10 Italian idiomatic expressions on success and failure

This is the first of a series of posts I would like to write about Italian common expressions and sayings.

Idiomatic expressions are important in the process of learning a language. Infact they represent as well a journey into the history of the language itself.

The best way to impress Italian speakers when you travel to Italy is to use in the right context some of the many sayings used in everyday conversation.



1) Essere sulla cresta dell’onda

It means to be at the top of a successful moment, to be really popular or to be fashionable. “Cresta” is literally the peak of a wave, the highest point. The person in this position is in a position of great advantage.

  • Ma lo sai che il libro di Marco sta avendo un grande successo?
  • Marco è sulla cresta dell’onda!

2) Avere la vittoria in tasca / in pugno

We say that when we are sure we are going to win something. We have already won.

  • In questa Coppa del Mondo l’Italia ha la vittoria in tasca.
  • Valentino Rossi ha la vittoria in pugno.

3) Cantare vittoria

In a figurative way the sentence talks to a person who is sure to win or succeed in something and announces his victory before time. Sometimes this behavior causes disappointment. The expression is used to warn somebody against this disappointment.

  • Penso che il mio partito vincerà le elezioni quest’anno.
  • Non cantare vittoria troppo presto

4) Spuntarla / Averla vinta

It means succeed in what you want against obstacles. “Darla vinta a qualcuno” means the exact opposite: to let somebody else succeed, giving in.

  • Alessio è così testardo che la spunta
  • E tu non dargliela sempre vinta!

5) Sparare sulla Croce Rossa

It means to hit an easy target. Shoot to the Red Cross in war is a dishonorable action. Today this saying is used facetiously to indicate a really easy victory.

  • Vincere 7 a 0 contro l’ultima squadra in classifica è come sparare sulla Croce Rossa.
  • Dire una bugia a Francesco è come sparare sulla Croce Rossa: crede a tutto!



6) Essere un caso disperato

This is an expression coming from the clinical environment and refers to a patient seen as incurable. In a figurative sense it is used to talk about a project destined to fail and without hope of success.

  • Non avevi smesso di fumare?
  • Ho provato in tutti i modi ma non riesco. Sono un caso disperato.

7) Essere una causa persa

Similar to the previous expression, “essere una causa persa” comes from the legal language and it refers to a person or a situation inevitably bound to fail.

  • Eliminare la corruzione in politica è una causa persa: tutti vogliono arricchirsi.
  • Cercare di convincere Marco a venire al cinema è una causa persa.

8) Essere un fiasco | Fare fiasco

In a figurative sense it meand great failure. It is not clear the connection with the “fiasco”, the wicker wine bottle. The saying belongs to the theatre context and still today is commonly used to give a review on a film, performance or show that has not been able to attract the public’s approval. If the disapproval is strong the word “fiasco” is usually combined with the adjectives “solenne” and “colossale”. “Fare fiasco” means fail an exam or challenge.

  • L’ultimo film di Sorrentino è stato un fiasco.
  • Ma cosa dici? A me è piaciuto!
  • Sei uno dei pochi a cui è piaciuto
  • Come è andato l’esame di matematica?
  • Ho fatto fiasco. Un vero disastro.

9) Essere un disastro

A “disastro” is a catastrophe. In a figurative sense it refers to a person who causes damage or troubles. If it refers to objects, it means mess, great confusion (guaio, grande confusion)

  • Mia nonna è molto brava in cucina ma con i dolci è un disastro: brucia tutte le torte!
  • La tua relazione con il tuo ragazzo è un vero disastro, perchè non lo lasci?

10) Gettare la spugna

When a boxer has evident and great troubles sustaining the fight, his second throws in the sponge (nowadays the sponge has been replaced by a towel) to surrender and ask for the end of the match. Therefore the expression means in Italian: to surrender, to give up.

  • La partita non è ancora finita, non possiamo gettare la spugna
  • Maria ha gettato la spugna e non vuole continuare l’università.


This expressions are not related to success or failure but are really common in conversational Italian:

+1) Essere la fine del mondo

Essere una figata (really informal/slang)

The expression in a figurative way says that something is so beautiful and amazing that the world will come to an end.

  • Hai visto il film? È la fine del mondo / è una figata!

Did you watch the film? It’s amazing.

+2) Che pizza!
Che palle! (informal/slang)

It shows intolerance or impatience for a person or a situation.

  • Che palle / pizza! Domani devo andare dal dentista.

What a bore! Tomorrow I have to go to the dentist.

You can start practice today and use one new expression every time you train your conversational Italian. Repetition in context is the best way to memorize a new word.

Buono studio!


Le preposizioni – Italian prepositions

Le preposizioni italiane sono sempre un incubo per chi impara l’Italiano!

Vediamo insieme le preposizioni italiane e alcuni dei loro usi:

Quando le preposizioni sono vicine a un articolo determinativo (il, lo, la, i, gli, le) si uniscono:

Vado a comprare il pane al supermercato
al = a + il

Le chiavi sono nella borsa
nella = in + la

Osserva la tabella:

Due utili pdf della casa editrice Loescher per approfondire l’argomento:

Grammatica Loescher – Le preposizioni

Esercizi Loescher – Le preposizioni


essere o avere?

Avere and essere are auxiliary verbs (from latin “auxilium” that means help). They act as assistants for other verbs to form past tenses.

Today we will focus on the present tenses of these verbs and their use in everyday conversation.

But first, conjugations:


The verb ESSERE can be used:

  • to tell your name:
    • Io sono Linda
    • Lui è Filippo
    • Loro sono Marco e Anna
  • To speak about your profession:
    • Io sono insegnante di italiano
    • Loro sono giocatori di basket
    • Mia mamma è dentista
    • Lucia è fisioterapista
  • To tell where you come from:
    • Io sono Italiana, di Roma
    • Giovanni è irlandese
    • Maria è di Napoli
    • Francesco è australiano, di Sidney
  • Before and adjective to describe somebody or something:
    • Papa è alto
    • Io sono magro
    • Quella ragazza è bella
    • Noi siamo giovani
  • To express an emotion:
    • Loro sono stanchi
    • Noi siamo arrabbiati
    • Tu sei felice
    • Lei è triste
  • To speak about our own location in the present moment:
    • Papà è a casa
    • Io sono a New York
    • Paolo è in Italia
    • Noi siamo al parco

The verb AVERE can be used:

  • To tell the age:
    • Io ho 29 anni
    • Marta ha 25 anni
    • Nonno ha 80 anni
    • La piccola Marta ha 4 anni
  • Before a noun + adjective to describe somebody or something:
    • Io ho gli occhi verdi
    • Manuela ha i capelli ricci
    • Tu hai la pelle scura
    • Loro hanno i capelli biondi
  • To express temporary physical sensations:
    • Io ho fame
    • Lui ha sonno
    • Noi abbiamo sete
    • Loro hanno freddo

Try to make up your own sentences with avere and essere in the comments below!

Perchè l’Italiano?

Una lingua diversa è una diversa visione della vita.
Federico Fellini


Why Italian?

Lists are really popular nowadays. Maybe people have little time and it’s important to choose well what activity undertake in order to spend time in a useful and entertaining way. I like lists. This is why as a first post on this blog I’ll make my personal list of reasons why you should learn my language.

  • Learn languages changes your mind.
    Whatever the language is, learning something new is always a healty challenge for the mind and for the spirit. Learning languages in particular shapes your mind in a different way and force you to get in contact with different worlds. It is a great challenge, no doubt. But when the wall of communication is climbed over the satisfaction will be so big that speaking the language will be easier and easier.
  • Italy is a great country to visit. And I’m not saying this because I’m actually Italian. Italy is a table rich of colorful fruit and tasty food, metaphorically and phisically speaking. Do you like history? You won’t believe your eyes when you will see History carved in a column of Rome or in a church located in what seems a isolated and anonimous village in the countryside. You like food? Sure you will leave the country with a couple (if you are lucky) of kilograms more. Do you like nature? There are actually plenty of parks, rivers, mountains to visit and breathtaking landscapes to see.
  • Gelato
    I’ve had some amazing ice-creams in my life. Almost all of them have been eaten in Italy. On a sunny hot day, having an ice-cream while walking in narrow streets and ancient squares is one of the best things in life. My flavors: dark chocolate and yogurt.
  • Food
    In 2017 almost everybody has tasted at least once in life Italian food. What always surprise me is the variety of dishes and D.O.C products that is possible to find in Italy. Move just 20 km and you will find some regional dish or variation that are peculiar and original and belong to the place where they have been created, they are part of the culture and the history of a place. Let’s look at famous names to give an example: prosciutto di Parma, aceto balsamico di Modena, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Barbera d’Asti.
  • Italian Cinema
    Like every artistic creation that involves language and communication also Italian cinema can be appreciated to its fully potential only with an access to the language itself. And Italian cinema is much more than “La dolce vita” or “La vita è bella”. There is much more to discover and appreciate in front of a good glass of wine.
  • Italian literature
    We are not here just talking about Dante. Of course Dante is still the “maestro”, but the list of Italian authors is long and varied. The knowledge of a language gives the key to enter in a new world, made out of stories, jokes, romances, drama.