Breathing in Italian : Let Us Count the Ways, Part 1: il fiato

Breathing is essential for life, so it's a pretty important word, we'll all agree. This lesson will explore different ways of talking about the breath and breathing, with some useful modi di dire (expressions) that can come in handy.

So what's the word for "breath" in Italian? There's more than one, so buckle up.

il fiato

This is the breath that comes out when you breathe. A wind instrument we blow into with our breath to produce a sound is uno strumento a fiato, and when we speak in general, about instruments in an orchestra, for example, we say i fiati (the winds).

a fiato


La zampogna è uno strumento a fiato

The bagpipe is a wind instrument

fatto con pelle di pecora.

made with sheep hide.

Quindi uno strumento musicale.

So it's a musical instrument.

-Musicale, musicale, musicale, sì.

-Musical, musical, musical, yes.

Captions 53-54, L'Italia a tavola - Interrogazione sulla Calabria

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fiato sul collo

When someone is stressing you out, they may be breathing down your neck. Don't worry, Italians get stressed out, too, and there is a similar expression in Italian. Instead of using the verb form "to breathe," though, they use the verb stare ("to be," "to stay," "to stand there," and add a preposition).


Mi stai sempre con il fiato sul collo.

You're always breathing down my neck.

Caption 64, Stai lontana da me - Rai Cinema

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riprendere fiato

Another essential expression to know using fiato for "breath" is riprendere fiato. It usually means "to catch one's breath."


It's interesting to note that in both expressions, there's no possessive pronoun in Italian. It's either assumed or they include the person in a different way. And in riprendere fiato, there is no article, either.


La città riprende fiato

The city catches its breath

Caption 4, Radio Deejay - Lorenzo Jovanotti - Gente della notte

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P.S. Jovanotti's song has a lot of great words and phrases about life in the city — worth checking out, at least the transcript, if not the song itself (for beginners, too!).


rompere il fiato

If you are a runner, you will know the moment in which you start feeling warmed up, when your breathing settles in, and you finally feel like you can keep going. We could even talk about getting one's second wind.

Dopo 2 kilometri, ho rotto il fiato,

After 2 kilometers, I got warmed up/I got my second wind,

e ho corso altri 5!

and I managed to run 5 more!



What about the verb fiatare? It does exist, but it's usually reserved for whispering, or "breathing a word."


La Titti conosceva De Carolis. Avrebbe pagato

Titti knew De Carolis. He would have paid

senza fiatare, senza...

without breathing a word, without...

senza avvertire la polizia.

without alerting the police.

Captions 48-50, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP12 - La donna senza volto

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Mozzafiato is a great adjective, meaning "breathtaking."


che sembra quasi abbracciarvi

that almost seems to embrace you

con una bellezza mozzafiato.

with breathtaking beauty.

Captions 53-54, Meraviglie - EP. 5

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We'll talk about il respiro (the breath) in part 2.

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