No matter how long they've been studying and speaking a foreign language, native English speakers often remain bemused by the concept of inanimate objects having a gender.
Still, most of these nouns are fairly easy to remember and use.
But not the humble tavola, or table, which for Italian beginners is often a source of complete confusion.
Why is it una tavola (feminine) today, when it was un tavolo (masculine) yesterday? What's the difference? Italians themselves can be stumped by this question.
But the answer is all about context. And of course – this is Italy after all – food.
Tavolo is the generic word for that piece of furniture in your dining room (and a small side table is a tavolino.)
But if you're referring to a table that's set for a meal, or a table with food on it, you'd use the word tavola.
– Tutti a tavola! Il pranzo è pronto.
– Everyone (come) to the table! Lunch is ready.
An exception is when you're reserving a table at a restaurant-
– Vorrei prenotare un tavolo per due alle otto.
– I would like to reserve a table for two at eight.
Why? Who knows. In my mind, I like to imagine it's because they haven't finished setting the table or cooking the food yet, so it's still just a plain old tavolo at that point.
You'd also use tavolo in phrases such as:
– Cena servita al tavolo.
– Dinner with table service.
– Gioco da tavolo
– Board game (literally “table game”)
Tavola meanwhile can have a few other meanings such as “board” or “plate” (always some kind of flat surface.)
– Tavola da surf
– Tavola calda
– A bar or cafeteria serving hot food buffet-style
So there you have it. Now you can be confident of getting your grammar right while enjoying La buona tavola (the pleasure of eating well) next time you're in Italy.
Do you have an Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.