In Italian and English, it isn’t uncommon to come across “false friends“, or in other words, vocabulary items in different languages that look or sound similar but have a completely different meaning.
One of the best examples of this is the word camera (feminine, plural camere). At first glance, any English speaker would immediately assume that it refers to the mechanical device used to take photographs. I know I did!
What it actually means in Italian is room or more specifically, a room with a bed in it such as a bedroom or a hotel room.
Metti a posto la tua camera! Subito!
Clean up your room right away!
Posso prenotare una camera per stasera?
Can I book a room for tonight?
You may also come across the diminutive form of camera which is cameretta – literally small room. Often used to refer to a small bedroom such as that belonging to a child, it is formed by adding the feminine suffix -etta onto the end of the word. Camerino on the other hand means dressing room.
The word camera appears in a number of set expressions. Some of these include:
- camera da letto = bedroom (da letto isn’t necessary unless you really want to specify it is a bedroom as opposed to another kind of room)
- camera oscura = darkroom
- bicicletta da camera = literally “room bike” but refers to an exercise bike
- camera d’aria = inner tube
Camera is also the word used for chamber, parlour and even cell in some cases.
- camera di commercio = chamber of commerce
- camera dei deputati = chamber of deputies
- camera ardente = burial chamber
- camera a gas = gas chamber
- camera stagna = sealed chamber
- musica da camera = chamber music
- camera mortuaria = funeral parlour
- camera imbottita = padded cell
Ieri sono andato in camera di commercio a ritirare un documento.
Yesterday I went to the chamber of commerce to collect a document.
You may have heard two other words for room in Italian: stanza and sala. Stanza is definitely the most generic word of the three. It can be used to refer to any room in any kind of building, even a bedroom. Sala, on the other hand, tends to be reserved for larger rooms belonging to castles, museums, galleries, theatres and cinemas to name a few. To talk specifically about a living or family room, you’d use the terms salotto or soggiorno instead.
Camera vs camera
If camera is room in Italian, what do they call the machine used to take photographs? Unsurprisingly, it’s called a macchina fotografica, or just macchina for short!
That being said, the word camera, as in the device for taking photographs or recording films, does exist in the Italian dictionary but is less used nowadays. It mostly refers to an old motion picture camera but had an influence on more modern terms such as videocamera, the Italian word for camcorder.
Heather Broster is a graduate with honours in linguistics from the University of Western Ontario. She is an aspiring polyglot, proficient in English and Italian, as well as Japanese, Welsh, and French to varying degrees of fluency. Originally from Toronto, Heather has resided in various countries, notably Italy for a period of six years. Her primary focus lies in the fields of language acquisition, education, and bilingual instruction.