Many people say that Dante Alighieri is "the father of Italian" and his name is widely known and appreciated.

Motivated by Does the German language have a Shakespeare?, asked on the German SE, which got very interesting answers, I would like to ask the same for Italian.

The Wikipedia article about Shakespeare's influence on the English language claims that this writer created a great deal of neologisms, phraseological expressions, sayings that became part of the language, enriching it and providing it with great literary content.

This phenomenon has to be better understood with in the complete framework of the history of the English language (a good summary can be read here).

On the other hand, nobody can question Dante's grandeur, his works are considered masterpieces not only within Italy but also abroad.

But the history is pretty different: standard Italian was born out of the Florentine dialect. Dante is considered his father right because his literary work has shaped the educated content of a language and the particular language he spoke was then chosen to be the representative language of the whole peninsula.

Both have worked in an era of rather confused set of linguistics canons and both have put those into a well-defined form.

If we focus on the lexical level, was Dante a creator of neologisms like Shakespeare or not? Did he insert expressions we still use today in the language?

  • 3
    T.S. Elliot once said: "Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third.".
    – nico
    Nov 11, 2013 at 17:28
  • 2
    This video, aside from being particularly funny, makes a very nice summary of the complexity of English evolution over the course of history. youtube.com/watch?v=H3r9bOkYW9s Would love to see something like that for Italian!
    – nico
    Nov 14, 2013 at 7:31

1 Answer 1


If we focus on the lexical level, the answer is yes, Dante was a creator of many words and expressions that we use.

First, according to some statistic here, 90% of the basic Italian lexicon in use nowadays (that is, 90% out of 2000 most common words, which are in turn 90% of what is said, read, and written every day) are already in Commedia.

Second, Dante's neologisms include accidioso, cencro, contrappasso, imparadisare, indiarsi, indovarsi, inforsarsi, infuturarsi, inmiarsi e intuarsi, e anche inluiarsi e inleiarsi, inmillarsi, inurbarsi, inzaffirarsi, lonza, squadernare, trascolorare, trasmodare, trasmutare, trasumanare, trasvolare, veltro, and many others. Yes, they were mainly derivatives from the words already known to the reader at the time, but that was exactly the point: to invent some new words but to make sure that the readers would still be able to understand them. A vast majority of 1700 words that are allegedly invented by Shakespeare consists also of derivatives.

Third, just like Shakespeare, Dante has made popular many phrases, which are now used as idioms. The (more or less) full list of his expressions is here.

For more information on the topic, one may consult:

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