Home Language HacksItalian Italian for Beginners | 8 DEADLY Mistakes in Italian (& How to Avoid Them)

Italian for Beginners | 8 DEADLY Mistakes in Italian (& How to Avoid Them)

by Michele
1 comment
Italian for beginners - 8 Deadly Mistakes in Italian
The Intrepid Guide contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I will earn a commission which helps reduce the ever-increasing costs of keeping this site active. Thank you for your support.

Want to learn Italian? Get a head start with these 8 common mistakes beginners of Italian make and how to avoid them.

When learning Italian, making mistakes is inevitabile (that’s “inevitable” in Italian); in fact, they are key to improving! However, while it’s important to learn from your mistakes, it is also essential to remember a few ground rules that will speed up your progress in learning Italian to make it more effective!

It’s important to get into the “Italian mindset”.  Just knowing the rules isn’t enough, you need to “think in Italian” too and avoid trying to apply rules or logic from your native language when you translate words and phrases into Italian.

Whether it comes to grammar, pronunciation, sentence structure or vocabulary, it can be challenging (at first) to “think” in Italian. That is why, if you’re just started out learning Italian you should be aware of the most common and deadly mistakes beginners make and how to avoid them. 

Cominciamo! (Let’s get started!)

Here are 8 DEADLY Mistakes in Italian and how to avoid them.

1. Using “essere” to say one’s age

Example of what NOT to say: Sono 27 anni
What you SHOULD say: Ho 27 anni.

One key difference between Italian and English is the sentence structure used to say one’s age. A very common mistake beginner’s of Italian make is to “copy” the same structure of English, saying (io) sono + age, which instantly labels the speaker as a non-native.

In Italian, you “are” not your age, but rather you “have” a certain number of “years”, as if they were a personal belonging, like a house or a car. Remember this comparison the next time someone asks you Quanti anni hai? (How old are you?). Also, the word for years, anni, mustn’t be omitted otherwise it’s not clear what you’re talking about. Ho 27… (I have….)You have 27… what? Cats? Sisters? Apples?

2. Incorrect use of the preposition “in”

Example of what NOT to say: Abito in Roma.
What you SHOULD say: Abito a Roma.

The next one is a common Italian grammar mistake. When speaking about residency or where you are located, while English uses the preposition “in” for both cities and countries (i.e. he lives in Milan, I’m in Germany, we live in France, she’s in London, etc.), Italian has two different prepositions: A and IN. Here is a quick review of when to use them when talking about places.

When to use the preposition IN:
✔ with names of countries, regions, or states (i.e. in Italia, in Baviera, in Queensland).
✔ with names of big islands (i.e. in Sicilia, in Madagascar).

When to use the preposition A:
✔ with names of cities (i.e. a Londra, a New York).
✔ with names of small islands (i.e. all’Isola d’Elba → Careful! For most of them, you need to use a combined preposition, that is, the simple preposition “a” plus the definite article such as “il” or “la”.)

Here’s everything you need to know Italian prepositions plus tonnes of examples.

3. Incorrect pronunciation of “grazie”

Example of what NOT to say: grah-tsee
What you SHOULD say: grah- tsee-eh (pronounce every letter!)

The next common Italian mistake beginners get wrong involves a pronunciation rule. Italian is a phonetic language, meaning words are pronounced exactly as they are written! So, apart from a few letter combinations (such as gn, gl, ch, etc.), when you see a word you must pronounce every single letter of it. It might be tough at first and it might require some “training” for your mouth and tongue, but in the end, you’ll be very proud of yourself for being able to say “thank you” like an Italian! So, here is how you pronounce “grazie” without overlooking any sound: grah-tsee-eh. Also, be sure to roll your “r” if you can!

Check out my video on how to say “thank you” in Italian so you know what “grazie” should sound like. Top tip: It is always advisable to listen and then repeat out loud!

4. The word “panini”

Example of what NOT to say: Un panini
What you SHOULD say: Un panino

Another key difference between Italian and English is the way they form the plural, in other words, a concept that refers to multiple quantities (2+). While in English the general rule is to add an “s” at the end of the word (ie. cars, keys, houses, cats etc), in Italian you have to change the last letter which is usually a vowel. The letter “i” at the end of the word normally stands for plural, that is, a multiple quantity.

I’m sure you have seen many cafes in English-speaking countries showing the sign “paninis”. However, in Italian, that final ‘i’ means it’s already a plural. Requesting “un panini” would confuse the waiter about the quantity of sandwiches you want because “un” (a) is singular but panini is plural (sandwiches)! So when you’re in Italy, make sure you say “un panino” if you just want one.

5. Confusing genders

Example of what NOT to say: Una/la problema
What you SHOULD say: Un/il problema

Along the lines of the previous point, another common Italian grammar mistake is confusing grammatical gender. Not only do Italian words express a number (singular or plural) but they also have a gender. However, most of the time this doesn’t reflect the characteristics of the object you’re talking about. This is a heritage from Latin, the Italian language’s “mum”.

When you start learning Italian grammar, you will undoubtedly ask “How do I know what gender a word has?”. For some concepts the answer is quite obvious (such as “la mamma”, the mum is feminine, and “il papà”, the dad is masculine) for others it might not be so simple to recognize the grammatical gender. Not only that! Some of the ground rules that is taught to beginners of Italian are:

  • Nouns ending in –o are masculine singular.
  • Nouns ending in –a are feminine singular.
  • Nouns ending in –i are masculine plural.
  • Nouns ending in –e are feminine plural.

While these rules are true for the majority of cases, they are general rules that have (of course) exceptions.
For instance, the word “problema” belongs to a small group of masculine nouns which end in ‘a’ (and have the plural in ‘i’). It may seem obvious that we’re talking about a feminine word which needs the article “la”, right? Wrong! If you want to be 100% sure of the grammatical gender of a noun, here is what you should do: look the article up first! Articles never lie ;)
Other nouns that belong to this category are “il sistema” (the system), “il tema” (the theme/ topic) and “il dramma” (the drama).

Can you guess the gender and number for the following words?

le dita, la radio, il pilota, la canzone.

Find the answers at the bottom of this article!

6. “La gente” and “le persone” (people)

Example of what NOT to say: La gente sono gentili.
What you SHOULD say: La gente è gentile.

The word “people” in English has two equivalents in Italian: “la gente” and “le persone”. While their meaning is basically the same and they can be used interchangeably, you should keep in mind that from a grammatical point of view, there is an important significant difference.

“La gente” is a collective noun, meaning that, even though it refers to a group of people, (more than one individual) the noun itself is singular and it behaves like any other singular feminine noun. If you want to describe this noun with an adjective (like “nice, friendly, crazy” etc.), this adjective must agree with it in terms of gender and number. For example:

  • La gente è simpatica – La gente (singular feminine noun) è (3rd person singular of the verb “essere”) simpatica (singular feminine adjective).

On the other hand, the Italian word “persona” is a regular singular feminine word that has a plural, “persone”, which can also be used to say “people”. Any other element of the sentence must agree with it in terms of gender and number. For example:

  • Le persone sono simpatiche – Le persone (plural feminine noun) sono (3rd person plural of the verb “essere”) simpatiche (plural feminine adjective).

Both examples above mean, “People are friendly”. Neither translation is better than the other; they are simply two ways to say the same thing.

7. The verb “piacere”

Example of what NOT to say: Io piace.
What you SHOULD say: Mi piace.

One of the first things you learn as a beginner of Italian (and any other language) is how to say, “I like/ I don’t like”. This is usually a crucial part of conversation, especially when you meet someone for the first time. To ensure you express yourself clearly in Italian and thus making communication more effective, you need to know how to properly conjugate the Italian verbpiacere” (to like/be pleasing), which works differently than the verb “to like” in English.

In English, the subject of the verb “to like” is the person(s) who like(s) something. However, in Italian, the subject of the verb “piacere” is the thing/object that is liked by someone! Which means that if you try to use the same structure in English in an Italian sentence, you will say something like “io piace la pizza”, which might grate a bit on the ears of your Italian friends!

Instead, you should say “mi piace la pizza”, which literally translates to “to me pizza is likeable/pleasing”. As weird as it sounds in English, this is how Italian native speakers express what they like. Interesting, right?

In most cases, you will only need to know two forms of “piacere”:

  1. the 3rd person singular “piace
  2. the 3rd person plural “piacciono”.

Piace” is used when the subject (remember: the thing/object that is liked by someone) is singular, such as “la pasta, il mare, l’autunno” and with verbs, such as in “mi piace cucinare” (I like cooking).

Piacciono” on the other hand is used when the subject is plural such as “gli spaghetti, le vacanze, i gatti”.

Once you’ve chosen the most appropriate verb for what you want to express (“piace” or “piacciono”), you need to pick the correct indirect pronoun, that is, a word which tells you who likes something (or literally “to whom something is likeable/pleasing”).

Because Italian always has more than one option to choose from to express yourself, it is important to know that there are two kinds of pronouns you can use with “piacere”, or better, two forms: the strong one and the weak one.

Below is a table with all the forms of indirect pronouns and the person they refer to. Typically, the weak form is used more often than the strong one, which has the function of emphasizing the person more. For instance, in the sentence “a me piace il gelato, a lei no” (I like ice-cream, she doesn’t) the strong form of the pronouns is used to clearly distinguish that, while I do like ice-cream, she does not.

Person Weak form Strong form Meaning
1st singular Mi A me To me
2nd singular Ti A te To you
3rd singular Gli / Le A lui / A lei To him/ her
1st plural Ci A noi To us
2nd plural Vi A voi To you (all)
3rd plural Gli A loro To them

Here are a few examples of the verb “piacere” in action.

  • Ci piace il cioccolato. = We like chocolate. (Literally: Chocolate is likeable/pleasing to us)
  • Mi piace giocare a tennis. = I like to play tennis. (Literally: Playing tennis is likeable/pleasing to me)
  • Ti piace la musica rock? = Do you like rock music? (Literally: Is rock music is likeable/pleasing to you?)
  • Non mi piacciono i cani. = I don’t like dogs. (Literally: Dogs are not likeable/pleasing to me)
  • Le piacciono i libri di Dan Brown. = She likes Dan Brown’s books. (Literally: Dan brown books are likeable/pleasing to her)

The same structure is used for other verbs such as “mancare” (to miss) and “servire” (to need).

Tip to avoid using “piacere”

Want to avoid using “piacere” until you have a better grasp of how it’s used? Here’s a little trick! You can use two alternative verbs that (almost) convey the same meaning. They follow a regular structure that is more similar to English. I’m talking about the verbs “amare” (to love) and “adorare” (to adore). Be careful though: “amare” (to love) is very strong and it’s used to express your love for a person or is a really intense way to describe a passion or pastime.

  • Amo la pallavolo! = I love volleyball!

Adorare” is softer than “amare” but is probably slightly less used than “piacere”. Also, it doesn’t make much sense in the negative: “Non adoro il cioccolato” (I don’t adore chocolate). Something you would hear an Italian native speaker say is:

  • Adoro la pizza. = I like / love pizza

For a deeper and more detailed explanation of how the verb “piacere” works, check out this video.

8. “Favorito” instead of “preferito”

Example of what NOT to say: Il mio favorito cibo è la pizza
What you SHOULD say: Il mio cibo preferito è la pizza.

After saying what you like or don’t like, you might want to mention something you like the most. Beginners of Italian make two kinds of common mistakes at this stage. The first one is because they translate the English word “favourite” with the Italian “favorito”. While this word exists in the dictionary, it’s not used as much as the more common word “preferito”. This shows you that not just grammar is important, but vocabulary is too!

Saying “Il mio animale favorito è il cane” would sound a bit odd to Italians. Instead, you can say “Il mio animale preferito è il cane” (my favourite animal is the dog).

So, when is “favorito” used? This word actually indicates the expected or predictable winner of any kind of competition. For example:

  • L’Italia è la squadra favorita a vincere i Mondiali. = Italy is the favoured team to win the World Cup.

By the way, have you noticed that in Italian the adjective (that is, the word describing the quality of another one) comes (almost) always after the noun?. “Preferito” is an adjective, which means that to sound natural when speaking Italian, you must remember that the correct word order is “il mio cibo preferito è….” and not “il mio preferito cibo è…”.

In this video, you will find a detailed explanation of how the Italian adjectives system works, with examples compared to English!

I hope you found this guide useful and inspiring! Now you know some of the most common mistakes Italian beginners make when learning Italian and, most importantly, you’ve learned how to fix them! 

This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever make mistakes in Italian again (learning a language is a never-ending process!), but if you can keep in mind the basic rules and how to avoid these common mistakes, your Italian friends will really appreciate the effort and compliment you. 

It might be tricky and frustrating at first needing to think of the correct expression, grammatical gender, conjugation, etc., to use, but the more you practice the sooner you’ll become fluent. So, keep it up! Forza! (You can do it!)

Don’t let your learning stop here, take a look at these Italian words with dirty double meanings that you should avoid!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the answers to the question in Number 5 ;-)


  • Le dita (fingers), feminine plural.
  • La radio (radio), feminine singular.
  • Il pilota (pilot), masculine singular.
  • La canzone (song), feminine singular.

Intrepid Italian - Learn with my 80/20 methodAre you a beginner or an intermediate Italian learner? Got a trip coming up or want to communicate with your Italian partner or relatives in Italian? Learn Italian with my unique 80/20 method

Registrations are now open to join Intrepid Italian, my new series of online video courses that use my unique 80/20 method. You’ll go from a shy, confused beginner to a proficient and confident intermediate speaker, with me as your trusty guide. 

You’ll finally be able to connect with your Italian partner, speak to your relatives and enjoy authentic travel experiences in Italy like you’ve always dreamed of, and so much more.

As a native English speaker who learned Italian as an adult, I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and lack the confidence to speak. I know what it’s like to start from scratch and to even go back to absolute basics and learn what a verb is! 

Intrepid Italian was created with YOU in mind. I use my working knowledge of the English language to help you get into the ‘Italian mindset’ so you can avoid the common pitfalls and errors English speakers make – because I made them once too! I break everything down in such a way that it ‘clicks’ and just makes sense.

No matter what your level is, there is an Intrepid Italian course for you, including:

You can join 1, 2, or all 3 of courses, it’s entirely up to you. The best part is that you have lifetime access so you learn anytime, anywhere and on any device.

As your guide, I walk you through each lesson, step-by-step, using my unique 80/20 method. My approach is different from traditional methods because I teach you the most important 20% of the language right from the beginning so you can start to speak straight away.

Each course includes video lessons, audio exercises, downloadable worksheets, bonus guides, a private support community, and lifetime access all designed to streamline your learning while having fun.

It even comes with my famous “Celebrate with a Spritz Guarantee”. After 30 days of using Intrepid Italian, if you don’t want to celebrate your new-found Italian skills with an Aperol Spritz, you don’t have to pay a penny! Cheers! 🥂
Join Intrepid Italian here and start learning today! 
Ci vediamo lì! (See you there!)

Learning Italian? Check out these Italian language guides

Like it? Pin it for later!

Italian for beginners - 8 Deadly Mistakes in Italian

Over to you!

Have you made any of these mistakes? What else would you add to this list? Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.

Like what you see? Subscribe using the form below to have all of my posts delivered directly to your email.

1 comment

Marty Mathieson September 24, 2021 - 18:24

Excellent reference guide, one that will be used over and over as I both plow through Intrepid Italian and afterward!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.