Italian Language/word usage


Dear Lauren,
Can you clarify whether three words that are translated as “step” can be used interchangeably in Italian. I am getting the impression that they cannot, or usually are not.

From what I am seeing, “gradino” and “scalino” are steps on ladders or staircases, literal or figurative:
Attenzione al gradino [Please mind the step]
Emma è salita di un gradino nella carriera [Emma has taken a step forward in her career]
Flavio mi guardò dal scalino più basso della scala [Flavio looked up at me from the bottom step of the stairway]

But passo is an action taken by a person or refers to an action in a series:
Ha fatto un passo lento all’indietro [He took a slow step backward]
Ti va di fare due passi? [Do you feel like going for a walk?]
Pochi passi ci hanno portato subito in centro [A few steps took us straight into the center]
Il passo successivo è quello di aggiungere il latte [The next step is to add milk]

Thank you very much.

Hi Janet,

Many thanks for your question.

Although all meaning step, 'gradino,' 'scalino' and 'passo' do all have slightly different meanings.

As you have pointed out, 'gradino' and 'scalino' both refer specifically to steps on a ladder (rungs) or staircase whereas 'passo' will always be a step in the sense of a movement by a person.

Therefore, all examples you have given are correct. 'Gradino' and 'scalino' can be used interchangeably to warn somebody of a step, to refer to a step in somebody's career or to refer to a step on the stairs/ladder but in these examples, 'passo' could never be used.

Likewise, 'passo' can refer to a step forward or backwards when a person is literally moving, the act of walking or the next thing that somebody needs to do. In these examples, 'gradino' and 'scalino' would not make sense.

Hope this helps,
Kind regards,

Italian Language

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Lauren O' Hagan


Although not my mother tongue, I have spoken Italian fluently for more than 12 years so I am very confident to answer any questions about the Italian language. I am also competent in Roman Dialect if there are any questions relating to this.


MA Applied Linguistics First Class Honours in Modern Language Studies (Linguistics, Italian, Spanish) Received the top grade in the whole of UK for GCSE Italian, receiving a letter of congratulations from the Italian Consulate Completed my two-year A Level in 1 year with a grade A country. Carried out many translation jobs for a wide range of clients and topics including self-help, literature and exam papers. For personal reference, I have also translated Federico Moccia's Tre Metri Sopra Il Cielo and 2 of Francesco Totti's book.

El Pensador, University of Bristol

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Letter of recognition from the Italian consulate MA Applied Linguistics BA Hons Modern Language Studies CELTA qualified C1 CILS C2 DELE

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