Is "elenco" specifically for a phone book type list and "lista" referring to every other kind of list? I have found it in the dictionary as just list and only one (by Langenscheidt) referring to a phone book. Thanks!

  • Welcome to Italian.SE, @Ruthie!
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 22:42
  • 1
    Not really. If anything, is the opposite: you can have an "elenco" of, say, required skills for a job, but you won't ever have a "lista telefonica". Nonetheless, they are both used in general, it's just that "lista" isn't used when related to "telefonica". Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 11:45

6 Answers 6


Elenco can be any type of list.


Elenco dei libri necessari = list of needed books

Fammi un elenco di quello che ti serve = Make a list (for me) of what you need


'Elenco' derives from 'elencare' = 'to list', therefore yes 'elenco' is a list of things, things to buy, tasks to do, places, places to visit, names, people, phone numbers, emails and so on.

Some of those cases (e.g. things to buy or shopping list) are so rarely used till the point that some people may refer to them as wrong or deprecated as they would use 'lista' = 'list' but still is not wrong to use them as someone listed them and therefore 'elencato'.

Hope I didn't confused you, but as you noticed Italian is kind of strange language ;)


I would add that you should use "elenco" also for long lists, for instance one 30 pages long. There you simply could not use "lista", which is really for short lists. Like in "La Lista del Giorno" once used for menus (foreign word, once not encouraged). So, to sum it up in a practical and easy way, I would suggest "elenco" for long and short lists; "lista" for short lists only.


In a phonebook sense elenco translates as directory. As you probably saw in that one dictionary a phone book should be "elenco telefonico" (directory of phone suscribers). For us calling the phonebook as just elenco is a bit like when an English person refers to a list of phone extensions as just "directory". Like for the English directory an elenco should follow a certain ordering system but more often than not we use the word in the same way we use lista

  • Building on this, while "elenco telefonico" is the correct term for those old massive books containing the numbers of all the people owning a phone in the city, other terms are in far more common use: "pagine bianche / gialle" is an antonomasia for the big book of subscribers, and "rubrica [telefonica]" for the personal phonebook / cellphone list of known numbers. Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 11:43
  • I've always used the word "guida" when referring to a phone book... For example: "ho trovato il tuo numero sulla guida" or "sulla guida telefonica" Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 21:41

Elenco is a synonym of lista, but it has a nuance in meaning; if you has an ordered list of items, "elenco" seems to me more meaningful than simply using "lista".

  • Welcome to Italian.SE, @palindromo!
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 18:40
  • You say lista della lavandaia, you could not say elenco della lavandaia.
    – mario
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 19:09
  • I would add that you should use "elenco" also for long lists, for instance 30 pages long. There you simply could not use "lista", which is really for short lists. Like in "La lista del Giorno" which was used for menus (foreign word, once not encouraged).
    – alsa
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:19

Senza nessuna fonte e senza pretese, mi invento quanto segue.
La lista è semplice e non organizzata.
Di fatto un elenco è qualcosa a metà tra una lista è un dizionario, con una struttura organizzata. Una sorta di dizionario semplificato: nome -> numero, suddiviso per lettere: A, B, C... Per questo anche in inglese, l'elenco telefonico, non è list ma directory, perché la directory è una struttura organizzata.
Forse l'inglese è più preciso in tal senso, infatti le parole non si interscambiano come succede in italiano.
List of items non è mai directory of items. Anche in italiano dovrebbe essere così, ma è cosi solo in un senso: la struttura organizzata in italiano non la chiami lista. Quindi non hai la "lista telefonica", ma la "lista delle telefonate", organizzata solo in sequenza, ma senza indici. ;)

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