What’s the difference between pollo and gallina?

You might think that pollo and gallina in Italian mean the same thing, but that’s not exactly true. Sure, both these words relate to those fluffy birds that are too heavy to fly, but they are not used the same way.

Learn the difference between pollo and gallina for good here!


The difference between pollo and gallina

The difference is in their purpose, really.

What is a “pollo”?

Pollo is either a male or female chicken that’s been specifically bred for meat.

Il pollo
The chicken

Since male chickens get bulkier than hens, pollo more often than not refers to a young male chicken that Italians will buy at a supermarket (supermercato).

When you’re out doing your shopping, you don’t look for a gallina unless you want to buy a living hen to keep as an egg-laying machine. If you want to eat chicken for dinner, you have to search for carne di pollo (chicken meat) because that’s the word you’ll find on price labels. Not gallina.

Pollo is also the word that is used to translate roasted chicken in Italian.

Il pollo arrosto
The roasted chicken

difference between pollo and gallina - roasted chicken on a table with glasses and candles

What is a “gallina”?

Gallina is always a female chicken, a hen that’s been specifically bred for eggs.

La gallina
The hen

Will you find this word anywhere at an Italian supermarket? Yes, on eggs packaging.

When you’re buying eggs, you’ll often see a writing on the pack saying uova da galline allevate a terra, meaning cage-free chicken eggs. Or also uova da galline allevate all’aperto, free-range chicken eggs.

You won’t find gallina in the meat aisle. That’s reserved for polli (plural for pollo).

Gallina allevata a terra
Cage-free chicken
Literally: Chicken bred on the ground

Gallina allevata all’aperto
Free-range chicken
Literally: Chicken bred outdoors

three eggs - tre uova

Gallina is also the word you’ll use to say you own chickens. Tenere le galline means to keep chickens in a chicken coop or hen-house.

Funnily enough, the translation for chicken coop in Italian derives from pollo.

Il pollaio
The chicken coop, hen-house

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What are “gallo” and “chioccia”?

Now that we mentioned chicken coops, we can also talk about the less common kinds of chicken in Italy: the roosters, i galli, and the brooding chickens, le chiocce.

Gallo is the older, male chicken that’s specifically bred for guarding coops.

Il gallo
The rooster

Chioccia is a mother hen with pulcini, chicks. These animals are known for their fierce protective instincts, so chioccia in Italian, most commonly as mamma chioccia, came to mean an overprotective kind of mom.

La chioccia
The brooding hen

Il pulcino
The chick

pollo and gallina - chicken, pulcino, just out of the egg

Common sayings with chickens and hens

I’d like to wrap up this lesson on the difference between pollo and gallina with a brief look at the most common sayings featuring chickens and hens you will hear in Italian.

For some of these there’s really no English counterpart, so I’ll provide the literal translation in brackets along with their meaning.

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo
(An old chicken makes a good broth)

It basically means that there’s wisdom in old age.

This is a very old saying, dating back to the Medieval age.


Cervello di gallina

Cervello di gallina
Birdbrain
(Chicken brain)

The Italian equivalent for the English “birdbrain” is chicken brain.


Conoscere i propri polli

Conoscere i propri polli
(To know one’s chickens)

It is used for when you know someone or something so well you can predict their exact behavior, similar to “I know who I’m dealing with”.

sapere and conoscere - conosco i miei polli

Pollo da spennare

Pollo da spennare
Easy target for money
(A chicken to pluck)

A pollo da spennare, from penna meaning feather, is a gullible person that will most likely fall pray to one’s scams and lose money because of it.


Far ridere i polli

Far ridere i polli
Be a laughing stock
(To make the chickens laugh)

When you make chickens laugh, it means you’re a laughing stock.


Andare a letto con le galline

Andare a letto con le galline
To go to bed very early
(To go to bed with the chickens)

Chickens are famous for turning in when the sun still lights up the sky, so if you go to bed with chickens, it means you’re going to bed really, really early.


What next?

Now that you know the difference between pollo and gallina in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

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