This business of gender in Italian can be so tricky for non-native speakers. When we hear a word, we don't always pay attention to the ending of a noun. It can easily get lost, so when we then have to actually say the word, for example, when looking for something in a shop, the doubt surges up. Which is it: a or o? So yes, we basically know the word, but the gender, and thus, the ending, escapes us. It's a great reason to learn a noun with its article, as we try to help you do in our Yabla vocabulary reviews at the end of our videos.
Alas, even people who have been living in Italy for years and years still have these doubts from time to time and get it wrong sometimes.
Let's look at one such word, or rather two. Because the same word with a different ending can mean something quite different. At the same time, we can usually find a connection between the two words through its root, or through the verb the noun came from, and that's always kind of fun (for us nerdy-type learners among us).
I go into a shop to buy a new bathroom scale. Is it un bilancio or una bilancia???? There's that embarrassing moment when you can't remember which it is. At that moment, you desperately try a workaround, using a different word like una cosa per pesarsi (something for weighing oneself). In fact, we can also call a bathroom scale a pesapersone (which luckily, can be either masculine or feminine!).
To get to the root of a word, which can sometimes help us understand it, we look to Latin, the source of most Italian words. We often look to the verb, but it turns out that in this case, the noun came first.
We have the late Latin noun "bilanx," made up of "bi-," meaning "two" and "lanx" meaning "plate." Picture an old fashioned type of scale that is made up of precisely that: two suspended plates on which to place the weights and the items you want to weigh.
With this image, you can remember the feminine goddess of justice, holding up the scale. And that can help you remember that the word for scale is la bilancia and it's feminine.
Prego, alla bilancia.
Please, on the scale.
Bene, abbiamo finito. Rivestitevi.
Good, we're done. Get dressed again.
Captions 11-12, La Tempesta - filmPlay Caption
Certainly, Italians get on a bathroom scale just as often as anyone, but they also use a little scale in the kitchen, to weigh items like la pasta, la farina (flour), lo zucchero (sugar), il riso (rice), etc.
From the noun la bilancia, we derive the verb bilanciare (to balance). You can balance the books or accounts, or you can balance the weights on an old-fashioned mechanical scale. The following example is from an explanation of the economy with the board game Monopoly as a model. It's describing the role of the Bank.
Cioè, immette liquidità nella partita per
That is, it issues liquidity into the game
bilanciare la sfortuna dei giocatori
to balance the misfortunes of the players,
o semplicemente l'eventuale mancanza di contante.
or simply the potential lack of cash.Play Caption
Bilanciare also has a reflexive form bilanciarsi. In this case it's intransitive. You might use this form if you are walking a tightrope, or carrying packages.
If it's about money, you are probably looking for the masculine il bilancio. It can mean the budget, the balancing of the budget, or the accounts.
This example is about cooking the books.
Che cosa ha fatto? Che cosa non ha fatto?
What did he do? What didn't he do?
Fallimento, falso in bilancio, bancarotta fraudolenta.
Bankruptcy, tampering with the books, fraudulent bankruptcy.
Captions 63-64, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP5 - Il Raggio VerdePlay Caption
Here are some common phrases with bilancio, which is used a bit differently from English.
fare il bilancio, chiudere il bilancio (to draw up the balance sheet)
far quadrare il bilancio (to balance the books)
chiudere il bilancio in attivo/passivo (to make a profit/loss)
fare il bilancio della situazione (fig) (to assess the situation)
This lesson is dedicated to an old friend who had trouble with bilancia and bilancio. Are there words you have trouble remembering? Words that change meanings between masculine and feminine? The next lesson could be dedicated to you! Write to us at email@example.com.