Italian word of the day: ‘Ottimo’

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One of the things I love about speaking Italian is that you can use words whose direct English equivalents rarely get an airing.

Ottimo is a perfect example: while its closest English relative is ‘optimum’, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve ever said that word aloud.

Ottimo, however, I say – and hear – just about every day. Italians use it much like we say ‘great’.

La cena è stata ottima, grazie.

Dinner was great, thank you.

Ottimo lavoro!

Great work!

In fact, ottimo is not just ‘great’ but, well, ‘optimum’: it means that something is the very best it could be.

Be careful not to confuse it with the words meglio or migliore, though: those are the ones you should reach for when you’re making a comparison, whereas ottimo is more general. You use it to say not that something is ‘better’ or ‘best’ out of two specific examples, but that it’s best of all: ‘the best possible’ or even ‘perfect’.

Ho un’ottima salute.

I’m in perfect health.

Esige l’ottimo da tutti i suoi dipendenti.

She demands the best from all her employees.

That’s why, when you’re talking about exams, un’ottimo is another way of saying ‘top marks’ or ‘A+’ – it’s the best grade you can get.

Merita un’ottimo.

He deserves an A+.

More often, though, you’ll hear ottimo as a simple expression of approval: like ‘Great!’ or ‘Wonderful!’

– Allora siamo tutti d’accordo.
– Ottimo!

– So we all agree.
– Great!

And that is, quite frankly, optimum.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

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