What’s the meaning of prego?
I don’t know if you’ve heard it in conversation before or if you started reading this article out of pure curiosity, but this is one of the most polite Italian words you’ll ever learn.
Italians use it very often in everyday life: when they go to the bar or when someone thanks them when they receive requests…
In short, it’s a term that will definitely come in handy if you’re planning a trip to Italy.
Let’s see how to use prego in Italian.
What does prego mean in Italian?
Prego is the first person present tense conjugation of the Italian verb pregare, which means “to pray” or “to beg”. But what does that have to do with being polite?
The thing is, prego can also have other meanings depending on the context. It can be used to say “you’re welcome” in Italian, to give permission, or to ask to repeat something.
All these meanings of prego are somehow linked to the idea of wishing for something to happen. Or, if we want to try a more literal translation: “[I] pray [that you… / that this…]”.
Generally speaking, prego is mostly used as a formal courtesy expression that can be used with both strangers and acquaintances in many everyday situations, such as when you enter a store.
Let’s see some of them.
All the different meanings of prego
Here’s a list of all the things that prego can mean in Italian. If you know some German, you’ll find that this word can be used as the Italian equivalent of bitte.
Let’s dive in!
To say you’re welcome in Italian
When someone says “thank you”, Italians reply with prego. That’s how you say “you’re” welcome in Italian. I know, that’s not a very intuitive reply, but there’s a reason behind it.
When they want to thank someone, Italians say “grazie“. In ancient times, this expression meant that the speaker wished for you to be rewarded by heaven for your good deeds.
Now you see why someone would reply “I pray for it” to such a blessing?
To invite someone in
If someone asks you permission to come inside your house or place of work, you can say prego to invite them in.
A: “Permesso?” B: “Prego, si accomodi pure”
A: “May I come in?” B: “Prego, make yourself comfortable”
Just be careful not to say that if the other person has very sharp fangs and pale skin.
To start interacting with visitors or customers
You can also say prego to start interacting with customers who enter your place of work. Let’s say you’re a shopping assistant or a tourist guide.
In that case, when someone approaches you while you work, the right thing to say is:
Prego, come posso aiutarla?
Please, how can I help you?
Give permission to say, do, or use something
Prego can also be a formal way of giving permission.
When someone wants to join a conversation or expresses an interest in what you’re doing, you can say prego to give them permission to speak.
For instance, if you’re teaching a class and one of your students asks permission to make a question, the right answer is:
The same applies when someone asks to use something that is yours. Even then, an Italian will say:
Prego, fai pure!
Sure, go ahead!
You can even say it sarcastically.
A: Non ti dispiace se finisco tutti i tuoi cioccolatini, vero? B: Prego, ma fai pure!
A: You don’t mind if I finish all your chocolates, do you? B: Please do, go ahead!
When you don’t understand what others say
Prego can be used as a fixed expression to say “I beg your pardon” or “Excuse me?”.
If you are new to speaking Italian, you may not always understand the people you’re talking to. Maybe they talk too fast, or they used a word you don’t know.
In that case, you just have to say “Prego?”, and they’ll understand they have to repeat what they said.
Again, you can also do it sarcastically, or to express amazement/disbelief at something.
A: “Ehi, hai appena vinto 10.000€!” B: “Prego?”
A: “Hey, you just won 10.000€!” B: “I beg your pardon?”
A: “I tuoi capelli sono orribili oggi!” B: “Prego?!”
A: “Your hair looks awful today!” B: “Excuse me?!”
Now you know the meaning of prego and all the ways it can be used. And if someone thanks you for something, you also know how to say “you’re welcome” in Italian.
See you next time to learn more Italian words! 🙂
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