Mi sono ritrovata in mezzo a X.

[vs]: Mi sono ritrovata nel mezzo di X.

I wonder how these two phrases differ in meaning. Also, I seem to notice that "bel" can only be coupled with "nel (bel) mezzo di". I wonder why?

Mi sono ritrovata nel bel mezzo di X.

[NOT]: Mi sono ritrovata in bel mezzo a X.

  • Forse è utile di fare attenzione che nel secondo caso si usa la parola mezzo come un sostantivo vero e proprio (che può essere modificato da un aggettivo), mentre che nel primo caso la frase in mezzo a assomiglia piuttosto una locuzione adverbiale… Non è una risposta, certamente, ma è un modo di pensare che potrebbe aiutarti. – Evgeniy Jan 7 '18 at 11:29
  • 3
    Sorry. I translate. It may be useful to notice that in the second case the word mezzo has been used as a very real noun (capable to be modified by an adjective), while in the first case the phrase in mezzo a works rather as a complete adverbial construction. Most surely, this is not an answer, but this is an idea that might help you to see something. – Evgeniy Jan 7 '18 at 11:35

Actually I will use "nel mezzo di" when I am talking about an action or a situation in which I was interrupted or happens something unexpected.

An example:

"In the middle of the storm a lightning struck the tree" that means "nel mezzo del temporale un fulmine ha colpito l'albero".

On the other side "in mezzo a" it is better to refer to some objects. Both of the phrases could be translated as "in the the middle of" but in second case i will use "in between".

An example:

"In between two trucks there were a car" that means "In mezzo a due camion c'era una macchina".

But attention, because as always you should consider the situation and the context.

  • I think that "nel mezzo di" is also used for physical position, specifically in the middle of a single thing (unlike "in mezzo a"). Example: nel mezzo della città. – Alan Evangelista Aug 30 '19 at 6:20

I think Evgeniy's comment contains an interesting remark: the expression "nel mezzo di" corresponds (literally) to saying "in the middle of" in English. As in the English version, middle/mezzo in this expression is a noun, with meaning "the point at an equal distance from the edges or ends of something", where the something is specified by what follows "di" in Italian, and "of" in English.

This similarity carries over only partially, because as far as I know there's no expression corresponding to "nel bel mezzo di" in English. However, the modification with the attribute "bel" in Italian is peculiar to the expression (you wouldn't be able to substitute "bel" with adifferent adjective), and "bel" doesn't modify the meaning of the expression, so in some sense it's emptied of its attributive meaning.

In the expression "nel bel mezzo di" we see how a sentence which was a functional part of the speech ("in" + (attribute) + noun + "di" + noun) became a static expression with a specific attribute, and in some sense rigidified to one single prepositional unit "nel bel mezzo di".

The expression "in mezzo a" seems closer to the preposition "amid/mid" which is now present mostly only in literary English. It has the same meaning as "nel mezzo di" and it's morphologically similar (just like "middle" is related to "mid" in English), however it seems to be a slightly different construction.

Unfortunately, I don't know a source explaining this and providing other examples of "sentences which become prepositional expressions", it would be interesting to see a systematic explanation of this.

  • If anything, these are “sentences which become prepositional expressions”: in mezzo a and nel mezzo di act like prepositions (think “mi trovo nel campo” and “mi trovo in mezzo al campo”), not adverbs. And these expressions are known as locuzioni preposizionali (just like those that behave like adverbs are *locuzioni avverbiali. – DaG Mar 26 '18 at 9:01
  • «as far as I know there's no expression corresponding to "nel bel mezzo di" in English»: you might say “smack (or “right”) in the middle of”, but we'd need a native English speaker here. As for «"bel" doesn't modify the meaning of the expression»: indeed, we are always speaking of something in the middle of something else, but “bel” strengthens the expression, modifies the connotation if not the denotation. – DaG Mar 26 '18 at 9:05
  • @DaG I agree, I changed adverbial to prepositional in my answer – Franco Mar 26 '18 at 16:03
  • @DaG There was an American-English expression meaning precisely in the middle: "smack dab in the middle", but I haven't heard it in over twenty years. – Al Maki Mar 26 '18 at 18:14
  • @DaG "Smack in the middle of" sounds rather strange (or at least excessively colloquial). "Right in the middle of" is standard and very common, and as far as I can tell it corresponds perfectly to "nel bel mezzo di." – Gallego Mar 27 '18 at 15:09

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