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Meta’ or Mezza? Posted by 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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Comments:

  1. Dante Davighi:

    this explains more than the half of it.

  2. VincePlato:

    Good Morning:

    Do you also use the word ‘meta’ to mean ‘after’ as in ‘metaphysics’ – for example, the chapter in Aristotle’s work that immediately followed the physics chapter was called metaphysics?

    Vince

  3. Serena:

    Gentile Signor Vince.

    We don’t have the word “meta” as in “after”, but we have the prefix “meta-“ of Greek origin meaning “transformation” as in metamorphosis, or “after” as in metaphysics, or “beyond” as in metacarpus. We also have the noun “meta” of Latin origin meaning “destination” or “aim”, and which is written without the accent on the vowel –a. Finally we have the noun meta’ (with an accent), which comes from the Latin “medietas” meaning “half”.

    A presto.

  4. neima:

    thanks alot for all that you done to help us improving our level in itaian
    your site is really interresting
    we always need more
    thank you very much

  5. mar:

    Hi, I just started reading this great blog recently as I am currently learning Italian. I am a native spanish speaker, and I have found that the word “mezza” equals the spanish “media” and the word “meta'” equals the spanish “mitad”. This might be a helpful tip only if you know spanish already, but something to keep in mind for those who do.

  6. Alma:

    Yes will have to print and save this one.

  7. Stanley Bozarth:

    Thanks…

  8. Cathe:

    I am studying Italian in Philadelphia and also practicing on Duo Lingo which is where this came up. Thanks for the clarification. I do understand it. I was a Spanish and French teacher until retirement in 2012 and now I am learning my maternal grandparents’ language. La mia meta e io speriamo andare in Italia in 2017 e vorrei parlare megliore.

    Grazie!

    • Geoff:

      @Cathe Siamo contenti di essere stati di aiuto.

      A presto, Geoff e Serena

  9. Eddie:

    Grazie mille! Sono andato anche in pensione due anni fa e ho cominciato a studiare l’Italiano. Sono stato confondo da sempre nel uso di meta’ e mezza. Penso di capire adesso!

    Grazie,
    Eddi

    • Serena:

      @Eddie Salve Eddie e benvenuto nel nostro blog. Continua così
      Saluti da Serena


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