Italian expression of the day: ‘Buon lavoro’

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As Italy gets back to work after the holidays, this phrase is the encouragement you might need.

Published: 4 January 2021 15:54 CET
Updated: 3 January 2023 11:05 CET

Today’s phrase is one which you can use with everyone from Italian colleagues to restaurant staff as we get back to work in January.

If an Italian says “buon lavoro!” to you, they’re not praising you for a job well done. While this phrase literally translates into English as ‘good work’, it doesn’t refer to a task completed, but to work yet to be carried out.

Buon lavoro is a parting greeting used to wish someone a good day, afternoon, or week at work. But it means far more than a simple “Have a good day at the office”. There’s no exact English equivalent, and you’ll need to be careful how you use it.

It’s quite similar to buona giornata, another parting greeting which means ‘have a nice day’. 

But on top of that, buon lavoro acknowledges the hard work and effort to come, and the fact that this means the day may not be particularly ‘good’ or enjoyable, while expressing the hope that it all goes as well as possible.

All of that in just two words.

You could say it to shop or restaurant staff, or to anyone who has to work on a hot summer’s day. Waiters may say it to you if they assume you’re on your way back to the office after lunch. You’d say it to Italian colleagues who have an insane workload, or to a friend studying for an exam.

Your Italian boss or colleague might say it, whether ruefully or with a hint of irony after dumping a pile of work on your desk.

While there are lots of similar greetings in Italian – buona serata, buona domenica, buon pranzo – wishing someone a good evening, Sunday or lunch is pretty straightforward and doesn’t have any hidden layers of meaning or etiquette to get your head around. You’d usually expect those things to be enjoyable, after all.

Buon lavoro is a bit different. It’s not just a parting salute, it’s recognition, appreciation and solidarity.

But watch out. It might not always be well received, depending on the person you’re talking to.

Do be careful not to say it to people who do certain types of work: firefighters, ER nurses and other emergency service workers are among those who don’t tend to wish each other ‘buon lavoro’ – as it would obviously be preferable if nothing happened that would require their attention or effort.

And buono studio is similar, though this is of course used only when the effort being made involves studying.

So how do you say ‘good work’, then, when you want to praise someone’s accomplishments?

There is of course bravo, and you could add ben fatto: literally ‘well done’, but here used as an adjective used to describe something done with skill. 

– Bravo! E un lavoro ben fatto 

– Well done! It’s a job well done 

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.