Meta’ or Mezza? Posted by Serena on May 10, 2009 in Grammar, Italian Language
They say that two halves make a whole, but that’s not necessarily true. Let me explain: in Italian we have two words, meta’ and mezza, which both mean “half” in English. This can be very confusing, and students of Italian often find it difficult to know which of the two to use. Hmm, let’s see if I can clarify it to myself first, because I usually end up in a terrible tangle when I try and explain it to English friends who then end up getting more confused than ever! OK, I’m ready to start!
Meta’ is a feminine noun, used to describe one of two equal parts into which a thing is divided (hmm, so much for clarification, you may need to read that several times!). Let’s look at some examples: I can say: la meta’ di 100 e’ 50 (half of 100 is 50), or Gianni e’ cosi’ goloso che ha mangiato meta’ della torta di mele (Gianni is so greedy that he ate half of the apple cake), or non e’ giusto! la tua meta’ e’ piu’ grande della mia! (It’s not fair! Your half is bigger than mine!). The word meta’, like all nouns ending in –ta’, doesn’t change in the plural: i.e. due meta’ (two halves). As a husband and wife are meant to ‘complete’ each other we often say la mia meta’ (‘my other half’) when talking about our spouse.
Mezza, on the other hand, is a regular adjective, and therefore it changes according to the noun which it describes, i.e. mezze (feminine plural), mezzo (masculine singular), mezzi (masculine plural): e.g. Gianni ha mangiato mezza mela (Gianni ate half an apple); oggi al mercato ho comprato mezzo chilo di mele (today I bought half a kilo of apples at the market); quanto abbiamo camminato oggi, siamo mezzi morti! (what a distance we’ve walked today, we’re half dead!). Mezza or mezzo is used in many combined nouns such as mezzogiorno (midday), mezzanotte (midnight), mezzaluna (half moon), mezzosoprano (mezzo-soprano), mezzatinta (mezzotint).
OK, up to now it’s all very simple and straightforward (I hope), but we Italians don’t like to make life too easy, otherwise it would get boring! Because meta’ is a noun it is normally followed by the preposition di (of) i.e. meta’ di (half of). However, in colloquial Italian meta’ is often used without the preposition di, and therefore it looks like an adjective: e.g. ho comprato questa gonna a meta’ prezzo (I bought this skirt at half-price), instead of the more correct a meta’ del prezzo, or Laura ha detto che mi paghera’ a meta’ mese (Laura said that she will pay me half way through the month), instead of a meta’ del mese. As I said, this use of meta’ makes it appear to be an adjective and can be very confusing as it overlaps with mezza!
Finally, just to confuse things a little bit more, the adjective mezzo (only in the masculine form) is used as a noun with the meaning of “middle”: e.g. attento! c’e’ un cane in mezzo alla strada! (Watch out! There is a dog in the middle of the road!); in mezzo alla piazza c’era una fontana (in the middle of the square there used to be a fountain); quella di mezzo e’ la finestra della mia camera (the middle one is my bedroom window).
I think I’d better stop here, but beware, this is only a small selection of the many uses of meta’ and mezza/o. It’s almost impossible to list all the idiomatic expressions, adverbial uses, etc.
Ora vado a bere un buon caffe’ con la mia dolce meta’ (Now I’m going to drink a nice coffee with my ‘sweet other half’).
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