If you grew up in an Italian household, you have certainly been on the receiving end of millions of zitto (zeet-toh) during your childhood. Literally, zitto means “silent,” but it is most often used with the verb stare to create the locution stare zitto, or “shut up.”
Of its English counterpart, stare zitto has all the peremptoriness: vuoi stare zitto? Mi dai fastidio! (Would you shut up? You’re bothering me!).
As an adjective, zitto is declined, so it has a feminine (zitta) and plurals (zitti, zitte): this means Marco deve stare zitto (“Mark needs to shut up”), Maria deve stare zitta (“Mary needs to shut up”), and Marco e Maria devono stare zitti (“Mark and Mary need to shut up”).
We use it a lot, often preceded by the internationally recognizable shhh! and, more often than not, in the way we just showed you, with stare. However, the use of zitto as a pure adjective is also very common, as in Se ne sta zitto, seduto sul divano (“he is sitting on the couch, all silent”).
Zitto is also present in some popular expressions: zitti e mosca! can be translated with “not a word to anyone,” while zitti e buoni (very popular today after the homonymous song won the Eurovision Festival) can be translated with “keep quiet.”
The verb zittire means to induce someone to stop talking and is also quite common.
- La festa è una sorpresa, quindi zitti e mosca!
- The party is going to be a surprise so… not a word to anyone!
- Ragazzi! Insomma! State zitti!
- Guys, come on! Shut up now!
- Se ne sta zitto in un angolo, deve essersi offeso
- He is all quiet in the corner: I think he got offended.