
Even though flashcard apps are the hottest thing in language learning right now, I’ll tell you to stop using them.
Stop using flashcards. Stop learning vocabulary from list of terms, or decks, or programs. Stop.
It doesn’t work, it’s a waste of time, and it’s creating bad patterns in your brain.
Even if your goal is to memorize these 1000 words, it won’t help you.
It could be Italian numbers, common Italian phrases, anything.
Learning anything (words, phrases, ideas, whatever) against its translation is creating extra steps in your brain.
It’s making you slow. It makes you think slowly, hear slowly, speak slowly.
I have a feeling that many of you reading this have experienced this frustration. I have experienced it, and it’s horrible.
There are few things as frustrating as knowing that you know what something means, but not being able to understand it when you see or hear it.
But the problem is that learning incorrectly is creating a maze that your brain has to run through as it processes every word.
You don’t do that to yourself in English (or whatever your native language), so why are you doing that with a foreign language?
Put words in context
Apps such as Anki, Memrise, and Quizlet focus on traditional single-word flashcard study.
For example, a student of Italian may have a set of flashcards for studying the days of the week, with the basic Italian word on one side and the English translation on the other side.
In contrast, well-designed language courses focus on studying vocabulary in context by prompting the user to fill in the missing word in a sentence or repeating whole sentences.
With context-based flashcards, you’ll learn the meaning of the word, the appropriate situations to use the word, and you’ll also have the chance to learn related vocabulary at the same time.
When presented with vocabulary in rich contexts provided by authentic texts instead of in isolated vocabulary drills, students become more actively engaged in using words, analyzing word meanings, and creating relationships between words.
That’s also the case of the top 1000 Italian words.
This helps develop skills and strategies that will allow them to more easily determine the meaning of unfamiliar words.
A growing number of people have realized that studying in context provides a faster, more enjoyable, and more effective method for studying a large amount of vocabulary.
If you’re currently using a single-word study app and are looking for a better way to learn, here’s the best learning resource for the Italian language.
How to put words in context
One of the great things about learning a foreign language is that you can be creative. You need creativity and motivation to develop your language skills.
This is why, when it comes to vocabulary, one of the best tools you have to memorize new words and grasp their meanings is your own brain.
You could start with the easiest words.
Choose five to ten words that you like and invent a story, a tongue twister, a song, or a poem.
Something that makes sense or that makes you laugh.
You can repeat it and show it to your friends.
Your brain will remember those words in context and that’s your aim.
You could then move onto the next level and choose five to ten words that you find hard to remember.
If what you find difficult is the correct pronunciation, you could invent a tongue twister for each word and repeat it.
You could then invent Italian stories with those words.
These are just ideas.
You can find your own way to be creative.
The important thing is that you use the vocabulary in context.
Group words into sentences, not categories
These words will form the foundation of your Italian vocabulary.
They’re some of the most frequent words you will encounter, and they’re all easy to learn.
Because these words are grouped together into sentences, they will be much easier to memorize when compared with the typical word lists that you find in language textbooks and classrooms, where you learn colors one day, types of vegetables the next day, members of the family the following day, etc.
Learning entire categories of words is a waste of time because you don’t need all those words and many compete with each other for your memory. After all, they’re similar.
Learn more about Italian vocabulary.
Common Italian phrases
How to use these words in real phrases?
Check out this list of common Italian phrases sorted by context:
- Travel information
- Making plans
- Food & drink
- Polite expressions
Every phrase comes with its English translation.
If you want to practice those words and phrases and not just read them, I recommend audio lessons based on spaced repetition.
The best way to put words in practice: Ripeti con me!
You don’t have to give up on learning the top 1000 Italian words. You only need a good method!
The best way to acquire words and phrases naturally without relying on translation is with a well-designed set of sentences from conversations in the right order.
A focus on audio over text also helps bypass reading habits based on your native language.
This also makes it possible to learn Italian in the car.
The Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!” covers the 1000 most common Italian words in a set of sentences grouped by grammar patterns.
Those patterns are acquired almost unconsciously, while the very act of speaking bypassing translation will get you to think in Italian.
What’s more, since these are audio lessons, you’ll learn the new words with pronunciation.
Learn more about Ripeti Con Me.verbal phrases
Congratulations! You’ve just found the best list of the top 1000 most common Italian words.
Let me show you how to use it to learn those words fast (spoiler: put them into context).
Download the list
In a hurry? Download a PDF with all the phrases!
Just tell me where I should send it in the form below.
Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!