How do you say Im sick?

11.08.15How to say I'm sick in Italian (and get well soon)This week I have had some kind of potent cold (raffreddore). What a great opportunity to learn how to say Im sick in Itali

How do you say Im sick?


How to say I'm sick in Italian (and get well soon)

How to say Im sick in Italian

This week I have had some kind of potent cold (raffreddore). What a great opportunity to learn how to say Im sick in Italian!

Why do you need to know how to say 'I'm sick'?

  • First, you might actually get sick in Italy during your stay and therefore need to communicate it to your Italian friends, Italian tour guide or Italian chemist.
  • Second, Italians have this morbid habit of talking about how sick they feel when they do. So, after you ask your polite question come sta? (how are you?) be prepared to hear all but the simple bene (well).

To start easy, here are some key words and expressions you need to know.
Don't worry, I know you are feeling sick, so it'll be nice and simple to remember.

Sto bene (Im well) becomes sto male (Im ill, unwell) /stoh mah-leh/

Male is the word for bad, ill, unwell and its pronounced /ma-leh/, not like the English opposite of female, male!

If you are that sick that you can barely speak, you can drop the sto and just say male. We will get it just the same. But then, the cascade of questions about why you are male today follows if you are not specific enough to begin with. So, sorry - we want to hear all about it.

Next, you describe what you have in more detail.

And to do that, simply use ho (I have)...followed by a quick description of where you have the pain.

Ho mal di testa (headache)/oh mal dee teh-stah/ - probably caused by troppa birra!


Ho mal di pancia (tummy ache)/oh mal dee pan-chee-ah/ - probably caused by troppa pasta!

Ho mal di denti (toothache) /oh mal dee den-tee/ - probably caused by troppo gelato!

Ho mal di schiena (back pain)/oh mal dee skee-eh-nah/ - probably caused by walking too much.

Ho mal di mare (seasick) /oh mal dee mah-reh/ - suitable for when you are crossing the Mediterranean sea at the stretto di Messina to reach Sicily

Stretto di messina

Image courtesy of Va` a quel paese

That male word has popped up again, except that this time we have dropped the -e, reducing it to mal (lit. I have pain of head, of tummy, of tooth, of back, of sea.)

Of course, there are other ways to say you are not well, such as sono malato (I am sick) or mi sento male (I feel sick), and the more mitigated non mi sento bene (I don't feel well). But at the end of the day, its easy to see how the word male is pretty much all you need. Especially if you forget all the other bits and pieces, which, if you are unwell, is probably the case.

At the chemist (in farmacia) try and point at the area of male by using one the examples above. And don't forget to mention if you are allergico to something.

If you are unsure about what your medication is called in Italy, the app Find My Medicine could come in handy.

And finally, do you know what to say when someone sneezes?

You say salute! /sah-loo-teh/ Yep, the same word used to say cheers! when we raise our glass of vino.

Stammi bene! (stay well!)

ElisabettaShareReturn to Blog

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