All You Need to Know about Mangiare in Italian: the verb “to eat”


Key Takeaways

Embark on a delicious linguistic journey through Italy’s mealtime traditions! Learn how to properly use the verb mangiare and avoid common mistakes, while also discovering the unique Italian meals and idioms that revolve around the joy of eating. 🍝🇮🇹

  • Breakfast in Italy: Italians keep it sweet with a cappuccino and a cornetto. Remember, it’s fare colazione, not mangiare colazione!
  • Snack Time: Got the munchies? Italians do too! They enjoy an spuntino or a merenda to keep those hunger pangs at bay.
  • Lunch and Dinner: These are your main events – pranzo and cena. Italians often head home for lunch and savor dinner as a significant meal of the day.
  • Aperitivo: It’s not just a drink, it’s a pre-meal social experience! But remember, you fare l’aperitivo or bere l’aperitivo, you don’t mangiare l’aperitivo.
  • Conjugating Mangiare: It’s a straightforward -ARE verb. Nail the basics like io mangio (I eat) and noi mangiamo (we eat) to sound like a pro.
  • Passato Prossimo: Talk about past meals with ease. Just pair avere with mangiato and you’re all set to recount your Italian culinary adventures.
  • Don’t Mix Up Your Verbs: Italians don’t mangiare every meal – they fare some and pranzare or cenare others. Get this right, and you’ll blend in like a local.
  • Idioms for Foodies: Spice up your Italian with food-related idioms like mangiarsi le parole (to mumble) or mangiarsi le mani (to regret deeply). They’re tasty tidbits of the language!

Quick facts

What is a typical Italian breakfast like?

Italian breakfast is usually sweet, often featuring an espresso or cappuccino paired with a cornetto, milk and cereal, or cookies and coffee.

When do Italians have a spuntino?

Italians typically have a spuntino, a light nibble, a couple of hours after breakfast.

How important is lunch in Italy?

Lunch is a significant meal in Italy, often enjoyed at home with family during the pausa pranzo (lunch break).

What is the purpose of an aperitivo?

An aperitivo consists of drinks and nibbles meant to stimulate the appetite before a meal, and is a social and culinary ritual in Italy.

How do Italians refer to having dinner together?

Italians might say "uscire a cena" to indicate going out for dinner, highlighting the social aspect of the meal.

What verb is used incorrectly with meals by Italian learners?

Learners often mistakenly use "mangiare" with meals like colazione or cena; instead, "fare" is correct for colazione, spuntino, merenda, and aperitivo.

How do Italians say "to have lunch" or "to have dinner"?

Italians use "pranzare" for having lunch and "cenare" for having dinner, specific verbs for these main meals.

What does "mangiarsi le parole" mean idiomatically?

"Mangiarsi le parole" means to mumble or speak too quickly, essentially "eating" one's words.

What is the idiomatic meaning of "mangiarsi le mani"?

"Mangiarsi le mani" translates to eating one's own hands, meaning to deeply regret something.

How do Italians express preparing meals like breakfast?

Italians use "preparare" for making meals, such as "preparare la colazione" for preparing breakfast.

My Thoughts

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?

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

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):


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

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

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

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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’ll have dinner at 8 pm.

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

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

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

How to use Mangiare in Italian?

"Mangiare" means to eat. It is a transitive verb, so it usually takes a direct object or an adverb. Some examples are "mangiare un panino" (to eat a sandwich) or "mangiare in fretta" (to eat in a hurry).

How do you conjugate Mangiare?

The verb "mangiare" is a regular verb of the first conjugation. Here is the present tense: io mangio, tu mangi, lui/lei mangia, noi mangiamo, voi mangiate, loro mangiano.

What are the idioms based on the verb "mangiare" in Italian?

Some of the most common idioms based on the verb "mangiare" are "Mangiarsi le parole" (to eat your own words), "Rimangiarsi le parole" (to re-eat your own words), "Mangiare (qualcuno o qualcosa) con gli occhi" (to eat someone or something with the eyes), and "Mangiarsi le mani" (to eat one's own hands).

Italian word of the day
Hai la febbre! Sì, mi è venuta l’influenza.
You have a fever! Yes, I got influenza.
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