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Qual è and un filo di Posted by on Aug 14, 2019 in Grammar, Italian Language

Reading over my last blog post “Una ricetta semplicissima,” I thought I would point out one particular expression and grammatical point.

The grammatical point I want to focus on and discuss is qual è. This one is something that even Italians will often write incorrectly- as qual’è, but do not be fooled, even if it is common, it is still a mistake, and therefore one you should avoid!

When I learned this it was something I simply memorized and accepted blindly, but looking into it, I actually found a reason!

Naturally, one would think that it was a form of elisione, or contraction of the two vowels – quale and è. This is very common in Italian. For example:

Una amica – un’amica

Cento anni – cent’anni

However, with the case of qual è, it is not elisione, but rather a case of troncamento or apocope in linguistics.

Troncamento is the loss of a vowel, consonant or syllable at the end of a word. It is obligatory with the masculine adjectives bello, buono, santo when referring to nouns that begin with a consonant and introduced with the articles il or un. For example:

Il bello cane – il bel cane

Il Santo Raffaele – il San Raffaele

Un buono giro – un buon giro

It is also obligatory with indefinite articles and the derivatives of unoalcuno, ciascuno, nessuno, ognuno. For example:

Ciascuno testimone – ciascun testimone

Uno piatto – un piatto

So back to qual è – why would it not be a form of elisione if there were two vowels; quale and è? Because it is not quale as one would typically think, but rather qual, in its independent form!

Qual is used only in the singular form with essere. So you would also say: qual era.

In the plural form, qual becomes quali, and with that it would be treated as a form of elisione. For example:

Quali erano – Qual’erano


Secondly, I want to take a look at the expression un filo di. This is something used quite often in cooking and other expressions, but when translated literally, it sounds strange.

Literally, un filo is a thread or a string, but we would not say in English a “string of oil.” Figuratively however, it means a small quantity. So if someone asks you to add a filo di olio, they would like you to add a bit of oil, so don’t go searching for oil thread in the cupboard!

There is something similarly strange that we say in English that cannot be translated literally – a touch of. We know a touch of oil would mean a small amount of oil, and well, not simply the act of touching oil, because that would be weird!

Some other expressions that could be used in place of un filo di would be un giro di olio (a bit of oil – but literally a turn of oil) or un pizzico di sale (a pinch of salt).

You won’t see un filo di only used with cooking but also with other expressions:

Un filo di speranza – a thread of hope

Un filo del discorso – a topic of discussion

Un filo rosso – a common thread

Il filo di Arianna – guiding light (a Greek mythology reference)

Adesso tocca a te! What are some other ways you have seen un filo di used? Will you now correct with confidence any Italian who incorrectly says qual’è? Spero di sì!


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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Digital nomad. Gaelophile. Creator of A Polyglot's Inkblot:


  1. Nils:

    Filo di discorso could be translated to “thread”, like when talking about a discussion on the Internet, social media, right?

  2. Mitch:


    The explanation of the grammar in this post is excellent – clear as a bell.
    If there’s one criticism it’s that the second (filo di) section comes with English translations of the examples but the first section (qual *space* è) section has no translations.

    Sorry to be picky. Your blog is really really good – I’m enjoying it and learning a lot.

    • Bridgette:

      @Mitch Thanks for the suggestion, Mitch! I can definitely go in and write up the English translations. No need to worry about being “picky”- I appreciate it!

  3. Rita Sgro Kostopoulos:

    Moltissime grazie per quest’utilissimo blog,.
    Rita Sgro Kostopoulos

  4. Anne Crawford:

    In the supermarket in La Maddalena this morning I was asked by the checkout assistant to move nearer to the card reader as
    ‘È corto il filo’.

    • Bridgette:

      @Anne Crawford Thanks for this example, Anne! “La fila” does mean line in this context.

      • Rosalind:

        @Bridgette But surely both Anne and the checkout assistant were referring to the cable (il filo) connecting the card reader and not to the queue or line of people (la fila) waiting to pay.?

        • Anne Crawford:

          @Rosalind Thank you, Rosalind. It was indeed the cable attached to the card reader that I was referring to.

        • Bridgette:

          @Rosalind Thanks, Rosalind! I just immediately assumed la fila. Sorry, Anne!

  5. Jim:

    How can one “incorrectly” say, “Qual’ è”? Isn’t it the same as saying, “Qual è”?

    • Bridgette:

      @Jim Yes, I meant “say” in just a general sense, but really you would only notice it in writing.

  6. Nom (requis)Maria:

    Cara Bridgette:
    Ancora sono molto confusa sull’uso di quale. Ho cercato il dizionario ma non vedo la parola qual per se oppure en la sua forma indipendente ovvero quale. Anche mi confonde che qual sia al singolare senza elisione ma al plurale c’e l’elisione. Come mai?

    • Bridgette:

      @Nom (requis)Maria Non c’e’ davvero un motivo, Maria. E’ solo una regola. 🙂 “Qual” esiste solo cosi’.

  7. Charlie:

    C’è una canzone populare di tanti anni fa con il ritornello:
    “Questa piccolissima serenata
    con un fil di voce si può cantar.
    Ogni innamorato a sua innamorata
    la sussurerà, la sussurerà.”

    Il “fil di voce” sarà un bisbiglio in questo contesto.

    • Bridgette:

      @Charlie Grazie mille, Charlie! Che bellissimo esempio!

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