A textbook of mine translates 'cow' with 'vacca', Duolingo has 'mucca'.

Is there a difference?

5 Answers 5


La mucca è una vacca lattifera, mentre la vacca in generale è la femmina adulta di bovino (ma all'orecchio di qualcuno “suona male”, e ha usi negativi che “mucca” non ha).

La 5a edizione del vocabolario della Crusca cita i Consulti medici di Antonio Cocchi (per Vincenzo Antoine, 1791):

Il latte deve essere di vacca di cui fassi il burro, mi pare che in Toscana si chiamino mucche, e credo che siano una sorte di vacche più mansuete dell’altre.

In Scienza e sentimento di Antonio Pascale è raccontato un aneddoto piacevole:

[Durante l’esame di zootecnia] dissi a un certo punto, parlando delle nuove specie iscritte al registro genealogico italiano, invece di vacca, mucca! «La mucca? Che cos’è la mucca, vacche si chiamano, sono ungulati, siamo all’esame di zootecnia. Che mucca e mucca? Questa ignoranza è colpa di Heidi, non abbiamo ancora capito i guai che quel cartone animato sta facendo alle nuove generazioni . . . »
Poi mi dette ventidue.

Quick English synopsis. A vacca is, in general, any adult female bovine, while a mucca is a vacca which is giving milk. Mucca was originally a local, Tuscan term.

However, vacca is also used as a derogatory term for a female human, so it's sometimes avoided, even though it is more correct when not talking about milk production.

  • 2
    vacca has even made it into English, with vaccine and derivations Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 11:41
  • I wish to expand on this answer, reporting that a cow that does not give milk yet (eg. a cow that hasn't given birth yet) is called "manza"
    – Bruno9779
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 12:05

Of course there is a difference which has already been explained in another answer, but in the real every day usage most of Italians uses the two words in the same way. Vacca can also be used in an offensive way. It sounds like "bitch" in English if referred to a girl.

You can say: "Quella è proprio una vacca" [offensive].

But you cannot say "Quella è proprio una mucca" [no sense, sounds weird].

  • 5
    you could, if you want to point out that her bosom is really generous :-)
    – mau
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 18:34
  • 3
    "vacca" when used as derogatory is closer in meaning to "slut" (though not as strong) than "bitch" (which is "stronza" in Italian)
    – lapo
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 11:40

In everyday language "vacca" may be also interpreted as an offence to somebody! "Lucia è una vacca" that means "Lucia is a bitch". But, depending on the context it can also be used with the meaning of "cow". But remember, when talking is always preferred to say "mucca".

I'm Italian!


No, there isn't, but Italians prefer to say 'mucca' in reference to what anglophones call 'cow'. Avoid 'vacca', a word that, in general, evokes some meanings which one don't want to think of.


From Il Nuovo Ragazzini/Biagi Dizionario Inglese/Italiano (1991):

mucca f. cow (nothing else) - vacca f. 1 cow ... 2 (fig. spreg.) bitch.

The word mucca is definitely better. Furthermore, from Free Dictionary Online:

bitch: 3 (vulgar) a) A prostitute considered in relation to a pimp. b) A person in a subservient sexual role ...

(So not only bitch = stronza).

My suggestion (Italian from Tuscany) is never to use the word vacca unless you are talking about a woman of very questionable morals. And, even when you do, you might find somebody around you who will not be pleased with the style of your conversation.

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