ITALIAN TEST: Polysemic Words (do you know all their meanings?)

With this article I would like to make your life easier and help you make less mistakes and misunderstandings. In fact, the topic of this article is often the cause of doubts and disagreements, and I’m talking about POLYSEMIC WORDS.

The Polysemic Words of Italian Language!

First of all, what are polysemic words?

These are words that have multiple meanings, often very different from each other, based on the contexts in which they are used.

Here is a list with the polysemic words in Italian, followed by the number of meanings that each of them has.


[2 meanings]

The word caffè indicates:

  • the famous and beloved stimulant drink.

Example: La prima cosa che faccio al mattino, appena sveglia, è bere una bella tazza di caffè. [The first thing I do in the morning, after waking up, is have a good cup of coffee.]

  • a certain kind of public place where coffee and other drinks are served, often also equipped with a pastry shop, ice-cream parlour and similar things.

Example: Una delle cose più belle della città di Torino sono i deliziosi caffè eleganti in centro. [One of the most beautiful things of the city of Turin are the lovely, refined cafes downtown.]


[6 meanings]

The word piano indicates:

  • a musical instrument (the piano).

Example: Non ho mai imparato a suonare il piano ma mi sarebbe piaciuto. [I’ve never learned to play the piano, but I would have liked to.]

  • a trick to solve a problem or to reach a goal.

Example: Ci serve un piano per battere la concorrenza! [We need a trick to defeat the competition!]

  • flat and uniform surface horizontally.

Example: La villa si trova su un terreno piano. [The villa is located on a flat plot.]

  • slowly.

Example: Se loro non ti capiscono, prova a parlare più piano. [If they don’t understand you, try talking more slowly.]

  • each of the levels of a house/a building.

Example: Abito al terzo piano. [I live on the third floor.]

  • point of view.

Example: Sul piano teorico, l’idea si può realizzare. Sul piano pratico, forse no. [On a theoretical basis, the idea can be realized. Practically, maybe not.]


[4 meanings]

The pianta is:

  • a plant living organism.

Example: Maria ha il pollice verde: il suo balcone è pieno di fiori e piante. [Maria has green fingers: her balcony is full of flowers and plants.]

  • in architecture, the small-scale graphic representation of the horizontal plan of a building or part of it.

Example: L’architetto ci ha fatto vedere la pianta della nostra futura casa e ci ha illustrato la disposizione delle stanze. [The architect showed us the plan of our future house and illustrated the layout of the rooms.]

  • the drawing that reproduces the arrangement of people or things in a certain place (consequently, it is a synonym of “map” for a city).

Example: I genitori volevano vedere la pianta degli alunni della classe 4B per capire come mai i ragazzi avessero litigato. [The parents wanted to see the arrangement of class 4B pupils to understand why the boys had been fighting.]

  • lower part of the foot.

Example: Dopo una serata sui tacchi alti, provavo dolore alle piante dei piedi. [After a night in high heels, I felt pain in the soles of my feet.]


[5 meanings]

  • the word coda is the one that many animals have at the end of their body.

Example: I cani, quando sono contenti, scodinzolano, cioè agitano la coda. [Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy.]

  • a particular way of styling the hair, which is tied on the top of the head and left hanging.

Example: Non ti avevo mai vista con la coda, stai molto bene! Sono abituata a vederti sempre con i capelli sciolti. [I had never seen you with a tail, you look very good! I’m used to seeing you always with your hair down.]

  • row of people waiting, more or less orderly.

Example: Siamo bloccati nel traffico: c’è una coda chilometrica che non avanza di un centimetro. [We’re stuck in the traffic: there is a kilometric line that does not move forward an inch.]

  • the far end, the final part of something.

Example: La carrozza ristorante è in coda al treno. [The restaurant coach is at the end of the train.]

  • the train of the dress.

Example: La sorella della sposa le teneva la coda dell’abito durante l’ingresso in chiesa. [The bride’s sister held the train of her dress as she entered the church.]


[4 meanings]

  • viola is a colour.

Example: Il viola è il colore che meno mi piace indossare. [Purple is the colour I least like to wear.]

  • a flower.

Example: Luisa ha fatto una passeggiata in campagna e ha raccolto un mazzolino di viole da regalare a sua madre. [Luisa took a walk in the country and picked up a little bunch of violets to give to her mother.]

  • a bowed musical instrument with four strings, between violin and cello, which is played by placing it on the shoulder, under the chin.

Example: Suona la viola da molti anni in un’orchestra. [She has been playing the viola for many years in an orchestra.]

  • adjective that indicates someone or something that is in some way related to the Fiorentina football team (of Florence).

Example: I tifosi viola non riuscivano a trattenere le lacrime per la vittoria della loro squadra. [Viola fans couldn’t hold back the tears for their team’s victory.]


[3 meanings]

  • the gola is the rear extremity of the oral cavity, seat of vocal cords.

Example: Oggi non posso fare il discorso ai clienti perché ho mal di gola.  [I can’t give the costumer the speech today because I have a sore throat.]

  • the deepest and darkest part of a chasm or ditch.

Example: La bellezza delle Gole del Daluis è data dagli scenari naturali che attraversano.  [The beauty of the Daluis Gorges is given by the natural sceneries they cross.]

  • great desire for food that leads to eating it in very large quantities.

Example: Vuoi mangiare il tiramisù dopo tutti quei cannoli? Sai che forse non dovresti farti tentare così tanto dalla gola! [You want to eat tiramisu after all those cannoli? You know that maybe you shouldn’t let gluttony tempt you so much!]


[3 meanings]

  • an action (or a series of actions) performed in order to obtain a certain result.

Example: La polizia è riuscita a catturare i colpevoli grazie a un’operazione estremamente organizzata. [The police managed to catch the culprits thanks to an extremely organized operation.]

  • mathematical operation on the basis of which you can obtain another one from one or more given entities.

Example: L’addizione è l’operazione matematica più semplice. [Addition is the simplest mathematical operation.]

  • any surgical intervention

Example: Il dottore ci ha detto che l’operazione di Filippo è andata a buon fine e che si aspetta una rapida guarigione. [The doctor told us that Filippo’s surgery went well and he expects a quick recovery.]

Here we are at the end of this article! I’m sure that now that you have learned the different meanings of polysemous words, you’ll have no more doubts! And if you don’t want to get confused anymore, I suggest you give a look at the video on the HOMOPHONOUS, HOMONYMOUS and POLYSEMIC words in Italian!

And don’t forget to try Busuu: the app to learn languages wherever you are!

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