If you’ve been studying Italian for a while and feel up to it, I strongly recommend using an Italian-Italian dictionary, which is what an Italian person would do when looking for the meaning of a word.
Here you will not find the translation of a word, but its explanation in Italian, which will help you develop your language skills more rapidly and build a vaster vocabulary!
If you’ve never used an Italian-Italian dictionary, try it out! It will be easier and clearer than you think.
Here are the best available tools to use as an online dictionary:
This dictionary has been created by the Treccani Institute and is unquestionably the most prestigious and authoritative source.
The page is simple. When you digitize the word you are looking for in the search box, a list of items will appear so that you can select the closest entry.
You will also be able to search for things within the dictionary, encyclopedia, synonyms and contraries, and others. Sometimes though, it can be so complete that it becomes confusing!
Il Corriere della Sera is an Italian daily paper. On their website, you can find the Sabatini-Colletti dictionary. Its authors are recognized as absolute authorities in the field.
This is a great resource if you want to go from word to sentence, to text; here you’ll be able to check the construction of sentences with the words you’re interested in.
It is very clear, complete, and easy to understand and use.
Repubbica is another important daily newspaper in Italy. Its website offers the Grande Dicxionario, the work of famous author Aldo Gabrielli, published by Hoepli.
In its introduction, it lists:
- 500 000 items, meanings, and definitions
- Synonyms, antonyms, etymologies
- Scientific terminology, from information technology to economics
- Regional words, dialects, slang, and colloquial words in the common language
- Foreign words and locutions in everyday language
- Archaic and literary terms
- Neologisms and new meanings of words of the traditional linguistic heritage
This website is owned by the publishing house De Agostini, which is an authority in the publication of school textbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries.
On this page, you will find an Italian-Italian dictionary and other bilingual dictionaries: Italian-English, Italian-German, Italian-French, Italian-Spanish, Italian-Portuguese, Italian-Polish, Italian-Tagalog, Italian- Albanese, and Italian-Turkish.
It is a good starting point if you still need to work up the courage to use an Italian-only dictionary!
Of course, when it comes to bilingual dictionaries, it all depends on your native language! I am sure that if you’ve been studying Italian for a while, you probably have scoured the Internet for the best dictionaries available in your language.
Here, I’ll leave you some of the best Italian-English resources:
This is one of the best-known bilingual dictionaries online. It offers Italian-English and Italian-Spanish dictionaries, as well as Italian definitions.
They also have a useful Forum section in which you can ask for clarifications if you don’t understand or haven’t found something. A mobile app is available.
- Collins English-Italian Dictionary
A simple and straightforward online tool. Simply enter the word in the search box and find what you’re looking for! It also offers a translation tool and thesaurus.
- Oxford Italian Dictionary App
Available for download both for iOS and Android. You can get a trial version of this app (online only) for free, and if you like it, you can download and have access to its 450,000 total translations of 300,000 words and phrases everywhere you go, offline.
These deserve a special section. If you are just beginning to study Italian, translation tools can be very useful and they will save you some time!
The most used ones for Italian are:
- Google Translate
Who doesn’t know Google Translate? This tool provides the translation in 97 languages. Here you can also listen to the pronunciation of words, both in Italian and in the other language. With a specific icon, you’ll also be able to use the keyboard in the language you wish, which is very useful to write special characters or accents!
Translation service in 52 languages. The sound is not available.
There are many other translation tools available online, but there is something even more interesting.
These are called contextual dictionaries and are a very interesting combination between a translation tool and a dictionary.
Here you can select the language pair you’re interested in (Italian-English, Italian-Spanish, Italian-German, etc.) and enter clusters of words and even short sentences.
The contextual dictionary will look for results within a database of translated texts and, as you can probably guess from its name, show you the result within the context.
These are great tools to find idioms, conversational expressions, and the meaning of words in context.
The best are:
This is probably the best and most famous contextual translation tool online. It offers a wide range of services and is clear and easy to use.
It offers the main European languages and also some less obvious ones like Turkish, Japanese, and Hebrew.
You can visualize the language keyboard, listen to the pronunciation of words and look for synonyms. All of this while seeing the word or sentence you looked for in various contexts.
It also has a free app that you can download on your smartphone to have it always with you. Pretty amazing!
Linguee is very similar to Reverso, and it also offers a free app. On the same website, you’ll find a pretty good translation tool.
On Linguee you can find Italian paired with most European languages, but it does not offer all the extra features of Reverso.
If you’ve never used a contextual dictionary, I highly recommend you try them out. They are game-changers in language learning and translation!
Here are the dictionary and similar resources I’ve found most helpful.
Built-in computer dictionary (Apple computers)
In my MacBook, which has a built-in Dictionary app, I’ve activated the Italian-English dictionary, which is called Oxford Paravia Il Dizionario inglese – italiano/italiano.
Now, whether I encounter an unfamiliar word I just highlight the word (double click it), then right-click (or control-click) it, and select “Look up”.
First, I’ll get the pronunciation, which is sometimes all I need.
For example, I like to read online newspapers out loud to myself. But when I don’t know which syllable is stressed, I can find this out with two clicks.
This computer dictionary is available whether you’re reading text online or in any program, such as Notepad. But only if the program allows copying and pasting. It works with words copied from Leggi Con Me.
Drawback: Although the Apple built-in dictionary will recognize the infinitive of the verb if you type in a variant, it will not supply a conjugation table. It’s only available for Apple users.
Let us know in the comments below if there are similar resources for the rest of the world.
Copying and pasting into one of the free Italian-English dictionaries available on the web
My favorite standard Italian dictionary at this point is the Collins Italian-English dictionary.
It will give you a full conjugation table if you look up any form of a word, and will also give some sample sentences and common combinations (such as “spesso e volentieri”).
Sometimes I’ll just paste the word or phrase into a Google search, and get other dictionary options and often a plethora of discussion about derivation, common usage, and whether the expression is just used in parts of Italy.
Mobile device dictionaries
If you’re using a mobile device like an iPhone I like the Oxford Parvia dictionary.
We know, of course, that there can be huge flaws in this resource.
But sometimes it will do the trick, especially if I need help with more than just a word or two and am trying to get a handle on a block of text that’s over my head.
When I use Google Translate I usually will double-check by reversing the direction of the translation to see if the meaning stays the same.
The robot voice is not how you want to speak Italian, but at least it lets you know where the stress should fall.
Last, but far from least: Copying and pasting into the context part of Reverso
This is a novel site that uses artificial intelligence to find diverse contexts where words or phrases have been translated.
If I encounter a word in my reading and want to see how it’s normally used I get dozens of examples. I also like that I can search for phrases or expressions, not just single words.
I find this the best resource, after Ripeti Con Me, to gain ownership of a word or phrase so I can later use it in normal conversation.
In Reverso, when I search for a verb form, such as “dovrebbe”.
It will give examples of just that verb form, but under the search bar it will provide the infinitive (dovere), and clicking an icon on the side takes me to a full conjugation table.
The sheer volume of examples you can see in Reverso provides plenty of information about the normal use of the word or phrase.
You can see whether the word is mostly used in formal church or legal contexts, or whether it’s used mostly in the context of rough-and-tumble street slang.
Good to know if you don’t want to sound ridiculous.
If Reverso comes up with only a small smattering of examples this might be a warning that the word is rare, archaic, or unique to a region.
Reverso allows me to save words I’ve searched as favorites.
I use my favorites list as flashcards and can toggle between just seeing the word or seeing the sentence I’ve chosen as a context example.
It’s not as good as a real flashcard program, in that I have to cover the Italian on the left with a piece of paper so I only see the English prompt.
But it works just fine, and I’ve been able to solidify my memory of dozens of words using this method.
Sometimes the examples that Reverso’s artificial intelligence chooses are so off the wall that they create interesting images in themselves.
For example, looking up “polpetta” I got as an example:
Volevi compromettere la tua virtù per una polpetta.
You were willing to compromise your virtue for a meatball.
Ummm. OK. Another example, the verb “colare” means, depending on the context, to strain (like pasta), drain, pour, drip, ooze, or run (like a nose).
But Reverso’s artificial intelligence culled the literature and gave me this unforgettable image:
Navigando sul sangue che fai colare.
Sailing on the blood that you make drip.
On the downside, translators sometimes will take some license and seldom translate word for word, so some of the examples are just bad.
I’ve found it pretty easy to figure out which examples to ignore or else report to Reverso as being poor examples.
Reverso also has an iPhone app, which I use, and a computer app, which I tried but decided it’s simpler to just use the website.
One final word about getting Italian pronunciation guidance from these resources.
Our first source for pronunciation guidance should always be Stefano and the people he recruits to read the Leggi Con Me texts.
Their pronunciation is perfect, but they’re not always around.
So we must use the dictionaries’ pronunciation guides or listen to robot voices.
I recommend that you get a handle on the exact sounds that correspond with the dictionary pronunciation guides by listening to Stefano.
Then look to see how the dictionary writes the sounds.
A couple of points: Stress indicators are indicated with a ‘ mark before the accented syllable.
Whether a vowel is open or closed is shown by ɛ vs. e and ɔ vs. o.
Here are a couple of examples that have open and closed versions of the same vowels: bene [ˈbɛne] and cotto [ˈkɔtto].
There are a couple of special symbols, such as ʎʎ for the gli sound of figlia, ɲɲ for the gn sound of legno, and ʃ for the “sh” sound of scena.
The rest are fairly self-explanatory, except the “y” sound (such as in ieri) is written as j.
Some resources, such as Reverso, don’t have a written pronunciation guide; instead, a robot will read the word. Not ideal, but it can help a bit.
For example, I have sometimes wondered about what is the proper pronunciation of Italian words that came from English.
Examples of these now, Italian words, include “privacy” and “follower” (used in the context of social media followers instead of the perfectly good Italian word “seguace“, still applicable to followers of religions, leaders, etc.).
Will I sound ridiculous as an English speaker saying those words with an Italian accent?
Does Stefano say these types of words with an Italian accent because he has an Italian accent?
Put those words into Google Translate or Reverso and you’ll hear how an Italian robot says them, which is distinct from the way the American robot says them.
So there you go.
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