Difference between nel and sul
What is the difference between these two words and their variants?
What is the difference between il cibo è nel piatto and il cibo è sul piatto?
this question isn't as easy as it looks. Yes,
su = on, upon, on the top of;
in = on, in, at
(both prepositions have a lot of other contexts and meanings which I will disregard..)
Also in Italian there is often a discussion about what is "on" and what is "in".
Do we have to write "leggo nel giornale" or "leggo sul giornale"? "cercare nel dizionario?" or "cercare sul dizionario"? "nel sito internet?" or "sul sito internet"?=> "nel" because it's written inside, "sul" because it's written with printer's ink on the journal/dictionary/display???
The Treccani writes that it would be better to use the form with "in" (nel, nell'...), at least, if used with verbs like "leggere, scrivere, essere"... ; the verb "vedere", instead, uses "su (sul, sulla..)". In fact the Treccani presume that "vedere su" influenced the other expressions...
However both forms are used and also Italians use them both without further thinking.
Strange is that also their idiomatic expressions have no fix rules, so you can find:
"mettere i piedi nel piatto" and "mettere i piedi sul piatto" (this expression derives from the french idiom: mettre les pieds dans le plat)
"Mai sputtare sul piatto dove hai mangiato" and "mai sputtare nel piatto dove hai mangiato".
Maybe it's only the difference between a soup plate (in) and a dinner plate (su)....
"nel" would be the equivalent of "no" in Portuguese. It can mean in, on, or at (the), while "sul" can only mean on the.