Two terms in Italian that translate as wall, as in a vertical structure that divides or encloses a space, are muro and parete. Despite there being some overlap in their usage, there are also a number of significant differences worth pointing out. Let’s take a look at them now!
i muri / le mura
dei muri / delle mura
Muro is generally defined as a well-built vertical barrier, usually made of bricks or stone and held together by lime or cement, with a load-bearing or dividing function. A few examples include:
- il muro di Berlino = the Berlin Wall
- muro di recinzione = boundary wall
- muro maestro = load-bearing wall
- muro di tramezzo = partition wall
What’s interesting about the word muro is that it has two plural forms, and the difference between them is quite subtle.
Let’s begin with the feminine mura. This plural form refers to adjoining walls whose function, as a whole, is to delimit a territory. Included in this definition are the defensive walls of a city or castle, or the walls that separate a building, such as a villa or prison, from the outside world.
Le mura del castello sono alte dieci metri.
The castle walls are 10 meters high.
Note: A wall of enormous proportions is called a muraglia (feminine, plural: muraglie). For example, the Great Wall of China is known as La Grande Muraglia Cinese.
The masculine form muri is used when referring to the individual walls of a building, rather than a set of adjoining walls viewed as a whole. For example:
Il proiettile passò attraverso non uno, non due, ma ben tre muri!
The bullet passed through not one, not two, but three walls!
Muro also makes a frequent appearance in figurative expressions and idioms, many of which will be familiar to English speakers, given that we tend to use “wall” in a similar way.
Figurative expressions with ‘muro’
- un muro di fuoco = a wall of fire
- un muro di nebbia = a wall of fog
- il muro del suono = the sound barrier (lit. the sound wall), also known as barriera del suono (lit. sound barrier).
Familiar idioms containing ‘muro’
- Battere / Sbattere la testa contro il muro = To bang one’s head against the wall
- Parlare al muro = To talk to a (brick) wall
- Anche i muri hanno le orecchie = These walls have ears
Parete (feminine), which only has one plural form pareti, refers to any wall inside a building whose function is to divide one room from another.And although it isn’t incorrect to use muro to talk about the internal walls of a building, parete is the preferred term.
La mia intenzione è quella di abbattere la parete per unire le due stanze.
My intention is to tear down the wall to join the two rooms.
It is also used to denote the walls of any enclosed space or cavity, including:
- le pareti cellulari = cell walls
- le pareti dello stomaco = stomach walls
- le pareti della grotta = the sides / walls of the cave
- le pareti di un baule = the sides of the trunk