When you arrive in a new country, one of the first challenges is to find your way around. Asking directions is one thing. Understanding them is another!
A destra (to the right) and a sinistra (to the left) are pretty basic, but when someone starts saying in fondo (at the end, in the end, at the bottom), there may be some confusion as to exactly what’s meant.
Fondo has to do with distance and depth. Let’s first look at its literal, physical meaning.
Ha bisogno di qualcosa? Sì, sì, un bagno. È in fondo a destra. -Scusi.
Do you need anything? Yes, yes, a bathroom. It's at the end of the hall, to the right. -Excuse me.
Captions 40-42, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP4 - Le Lettere Di LeopardiPlay Caption
The above is a very typical answer to the question, “Where is the restroom?”
In fondo may indicate the furthest point (at the end) or the lowest point, as in in fondo alle scale (at the bottom of the stairs). If you’re late for a movie, you will probably sit in fondo (at the back).
Fondo often has to do with long distance, as in sci di fondo (cross-country skiing). A long-distance bicycle race will be il gran fondo. Note that the word profondo (deep) contains the root fondo! A very low bass singer will be a basso profondo.
Ed ecco davanti a noi, nel blu profondo, una forma scura come quella di un grosso pesce adagiato sul fondo.
And here, in front of us, in the deep blue, a dark form shaped like a big fish lying on the bottom.
Captions 38-39, Linea Blu - SiciliaPlay Caption
Italians often use piatti fondi (soup plates) for eating pasta or brodo (broth). They’re deep enough to hold liquids.
Note that fondo is used both as a noun and as an adjective! Un fondo can be a fund, it can be a storage area, it can be a backdrop or background. It can be a piece of land. In makeup, fondotinta is your makeup base or foundation.
Turning now to concepts rather than physical things, fondo, preceded by the preposition a (to, at, in), takes on the idea of “in depth,” or “thorough.”
In bagno, è molto importante pulire a fondo.
In the bathroom it's very important to clean thoroughly.
Caption 34, Marika spiega - Le pulizie di primaveraPlay Caption
If you think about getting “to the bottom” of things, a fondo makes sense.
If you want to go all the way, vai fino in fondo (you go all the way), both literally and figuratively.
In fondo is used to mean “in the end,” or “after all is said and done,” or “deep down.”
Per questo preferisco i gatti. E poi, i gatti in fondo hanno sempre sette vite.
That's why I prefer cats. And then, after all, they always have seven lives.
Captions 30-31, Escursione - Un picnic in campagnaPlay Caption
Then there’s a popular expression in fondo in fondo (deep down) used primarily in talking about people:
Insomma, sai che ti dico, zia? Che come commissario, in fondo in fondo, non è poi così male...
All in all, you know what I have to say, Aunt? That as a commissioner, deep down, he's not really so bad...
Captions 11-12, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in BluPlay Caption
It wouldn’t hurt to approfondire (to go into things more thoroughly, more deeply) a bit regarding the word fondo. There are plenty of examples in Yabla videos, and there are plenty of examples on WordReference.com. Remember that context is key! In fondo in fondo, è una parola molto utile! (All in all, it’s a very useful word!)