Talking Pasta: Spaghetti Vs. Linguine Vs. Fettuccine

Learn when to use what, and if you can substitute.

spaghetti linguine fettuccine

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

On any given day, you probably have at least three or four boxes of dried pasta in assorted shapes and sizes filling your cupboard. That’s because pasta is one of the simplest meals to toss together, while also being one of the most satisfying and easy to make. 

But no matter how often you cook with noodles, it’s easy to get tripped up when a recipe calls for one type of pasta and you have another, similar-but-different, type on hand.

Three of the most frequently compared? Spaghetti vs. linguine vs. fettuccine. Here, we’re breaking down what you should know about each of these slurpable carby delights.

cooked spaghetti on a white background

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox


Most famous for: Spaghetti and Meatballs

How it's shaped: Perhaps the most popular pasta shape in the U.S., strands of spaghetti are shaped like tiny tubes (in Italian, spaghetti means small strings). Spaghetti is narrow and cylindrical, but not too thin—shrink your tubes too much and it turns from spaghetti to angel hair. If you were to make homemade spaghetti noodles, you’d need a pasta maker to achieve the necessary thinness.

Best served with: The long, round strands of spaghetti are best served with smoother, lighter sauces like marinara, carbonara, pesto and cacio e pepe—anything thicker will have difficulty sticking to the cylindrical noodle.

cooked linguine on a white background

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox


Most famous for: Linguine with Clam Sauce

How it's shaped: Imagine you had a tiny, tiny rolling pin. If you laid a strand of spaghetti on a cutting board and used your tiny rolling pin to flatten it, you would have linguine. Translating to little tongues in Italian, linguine noodles are mostly flat with a whisper of a curve (similar to the shape a tongue). Like spaghetti, these are long noodles ideal for twirling and slurping and are thin enough that you’d need a pasta maker to create them at home.

Best served with: Linguine is an incredibly versatile noodle. It’s thin, like spaghetti, so it works with all the same light sauces. But because it is also flat it holds up well to thicker sauces too, such as cream- or butter-based sauces. The popular dish Linguine with Clams features a simple yet flavor-packed sauce made from oil, butter, garlic, lemon, and parsley; the linguine noodles grab the tasty sauce and won’t go sliding off your fork as you pry the clam from its shell (it’s also perfect for Shrimp Scampi for the same reason).

cooked fettuccine on a white background

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox


Most famous for: Fettuccine Alfredo

How it's shaped: If linguine and spaghetti are essentially the same size, fettuccine is in the next weight class. Meaning little ribbons in Italian, fettuccine noodles are wider than linguine and perfectly flat, though just as long. Fettuccine is so wide, in fact, that you’d no longer need a pasta maker to make it at home—traditionally, fettuccine is made by rolling the pasta dough out flat and cutting the fettuccine strands by hand. Just don’t cut them too wide, because you might accidentally make pappardelle instead.

Best served with: Wide, flat fettuccine is perfect for creamy sauces like lush, cheesy alfredo or a creamy tomato or vodka sauce—since the noodles have more surface area, it’s easier for heavier sauces to adhere and make it to your mouth.

What Can You Substitute?

Now that you have a handle on the differences between spaghetti vs. linguine vs. fettuccine, the question becomes: Can you substitute one for the others in recipes?

As a rule of thumb, try not to jump more than one pasta shape away when looking for substitutions. So if your recipe calls for spaghetti and you don’t have any, linguine will work just fine but fettuccine will likely be too thick.

For recipes that use linguine, either spaghetti or fettuccine can serve as a stand-in. And for dishes that use fettuccine, linguine should get by fine, but spaghetti won’t be able to hold the sauce the same way.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles