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Develop Your Vocabulary: Italian Words Used In English

Updated: Feb 21

slices of pizza on a table
Pizza - an Italian word used in English


In other articles, I have addressed the 'foreign' words that are now commonplace in English.

English is a hybrid language. It's always changing and integrating words from other languages.

Many words from the Italian language also have entered the everyday use of English.

Many Italian words used in English are to do with food.

Indeed, they are foods regularly offered around the world. So, I would suggest that instead of pointing at a menu item to order, it’s much better to be able to ask for them instead.

I’ll start with a list of twenty-five words focusing on food and coffee.

For each word I will give its meaning. I'll give you a pronunciation guide (UK and Australian, but not American) as well.

So, here is the list of twenty-five Italian words used in food, cooking and coffee.

The 25 Italian Words to Develop Your Vocabulary

1 al fresco – /æl ˈfres.kəʊ/ translated as in the open air. It means to eat outside a restaurant, often at a table on the footpath.

2 al dente – /ˌæl ˈden.teɪ/ It translates as ‘to the tooth’ and means that pasta is ready to eat. You should be able to easily bite the pasta.

3 Pasta – /ˈpæs.tə/ (mentioned above) is a dough stamped into various shapes and cooked in boiling water.

 It should be cooked to the al dente stage. Pasta is usually served with a (tomato) sauce.

There are many kinds of pasta:

  • rigatoni

  • spaghetti

  • vermicelli noodles

  • linguine etc. – all words from the Italian language.

4 Pizza – /ˈpiːt.sə/ is a well-known and used word in English.

Pizza is a flat bread with a variety of toppings. Sliced or diced vegetables, meats (e.g. salami, pepperoni, and prosciutto) are common. And cheese (often mozzarella).

It is then baked in an oven. Neapolitan pizza (and pasta) comes from the city of Naples in Italy.

5 Mozzarella /ˌmɒt.səˈrel.ə/ (mentioned above) is a soft cheese used often on pizzas.

6 Bolognesebɒl.əˈneɪz/ This word comes from the city of Bologna in the north of Italy. It is a rich, meaty sauce usually paired with spaghetti as ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’.

7 Lasagna – /ləˈzæn.jə/ Lasagna is layers of pasta interspersed with other layers of meaty tomato sauce and cheese. Lasagna is the name of the whole dish while lasagne refers to the type of pasta/noodles used.

8 Macaroni – /ˌmæk.ərˈəʊ.ni/ another type of pasta made into thin short tubes. ‘Mac and Cheese’ is a popular American dish.

9 Gnocchi – /ˈnjɒk.i/ Gnocchi is small round or oblong shaped pieces of dough made with potato, eggs and flour.

Boiled in water, they are then mixed with a (tomato) sauce.

10 Parmigiana – /ˌpɑː.mɪˈʒɑː.nə/ Traditional parmigiana is made with eggplants and zucchini. This is a vegetarian version of Lasagna.

In Australia it has ‘morphed’ into a ‘Chicken Parma/Parmi’.

Here it refers to crumbed chicken pieces topped with a tomato sauce and cheese and baked.

11 Focaccia – /fəˈkætʃ.ə/ This is a flat shaped and dimpled Italian bread. It is crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, and eaten with lots of olive oil drizzled on it.

12 Panini – /pəˈniː.ni/ is a toasted Italian bread sandwich.

13 Bruschetta – /bruˈsket.ə/ is a slice of Italian bread often rubbed with garlic. Then topped with olive oil, tomato and salt, and either toasted in an oven or grilled.

14 Biscotti – /bɪˈskɒt.i/ means twice baked. They are oblong-shaped almond flavoured cookies/biscuits. Biscotti are great for dipping into a cup of coffee.

15 Minestrone – /ˌmɪn.ɪˈstrəʊ.ni/ is a chunky Italian tomato-based soup with vegetables, pasta, beans, and potato.

16 Broccoli – /ˈbrɒk.əl.i/ is a green cabbage like vegetable. It is often cut into florets (like small trees) and stir-fried, baked, or steamed.

17 Zucchini – /zuˈkiː.ni/ also known as a courgette or a summer marrow. It is a long green-skinned vegetable with a pale yellow flesh inside.

18 Pistachio – /pɪˈstæʃ.i.əʊ/ it sounds Italian, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s here. But, as a nut from the cashew family, it comes from Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Iran.

19 Scampi – /ˈskæm.pi/ is also known in the UK as Langoustines. Italian scampi are small, They are orange/pink prawn-like (even lobster-like) crustaceans. Their claws are long and thin.

20 Espresso – /esˈpres.əʊ/ a thicker and more intense type of coffee. Espresso coffee, brewed under high pressure is the opposite of instant coffee.

21 Cappuccino – /ˌkæp.uˈtʃiː.nəʊ/ is an espresso coffee made with steamed milk and milk foam on top.

22 Latte – /ˈlæt.eɪ/ is a Cappuccino coffee without the foam on top.

23 Gelato – /dʒəˈlɑː.təʊ/ (plural gelati) is an Italian frozen dessert. It is like ice-cream. But gelati are not like American-style ice cream. It is softer and denser than the lighter, fluffier (and higher in fat) American ice cream.

24 Pancetta – /pænˈtʃet.ə/ is like bacon. It is salt-cured not smoked and is from the belly meat of a pig.

To end this list I give you a very apt word:

25 “Ciao” – /tʃaʊ/ Italians use it as both a greeting and a word of farewell, but it seems more common to use it to say ‘goodbye’.


The aim of this article has been to develop your vocabulary.

What you have read is a list of quite common Italian words that have entered the English language.

I hope you now have become more familiar with Italian words found in English. As you can see, many Italian words have to do with cooking, foods, and coffee.

Further Reading

Want to read about words from other languages that have entered English?

Here are the links:

© Apex English Tutoring - July 2023 - Updated January 2024

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About Me

Hello and welcome!

My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring.

As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.

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