I'm curious about the grammatical reason for saying "Io ho fame" vs "Io sono fame". In most instances where you are saying "I am" the verb sono is used. Example: "Sono stanco" (I am tired). The verb "ho" means "I have" so the literal translation of "Io ho fame" to English is "I have hunger" vs "I am hungry".

Does anyone know the origins or grammatical reason that "ho" is used instead of "sono" in this instance? Are their other other examples of when it is correct to use "ho" vs "sono" in a sentence where in English one would typically say "I am" instead of "I have"?

  • 1
    If anything the correct Italian version would be "Io sono affamato" (but as you noticed this is not idiomatic)
    – Denis Nardin
    Aug 12, 2021 at 15:23

1 Answer 1


Actually the constructions work just like in English: "I have"/"ho" with a noun (hunger), "I am"/"sono" with an adjective (hungry, tired). The difference is just that English prefers one construction and Italian the other in this example. (Both "sono stanco" and "ho sonno" are common to say "I'm tired", though.)

  • Just a small addition: with "sono" and the adjective it would be "sono affamato"
    – Matteo
    Aug 13, 2021 at 8:22
  • It might be worth mentioning that, as a rule of thumb, Italians tend to prefer "to have + noun" when expressing a "physical feeling" ("ho fame", "ho sonno", "ho dolore/male") and "to be + adjective" when expressing a "spiritual feeling" ("sono felice", "sono triste", "sono arrabbiato"). There are, of course exceptions, like the "sono stanco" mentioned in the reply.
    – secan
    Aug 16, 2021 at 8:56

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