In the following sentence:

Le scarpe sono ancora in/nella scatola.

Is there any difference in meaning/usage between "in scatola" and "nella scatola"?

  • 1
    I think it's something similar to this.
    – Charo
    Jan 2, 2020 at 19:02
  • 2
    I'm not sure about the grammar behind this, but to my ear "in scatola" sounds idiomatic only for canned food (carne in scatola) and board games (giochi in scatola). Jan 2, 2020 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


As I noted in a comment, to my ear "in scatola" sounds idiomatic only for canned food (carne in scatola) and board games (giochi in scatola).

I think the general rule behind this is that the preposizione semplice is used for general or idiomatic meanings / set expressions, while the preposizione articolata is used for referring to a specific object.

The same idea appears in English, too: go to church vs go to/into the church. So you would use in scatola when you use boxed in English, and nella scatola when you use in their box in English. In one case it's the general concept of something that comes in a box, in the other you are speaking about a specific box that you can point your finger at.

See for instance item two on this grammar text.

  • It seems to me that the general rule you described does not apply to this context, as "to be in the box" here has a general meaning of "being in the (unspecified) box in which it was sold", but "in scatola" is not usual in this context. Is that right? Jan 3, 2020 at 10:21
  • @AlanEvangelista That sounds about right. I can confirm that "in scatola" and "nella scatola" convey those meanings to me in that sentence (one is "boxed" and one is "in their box"), but I don't have a good answer on why "nella scatola" is more common/idiomatic than "in scatola" here. Jan 3, 2020 at 10:32
  • @AlanEvangelista: It's the opposite of an "unspecified" box: it's their very own box, the one the shoes came in, as opposed to food or games that is canned/boxed rather than sold by weight etc.
    – DaG
    Jan 3, 2020 at 12:55
  • @DaG I am unable to see how the container of some food and the container of a pair of shoes differ in this aspect. A can of beans is also their very own can, the one the beans came in. Same for a game box. The choice between "in" and "nella" seems arbitrary to me here. Jan 3, 2020 at 13:20
  • 1
    Sorry, I was not clear. The difference is not between shoes and beans, but among these shoes (your sentence says “le scarpe”, so a precise pair of shoes we are talking about), and beans as a kind of food. You'd say “i fagioli sono nel barattolo” as well, if we were talking about a particular portion of beans.
    – DaG
    Jan 3, 2020 at 13:56

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