Noodles and pasta are essentially doughs made from starch and water, thinly shaped and quickly cooked. The many permutations of these basic features give rise to a huge diversity in both foods.
"Noodles" is a generic term encompassing both the various oriental pastas and certain occidental pastas. The commonality of noodles and pastas is often attributed to them having a single origin. Although the origins are unknown, the theory that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy from China has been discredited; pasta existed in Europe before the 14th century. Noodles are such a simple concept that their discovery by more than one culture is likely.
Asian noodles are categorized by their major ingredient. The diversity of their various starch bases results in very different flavours and textures. In shape they vary between wide and narrow, flat and round, thin and fat, but are always long.
Pasta, conversely, is always made from wheat flour or semolina; hard wheat flour, often mixed with eggs, is used for fresh pasta, and the even harder durum wheat semolina preferred for dried commercial pasta. There are over 300 pasta shapes, which may be generally classified as long, short (which includes soup shapes or 'pastine'), and filled. Most shapes are named, in Italian, after the object they resemble, their size often futher described by diminutives and superlatives. Confusingly, nomenclature is not standard. Particular pastas suit certain styles of sauce. Basically, the sauce should adhere to the pasta, yet not overwhelm it. Both the delicacy of the pasta, relative to the sauce, and its shape must be considered; ribbed ('rigate') and hollow shapes trap sauce best.