It’s always handy to know what you are sitting on, so here are some of the basics.
A seat for a single person may be una sedia (a chair). It has four legs, a seat, and a back.
"Per favore, sollevami sulla sedia e fammi sedere accanto a te."
"Please, lift me onto the chair and let me sit next to you."
Caption 1, Ti racconto una fiaba - Il Principe RanocchioPlay Caption
The noun la sedia comes from the verb sedere (to sit). The following example is from a movie scene that’s a take-off on the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, so the Italian is archaic, and some of the words are truncated or modified. The reflexive form of sedere — sedersi — the form generally used to mean “to sit,” is omitted here, and the normal verb sedere is used.
Siedi piuttosto e non avere fretta.
Sit down instead and don't be in a hurry.
Caption 9, Totò e Lia Zoppelli - Romeo e GiuliettaPlay Caption
And here we have another seat for one person: lo sgabello (the stool). Lo sgabello can be low or high, made of wood or another material. It can be used to sit on or to stand on, to reach a high cupboard for example.
Ma dove seder degg'io, se qui sgabel non v'è?
But where do I sit down, when there is no stool here?
Caption 10, Totò e Lia Zoppelli - Romeo e GiuliettaPlay Caption
These days, pianists usually use uno sgabello regolabile (a piano stool that can be raised or lowered), but traditionally, and in homes, the piano has una panca per pianoforte (a piano bench) made of wood to match the piano. As opposed to a sgabello, una panca per pianoforte can fit two people nicely.
Whether we know the definition of a word or not, logic would tell us that panchina is a small panca, because there is a diminutive suffix: ino/ina. In this case, however, we can throw logic out the window because size doesn’t play a role. In fact, panca and panchina basically mean the same thing — a (wooden) seat, often backless, for two or more people — but they’re used in different situations.
In church, we talk about le panche, the pews. Traditionally, these pews would have been backless, but in modern times, church pews usually have backs to them. In some regions, people use the word banco for a church pew.
La panca is usually found indoors, and is generally made of wood. It seats several people around a table. This kind of panca doesn’t usually have a back to it, and is thought of as being rustic.
Una panca can be found in a gym, for doing crunches and weights.
La panca can used to seat people at a performance, usually in a makeshift theater. This may be indoors or outdoors.
"Ah, questa parola non l'hai scandita bene, picchì [perché]
"Ah, you didn't articulate this word well, because
l'ultimo spettatore del, dell'ultima panca
the last spectator on the, on the last bench
ava a sentiri bonu chiddu ca' dici [deve sentire bene quello che dici]".
has to hear what you're saying clearly."
Captions 49-51, Dottor Pitrè - e le sue storiePlay Caption
If we go out of doors, we start talking about la panchina.
A "park bench," whether it has a back to it or not, is una panchina. The diminutive suffix -ina has become part of the word, so as mentioned above, size doesn’t matter.
In sports, an inactive player sitting in the dugout or on the sidelines is in panchina.
Un panchetto or una panchetta, on the other hand, is a low stool, often, more elegant than a sgabello, and usually used to rest one’s feet upon. Using the masculine or feminine form depends on the region.
In Part Two, we’ll talk about more comfortable places to sit.