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It seems to me that in Italian the word for "carrying out a mobile phone top-up" (UK) or "carrying out a mobile phone refill" (US), i.e., adding credit to a mobile phone's network operator account, is the same as the word for "recharging a mobile phone", i.e., connecting a mobile phone to a source of electricity to make sure the battery has enough charge:

  • ricaricare

So, what's the best way to construct a sentence in Italian so as to make it clear whether "ricaricare" means topping up / refilling or recharging?

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    You can just say "ricaricare il credito"/"comprare credito" (both of which make me shudder, but people say that) or "ricaricare la batteria" respectively. – persson Mar 24 '15 at 10:54
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    I believe almost in any ambiguous sentence we explicitly mention the battery if we want to mean recharge. At least, if someone told me devo ricaricare il cellulare I'd assume he means to buy more credit, while I'd expect him to say devo ricaricare la batteria del cellulare to mean recharging. But that's me and how they are used in my region, not sure if this holds in all Italy. – Bakuriu Mar 24 '15 at 13:49
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    To my ears ricaricare il cellulare means charging the battery. – Giovanni Mascellani Mar 24 '15 at 15:32
  • Good question. It's something I've never thought about because, generally, with ricarico il telefono you mean topping-up it and either by specifying la batteria or by using caricare to mean a physical recharge. – edmz Mar 25 '15 at 17:51
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    Yeah, perhaps ricaricare can be used with the meaning of topping-up, whereas caricare can be used with the meaning of charging the battery. – John Higginstyne Mar 27 '15 at 17:40
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If you want to disambiguate without using additional context, I suggest

caricare

for charging the battery and

fare una ricarica

for topping up the credit. I am pretty sure that these are not prone to confusion in any part of Italy.

  • True. I think the second case sounds even better if stated as effettuare una ricarica. – John Higginstyne Mar 27 '15 at 17:41
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    It is a bit more formal. In everyday context you would say "fare". – Giovanni Mascellani Mar 27 '15 at 18:46
  • I don't really agree with this. I would say that this is just ambiguous in the way people speak. You have to specify what you want to recharge. – funforums Mar 31 '15 at 16:30
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Yes, the word is the same. I never really thought of the possible confusion though. I would use different expressions, or in most cases people would understand it from the context:

Sono senza soldi sul cell, devo ricaricare

I'm out of money (credit) on my cellphone, I have to top-up

Devo comprare una ricarica del cellulare

"I have to buy phone credit/top-up"

VS.

Ho la batteria scarica, devo ricaricare il cellulare

My battery is (almost) dead, I have to recharge my phone

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  • (ri)caricare la batteria (del telefonino). (to charge the battery (of the mobile phone))
  • effettuare una ricarica (to top-up one's phone).

Thank you for your helpful replies.

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    Yes, but nobody would actually say “effettuare una ricarica”: this is something you'd only find, say, in the instructions for how to do it. – DaG Mar 27 '15 at 18:16

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