Monday, February 20, 2023

The Split Personality of Italian Words Starting with Para – Block, Prevent, Stop or Alongside

Graphic showing some Italian words starting with the prefix para and falling into two different categories of meaning.
Graphic showing some Italian words starting with the prefix para and falling into two different categories of meaning.

It started when our Italian friends’ three year old decided I should read a Cars book to him, in Italian. And while I protested, he insisted. No sooner did I start on page one than I ran into the word paraurti. First, I could barely pronounce it and then I couldn’t figure out what it was. We both started laughing.

For the rest of the weekend, the three year old kept repeating to me “paraurti paraurti paraurti” in a sing-song perfect Italian accent (that I’ll never achieve)! Paraurti are bumpers or fenders.

Well, that incident got me thinking about Italian words that start with para and what’s up with them. In this post, I show there are two broad classes of para words. Para by itself is the third person singular form of the verb parare – to block or parry. Besides that, we can turn to Treccani para – 1 definition. It roughly says: “Para is the first element of numerous compound words, generally indicating objects that serve to repair, to protect from what is indicated by the second element.” Examples of these words are shown below in MEANING 1 and include paraurti. It's fairly easy to understand how these words work.

There is a second family of para-words described by the Treccani para – 2 definition. It is a more complicated definition roughly summed up as: “The para prefix of many compound words derived from Greek or formed modernly, mean both spatial proximity (with the significance of the Greek preposition it derives from) and similarity, affinity or even secondary relationship, deviation, alteration, contrast, and similar. Examples of these words are shown below in MEANING 2. These words tend to have cognates in English, for example, paralegal (paralegale) and paramilitary (paramilitare). (In science and medical terms, the para in this MEANING 2 sense is very nuanced and we don’t cover that here.)


Protection against something (the second word of the compound word). Riparo, oltre.

parabraccio / parabracci – armguard, protection of the arm

parabrezza / parabrezza – windshield, protection again the wind

paracadute / paracaduti – a parachute, protection against falling straight out of the sky

paradenti / paradenti – a mouthguard, protection for teeth

parafango / parafanghi – mudguard, protection against mud

parafulmine / parafulmini – lightening rod, protection against lightening

paraluce / paraluci – lens hood, protection again light

paralume / paralumi – lampshade, protection against light (lume)

paraneve / paranevi – snow guard, protection against snow (usually found on the edge of a roof)

paraolio / paraolio – oil seal, protection against leaking oil

parapioggia / parapioggia – umbrella or rain cover, protection against rain

paraschizzi / paraschizzi – backspash or splashguard, protection against splashes (schizzi)

parasole / parasole – sunshade or canopy, protection against the sun

paraspiffero / paraspifferi – a door sausage (draft stopper), protection against drafts (spifferi)

paraspigolo / paraspigoli – corner or edge guard, protection for edges

paraspruzzi / paraspruzzi – mud flap or splashguard, protection against sprays or splashes (spruzzi)

paraurti / paraurti – bumper or fender, protection against bumps or collisions (urti)

paravalanghe / paravalanghe – avalanche barriers, protection against avalanches

paravento / paraventi – screen or windscreen, protection against wind


Closeness to something or being alongside something. Vicinanza, vicino, di fianco.

parabuddista / parabuddisti/e - who or what that is close to Buddhism

parafarmacia / parafarmacia – Para pharmacy, similar to a traditional pharmacy but dealing in non-prescription items

parafarmaco / parafarmaci – non-prescription or over the counter health products

parainfluenzale / parainfluenzali – disease caused by viruses that resemble the influenza virus

paraintellettuale / paraintellettuale – who or what that imitates intellectuals

paramedico / paramedica/ci/che – paramedic or first responder, not a doctor or physician but can work alongside them

paralegale / paralegali – a paralegal, not a lawyer but typically works alongside them

paramilitare / paramilitari – organized like an army but not official or legal

paranormale / paranormali – supernatural, beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding

parapsicologico / parapsicologica/ci/che - the field of study concerned with paranormal psychological phenomena

parascolastico / parascolastica/chi/che - extracurricular activities, alongside but outside of school activities

parasubordinato / parasubordinata/i/e - consultant, collaboration, not a fixed position

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