When I first started learning Italian, I found it perplexing that the word for table could be both tavolo (masculine) and tavola (feminine) depending on the context. If you too are confused, don’t worry – you are in good company!
Tavolo (plural: tavoli) is the generic word for table, the ubiquitous piece of furniture found in homes and offices. A big table is called un grande tavolo whereas a small table is called un piccolo tavolo or tavolino (literally “little table”).
Ho comprato un bel tavolo da mettere in salotto.
I bought a nice table to put in the living room.
Voglio spostare il tavolo sotto la finestra. Starà meglio lì!
I want to move the table under the window. It will look better there!
If however you are referring to a table that is set for a meal, you would use the word tavola instead.
Bambini, a tavola! La pasta è pronta!
Kids, (come) to the table! The pasta is ready!
Mi sono seduto a tavola e ho letto il menù.
I sat at the table and read the menu.
La tavola è imbandita per la cena.
The table is set for dinner.
Mia mamma ha portato il piatto in tavola.
My mum served lunch.
(Lit: My mum brought lunch to the table.)
The only exception is when a) reserving a table at a restaurant or b) referring to table service, in which case you’d switch back to tavolo.
Vorrei prenotare un tavolo per due alle sette.
I would like to reserve a table for two at seven.
La serata prevede una cena servita al tavolo.
The evening includes a dinner with table service.
Tavolo can be combined with other words such as:
- Gioco da tavolo = board game
- Giro di tavolo = introductions when people are sitting around a table, round-table debate
- Tavolo da lavoro = work table
- Tavolo verde = gaming / gambling table (verde means green)
Other meanings for tavola include plank, board, chart, figure or panel. Here as well, if you combine it with other nouns, you can expand your vocabulary:
- posti a tavola = number of seats available at a table
- tavola da surf = surfboard
- tavola calda = bar that serves hot foot (see more about this in our ristorante article)
- tavola rotonda = round table (such as that in King’s Arthur legend)
A tavola non si invecchia.
Translation: At the table, one doesn’t grow old.
Meaning: Eating is a source of pleasure and enjoyment.
Dalla terra alla tavola.
Translation: From the earth to the table.
Meaning: From farm to table
La buona tavola
Translation: The good table
Meaning: The pleasure of good eating
Far saltare il tavolo
Translation: Blow up the table
Meaning: Walk away from talks without arriving at a deal
Mangerei anche le gambe del tavolo.
Translation: I would also eat the legs of the table.
Meaning: I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.