Difference between CITTÀ, PAESE and VILLAGGIO

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Città, paese or villaggio?

When to use CITTÀ, PAESE and VILLAGGIO

David asks: “What's the difference between CITTÀ, PAESE, VILLAGGIO?

Let's start with CITTÀ

CITTÀ simply means CITY and we are going to use this word ANY time we are talking about a city.
In Italy, the definition of a city is any location with more than 50,000 inhabitants, but in reality we tend to only consider a place “a city” when it nears 100,000 people.

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▷ SOME EXAMPLES:

ROMA È UNA CITTÀ MOLTO ANTICA
Rome is a very ancient city

TI PIACE ABITARE IN CITTÀ?
Do you like living in a city?

There is an exception in usage. When in English you say that you are going “to the city” (“downtown”, “to the CBD” or whatever you say in your English), WE DO NOT USE the word CITTÀ. We say “IN CENTRO”.

I am going to the city = VADO IN CENTRO

The real problem is with PAESE

The Italian word PAESE has two very different meanings, and this can often confuse you.

  • COUNTRY
  • TOWN

In reality, this should not confuse you at all, since context will always make it clear whether the speaker is talking about a country or a town.

 

▷ SOME EXAMPLES

L'ITALIA È UN PAESE TURISTICO
Italy is a touristy country

NETTUNO È UN PAESE TURISTICO
Nettuno is a touristy town

How do we know? We know that Italy is a country and… you probably have never heard of Nettuno (my hometown), so it has to be just a town!


NETTUNO È UN PAESE SUL MARE
Nettuno is a seaside town

L'AUSTRALIA È UN PAESE MOLTO GRANDE
Australia is a very large country

Another word for COUNTRY is NAZIONE
(feminine, LA NAZIONE) and I personally use NAZIONE over PAESE most of the time .

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So what about VILLAGGIO?

In short, we do not use the word VILLAGGIO when talking about any town, as little as it may be!

VILLAGGIO does mean “village” but it's only used to describe a “tribal village”, the kind we would imagine when talking about history, Roman conquerors etc.

We basically have no “VILLAGGI” in Italy!

But I've heard Italians say VILLAGGIO…!

True. Italians use the word VILLAGGIO regularly, but with the meaning of TOURIST RESORT, usually a large hotel complex with daily entertainment offered to the guests (think “Dirty Dancing” – if you're old enough to get the reference!).

Club Med is a VILLAGGIO TURISTICO.

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So how do we talk about small towns?

Usually a small town is simply called a PAESINO.

PAESE = town
PAESINO = town with fewer residents, maybe less than 10,000?

For smaller places, we use the word BORGO a lot.

BORGO is related to the English word BOROUGH, often seen as part of a town's name.

Usually (but not necessarily) a BORGO is an old town, a bit isolated (up a hill?) and with very old buildings (Medieval?).

We also use BORGO for rural towns.

Are there other words used to describe cities, towns and villages?

Yes!

COMUNE is a generic word to describe any place that is a not a city! It literally refers to the political administration of a location (“town hall”, “municipality”).

NETTUNO È UN COMUNE NELLA PROVINCIA DI ROMA
Nettuno is a town in the province of Rome

CENTRO ABITATO is another generic term used for very small towns, the ones that do not have a Town Hall / local administration. Think of a small residential area that pops up near an Industrial area.

CITTADINA is used for “SMALL CITIES”. I know, confusing, because that's also a TOWN, right? Precisely! The definition is a CITTADINA in terms of population is anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000.

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