Mangiare in Italian: the verb “to eat” and its culture

Today we’re going to look at one of the words most associated with Italy and Italian culture: mangiare. The verb mangiare in Italian can be used metaphorically or literally, and it means what you already know it to mean: to eat.
mangiare in italian
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Mangiare in Italy: the meals

This is probably the most important 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, and for a reason: mealtime is probably the most important time of the day for many Italians.

And we’re not talking just about lunch and dinner. Here’s a list of all the Italian meals you will find yourself invited to by your Italian friends:

  • colazione= breakfast
    In Italy, breakfast is usually sweet. It can be an espresso or a cappuccino with a cornetto (croissant), some milk and cereal, or cookies and coffee.
  • spuntino= light meal, nibble
    You will have this a couple of hours after breakfast.
  • pranzo= lunch
    Lunch is the first big meal of the day, many people go back home during their pausa pranzo (lunch break) to have lunch with their family.
  • merenda= snack (tea break in the UK)
    La merenda is another light (or not so light) snack to have a few hours after lunch.
  • aperitivo= aperitif*
    If you go out for dinner, you cannot skip the This consists of drinks accompanied by nibbles to be had before the meal. On special occasions, you can have aperitivo even before lunch!
  • cena= dinner, supper (also tea in the UK)
    La cena is the second big meal of the day. You can have it at home with your family, or you can uscire a cena (go out for dinner).
  • spuntino di mezzanotte= midnight snack
    If you’re feeling hungry before going to sleep, why not have a spuntino di mezzanotte?

Breakfast in Italian

Conjugation: the present & passato prossimo

Mangiare is a regular verb of the first conjugation and follows the typical –are pattern.

It’s a transitive verb, so it usually takes a direct object, even if it can also be followed by an adverb instead: mangiare bene or mangiare male (to eat well or poorly),  mangiare in fretta (to eat in a hurry).

As we mentioned, the conjugation of mangiare follows a regular –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

If you want to talk about something you ate or have eaten, you can use the passato prossimo.

To do it, just use the verb avere (to have) followed by the participio passato (past participle) of mangiare, which is mangiato.

  • Io ho mangiato = I have eaten / I ate
  • Tu hai mangiato = You have eaten / You ate
  • Lui ha mangiato = He has eaten / He ate
  • Lei ha mangiato = She has eaten / She ate
  • Noi abbiamo mangiato = We have eaten / We ate
  • Voi avete mangiato = You (plural) have eaten / You (plural) ate
  • Loro hanno mangiato = They have eaten / They ate

to eat in Italian

Mangiare: top mistakes

Now that you have learned to use and conjugate the verb mangiare, let’s make sure you do not make the top mistakes Italian learners make with this verb!

It may seem easy enough to use, but there are some tricky details to remember!

Here they are:

It is INCORRECT to use mangiare followed by the meals we just described above, so we DO NOT SAY:

Mangiare la colazione / uno spuntino / il pranzo/ la merenda / l’aperitivo / la cena

Instead, for colazione, spuntino, merenda e aperitivo, we use the word fare (to do):

  • FARE COLAZIONE
  • FARE UNO SPUNTINO
  • FARE MERENDA
  • FARE L’APERITIVO*

You might be wondering, though, if fare colazione means to eat breakfast, what do you say when you make it, as in prepare it?

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Preparare la colazione (uno spuntino, la merenda, l’aperitivo, etc.)!

To talk about lunch (pranzo) and dinner (cena), we actually have verbs:

PRANZARE = to eat/have lunch

CENARE = to eat/have dinner

Vuoi pranzare con me?

Do you want to have lunch with me?

Noi ceniamo alle 8. 

We have dinner at 8 pm.

*We also say BERE L’APERITIVO (to drink aperitivo), as it is mostly about drinking and not eating!

lunch in Italian

Mangiare: Idioms

As you can imagine there are many idioms based on the verb mangiare. Here are some of the most used:

  • Mangiarsi le parole
    to eat your own words
    Meaning: to mumble or speak too quickly without pronouncing all the letters properly.
  • Rimangiarsi le parole
    to re-eat your own words
    Meaning: to go back on something you said, to break a promise
  • Mangiare (qualcuno o qualcosa) con gli occhi
    to eat someone or something with the eyes
    Meaning: to desire something or someone intensely
  • Mangiarsi le mani
    to eat one’s own hands
    Meaning: to deeply regret something

Still translating in your head? Wanna speak Italian for real? Check out Stefano's courses to think directly in Italian and become fluent fast!

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