What does mamma mia mean in Italian?


Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso

What does mamma mia mean in Italian? Mamma mia literally means “mom/mum mine/my” and it is an Italian exclamation that can convey many different emotions: surprise, fear, pain, joy, exasperation, etc. I say it at least once every day. At least.

Btw, you can find it written in two different ways, both correct: mamma mia or mammamia. It is a polite way to express different feelings without saying curse words, so I think it’s kind of cute.

What does mamma mia mean in Italian?

The use is similar to that of the English expressions “wow” “oh my God” “oh my” “oh man” “oh boy”. We actually have equivalents of “oh God” and “oh my God”, i.e. “oddio” or “oh mio Dio”, both quite common. But in many circumstances we use Mamma mia.

And why do Italians say Mamma mia so often? Probably because in Italian culture the mother is the point person in the family.

How do Italians use mamma mia?

We use it in many different situation. Of course, the intonation and the intensity varies depending on the context. Some examples:

Surprise: Mamma mia, che bello questo quadro!
Wow, what a beautiful painting

Fear: Mamma mia, che paura mi hai fatto!
Oh God, you did scared me!

Pain: Mamma mia, oggi ho un mal di testa terribile!
Oh my, I have such a bad headache today!

Exasperation: Mamma mia, detesto la gente maleducata!
Oh man, I hate rude people!

Joy: Mamma mia, che bella notizia!
Wow, what a wonderful news!

Mamma mia, what a joy!
Mamma mia, what a joy!

Also to agree or stress something

Sometimes we also use Mamma mia to stress something or agree with someone.

For example, if a friend of mine tells me: “It’s incredible how people are becoming more and more rude nowadays” I could answer: “Mamma mia, you’re right”. So it is an intensifier, like “Damn, you’re right”.

Or an artisan shows me a piece of his excellent work:
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” “Mamma mia”. In this case I use Mamma mia as to say: Indeed.

Trivia about mamma mia

  • The origin is surely related to the maternal figure. But there’s no record attesting in which period Italians began to use it or why exactly. What’s sure is that we don’t think about our mothers when we say it. Exactly as English-speaking people do not think to God when they say oh my God.
  • In the Tv Series “Quantum Leap”, Sam, the character portrayed by Scott Bakula used to say “Oh, boy” in every episode, as soon as he was transported in a new reality. Well, in the Italian version Sam exclaims: “Oh, mamma”. OK, it’s not mamma mia, but it’s close.

Years ago, Matteo and I were in a pub in Munich in order to watch an important soccer game involving Italy’s national team. At the pub, one of our strikers missed a goal for a tad and Matteo exclaimed: “Mamma mia, cos’ha sbagliato!” (What a mistake). Two waiters looked at each other sneering, and repeating Mamma mia. With a wrong pronunciation by the way. Soooo polite of them! Like there were no peculiar expressions also in German and every other language in the world. Right? It is very annoying to be mocked for thing like this.

What does mamma mia mean in Italian?


  • Mamma mia is the title of a famous song by the Swedish musical group ABBA. Plus of the musical and the movie. In his book, Björn Ulvaeus, member of ABBA, says: “The saying ‘mamma mia’ is used very, very commonly in Swedish and is just as well known a phrase as it would be in English.” Is it? I don’t know, actually. 🙂 
  • Another famous song where we can find Mamma mia is Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen: Oh, mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia, let me go!
  • In 2023 the band Maneskin released the single called Mammamia, so now we have at least 3 famous song related to this expression.

Can you think of other Mamma mia references? 

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