I noticed that in Italian usually there is only one gender for one word, but there are some exceptions I thought were because of "bad native speakers". One of this exception is "tavolo" / "tavola". What's the explanation and the etymology behind this divergence?

2 Answers 2


"Tavolo" is table as the furniture item. "Tavola" has (at least?) two separate meanings: a table set to eat, and "board". The etymology is actually the same, from the latin tabula.

I'm looking for some concrete info on when "tavolo" and "tavola" did split from the common ancestor, but so far I found zilch (0) info, sorry. Treccani in "Alternanza di genere e significato" just comments

"A volte l’alternanza non produce sostanziali cambiamenti di significato,
ma dà origine soltanto a diverse sfumature"

which translates to "Sometimes the gender switch does not result in a substantial change in meaning, but just originates nuances." - and that's as far as I could go, sorry.

  • thanks for the clarification of gender alternation, that was the explanation I wanted
    – symbiotech
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 1:30
  • 3
    I would add that "tavola" has a more 'convivial' meaning, not unlike "home" and "house" in English
    – Cavaz
    Commented Feb 23, 2014 at 11:59
  • +1 @LucaCavazzana , a family gathers "a tavola" for dinner, not "a tavolo", just as someone goes home, not house.
    – magma
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 13:02

Probably tavolo didn't split from tavola, but originated from it through tavolotto and tavolino, hence the same ethymology.

  • 1
    De Mauro confirms that tavolo derives from tavola, but adds a possible derivation from Milanese dialect "tavul" (masculine)
    – mau
    Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 8:47

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