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The Italian-English dictionaries (Collins, for example) translate both infatti and in effetti as "in fact; as a matter of fact; indeed." The Italians insist, however, that these two words are not interchangeable and actually mean different things. How come?

So far, I'd write some phrases like this:

Lo credevo un amico ed infatti è stato proprio cosi.
Lo credevo un amico e in effetti si è comportato da vero amico.
Lo credevo un amico, in effetti non lo è mai stato.

What's the logic behind this? May I use both infatti and in effetti to confirm something? Does the meaning change if I do that? May I use infatti in the last phrase? Finally, do I need to use commas with these expressions (e.g., ed, infatti, è stato...)?

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There's a difference, but maybe these sentences aren't very good examples.

"In effetti" is more used in adversative or restrictive contexts, take this example:

In effetti, dovevamo procedere diversamente. (Actually, we should have proceeded in a different way)

In this case, you can't use "infatti", which usually is used instead to confirm and/or explicate the current context (or the preceding phrase).

About your examples:

  1. this is a little weird, because "lo credevo un amico" makes me assume that he's not your friend anymore. It's strange to say "infatti è stato proprio così" after this. Better to use presente tense.

  2. this is strange for the same reason. I'd rather say:

    Lo credo un amico, e in effetti si è comportato da vero amico

  3. this is probably the most correct one. I imagine two friends talking about a third person, which was considered to be a friend, but then the person speaking realizes that this person never behaved as a friend. "In effetti" is used here to contrast with the meaning of the preceeding sentence, so is correct. You wouldn't use "infatti" in this example, it doesn't make sense.

About the commas: you would usually put one before. In your example:

Lo credevo un amico, e infatti è stato proprio cosi.

In my example I put a comma after "in effetti", because there's no phrase before. A more complete period could be:

A: "Non pensi di aver fatto degli errori?"

B: "In effetti, dovevamo procedere diversamente."

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  • Not the best phrases in the world, my bad. I just really wanted to make them look alike, to demonstrate that difference in the meaning of infatti/in effetti. Let's imagine it was a strange friend who had to prove being a friend (my goodness, it sounds even more weird in English). – I.M. Nov 8 '13 at 15:39
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    I've fixed your formatting, but you seem to be missing an example at the end of your answer! – Sklivvz Nov 9 '13 at 13:47
  • Thanks, you're right. I forgot to put the last example at the end :) – Lorenzo Marcon Nov 9 '13 at 19:46
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For how I use those words, in dialogs in effetti is used when you agree with the person with whom you are speaking; infatti is used when you disagree with the other person, and you are saying for which reason you disagree.

A: Marco sapeva tutto.
B: Non sapeva niente. Infatti, si è meravigliato di quello che stavo dicendo e mi ha chiesto cosa Luigi avesse fatto.

A: Marco non sapeva niente.
B: In effetti, si è meravigliato quando gli ho detto quello che Luigi aveva fatto. Probabilmente hai ragione a dire che non sapeva niente.

Generally speaking, infatti means "in fact; as a matter of fact." It is used when you explain a previous sentence, such as in the following case.

Ieri è stata una brutta giornata; infatti, ha piovuto quasi tutto il giorno.

I would not use in effetti in this case; I could use it in the following case.

A: Ieri è stata una brutta giornata.
B: In effetti, ha piovuto quasi tutto il giorno.

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  • What if there is no other person, with whom I could agree or disagree? Traditional English small-talk about the weather: Ieri era una brutta giornata, infatti ha piovuto tanto. Do I disagree with myself here? :) – I.M. Nov 8 '13 at 15:46
  • I will expand my answer when I return home; what I wrote is valid for dialogs. To give a short answer, in your example I would use infatti; in effetti could be used from the person to whom you are speaking, as in "Ieri era una brutta giornata." to which the reply could be "In effetti, ha piovuto quasi tutto il giorno." – kiamlaluno Nov 8 '13 at 16:19
  • kiamlaluno Thanks for expanding your answer (+1), though, the last example is not entirely clear: both expressions mean "in fact", but why would you alternate them only if you talk to another person? Couldn't you think of a phrase using in effetti in a monologue: in an email, in a newspaper article? – I.M. Nov 8 '13 at 22:29
  • Infatti is not used exclusively in disagreement. I disagree with you, infatti I am writing this comment. – Sklivvz Nov 9 '13 at 13:48
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The difference is that in effetti is generally used to concede a point, or to talk about how an opinion is altered by facts, or better by the consequences of a theory.

For example:

A: Ho giocato il 42 al lotto perché non usciva da molte settimane.

B: Guarda che i ritardi al lotto non contano nulla, nonostante si dica il contrario.

A: In effetti, non ho vinto nulla

Infatti is used to indicate complete a priori agreement:

A: Mi sono lasciato convincere da mia zia a giocare il 42 al lotto perché non usciva da molte settimane.

B: Non mi sembra una grande strategia…

A: Infatti non ho vinto nulla

Of course, these are the general rules, but languages tend to be a bit more subtle. For example, you can concede with emphasis by using infatti. The following is an example similar to my first, but in which a stronger concession of a point is implied:

A: Ho giocato il 42 al lotto perché non usciva da molte settimane.

B: Guarda che i ritardi al lotto non contano nulla, nonostante si dica il contrario.

A: Infatti! Non ho vinto nulla!

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  • Thanks. These examples are certainly more clear but I still have the same question: what if there is no other person and I'm talking to myself or writing something? Should I never in my life use infatti and in effetti in an email or in a newspaper article? – I.M. Nov 9 '13 at 17:25
  • Normally if you are writing impersonally you would use infatti, as in effetti is more introspective in meaning. If in doubt, use infatti. – Sklivvz Nov 9 '13 at 17:30

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