Making Sense of Senso

Il senso (the sense, the way, the feeling) is a very useful noun and has several meanings. Some of the meanings jibe with the English cognate “sense,” but it’s not always a perfect fit. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the wrong verb with this noun, thus saying something different from what we mean.


One of the most common ways to use senso is when it has to do with “meaning” or “sense.” Note that the verb here is avere (to have) but we translate it into English using the verb “to make.”


Scusa, eh, ma se devi stare così,

Excuse me, huh, but if you have to feel like this,

mi dici che senso ha?

will you tell me what sense that makes?

Caption 1, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste

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The response to the above question could be:

Non ha nessun senso (it doesn’t make sense at all).
Infatti, è senza senso (in fact, it doesn’t make sense, it’s senseless).


Senso also refers to one of the five senses. It also refers to “sense,” meaning “feeling” or “sensation.” The English cognate “sense” fits pretty well here and both Italian and English can use the verb “to give.”


Il secondo motivo, il più importante,

The second reason, the most important one,

è perché amo la moto

is because I love the motorbike

e mi dà un senso di libertà.

and it gives me a sense of freedom.

Captions 29-30, Adriano - Giornata

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In the following example, senso has to do with feelings but is used with the verb fare (to make). It means something entirely different from what we looked at above. It’s about feelings, but specifically negative ones, as you can see from the translation. Something gives you a sense of creepiness, repulsion, or repugnance. So, it’s important not to use the verb fare “to make” with senso unless you really mean it this way.


I topi mi fanno un senso.

Mice give me the creeps.

Caption 8, PsicoVip - Il topo

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Let’s remember that senso also means “way.” And just as “way” has various meanings, so does senso.

One very common question to ask someone is in che senso (in what way)? We ask this question when we need more details. It’s another way of saying, “What do you mean?”


No, per quello ho disposto diversamente.

No, for that I've distributed it differently.

-In che senso?

-In what way?

Captions 60-61, Un medico in famiglia Stagione 1 - EP2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Just as in English, senso means “way” in traffic too.

Questa strada è a senso unico.
This is a one-way street.


In a nutshell:

Fare senso: to give a sense of repulsion, fear, or disgust

 I ragni mi fanno senso.
 Spiders disgust me.

Avere senso: to make sense, to have meaning

 Ha senso arrivare due ore in anticipo?
 Does it make sense to arrive two hours early?

Dare un senso: to give a sense, to give meaning

 Ti dà un senso di sicurezza.
 It gives you a sense of security.
 Aiutare gli altri ti può dare un senso alla vita.
 Helping others can give some meaning to your life.


Senso unico: one way
I cinque sensithe five senses

For even more about senso, see this lesson.



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