Qual è and un filo di Posted by Bridgette 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 uno – alcuno, 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!