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Talking About Math in Italian

Learning How to Talk About Adding, Subtracting, Multiplication & Division in Italian

Don’t panic! I’m not here to teach you some advanced form of geometry or anything like that! Instead, in this article I would like to focus on the four types of arithmetical calculations that rule our daily lives. Most of us know our addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and I want to show you how you speak about these calculations–and other common ones–in Italian.

Because adding, subtracting, etc. is so necessary for the way we function day to day (from shopping to banking) if you’re visiting Italy it’s important to know how to communicate about these basic math equations. Here are some typical phrases that will likely come in handy:

  • · Quanto fa sei più uno? = How much/What is six plus one?  6 + 1 = 7

Sei più uno fa/è uguale a sette = Six plus one is seven

  • · Quanto fa sette meno uno? = How much/What is seven minus one?  7 – 1 = 6

Sette meno uno fa/ è uguale a sei = Seven minus one is six.

  • · Quanto fa cinque per quattro? = How much/What is five times four?     5 x 4 = 20

Cinque per quattro fa/ è uguale a venti = Five times four is twenty.

  • Quanto fa sessanta diviso tre? = How much/What is sixty divided by three? 60/3 = 20

Sessanta diviso tre fa/ è uguale a venti = Sixty divided by three is twenty.

  • Sette diviso tre fa/è uguale a due con il resto di uno.

Seven divided by three is two and one over/two, remainder one.


Fractions – Frazioni

In Italian fractions work as in English: the first number is a cardinal number, the second one is ordinal.

un mezzo = ½ a half

un terzo = 1/3 a third

tre quinti = 3/5 three fifths

cinque mezzi = 5/2 five over two

quattro mezzi = 4/2 four halves

Ho già letto due terzi del libro = I have already read two thirds of the book.

Ne ha bevuto solo metà = He only drank half of it.

When a fraction indicates a quantity the noun to which it refers is preceded by preposition DI:

Due quinti di olio = Two fifths of oil

Un quarto di un litro = One fourth of a liter

When the numbered object is feminine, ordinal numbers always take the masculine form:

Un quarto di dolce = One fourth of cake

Vorrei un quarto della torta = I would like one fourth of the cake

Tre quinti di farina = Three fifths of flour

Tre quinti di questa farina = Three fifths of this flour

When you’re not sure the exact number you can use rough quantities. Like if you think you’ll be about twenty people at dinner you can say “una ventina di persone.” Some other examples:

  • una decina = about ten
  • una ventina = about twenty
  • una trentina = about thirty
  • una quarantina = about forty

Alla conferenza c’erano una trentina di uomini = At the conference there was about thirty men.

Quella donna è sulla trentina = That woman is about thirty years old.

Sarò lì tra una quarantina di minuti = I’ll be there in about forty minutes.

  • un centinaio = about one hundred
  • centinaia = hundreds
  • un migliaio = about one thousand
  • migliaia = thousands

Centinaia di feriti = Hundreds of wounded

Un centinaio di persone = About a hundred people

Cento penne = One hundred pens

Un centinaio di penne = about one hundred pens

We can also express rough quantities with the word “paio” = pair:

Entro un paio di settimane saremo a Parigi = Within a couple of weeks we will be in Paris

Vorrei darti un paio di consigli = I would like to give you a couple of tips.

Ho comprato due paia di scarpe = I bought two pairs of shoes

Cinque paia di pantaloni = Five pairs of trousers


Ratios / Proporzioni

a sta a b come c sta a x    a:b = c:x

a is to b as c is to x


Raising to a Power / Potenze

due alla seconda (potenza) / due al quadrato = two to the power of two / two squared

due alla terza / due al cubo = two to the power of three / two cubed

elevare alla quinta = to raise two to the power of five

elevare all’ennesima potenza = to raise x to the power of n


Decimal Fractions / Decimali

tre virgola dieci = 3,10 = 3.10 = three point ten

zero virgola zero cinque = 0,05 = 0.05 = zero point zero five

zero virgola zero uno = 0,01 = 0.01 = zero point zero one

due virgola tre periodico = 2,3333…. = 2.3333…. = two point three recurring


Percentages / Percentuali

A percentage is a way to express a number as a fraction of a whole.

dieci per cento = 10% = ten per cent

cinque virgola cinque per cento = 5,5% = 5.5% = five point five per cent

Il 20% dei lavoratori ha più di 40 anni = 20% of the workers are over 40.

L’offerta è aumentata del 10% = The offer has risen by 10%.


By Elisa Bressan

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