When endings count: Italian nouns that end in a or o

It can be hard to remember whether an Italian noun ends in o or a. Sometimes it doesn't really matter, and people from different regions will express the noun one way or the other. An example of this is il puzzo/la puzza. They both mean "a bad smell" "a stench."

Beh, è bello sentire gli odori, ma noi sentiamo gli odori, ma sentiamo anche le puzze. Ecco infatti, senti questa puzza?

Well, it's nice to smell odors, but we smell scents, but we also smell bad odors. There you go, in fact, do you smell this stench?

Captions 12-14, Daniela e Francesca Il verbo sentire

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They're both associated with the verb puzzare (to stink).


But often, the ending does make a difference in meaning: It might be a small difference, where you'll likely be understood even if you get it wrong:

Se vuoi fare contento un bambino, dagli un foglio bianco e una matita colorata.

If you want to make a child happy, give him a white sheet of paper and a colored pencil.

Captions 7-8, Questione di Karma Rai Cinema - Part 1

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una spolverata de [di] parmigiano e 'na [una] foglia di basilico a crudo sopra.

a sprinkling of Parmesan and a raw basil leaf on top.

Caption 9, Anna e Marika Un Ristorante a Trastevere

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Both sheets of paper are flat and thin, and in English a leaf can be a sheet of paper. We might use this term when talking specifically about books, but normally a leaf is a leaf and a sheet of paper is a sheet of paper.

Of course it's better to get it right! 


But what about palo and pala? Actually, if we think about it, they both have similar shapes, but their function is completely different.

Il problema era, era un palo, un palo che stava proprio lì. Un palo di ferro

The problem was, was a post, a post that was right there. An iron post

Captions 83-85, Provaci Ancora Prof! S2EP1 - La finestra sulla scuola - Part 1

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La preparazione del terreno per la semina, il contadino la fa con una vanga, che è una specie di pala ma fatta apposta per il terreno,

The preparing of the ground for sowing, the farmer does with a spade, which is a kind of shovel but made especially for the ground,

Captions 19-20, La campagna toscana Il contadino - Part 2

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So just for fun, and perhaps to help remember, we have a little crossword puzzle for you, all in Italian. All the words have one version that ends in a and one that ends in o. You might have to use a dictionary.

Click on the link and follow the instructions.

When endings count: Italian nouns ending in a or o

We've had a request for translations of the crossword puzzle.  While we can't put the translation in the crossword itself, here are the clues in English:


4. where ships can be docked
7. I use it for sewing
8. you have one when you are sad
10. I use it to write or draw on when it is made of paper
11. it grows in the ground or in a pot
12. one uses it to build things
13. we burn it in the fireplace
14. one a day keeps the doctor away
15. where someone lives


1. a letter or package
2. place
3. It can end up in the courtroom
5. a type of fruit tree
6. it supports the electrical or telephone lines
7. there's often one at the checkout counter
8. you close it when you leave the house
9. you use it to dig a hole
10. it falls from a tree in the fall


Here are the solutions:





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