Bread idioms in Italian

In this lesson, you’ll learn the most common and interesting bread idioms in Italian.

Let’s start!


Bread idioms in Italian

There are many bread idioms in Italian. Let’s take a look at the most common of them.

Buono come il pane

The first idiom we’re going to see translates to good-natured.

Literally, it means “as good as bread”. Bread, especially when you’re hungry, tastes very good. This is where this idiom comes from.

Buono come il pane
A very honest and kind person, good-natured
Literally: As good as bread

Luigi è buono come il pane.
Luigi is good-natured.

smiling young boy with a blue t-shirt on

Mettere a pane e acqua

This translates to to give a harsh punishment and literally means “to give someone bread and water”.

Bread and water could be a decent meal if you’re starving, but if you’re used to eating pizza, fruit, meat and dairy products, a bread-and-water diet it can be quite a change for the worse.

This is why mettere a pane e acqua is used to mean a harsh punishment.

Mettere a pane e acqua
To punish someone harshly
Literally: To give someone bread and water

Il carceriere ha messo il prigioniero a pane e acqua.
The jailer gave the prisoner a harsh punishment.


Trovare pane per i propri denti

If you “find bread for your teeth”, it means you came across a challenge and are having difficulties overcoming it. You basically have a very hard piece of bread to chew on.

Trovare pane per i propri denti
To come across a challenge
Literally: To find bread for your teeth

Carlo non si fa mettere i piedi in testa da nessuno. Marco ha trovato pane per i suoi denti.
Carlo doesn’t let anyone walk over him. Marco came across a challenge.

two box fighters during a match

Rendere pan per focaccia

This idiom translates to to get even and it literally means “to give flatbread in exchange for bread”.

Rendere pan per focaccia
To get even, to give a taste of one’s own medicine
Literally: To give flatbread in exchange for bread

Prima o poi troverò il modo di rendergli pan per focaccia.
Sooner or later I will find a way to give them a taste of their own medicine.

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
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Dire pane al pane e vino al vino

If you see a loaf of bread, call it a loaf of bread. If you see a casket of wine, call it a casket of wine. Speak clearly, and don’t hide your true intentions.

This is what dire pane al pane e vino al vino means, literally translating to “to say bread to bread and wine to wine”.

Dire pane al pane e vino al vino
To call a spade a spade
Literally: To say bread to bread and wine to wine


Togliersi il pane di bocca (per qualcuno)

Picture this: you’re hungry, even very hungry, and you’re about to eat a big, fatty sandwich. You suddenly stumble upon a child who’s even more hungry than you.

You decide to sacrifice yourself, and your food, and give him the sandwich. You’ve literally “took the bread out of your mouth” for them.

Togliersi il pane di bocca
To sacrifice oneself
Literally: To take the bread out of one’s own mouth

Qualsiasi genitore si toglierebbe il pane di bocca per il benessere del proprio figlio.
Any parent would sacrifice themselves for the welfare of their child.

man giving food do foodbank worker

Se non è zuppa è pan bagnato

This idiom literally means “if it’s not soup, it’s wet bread” and it can be used to translate the English expression it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Se non è zuppa è pan bagnato
It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other
Literally: If it’s not soup, it’s wet bread


Per un pezzo di pane

There’s an Italian saying that goes, lavorare per vivere o vivere per lavorare?. Work to live or live to work? Either way, we can’t really refrain from eating, so we might even take on some absolutely draining job positions in order to have something to eat. Our time “for a piece of bread”.

Per un pezzo di pane
In order to have something to eat
Literally: For a piece of bread

Mio papà lavora dieci ore al giorno in fabbrica per un pezzo di pane.
My dad works ten hours a day in the factory for a piece of bread.

very tired man almost turned to stone

And that’s it with the most common bread idioms in Italian!


What next?

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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