Prendere lucciole per lanterne” is an Italian idiom that we love!

If you came across the idiom “prendere lucciole per lanterne” you might have been confused about its meaning.

Sometimes idioms are a bit hard to understand and it’s important to know their meaning instead of translating word by word.

This is why at Happy Languages we introduce idioms regularly, so that students can become familiar with them and start using idiomatic expressions spontaneously.

Using idioms in another language feels so good!

So what does this idiom mean?

Literally, it means “to mistake fireflies for lanterns”: so it’s perfect when someone misunderstands a situation.

In English we could say “to get hold of the wrong end of the stick” as it’s an idiom with a very similar meaning.

Some examples will help you use it!

Italian English
Avevo capito male: il nuovo ristorante non apre oggi ma la prossima settimana. Come al solito ho preso lucciole per lanterne. I misanderstood: the new restaurant doesn’t open today but next week. As usual, I got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Hai preso lucciole per lanterne: pensavi che Marta fosse una ragazza onesta, ma non lo è. You got hold of the wrong end of the stick: you thought Marta was a honest girl, but she’s not.
Non conoscendo il tedesco avete preso lucciole per lanterne: Hanz non è il marito di Anna, è suo cugino! Since you don’t know German you got hold of the wrong end of the stick: Hanz isn’t Anna’s husband, he’s her cousin!


Now it’s your turn: think of a classic misunderstanding or of a past experience and write your example!

We bet you have in mind a huge number of situations where this idiom would have been perfect!

And if you want to discover more Italian idiomatic expressions, browse through our dedicated Pinterest board.

Also, you can have a look at our online resources to find out more.

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