I recently received an e-mail from a reader, Tricia, asking me to explain better the use of the word prego in Italian. So here I am. I decided to write a dedicated post, in order to help her, but also other people out there, answer the question: What does prego mean in Italian?
What does prego mean in Italian?
Prego [PREH-goh] is a courtesy formula used in many occasions, very similar to the use of bitte in German, if you’re familiar with it.
The most used is “you’re welcome”. So, if some one say Grazie [GRAH-tsee-eh] (thank you) or grazie mille [GRAH-tsee-eh MEEL-leh](many thanks), you can (or should) reply: “Prego!”
Please, come in!
We also use prego to welcome a person in a house, hotel, shop, etc. If you ask “Can I come in?” (Posso entrare? [POHS-soh ehn-TRAH-reh] or E’ permesso? [EH pehr-MEHS-soh]), someone could answer you simply “Si” [SEE] or “Certo” [CHEHR-toh] (Yes or Sure), but also “Prego, entri pure” [PREH-goh EHN-tree POO-reh] (Please, come in) or “Prego, si accomodi” [PREH-goh SEE ak-kOH-moh-dee] (Please, make yourself at home).
But someone could also say “prego” to you, simply noticing you passing by or lingering on the doorway. If they’re your host and they offer you food, they could also say: “Prego, prenda pure” [PREH-goh PREHN-dah POO-reh] or “Prego, si serva pure” [PREH-goh SEE SEHR-vah POO-reh] (Please, help yourself).
How can I help you?
Prego can be also use in a restaurant or shop, usually by the storekeeper or the waiter. You will hear something like: “Prego, come posso aiutarla?” [PREH-goh KOH-meh POHS-soh a-yoo-TAHR-lah] (“How can I help you?”) or “Prego, desidera?” [PREH-goh deh-SEE-deh-rah] (What do you wish for?).
When you’re getting off a bus or train or getting out of a place, if you want to let another person precede you, you usually say: “After you”, right? In Italian, we use “Prego”, as short for “Please, you first”. Same thing for a speech. If two persons start to speak at the same time, one of two could use: “Prego”, to let the other one go ahead.
I beg you pardon?
It’s not that common, but someone, not understanding what you’re saying, may ask you: “Come, prego?” [KOH-meh] or just “Prego?” Meaning: “I beg your pardon?”. No person under 40 will ever say that. They would better ask you: “Cosa?” or “Come?” (What?). Elderly people, at least in my region, for example my father Alfredo, would also say another word in this case. But it’s a rarity. They do not ask: “Prego?” but “Comandi” [koh-MAHN-dee], which means “Command!”, as a highly respectful way to be at your disposal. But I fear this idiom is about to disappear with my father generation.
What does prego mean in Italian? Other uses
- It can be also a polite invitation to do something. “Alzatevi in piedi, prego” [ahl-ZAH-teh-vee een PYEH-dee], (please, stand up), in case of a ceremony of something.
- The expression “Attention, please” in Italian is “Attenzione, prego!” [aht-tehn-TSYOH-neh].
- If you’re about to speak or do something, the person with you could encourage you by saying: Prego. Like, please, go on. It’s formal, though. Your friends would not say prego to you, but: Come on, go! Forza, dai! [FOHR-tsa DAH-ee] or something.
Where prego comes from?
For your information, prego is also the first person indicative of the verb “pregare”, to pray. So it means I pray, io prego. It is used to say that you’re praying, of course, but it is also used in formal contexts, for example a cover letter “Vi prego di prendermi in considerazione” (I beg you to take into account…) or a letter from the municipality (“Siete pregati di fare”, you’re required to do…)
Another use is: Ti prego! [TEE PREH-goh] It can be, as I just written, a formal request like I beg you to stop (Ti prego di smettere). But it can also be used as a strong please. Notice the difference…
- Puoi aiutarmi, per favore? Can you help me, please?
- Puoi aiutarmi? Dai, ti prego! Can you help me? Come on, I beg you!
Did you like the post? Did you understand what does prego mean in Italian? You’re welcome… or better, prego! 😉
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