Italian word of the day: ‘Quadro’

Italian word of the day: 'Quadro'
Photo: DepositPhotos
Do you know all the possible uses for this seemingly simple word?

There are lots of different situations in which we might hear the word quadro.

Any Italian beginner can guess that this word has something to do with the number four, or something with four sides. That thing would, of course, be a square.

– Un quadro ha quattro lati uguali

– A square has four equal sides

But then, the word quadrato also means “a square.”

– Disegniamo un quadrato nel centro del foglio

– Let's draw a square in the middle of the page.

Sometimes the words quadro and quadrato can be interchangeable, both as nouns and as adjectives, which can be slightly confusing. Which should you use?

It depends what you're talking about.

As any house-hunter in Italy will know, it's common to see either metri quadri or metri quadrati, which both mean “square metres.” This is often abbreviated to mq.

With kilometres though it's more common to see chilometri quadrati than chilometri quadri, although both mean “square kilometres”

– Si sviluppava il castello su una superficie di undici mila metri quadri.
– The castle was built over an area of eleven thousand square metres.

So what's the difference? Basically, quadrato can only be used to talk about the shape, while quadro can mean other things, too.

Un quadro can be “a painting,” and it doesn't matter whether the canvas is actually square, rectangular, or something else.

– I quadri sono belli

– The paintings are beautiful

At the theatre, un quadro is “a scene”.

– Turandot, atto terzo, quadro primo

– Turandot, third act, scene one.
Another common translation for quadro is “framework”, and this can be taken to mean any sort of control panel, dashboard, electrical switchboard, fuse box, or even your car's ignition.

– Ci sono ancora le chiavi attaccate al quadro.
– The keys are still in the ignition.

As an adjective, a quadri describes things with squares on them.

– tovaglia a quadri

– checkered tablecloth

Figuratively, quadro can also be used to describe someone. For example:

– Ha le spalle quadre

– He has broad shoulders

And also in a more insulting way:

– Che testa quadra!

– What a blockhead!

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.

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