DOI: 10.18413/2313-8912-2020-6-3-0-5

Categorization of phraseological units: Russian/Italian expressions


The study on phraseology is wide and complex, since it examines different aspects of an entire linguistic branch. The current article takes into consideration the typology proposed by the Italian linguist Federica Casadei, which will serve as a basis for the authors’ categorization of specific Russian expressions. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the full and partial correspondence of Italian and Russian phraseological units through a new schematization, and, at the same time, to propose a new categorization of the phraseological units applied to Russian expressions.

Italian and Russian theories on phraseology are examined and compared. Italian theory is more focused on the classification of the phraseological units: idioms, sayings, transparent locutions, opaque locutions and higher lexical units. Russian studies are more oriented to cognitive aspects related to the metaphorization of phraseological units. However, linguists agree that stability and reproducibility are the two main criteria that combine all phraseological units.

The main issue when translating from one language into another is that of conveying the source meaning through processes of paraphrase. The result is that some Russian denominations of specific entities can be classified as monomorphemes and some do not constitute part of non-autonomous group as they do in Italian.

On the basis of the differences among categories, a hypothesis about the categorization of some Russian phraseological units is proposed. Furthermore, we underline the importance of metaphorization as a key element for understanding phraseological units. Through metaphors, native speakers can express figurative meanings and innate mental representations.


Phraseology is an integral part of each nation’s heritage. It is through phraseology that the mentality and lifestyle of a given society are transmitted and reflected. Phraseology provides invaluable clues to understanding the thought processes of any population. It represents the treasury of any language, because phraseology reflects the history of people and their national character. Theoretical linguistics has a discipline devoted to studying steady speech expressions and the locutions called phraseological units (Korobejnikova, 2017: 6). The heterogeneity of the elements involved in phraseology has made it a meeting point for various branches of linguistics (semantics, syntax, pragmatics), for approaches (from frame semantics to the construction of grammar), and for different fields of application, from phraseography (the description of phraseologisms in dictionaries) to language teaching.

The study of systemic links both between phraseologisms and the general language system of significant units is one of the main tasks of phraseology within the framework of structural linguistics (Jarceva, 1990).

Phraseology emerged as an independent linguistic discipline relatively recently, about half a century ago. In Russian linguistics, A.A. Potebnja, I.I. Sreznevskij, A.A. Shakhmatov and others established the fundamental assumptions for the theory of phraseology. In the 1940s the ideas of the French linguist Charles Bally (about fixed word combinations characterized by inner cohesion) influenced the development of phraseology. The research on phraseology stimulated lexicographic practice and influenced the studies of V.V. Vinogradov’s concept of phraseology and its duties. In the 1950s, similarities and differences between phraseologisms and word combinations (called ustojchivye sochetanija) became the focus of attention, and phraseology limited itself to finding the criteria for phraseological units (Benigni, Ramusino, Mollica, Schafroth, 2015: 277).

I.A. Melchuk in 1998 introduced the concept of “phrasemes” or “set phrases” in opposition to “free phrases” and gave the following definition: “A phraseme is a phrase in which the signified and signifier cannot be constructed both unrestrictedly and regularly” (Melchuk, 1995: 175). Unrestrictedly here means that the dictionary rules can be chosen arbitrarily in order to verbalize a conceptual representation. Regularly, instead, refers to the components of the word combination that must be exclusively combined, according to the grammatical and semantic rules of the language (Iordanskaja, 2007: 225-226).

Nowadays, in the Russian field, the development of phraseology is characterized by new methods and objects of research based on systematic and cognitive analysis of the language. Particular attention is paid to the semantic of the phraseological units, its nominative aspect, the formation of phraseological units in its dynamics, the sign of the word components, the comparative typological study of the phraseological composition, and the elaboration of phraseologisms in dictionaries. Of particular note are the theoretical contributions by Dobrovol’skij and Piirainen to the problem of cross linguistic comparability of idiomatic structures (they introduced the notion of “functional equivalence”) (Benigni, Ramusino, Mollica, Schafroth, 2015: 277). V.N. Telija also made a significant contribution, underlining the concepts of motivation and inner form, as well as that of phraseologisms as elements of secondary indirect nomination, represented by any kind of syntagmatic interaction of word-components in the process of rethinking and forming a new meaning of the original combination or of the single word. According to Telija, phraseologisms are an integral part of the nominative inventory of a language, which is needed to name individual fragments of the reality (Telija, 1996: 75).

However, another definition developed among the European phraseologists correlated phraseologisms to the theory of Construction Grammar, the basic feature of which is represented by the constructions stored in the native speakers’ memory as single blocks, rather than assembled according to the rules of syntax and connotation. Current theory aims at finding theoretical models adequate for the description of phraseological units, whose form and content are difficult to predict. Another important characteristic of the Construction Grammar approach is that the phraseological sphere is not different from the productive grammatical sphere, but it rather considers the so-called continuum between vocabulary and syntax (Dobrovol’skij, 2016: 9).

Within Construction Grammar collocations are considered part of the phraseological spectrum, and this has encouraged the establishment of syntactical tests (such as substitution, inversion, focalization, isolation and passivization) and of semantic criteria (such as non-compositionality, desemantization of constituents and capacity to designate conceptual units). These allow phraseologisms to be distinguished in a strict sense from similar constructions. Nevertheless, it has also demonstrated that the boundary between the two often remains difficult to determine (Benigni, Ramusino, Mollica, Schafroth, 2015: 277). Therefore, the section about materials will outline a clarification of similar constructions.

Purpose of the Paper

This paper will examine Italian and Russian phraseological units on the basis of the typology proposed by the Italian linguist Casadei. Partial and full correspondences exist between the two language locutions, which are significant aspects for the purposes of our investigation. Indeed, the focus is on finding similarities, affinities and analogies between two languages that are typologically different. The phraseological branches of Italian and Russian linguistics also present different terminological structures and categorizations. Therefore, the aim of this study is to apply Casadei’s classification to some Russian expressions.

Material and Methods of research

At this point arises a discussion around the difference between phraseology and idiomaticity, and around the proper terminology used in this sphere. The term ‘phraseological unit’ has increasingly been used in phraseological research. According to Kunin, “a phraseological unit is a stable combination of words with a fully or partially figurative meaning” (Kunin, 1970: 210). Kunin’s definition includes two inherent properties of phraseological units: stability and figurative meaning, which differentiate these units from free word combinations and also from sets of expressions which are stable, but which do not have any figurative meaning. Moreover, Kunin suggests that phraseological units embrace proverbs. Actually, the study of proverbs is most often included in a separate discipline, that of paremiology (Naciscione, 2010: 19).

Therefore, stability and reproducibility are the main features of phraseological units: stability is the fixity and the compositionality of the meaning of phraseological units, while reproducibility is the capacity of individuals to reproduce phraseological units as ready-made complete units (Casadei, 1994; Casadei, 1995).

Besides the two above-mentioned properties, N.M. Shanskij proposed other features: separability (phraseological units function as separate-formed formations, consisting of several words), and constancy and integrity of meaning (phraseological units appear as a whole even if their meaning reflects the meaning of the components forming them) (Shanskij, 1963: 30-33).

Idiomaticity refers to idiom, which can be defined as “a combination of more than one lexeme whose meaning is not derived from the meaning of its constituents” (Strassler, 1982: 79). Moreover, terminology may change; for instance, the linguist Rosamund Moon uses the term idiom to refer to “any sequence of two or more words that function together as a unit” (Moon, 1988: 108), but in other studies she uses other terms, such as fixed expressions and idioms (Naciscione, 2010: 18).

Casadei gives a general definition of idiomatic expressions: “conventional expressions of a language characterized by the combination of a fixed meaning (little or not at all modifiable) with a non-compositional meaning (which, unlike the literal or compositional meaning, cannot be derived from the meanings of the components of the expression)” (Casadei, 1995: 335). According to this definition, the term idiomatic can indicate different cases of semantic non-predictability or non-literality and idiomatic expressions including locutions, fixed sentences, stereotypes, formulas, clichés and sayings.

Terminology poses an important question about whether the terms “phraseological unit” and “idiom” can be treated as synonyms. We can assume linguist Lala Masimova’s conclusion is valid: the term phraseological unit was introduced by Russian linguists and is mainly used in Russia and Eastern Europe. The term idiomaticity refers to the mechanism that enables phrases to take on meanings that go beyond the meaning of their parts. Idiomaticity, however, could be applied also to single words and not only to phrases. Idiomatic words can be defined only as a part of certain phraseological units that are instead sets of terms, which refer only to two or more phrases (Masimova, 2018: 13-14).

The question on proper terminology continues within studies of modern Italian. A. Cicalese uses the term “modo di dire” (common saying), an expression or idiom that generally indicates the combination of a fixed signifier (little or not at all modifiable) with a non-compositional signified (see also Casadei, 1994; Casadei, 1995; Cacciari, Glucksberg 1995; Casadei, 1996). In addition to this, Italian literature introduced the term ‘polirematic expressions’ (espressioni polirematiche / plurilessicali), multiword forms with structural and semantic cohesion. The Italian approach appears to be structural and lexical-syntactically oriented: particular attention is paid to the pragmatic and syntagmatic cohesion of multiword expressions, that is, to the rules that regulate the existence of more lexical elements in a unicum. However, a general subdivision of phraseological units can be made as follows: idiomatic expressions with certain lexical-syntactic characteristics, the meanings of which are difficult to grasp from their components (also called “transparent expressions”); literal expressions, where it is easy to define the semantic internal articulation of the components; and half-idiomatic expressions, that are in between transparent locutions and idiomatic expressions (they are also called “opaque locutions”).

In Italian linguistics, Maurizio Dardano introduces another phraseological unit, “higher lexical units” (unità lessicali superiori), which own inseparable components. “Changes that can be brought in free word groups are instead not always possible for higher lexical units. For example, the linguistic unit ‘sala da pranzo’ (dining room) and the word group ‘sala per ricevere gli ospiti’ (‘a room to receive guests’ / reception room) are different from one another, since we would accept the adjective ‘grande’ (big) only in the second syntagm and the result will be ‘una grande sala per ricevere gli ospiti’ (a large room to receive guests), but not in the first one. The idiomatic expression in comparison to the lexical unit, apart from the definite degree of lexicalization, owns a high level of idiomatization, which protects the stability of the syntagm. However, the syntagm ‘sala da pranzo’, for example, can also be used in speech in a disjointed way, whilst the components of idiomatic expression cannot be divided” (Dardano, Trifone, 1997: 552).

Simonetta Vietri’s approach to idiomatic expressions in the Italian language is different, since she analyses them from a syntactic-lexical perspective. Her work has developed as part of the “Progetto Lessico Grammatica della Lingua Italiana” project. In her examination, idiomatic expressions are viewed as syntactically free structures with one or more invariable components. The variable components instead are subject to two distributional and grammatical variations. The distributional one, composed by synonyms, adjectives or relative clauses, deprives the original idiomatic expression of its idiomaticity. On the other side, the grammatical variation in tense, mode, adverbs or modifiers does not affect the idiomatic meaning. Her conclusion is that a continuum between free and idiomatic sentences exists, and that variations are accepted only when the idiomatic meaning remains intact (Vietri, 1985: 18).

Nowadays in Russian linguistics the current approach appears to be cognitive and examines phraseological units in terms of mental nature. Within phraseological studies, only the components that have figurative and metaphorical meaning should be considered. The cognitive and psycholinguistic patterns assume that a basic concept exists within phraseological units, which is highlighted with the help of a word identifier that links a determined unit to the sphere of these concepts. The Russian cognitive approach is thus based on the study of those internal phraseological correlations. Furthermore, metaphors play a significant role in the formation of phraseological units. The process of metaphorization is the “verbalization by an individual of the knowledge he acquires about the world and himself” (Zubkova, 2008: 128).


Casadei sketched a typology of idioms in the Italian language and proposed a definition of “idiomatic expressions” (Casadei, 1995: 335-358). The current analysis takes this categorization into consideration and assumes it as a basis for a classification hypothesis applied to Russian phraseological units. According to Casadei, figurative expressions are divided into type V (verb: vuotare il saccone tait’ grecha,tirare le cuoiakondartij chvatil), type N (noun: patata bollentezhguchij/ zlobodnevnyjvopros, testa di cuoiospecnaz), type Adj (adjective: all’acqua di rosepoverchnostyj) and type Adv (adverb: alla bell’e megliokoe-kak). Her examination includes at first sight all cases of non-literal or non-predictablesemantics (morphemes, sayings, proverbs, and indirect speech acts) and other phenomena (stereotypes, formulas, clichés, fixed phrases, binomial, and trinomial expressions) which appear fixed and conventional. After this, all those classes are subject to criteria of idiomaticity – non compositionality, non conventionality, fixity and semantic non-predictability.

The author excludes monomorphematic forms, since it is not possible to predict their semantics. However, some monomorphematic forms which own morphologically complex characteristics are taken into account (ciao – privet - because it is a greeting formula, leone – lev - because, apart from the literal meaning, it has a figurative meaning, that of ‘courageous person’, also bustarellavzjatka, and rompiscatolezanuda).

Furthermore, the author excludes all those forms that are subject to mechanisms of metaphorization, irony and indirectness, when they occur occasionally and creatively. The reference is here to those expressions like “essere una matita” used in sentences like “quella ragazza è una matita” where matita (karandash) alludes to a person’s figure. However, the expressions of the type ‘essere un/una x’, ‘fare il/lo x’ are conventional metaphors and they can be included in the classification, also for the reason that they represent predictable metaphors (fare il burattino, legkomyslennyj chelovek / vetrenik).

In the categorization of idiomatic expressions proposed by Casadei (Casadei, 1995: 335-358), it is important to keep in mind the degree of lexical saturation, which divides the expressions into lexically saturated, partially saturated and patterned (lexically restricted and lexically opened), which is applied to indirect acts. The degree of lexical saturation depends on the addition of different lexical variants or the modification of some elements. An example of a lexically saturated expression is, tirare le cuoia (kondartij chvatil) which can be used with a modifier, as in the sentence ‘tirò subito le cuoia’ (on umer srazu). Partially saturated expressions usually include a lexical variable element that can be a possessive, a determiner or a quantifier: a mio avviso (po-moemu), in primo / secondo luogo (vo-pervych / vo-vtorich). The patterned ones are schemes, indirect acts, and proverbs. An example of scheme is: ‘Det n ESSERE (Det) N’ used in cases such as ‘Gli affari sono affari’, ‘I figli sono figli’ (biznes est’ biznes, deti est’ deti).

As a result, the lexically saturated and the partially saturated are, thereafter, in accordance with the paradigm of conventionality. Conventionality concerns the degree of non-newness of an expression and the link of a given expression with a communicative function, a pragmatic purpose or a context of use. Thus, the fully or partially lexically saturated expressions include institutionalized expressions, stereotypes (clichés, quoted corpus) and formularies.

Institutionalized expressions are mono and polirematic expressions with figurative meaning (bustarella - vzjatka, vuotare il saccone tait’ grecha, all’acqua di rose - poverkhnostnyj), denominations of specific entities (disco fisso / rigidozhёstkij disk, giacca a vento - vetrovka, donna delle pulizie - uborshchica, macchina da scriverepishushchaja mashina), grammatical locutions (dopo di cheposle togo kak, per lo più– chashche vsego), distributional restrictions (essere alla disperazionebyt’ dovedёnnym do otchajanja) and irreversible binonims / trinonims (aglio e oliochesnok i maslo, fante, cavallo e revatel, kon’ i korol’).

Stereotypes are divided into clichés (tragica scomparsatragicheskaja smert’, scottante questionezlobodnevnyjvopros, essere bello come una rosabyt’ krasivym kak roza), quoted corpus, proverbs and sayings (chi dorme non piglia pescibez truda ne vytashchit’ i rybki iz pruda, il tempo è denarovremja – den’gi), and quotes and aphorisms (cogito ergo sumja myslju, znachit sushchestvuju, de gustibusоvkusakh ne sporjat).

Formularies are those linguistic illocutive, performative acts, as well as epistolary formulas, and conversational and textual messages (come vakak dela, buon appetitoprjatnogo appetita, inbocca al luponi pucha ni pera, vi dichiaro marito e moglieob’’javljaju vas muzhem i zhenoj, per concluderev zakljuchenie, a propositokstati, distinti salutis uvazheniem).

Therefore, Casadei (Casadei, 1995: 335-358) introduces a new lexical-syntactic criterion, that of fixity. Different types of fixity exist: fixity in the order of constituents, transformational fixity for a certain structure, and fixity in the inventory of components due to the impossibility of insertion, suppression and substitution. However, fixity does not hinder semantic variation: commutation in idiomatic expressions is possible only if the original idiomatic meaning is maintained intact. As a consequence of this, it is the idiomatic character of an expression that indicates whether that expression is idiomatic or not, and not the commutability. The idiomatic feature is the element that usually obstructs possible lexical and syntactic modifications.

The conflict between the diagrammatic and the holistic comes into focus, when considered from the perspective of semantics. Diagrammaticity indicates the relation between the signified and signifier, the transparency of which is gradual and increases when the relation is one to one. The author refers to increased transparency with reference to a denominated entity like pesce pallaryba-ёzh, a kind of fish, in contrast to the less transparent form pellerossa - krasnokozhij, which is not a kind of skin. The holistic forms are subject to semiotic principles and their diagrammatic interpretation is not valid or is not uniquely valid. Examples of holistic forms include, macchina da scriverepishushchaja mashina, bustarella - vzjatka, rompiscatole - zanuda. In all these terms it is necessary to reinterpret the relation between the form in its entirety and its overall meaning and it is possible to talk about a greater or lesser transparency of the metaphorical motivation of the expression.

The diagrammatic / holistic distinction is very significant when categorizing the idiomatic and non-idiomatic expressions within institutionalized forms. The maximum degree of idiomaticity is represented by metaphorical and metonymic expressions. The lower level is represented by expressions with metaphoric and metonymic features that instead have a diagrammatic aspect: (donna cannonezhenshchina – pushechnoe jadro). Below this class, there are some holistic expressions, represented by non-autonomous lexemes that occur only in certain locutions (andare a zonzobrodit’, andare a rubabyt’ narashvat). The grammatical holistic locutions (per lo piùchashche vsego) are positioned at a lower level still: their non-diagrammaticity does not allow full meaning to be given to its components.

Non idiomatic expressions are those expressions in which conventional meaning might not be predictable or might not be uniquely predictable. Examples of such verbal locutions include, essere alla disperazionebyt’ dovedёnnym do otchajanija, prendere quotanabrat’ vysotu, prendere il solezagorat’ and prendere tempone toropit’sja.

In Casadei’s categorization (Casadei, 1995: 335-358) the diagrammatic / holistic distinction cannot be applied to stereotypes, clichés, proverbs, quotes and formularies since their understanding implies a reference to cultural beliefs and conventions. They present a cultural-pragmatic character and for this reason they can be included in the wide domain of idiomatic expressions, but only in a broader sense, as lexical saturated expressions. On the contrary, if the semantic variable is privileged, the idiomatic expressions are of the holistic institutionalized type, while the others are labelled as clichés, proverbs, quotes, formulas and have distinctive aspects from the idiomaticity. However, for the purposes of the present paper, we agree with the broader conception and we examine all those classes in the following paragraph.

Findings and discussion

The analysis we conducted leads to consideration of comparative and typological types. When transferring the meaning from Italian to Russian, equivalence is not always univocal. It is therefore necessary to emphasize the grammatical syntactic structure of the expressions and the type of connection between the constituents, since the idiomaticity can be full or partial. Full means that from the meaning of the components it is not possible to predict the meaning of the phraseological unit. Partial means that the meaning of the phraseologism becomes clear on the basis of some rethinking processes. The following scheme presents the above-mentioned forms and clarifies the differences existing between the locutions of the two languages, Italian (the source language) and Russian (the target one):


Table 1: Comparison of forms and meanings of Russian and Italian expressions





Vuotare il sacco


Ne tait’ grecha

Both expressions are exhortations to reveal everything when you are wrong. Vuotare il sacco appears to be more figurative, since literally it means ‘to empty the bag’. Ne tait’ grecha instead means ‘to not hide the sin’.

Tirare le cuoia


Kondartij khvatil

The meaning of these expressions is ‘to die’. There are a wide range of expressions corresponding to the event of dying; however, we chose Kondartij khvatil because of the analogy to body rigidity after the death.

Patata bollente


Zhguchij/ zlobodnevnijvopros

The Russian language uses the term vopros (question) instead of patata (potato) and the second alternative zlobodnevnijvopros would rather sound as questionescottante (delicate issue), which is also used in the Italian language.

Testa di cuoio



The source language expression refers to police officers, whose uniform is characterized by a leather hat; the target language expression is an abbreviation of ‘voinskie podrazdelenie special’nogo naznachenija’ (special purpose troops). Therefore, the two expressions allude to the same military unit, but the second one does not keep the specific feature of the hat.

All’acqua di rose



In this case the equivalence is null. Poverkhnostnyj is a paraphrase of the Italian idiomatic expression, which conserves the source meaning of ‘superficial’.

Alla bell’e meglio


The source expression refers to ‘something that is done in a rush and without too much attention’. There is no grammatical correspondence; however, both are adverbial locutions.



Here, there is a full correspondence between Italian and Russian and both terms belong to the class of nouns and are characterized by diminutive suffixes. Moreover, the Russian term can be considered a noun derived from the verb vzjat’ without the addition of any suffix. The meaning is ‘bribe’.



Also in this case, the two expressions are nouns and there is full correspondence; however, it should be noticed that the first term has euphemistic sense and is a compound, formed by two parts, rompi (from the verb rompereto break) and scatole (boxes) that refer to ‘someone who is annoying’.

Fare il burattino


Legkomyslennyjchelovek, vetrenik

On a grammatical level, the Italian expression prefers the use of the construction with the verb fare (to do), whereas the Russian one uses the verb ‘to be+noun’ (on - legkomyslennyjchelovek). Moreover, legkomyslennyj is a compound of the adverb legko (light) and the adjective myslennyj (minded), so that legkomyslennyjchelovek is an empty-headed or frivolous person. This appears to be a different variation from the Italian one, where burattino is a marionette, thus it is the metaphor of a person who lacks personality or who is unreliable or manipulated by others. The metaphorical meaning hence falls apart in the Russian language.

A mio avviso



This partially saturated expression includes a possessive adjective in Italian, whereas it has a ‘prepositional + dative’ form in Russian. Their meaning is ‘according to me’.

In primo / secondo luogo


Vo-pervykh / vo-vtorykh

(Firstly, secondly) Both languages have a preposition as first element; however, the Italian word luogo is missing in the target language (at first).

Gli affari sono affari, I figli sono figli


Biznes est’ biznes, deti est’ deti

The meaning of those expressions is ‘business is business’ and ‘children are children’. The mentioned scheme ‘definite article + noun + verb essere + (definite article) + noun’, typical of the Italian language, is fully provided in Russian, except for the determinative article, which Russian lacks. Those structures are similar to another type of phraseological syntactic fixed constructions, called ‘patterns with empty spaces’ (Baranov, Dobrovol’skij, 2013: 86), which provide some fixed and free positions, saturated by lexical material used in a referential sense and generally subject to grammatical or semantic restrictions. An example of these phraseologisms-construction is “X – on i v Afrike X” (literally: ‘X – anche in Africa è X’), where X has constant traits, independently on the situation, like in “krizis – on i v Afrike krizis” (la crisi è crisi ovunque), “rabota – ona i v Afrike rabota” (il lavoro è lavoro ovunque) (Baranov, Dobrovol’skij, 2013: 86). The idiomatic value in these cases is in the structure itself as a whole, regardless of the lexicon that completes it, and its meaning is unitary, as if it was a lexeme (Ramusino, 2018: 107).

Disco fisso / rigido

Zhёstkij disk


Those are calques of the English IT term(hard disk). They present equivalence of adjectives and nouns.

Giacca a vento



It is interesting to notice that the Italian language prefers a locution constituted by ‘noun + preposition + noun’ where the Russian language adapts the noun from the word veter (wind). The meaning is ‘wind breaker’.

Donna delle pulizie



The same as above can be asserted about this expression. The Italian language has a ‘noun + article + noun’ form, and the Russian adjusts the term from the verb ubirat’ (tidy up). The meaning is ‘house cleaner’.

Macchinada scrivere

Pishushchaja mashina


While the Italian preposition ‘da+infinitive’ expresses the meaning of purpose, the Russian language adopts the adjective-participle form. The meaning is ‘typewriter’.

Dopo di che / per lo più


Posle togo kak / chashche vsego

These fixed structures are respectively conjunction and phrasal adverb, and, from a formal point of view, these phraseological materials are meant as spheres of irregular, idiomatic means of expression for grammatical relations. For this reason, they are represented as a combination of grammatical words (conjunctions, particles, prepositions, interjections, etc.,) (Ramusino, 2018: 107; Baranov, Dobrovol’skij, 2013: 83). These translate as ‘after’ and ‘mostly’.

Essere alla disperazione


Byt’ dovedënnyj do otchajanija

Both languages use the verb ‘to be’; the Russian phraseologism uses a past passive participle with the meaning of ‘to be driven to despair’, the Italian uses a preposition and the meaning is ‘to be in despair’.

Aglio e olio / fante, cavallo e re


Chesnok i maslo / vatel, kon’ i korol’

In both cases there is a full correlation between the two languages (garlic and oil, bishop, knight and king).

Tragica scomparsa

Tragicheskaja smert’

(Tragic death) The term scomparsa is a euphemism for ‘death’; however, the two languages preserve the ‘adjective + noun’ structure.

Essere bello come una rosa


Byt’ krasivym kak roza

The equivalence is full in this case (to be beautiful like a rose).

Chi dorme non piglia pesci

Bez truda ne vytashchit’ i rybki iz pruda

These proverbs are similar in that they both refer to the action of catching fish as a metaphor meaning ‘nothing is reached without hard work’; in order to convey this meaning, the Italian expression uses the verb dormire (to sleep) to refer to people’s inactivity, whereas the Russian one is more explicit with the terms bez truda (without any work). In addition, the Russian proverb completes the sentence with the figure of the pond as place where the fish is caught. An English equivalent might be ‘The early bird catches the worm’.

Il tempo è denaro

Vremja – den’gi

Those constructions are akin to each other (time is money).


Cogito ergo sum / de gustibus



Ja myslju, znachit sushchestvuju / o vkusakh ne sporjat

In the Italian language both expressions maintain their Latin original forms, but Russian translates from Latin. English is ‘I think therefore I am’.

Come va


Kak dela

It was asserted above that the illocutive performative acts constitute formularies; therefore, the Italian and Russian forms are oriented in the same way with the same purpose. Notwithstanding, the difference between the two formulas is that the Italian act uses the verb andare (to go) and the Russian act uses the word dela (things). The meaning is ‘how are things’.

Buon appetito

Prjatnogo appetita

These are conversational acts (with the meaning of ‘enjoy your meal’) with full equivalence, despite the use of the genitive case in Russian.

In bocca al lupo

Ni pukha ni pera

There is no correspondence between these two expressions that wish one ‘good luck’.

Vi dichiaro marito e moglie

Ob’’javljaju vas muzhem i zhenoj

The correspondence is full and the meaning is ‘I pronounce you husband and wife’.

Per concludere

V zakljuchenie

The two locutions (to conclude) present prepositions, but in Italian a verb is used, while Russian uses a noun.

A proposito / distinti saluti

Kstati / s uvazheniem

As conversational and epistolary messages (by the way and best wishes), they are fixed for each language, in the sense that each language presents its own grammatical characteristics.

Pesce palla



It is interesting to notice the different conceptualization of this kind of fish: in Italian it is identified as a ball, while in Russian as a hedgehog. In English it is called a ‘Puffer Fish’.



The equivalence is full and both pellerossa and krasnokozhij(redskin) are substantivized adjectives.

Donna cannone

Zhenshchina – pushechnoe jadro

In Russian jadro is a cannon ball, but still the two forms match. The phrase in English translates to ‘a [female] human cannonball’.

Andare a zonzo



As was already mentioned, the term zonzo exists exclusively in this expression; its meaning is that of wandering, that is the way it is transferred into the Russian language. English is ‘to go for a stroll’.

Andare a ruba

Byt’ naraskhvat

The only difference between the two expressions meaning ‘to go at a good price’, is in the verb forms (in Italian ‘andare’ – to go, in Russian ‘byt’’to be).

Prendere quota

Nabrat’ vysotu

The two languages present full correspondence (gain altitude).

Prendere il sole


The source language uses an expression that might not be predictable, since the verb used is ‘to take’. The correspondence is null. However, in Italian language, another verb exists, that of abbronzarsi (to sunbathe), but it does not constitute a verbal locution.

Prendere tempo

Ne toropit’sja

The meaning of this expression is ‘take your time’. The Russian variant uses a negative construction and a verb with the meaning ‘to rush’.


On the basis of this analysis, it is possible to deduce that some Russian translations and adaptations do not belong to the same categories as Italian expressions. Some of them are just adjectives like poverkhnostnyj (superficial) which does not have any metaphorical meaning in contrast to the Italian expression all’acqua di rose. As far as the saturated expressions are concerned, in our opinion, the categorization is appropriate for Russian expressions, but more for the partially saturated ones than the lexically saturated, since the lexical variable element can be inserted and it changes according to the meaning that the speaker wants to give (po-moemu, po-tvoemu). However, it is worth keeping in mind that in Russian, the lexical variable element can be a possessive or a quantifier, but not a determiner. Indirect speech acts, clichés and proverbs also closely match the Italian equivalent. Some of the Russian expressions categorized as denominations of specific entities are actually part of this class (zhёstkij disk and pishushchaja mashina), but others, being derivative forms of nouns or verbs, can rather be categorized as monomorphemes (vetrovka and uborshchica are, in this sense, closer to the examples of vzjatka and zanuda). On the other hand, the grammatical locutions (dopo di cheposle togo kak, per lo piùchashche vsego) present similarities, although they are irregular idiomatic expressions. The same cannot be asserted of the non-autonomous lexemes, which in Italian occur exclusively in certain kinds of locutions (andare a zonzo, andare a ruba). In Russian the correspondent forms (brodit’, byt’ naraskhvat) are also used in other locutions and contexts.


In short, this examination has shown that the equivalence among the Italian and Russian phraseologisms can be full or partial, that translation and paraphrase processes can be applied to the target language in order to preserve the source metaphorical meaning, and, most of all, it underlined that the idiomatic meaning manifests itself through phraseological units. The Italian and Russian theories presented above claim that Russian literature on phraseologisms is nowadays more focused on the cognitive aspects issued by metaphorical expressions. Casadei’s study also arrives at the conclusion that transparency of the metaphorical motivation of the expression is the key to reinterpreting the relation between the form in its entirety and its overall meaning. Behind the stable vocabulary, there are physical, psychical and social situations that reflect cultural aspects. Therefore, expressions such as tirare le cuoia and vuotare il sacco are related to figurative perception and to mental representations that are innate in native speakers and they constitute part of the metaphorization process. Similarities, affinities and analogies are mental mechanisms that native speakers activate at a cognitive level. Through speech and experience, mental representations are issued and metaphors and phraseologisms are expressed.



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