Translated by Alanna Quintyne

Have you ever heard the words Boh, Dai, and Nì? They are common Italian words that all Italians use daily. In today’s article called “How to use Dai, boh and nì”, I have explained what they mean and how you can use them, giving you, as usual, many examples!
If you want to know more, read the following lines!

Italian is not only made up of verbs and grammatical structures, but like any language, it also comprises interjections and more colloquial structures. 

Today, I’d like to talk about language that is more informal compared to the usual and which would be more suitable for conversation with friends and family, but no less common or correct. I’d particularly like to discuss 3 very short words that when used express a whole lot. I’m referring to dai, boh and ni.

Let’s start right away by examining these terms:


Dai is a discourse marker that is used fundamentally in two ways:

1. To express encouragement 

    • Non sono sicura di poter essere la candidata giusta per quel lavoro. = I’m not sure I would be the right candidate for the job.
    • Ma dai… non solo sei qualificata ma hai anche un po’ di esperienza! = Come on… Not only are you qualified but you also have some experience!
    • Non ho studiato molto per l’esame e non sono sicura di superarlo. = I didn’t study much for the exam and I’m not sure if I’ll pass.
    • Dai Maria, ricordati che comunque vada sarà un successo! = Come on Maria, remember that however it goes it’ll be a success!

2. To express disbelief 

    • Sai che Lucio ha lasciato il lavoro senza nemmeno dare un preavviso? = Did you know that Lucio quit his job without even giving notice?
    • Daii?! Non ci posso credere! = Seriously?! I can’t believe it!
    • Sai che la nostra classe è arrivata tra i finalisti alle Olimpiadi di matematica? = Did you know that our class made it to the finals in the Math Olympiad?
    • Dai?? Non era mai successo prima nel nostro Istituto?! = Really? That’s never happened before at our institute?!


Boh is a very simple one-syllable word that is very common among Italians, and it simply means “I don’t know…I have no idea”.  

    • A che ora finisci di lavorare oggi? = What time do you finish work today?
    • Boh. Devo controllare l’agenda. Dipende da quanti appuntamenti ho. = I don’t know. I’ll have to check my planner. It depends on how many appointments I have.
    • Che fai sabato sera? = What’re you doing Saturday night?
    • Boh.. di solito io e i miei amici decidiamo sempre all’ultimo momento. = I don’t know… usually my friends and I always decide at the last minute.

Sometimes you might hear this from someone who wants to express reticence and little conviction about something or someone. 

  • Boh. Questa storia mi sembra proprio strana. = I dunno…This story just seems weird to me.
  • Mi ha detto che non lo pagano da mesi… ma boh…non è che mi fido tanto della sua parola. = He told me they haven’t paid him in months…but I don’t know…it’s not like I’m taking his word for it.

What is ? Have you ever heard of it?  is a somewhat peculiar word in that it comes from the combination of and no (yes and no).

Usually, it is used when our response to a question is neither a full yes or no.

Let’s try to make some examples in order to better understand to what I’m referring:

    • Ti piace questa nuova maglia che ho comprato? = Do you like this new sweater that I bought?
    • Mmm… Nì… Diciamo che non mi fa impazzire ma non la trovo neanche orribile. = Mmm…yes and no… Let’s just say that I’m not crazy about it but I don’t find it horrible either.
    • Allora? È andata bene la presentazione di quel progetto? = So? Did that presentation for the project go well?
    • Ni, l’idea è buona ma mi hanno detto che devo ancora lavorarci su!! Yes and no, the idea is a good one, but they told me that I still need to work on it!


Dai, boh and nì may seem like some pretty bizarre and funny words at first glance but in reality, they are actually three commonly used terms. 

In fact, all Italians use them, especially in informal situations, and for this reason, if your goal is to gain an in-depth knowledge of this language, I recommend that you first understand what they mean and try to use them when you practice with your Italian friends or teacher!

I’m sure that eventually you won’t be able to live without them! :)

ila firma

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