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Tesoro – Meaning in Italian and When You Can Use It

Updated on November 8, 2023

If you’re coming to Italy with your child, you’ll likely hear Italians call him/her tesoro.

The Italian word tesoro literally means ‘treasure’, but just like the English word it can have a few different meanings and situations in which it is used. Let’s take a look at some of them!

Good To Know:  The plural of tesoro is tesori.

Tesoro – Pronunciation

Tesoro is pronounced teh-ZOH-roh.

Listen to it here:

Origins of the Word Tesoro

The origin of tesoro is uncertain, but it probably comes from the ancient Greek thesaurum, with the Latin version being thesaurus. 

In ancient Greece, the thesaurum was a building – a kind of storage place usually with a porticoed façade, filled with things offered to gods at various shrines, and used to house votive offerings and objects of worship. So it was no ordinary warehouse, but a place that contained valuable objects – ‘treasures’ for the gods.

In Hellenic and Roman Egypt, the tesoro had a rather different meaning. It was a traditional building used to store grain, sometimes collected from state land or from taxes. It was a distribution center for rations to officials and soldiers. So, it still contained something valuable to the community but a bit more mundane!

Tesoro – Its Meaning in Italian

Tesoro Meaning – Talking About a Person

Woman and child at Lago di Braies in the Dolomites in Italy.  They are looking at the lake and the woman is saying to the child, "tesoro mio," in a graphic speech bubble.

The first, and most common use of tesoro in Italy is as a term of affection. If someone is sweet on you they might call you tesoro (in English it could be sweetie, darling, honey, sugar, my love, or my darling)

Sei il mio tesoro
One person might say this to another. It means ‘You’re my darling!’ or any of the terms above. Of course, it’s not just lovers who say this to each other – a mom or dad might say it to a child. 

Ti amo tesoro
I love you my darling! This is for lovers. Usually, a mom and dad with a child will use ti voglio bene instead of ti amo to say ‘I love you.’

Good To Know: There are also diminutive forms of the word. The suffix –ino makes things smaller in Italian, so you may hear tesorino. The suffix -uccio denotes something quite cute, so it would be tesoruccio.

Tesoro mio…”
My darling. Of course, lovers use this as an affectionate term, but a long-suffering mom or dad might start off an explanation to a small child like this (kind of “You know I love you sweetie, but…”).

Davvero tesoro?”
Really sweetie? This could be a slightly patronizing use of the word.

“Grazie tesoro!
Thanks love. This might be said by an older person to a younger person in any situation (the speaker generally has a pretty outgoing personality).

“Sei un tesoro!”
You’re amazing/you’ve saved my life!

Tesoro Meaning – Another kind of treasure…

Treasure map, or a mappa del tesoro.

Tesoro is also treasure of a material kind. 

Pirates have a map of their treasure (la mappa del tesoro), the famous book Treasure Island is L’Isola del Tesoro and you can also go on a treasure hunt (la caccia al tesoro). 

Tesoro Meaning – Talking About Art

Tesoro can be related to art. For example, in the Sforza Castle in Milan, there is a Sala del Tesoro. This is where the ruling Sforza family had their treasury, but it is now a place that houses the famous Trivulziana Library and temporary exhibitions, and still contains part of an incredible decoration commissioned by ruler Ludovico il Moro. 

Italy’s entire art heritage is ‘un tesoro inestimabile’ (a priceless treasure). Milan’s cathedral (like other important churches in Italy) has a Museo del Tesoro (Museum of Treasure), which contains not only gold and precious objects but beautiful works of art.

Tesoro Meaning – Talking About Nature

A beach on Elba island, off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.

We can also use tesoro to refer to something beautiful in nature. For example, ‘un albero è un tesoro della natura’ (a tree is one of the loveliest things in nature) or Isola d’Elba (Elba Island, in Tuscany) is ‘un tesoro della natura’ (a wonder of nature).

Tesoro Meaning – Talking About the Treasury

Until 1997, Italy had a Ministero del Tesoro, but it is now called the Ministero dell’Economia e delle Finanze (The Ministry of Economy and Finance) and controls public spending and the country’s finances. However, often ministers were still called Ministro del Tesoro, as it was shorter to say! 

Tesoretto in economic terms is also an extra and unexpected sum of money that a country’s ministry may have available to spend (perhaps because of extra taxes). The word is used a lot in Italian journalism.

When You Can Use the Word Tesoro

Young couple on Burano island in Venice, Italy.  She's telling him 'ti adoro tesoro' with a graphic speech bubble.

Tesoro is usually used by one adult to another, or by one adult to a child. It can have a romantic meaning, an affectionate meaning, a patronizing meaning or it can be used to talk about something wonderful and/or valuable. 

So how do we know in which sense it’s being used? Well, usually either by context or tone of voice.  Here are some more example sentences of each:

  • Ti adoro tesoro – I adore you darling (romantic)
  • Tesoro della mamma! – Mom’s little treasure (affectionate)
  • Ascolta tesoro… – Listen honey (either patronizing or just camp, depending on tone of voice)
  • I pirati hanno una nave piena di tesoro – The pirates have a ship full of treasure.
  • Facciamo una caccia al tesoro – Let’s go on a treasure hunt!
  • Una volta, il Ministro dell’Economia e Finanza si chiamava il Ministro del Tesoro – The Ministry of the Economy and Finance used to be called the Treasury.
  • Ne faccio tesoroFare tesoro is an idiomatic expression. It means something is valuable, in the sense of ‘I’ve learned a valuable lesson.’

How to Respond if Someone Calls You Tesoro

If someone calls you ‘tesoro,’ of course, it depends on the context (whether it’s romantic not). Generally, you don’t call them ‘tesoro’ back (you might want to think of another term of endearment).

Why Don’t We Change the Ending of Tesoro for a Female?

Tesoro is an invariable noun. Old, young, male or female, it’s always tesoro!  

Another example of an invariable noun is albero (tree) If you were talking about your tree, you’d say ‘albero mio,’ and never ‘albera mia.’

An example of a variable noun is amico (masculine), which becomes amica (feminine).

Tesoro in Pop Culture

YouTube video
  • Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings calls the One Ring ‘tesssssoro’ (vs. ‘precioussss’ in the original English language version).
  • The Italian film “Chi trova un amico trova un tesoro” – this is a very popular expression in Italian (if you’ve found a good friend you’ve struck gold)
  • Laura Tesoro is a Belgian Eurovision singer with Italian ancestry

The Name Tesoro

Tesoro isn’t used as a first name in Italy, but it can be a cognome (surname), although not a very common one. Most people with the surname Tesoro live in Puglia, followed by the Campania, Lazio, and Lombardy regions of Italy.

Tesoro in Other Languages

Tesoro, when speaking about a person, can be translated to many other languages, including:

  • Spanish – cariño
  • French – chéri
  • German – liebling
  • English – darling
  • Portuguese – querido
  • Arabic – habibi
  • Welsh – cariad

Tesoro FAQ

Is tesoro Italian or Spanish?

Tesoro is the Italian and Spanish word for ‘treasure.’

Can you call a girl tesoro?

Yes, you can call a girl tesoro – the word is the same for both males and females.

Does tesoro mean darling?

Yes, tesoro means darling, honey, dear, sweetie, my love, etc.

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