The meaning of prego & 5 ways to use this very polite word

The meaning of prego in Italian
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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?

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.

prego means I pray in Italian and many other things

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!

Different meanings of "prego" (1)

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?

Different meanings of "prego" (2)

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.

Different meanings of "prego" (3)

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?

4Different meanings of "prego" (4)

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.

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For instance, if you’re teaching a class and one of your students asks permission to make a question, the right answer is:

Certo, prego!

Sure, prego!

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!

Different meanings of "prego" (5)

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?!”

use prego in everyday conversations

In short

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! 🙂

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

FAQs on The meaning of prego & 5 ways to use this very polite word

How do you use Prego in Italian?

You use "prego" to say "you're welcome", to give permission, to invite someone in, or to ask to repeat something.

Where does the word Prego come from?

The word "prego" comes from the Italian verb "pregare", which means "to pray" or "to beg".

Do you use Prego when someone says grazie?

When someone says "Grazie" ("thank you"), you say "Prego" to mean "you're welcome".

Is the word Prego formal or informal?

"Prego" is a very polite word and can be used both in formal and informal situations.

Michele

I love writing just about everything Italian.

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