Italian idioms with fish

In this lesson you’ll learn the most common and interesting Italian idioms with fish.

Let’s start!

Click here to go to the Italian idioms with fish interactive exercises!


Italian idioms with fish

There are many Italian idioms with fish. Let’s take a look at them.

Buttarsi a pesce

The first we’re going to see translates to to grab an opportunity by the horns.

You can use buttarsi a pesce when you dive with enthusiasm into something, be it a pasta dish or the latest bestseller!

Buttarsi a pesce
To grab an opportunity by the horns
Literally: To throw oneself as a fish


Essere muto come un pesce

Fish don’t speak, everyone knows that. That’s why this idiom has a direct translation into English: To be as mute as a fish.

Essere muto come un pesce
To be as mute as a fish

Vittorio non ha detto una parola sull’incidente. È muto come un pesce.
Vittorio didn’t say a word about the accident. He’s as mute as a fish.


Chi dorme non piglia pesci

Imagine this scenario: you are a fisher (pescare means to fish). You happen to nod off as soon as a big fish tugs at your bait. The fish is strong enough to pull the cane out of your sleeping hands and then sinks into the water, never to return.

He who sleeps doesn’t catch fish. And loses their cane.

Chi dorme non piglia pesci
The early bird gets the worm
Literally: He who sleeps doesn’t catch fish

italian idioms for people who are in a hurry - chi dorme non piglia pesci

Sentirsi un pesce fuor d’acqua

This translates into to feel like a fish out of water.

Sentirsi literally translates to to feel oneself.

Sentirsi un pesce fuor d’acqua
To feel like a fish out of water

Mi sentivo come un pesce fuor d’acqua alla festa.
I felt like a fish out of water at the party.

Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!


Il pesce puzza dalla testa

This is a very old idiom, but its teaching may very well be applied to our modern age.

It’s the Italian version of A fish rots from the head down, meaning that leaders of an organization or a country will end up corrupting the whole country. The root cause of corruption and evildoing is always at the top.

Puzzare means to stink.

Il pesce puzza dalla testa
A fish rots from the head down
Literally: Fish smells bad from the head down


L’ospite è come il pesce: dopo tre giorni puzza

Fish rots quickly, say in three days.

That can also be said about a guest in your house, un ospite a casa tua. Guests who stays too long by your house can be annoying and wear out your welcome. That’s what this Italian idiom is about.

L’ospite è come il pesce: dopo tre giorni puzza
To wear out one’s welcome
Literally: A guest is like a fish: it stinks after three days


Prendere a pesci in faccia

If someone hits your face with fish in Italian, it means they are being rude to you.

Prendere a pesci in faccia
To insult, to be rude to someone
Literally: To hit someone’s face with fish


Il pesce grande mangia il piccolo

We all live in a survival-of-the-fittest kind of world where big and important people will always have an edge over small, lesser known people. This is what

Il pesce grande mangia il piccolo
Big fish eats small fish

italian idioms with fish - pesce grande mangia il piccolo

Fare il pesce in barile

Take a barrel, a barile. Fill it with water, acqua. Put a fish in it. Look at the fish swim, nuotare. Can the fish see anything of what’s happening outside its barrel? No, it can’t.

This Italian idiom is for those who pretend not to understand or know what’s going on about them even after the evidence is clear, just like a fish in a barrel who is blind about the world.

Fare il pesce in barile
To play dumb
Literally: To do as the fish in a barrel


What next?

Click here to go to the Italian idioms with fish interactive exercises!

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