"La cena è in tavola" is an idiom. Another correct translation for "Dinner is on the table" would be "La cena è sul tavolo".
Out of idioms, "tavolo" is more common. We use always tavola in the following cases, for example
"I cavalieri della tavola rotonda"
"la tavola da surf"
"andiamo a tavola"
"cosa c'è in tavola?"
If you stick to "tavolo", it should be ok, but pay attention because the prepositions could differ.
So I tried "Dinner is served" out of curiosity. My proposed English is also a bit idiomatic, as in it's an overly formal way of saying that dinner is on the table. I'll report it (26 June 2016) as a suggestion just to get someone's attention, but I'm definitely open to the Italian having a different connotation.
I also considered "Dinner is ready," but to me that has a connotation that all the food is prepared and cooked, but may still be on the stove/in the oven and not, yet, on the table. (On my overly optimistic mom's side of the family "dinner is ready" meant we still had another half an hour before we were actually ready to eat it.)
In addition to marziotta's explanation I'll add that my Italian friend explained to me that 'tavola' essentially refers to a table that is participating in the event of dining, rather than to a simple piece of furniture. This description helped me a lot with this type of phrase.
A great article.
I think maybe it is because if you focus on the connotation of the two phrases, "Dinner is on the table" is more common, something you'd hear every day in a normal household. Or even like "Mamma grida 'La cena é in tavola!'" Conversely, "Dinner is served" has connotations of a butler whipping off the lid of a plate that is placed in front of you right at the moment of digging in with a fork. :-) Most people would not use that phrase in every day life, unless possibly for a dinner party with friends where they wanted to make a joke.
Note: This was not meant to be a condemnation of your comment, but rather an explanation of how I understand the two phrases to be different. Thanks for asking the question, as it was an interesting one! (I'm actually kind of disappointed that someone voted your comment "down", as even though the meaning is different, you were not being snarky or rude, and it was a valid question, so why would someone vote it down? :-( I'm voting you back up, and giving you a lingot for your trouble.)
I also tried "dinner is served" out of curiosity. Someone, who I think is an Italian contributor, said the Italian "la cena è in tavola" is idiomatic, making me think it should be at least considered. As linbur0100 says, though, it's the connotation of the Italian that's important. I'll report it (26 June 2016) and see what happens, but I'm open to it being wrong.
I know this post is quite old, but I want to second this sentiment. I am consistently frustrated by this particular speaker (the female) because she barely articulates critical pieces of some sentences. I have learned to 1) be wary when I hear her voice and make sure I slow down the audio for a double check before I submit my answer; and 2) rely on my knowledge of Italian sentence structures and come to the proper answer contextually. The latter point I should be doing anyway - thinking with my brain instead of mindlessly typing what I think I hear. But given the chance to whine a little, I have been annoyed many a time when my "perfect score" streak is ruined because I didn't hear her say one little "il" or "è."
Tavolo is used for the object itself when referring to the furniture but also for a restaurant reservation.
Tavola is used referring to a board (such as tavola de surf) but also for anything referring to the actual eating of a meal and related phrases such as setting or clearing the table.
When translating to english, write something that makes sense. Dinner is never in the table.
As for the second case, there are a number of nouns in italian where 'in' translates to 'at the' rather than english 'in', other nouns use 'al' or 'alla' as seems more natural to english speakers. The nouns like this also include 'campagna', 'montagna' and 'ristorante'. Sono in montagna, Mangia in ristorante. There is no solution other than to memorise them, or just wait until it becomes natural for you. Its just part of the language.
If it makes you feel any better, remember that the same kind of inconsistencies exist in english as well, think of 'I am at the beach' and 'I am in the country'.
Yes, with subsequent lessons I figured as much. Thank you for the reply. And I definitely agree that English is no straight-forward language either! Like you rightly mentioned, with more translations it is becoming a lot more natural to guess what word is appropriate.
Direct translations from one language to another often don't make sense, and prepositions in particular do not translate consistently. Consider the sentence "Beer is on tap." It makes sense to you because you are used to it. But why "on"? Arguably, it makes more sense in Italian: "La birra è alla spina."
Also, see marziotta's reply at the top of this page.
I think, since in the instances where "tavola" is used instead of "tavolo", it is indicating the table as a place prepared for dining, it follows the same kind of rules as for "in bagno" . They do not use the article in that construction either. Very confusing I agree, but from what I've been able to infer, for places in the home that have a specific name assigned to them (so, "bagno" as opposed to "la stanza per "bathing" or "la tavola" instead of "il tavolo per cena"), the article is omitted.
Please note: I am NOT a native speaker, so this should not be taken as gospel. This is just what I've inferred based on usage and my experience learning languages. I noticed you hadn't received a response, and wanted to put my two cents in. But if there is a native speaker who would be willing to weigh in, it would be much appreciated on my part.
I have the same problem with
figlio = son
When asked to translate figlio I have a reflex to say 'boy' (incorrect), because where I'm from it is common for someone to say, for instance when we are talking about my son, 'how's your boy?' ... I guess son would be understood / implied, but I still have to struggle not to lose my heart all the time :-D
Yes, it's wrong. When we are talking about a meal we usually don't use "the" before the name of the meal:
- Come down for breakfast.
- Lunch is ready.
- Are you hungry for dinner.
- Breakfast is served from seven to ten.
- Lunch is included in the price of the ticket.
- Dinner is a time for being with the family.
However, when referring to the meal as an event, we do use "the":
- I will be at the reception, but I'm afraid I will have to miss the dinner.
On the other hand, "on table," "on floor" and "on plate" are all unnatural without "the." So the natural way to say it is, "Dinner is on the table."