Prepositions are an essential part of learning Italian, or any language for that matter.
Sometimes it's the little things in language that make the biggest difference.
And prepositions are no exception.
These little grammatical words like “on”, “for” and “to” help us to relate objects in time and space.
Pretty useful right? And crucial for fluency in any language.
That's why, in this post, you'll learn:
- What a preposition is (with some help from English)
- Which ones you need to know in Italian
- Why they can sometimes be a little tricky to master
The good news is, prepositions are one of the easier aspects of Italian grammar (believe it or not!)
If you want to master Italian prepositions quickly and learn to use them correctly in conversation my top recommendation is Grammar Hero, my StoryLearning® course that helps you master Italian grammar naturally through reading.
Anyway, back to Italian prepositions. So let's dive in and figure out how to use them.
What Are Prepositions?
Prepositions are the words that explain how the rest of the words in a sentence are connected or related. They give context for how different concepts are linked.
If this sounds to broad or confusing, let's look at which words in English are prepositions.
You probably learned what prepositions are back in primary school, but most of use forget about them pretty quickly!
After all, when you’re speaking your native language, you normally don't pay attention to the actual mechanics of your words and just say what sounds right.
So here’s a little refresher on some common English prepositions:
As you can see, prepositions are used to describe the time, place, and origin of things in relation to one another.
Prepositions have the same function in Italian as they do in English. Unfortunately, however, you can't directly translate these words.
Many of the Italian prepositions have a general English counterpart, which is helpful to know, but they can't always be used in the exact same ways.
That way, you'll see the prepositions in context and become familiar with them, without pouring over textbook exercises!
7 Must-Know Italian Prepositions
Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used Italian prepositions. Maybe you know some of them already?
Chances are you've seen all of these while reading in Italian, even if you're not 100% confident about how they work just yet.
I'll take you through each of these words one-by-one so you can get a full understanding of what they mean and when to use them, with plenty of examples in context. Let’s start from the top.
The preposition a has a lot of uses for a one-letter word!
Generally, you can translate a into English as “at” or “to.” It can indicate a direction when paired with a city. For example:
- Stai andando a Roma? = Are you going to Rome?
It can indicate the recipient or destination of something like a letter or message:
- Ho scritto un messagio a mio fratello. = I wrote a message to my brother.
It can also be used as “to” when you say “you’re going to do this”. In this usage, the a is placed before the infinitive of the verb:
- Andiamo a giocare. = We go to play the game.
It can also be used in instances where no preposition is needed in English, to connect an adjective (describing word) to a noun (a thing or person) or an adverb (words like “gently”) to a verb (words like “play” or “eat”). For example:
la coperta a strisce = the striped blanket
Next up… this one's actually pretty easy!
The Italian preposition con loosely translates to “with.”
Let’s look at some examples:
- Mangio la pasta con la mia famiglia. = I eat pasta with my family
- Ho pagato con le monete. = I paid with coins
Da is another one with several different meanings or translations into English. It can mean “from,” “since,” “by,” or a combination. of those words.
You can use da to indicate your origin. For example:
- Vengo da Milano. = I come from Milan.
You can use it to indicate the amount of time since something has happened. For example:
- Non ho visto Francesco da ieri. = I haven’t seen Francesco since yesterday.
You can use it to indicate by whom or what something was done. For example:
- La palla è stata presa da un giocatore.= The ball was taken by a player.
You can use it to indicate the value or worth of something. In this case, there would be no English translation. For example:
- Una casa da un milione di dollari = A million-dollar house
Additionally, if you say you are going da and then the name of a person, this is a casual way of saying you’re going to their home.
- Vado da Luzrezia. = I’m going to Lucrezia’s house.
Up next is di, which generally translates to “of” or “from.”
If you want to say where you come from, you’d use di.
- Sono di New York. = I’m from New York.
You can use di to indicate the material of which something is made. For example:
- Il maglione di lana = The wool sweater (It might help you to think of this translation as “the sweater of wool,” which sounds a little formal or old-timey, but is still appropriate.)
It can also be used to indicate the subject you're speaking about. For example:
- Giovanni parla spesso di arte. = Giovanni often talks about art. (Or “Giovanni often speaks of art,” which, again, sounds more formal but is still correct.)
In is one of the easiest Italian prepositions for English speakers to learn and understand because it's a cognate.
(Cognates are words that are the same or similar in 2 different languages)
In the case of the Italian preposition in, you can use it in almost the exact same ways as the English word “in.”
Here are a few examples:
- Sono in cucina. = I am in the kitchen
- In estate, non andiamo a scuola. = In summer, we don’t go to school
This Italian preposition generally translates to English as “for.”
As with in, this is more of a direct translation than many of the others. Here are a couple of examples:
- Starò qui per una settimana. = I will stay here for a week
- Questo è un regalo per Lucia. = This is a gift for Lucia
# 7 Su
Last but not least, let’s take a look at the Italian preposition su.
Su can be translated as “on,” “about,” or “above.”
- Il libro è sullo scaffale. = The book is on the shelf
- Sono andato a una conferenza su Dante. = I went to a lecture about Dante
How To Combine Italian Prepositions
You may have noticed that in the sentence “Il libro è sullo scaffale,” the word su has changed form to sullo.
Italian prepositions often change form based on the word that follows them.
When followed by a definite article (“the” in English), a preposition combines with the article and together they transform into a new word that signifies the two words together.
In most cases, these combinations are intuitive. They almost seem like phonetic spellings of the way you would say the two words together really fast.
But if you’re not expecting them, they might be confusing.
Here are the new words that can be formed by combining the prepositions above with definite articles:
Italian Preposition Combinations With A
- a + il = al
- a + lo = allo
- a + l’ = all’
- a +la = alla
- a + i = ai
- a + gli =agli
- a + le = alle
Italian Preposition Combinations With Da
- da + il = dal
- da +lo = dallo
- da + l’ = dall’
- da + la = dalla
- da + i =dai
- da + gli = dagli
- da + le = dalle
Italian Preposition Combinations With Di
- di + il = del
- di + lo = dello
- di + l’ = dell’
- di + la = della
- di + i + dei
- di + gli = degli
- di + le = delle
Italian Preposition Combinations With Su
- su + il = sul
- su + lo = sullo
- su + l’ = sull’
- su + la = sulla
- su + i =sui
- su + gli =sugli
- su + le = sulle
And now for the good news – the articles con, per, and in don't change form based on the word that follows them.
So you don't need to memorise any alternate versions for them. Always a bonus in language learning right?
Italian Prepositions: Your Next Steps To Master Them
Overall, Italian prepositions aren't too hard.
Plus, if you dedicate some time every day to listening to and reading Italian, like I did in my Italian learning project, they’ll soon begin to come naturally.
If you focus getting the Italian prepositions right, you'll be able to communicate and express yourself better in Italian.
And sound more like a native while you do it!
Now who doesn't want that?
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