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Italian Prepositions: What You Need to Know to Use Them Correctly

Italian prepositions, just like prepositions in any other language, are tiny language blocks which are incredibly important to ensure you deliver the right meaning.

You’ll find them in almost every sentence but there are significant differences with English. That’s why it’s important to spend some time learning which preposition to use and when.

At the end of this guide you’ll know what preposition to use in every context and you’ll have a complete reference to come back to any time you’re in doubt.

Introducing Italian Prepositions

When they are not followed by an article, Italian prepositions are called “simple prepositions”. There are nine of them: di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra.

“Di”

Di can be translated into English as “of” “from”, “about” and sometimes even “in”. When Di is combined with definite articles, it looks like this:

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
di del dello della dell’ dei degli delle

In case you don’t remember how to choose the right definite article before a name, you can jog your memory here.

Now, let’s see all the different cases where “di” is required:

1. It indicates ownership, similarly to the English possession with name + apostrophe + s or the English preposition “of”.

  • Il libro dell’insegnante – The teacher’s book
  • Vorrei un bicchiere di vino – I’d like a glass of wine
  • È un’amica di Martina – She is Martina’s friend

2. It indicates someone’s or something’s origins, same as “from”, but only when you want to say what city you are from. You cannot use di with country names.

  • Sono di Milano – I’m from Milan
  • Mia madre è di Napoli – My mother is from Naples

3. It expresses what something is about (topic).

  • Questo libro parla di tecnologia – This book is about technology

4. It tells you what something is made of.

  • La casa di legno – The wooden house (the house made of wood)

5. Di is used to make comparisons, same as “than”.

  • Sei più intelligente degli altri studenti – You’re smarter than the other students

6. It is used to specify quantities.

  • Un edificio di venti piani – A building with twenty floors
  • Una ferrovia di 150 km – A 150 km long railway (a railway of 150 km)

7. You use di to talk about a specific time of the day or of the year.

  • Sono le quattro del mattino – It’s 4 in the morning
  • Era una fredda mattina di dicembre – It was a cold December’s morning
  • Una mite giornata di primavera – A warm spring day

“A”

The preposition a is often equivalent of the English “in,” “to” or “at”. When a is combined with the definite articles, it looks like this:

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
a al allo alla all’ ai agli alle

A” is used:

1. To talk about a location and tell where something is or where someone’s going to.

  • Maria è a Roma – Maria is in Rome
  • Stasera andiamo al cinema – We’re going to the cinema tonight
  • Ho mandato un sms a Lucia – I’ve sent a text to Lucia

2. To say when or at what time something will happen.

  • Il treno parte alle 18 – The train will leave at 6 pm
  • A che ora torni? – What time you’ll be back?

3. To say that you are giving something “to” someone.

  • Ho dato il mio numero di telefono a Claudia – I’ve given my phone number to Claudia

“Da”

The Italian presposition da means “since”, “from”, “by”.

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
da dal dallo dalla dall’ dai dagli dalle

It indicates:

1. Movement from a place.

  • Il treno è arrivato ora da Milano – The train just arrived from Milan
  • Sto venendo ora dall’ufficio – I’m coming from the office

2. A movement towards a person.

  • Nel pomeriggio vado da Marco – In the afternoon I’ll go to Marco’s place
  • Ho appuntamento dal medico – I’ve got an appointment with the doctor

3. A past action that is still going on.

  • Vivo a Roma dal 2003 – I’ve been living in Rome since 2003

4. The agent in passive sentences.

  • Questa torta è stata preparata da mia sorella – This cake has been baked by my sister

“In”

English also has this preposition, although sometimes its use is different. When it’s combined with an article, it looks quite different.

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
in nel nello nella nell’ nei negli nelle

In” is used in Italian to indicate:

1. State in a place.

  • Ti aspetto in macchina – I’m waiting for you in the car

2. Movement to a place, but only before countries and regions.

  • Andremo in vacanza in Francia – We’ll go on holidays in France
  • Andrò a studiare in Catalogna – I’ll go study in Catalonia

3. Travelling with some means of transport.

  • Andremo in macchina/aereo/treno/barca – We’ll go by car/plane/train/boat

4. A discussion about time (seasons and daily moments).

  • I fiori sbocciano in primavera – Flowers blossom in spring
  • In serata telefonerò a Luca – In the evening I’ll call Luca

“Con”

This preposition literally means with. It does not usually change in combination with an article. So, for instance, you will say “con il” o “con la”.

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
con con il

or col

con lo con la con l’ con i

or coi

con gli con le

Con is used to indicate:

1. Company.

  • Vieni con me – Come with me
  • Sara va a scuola con i suoi amici – Sara goes to school with her friends

2. An instrument or tool (what you use to do something).

  • Non scrivere con la penna rossa – Don’t write with a red pen
  • Ho pagato con la carta di credito – I paid with a credit card

“Su”

The Italian preposition su means “on” “onto” or over.

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
su sul sullo sulla sull’ sui sugli sulle

It is used to indicate:

1. That something is placed above something else.

  1. La penna è sul tavolo – The pen is on the table

2. The subject of a topic

  • Hai visto quell film sulla guerra in Vietnam? – Did you see that movie on the war in Vietnam?
  • Ho ragionato su quel problema tutta la notte – I thought about that problem all night long

“Per”

Per means “for”, “by”, “because of”.

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
per per il per lo per la per l’ per i per gli per le

It is used to indicate:

1. Movement to a place (where you pass through a place to reach your final destination).

  • Vado a Parigi passando per Milano – I’m going to Paris passing by Milan

2. A reason for something.

  • Mi sono trasferito a Roma per lavoro – I moved to Rome because of my job

3. Time duration (for an action that is already finished).

  • Ho fatto l’insegnante per vent’anni – I worked as a teacher for 20 years
  • Siamo stati al telefono per tre ore – We talked on the phone for three hours

“Tra” and “Fra”

The Italian prepositions “tra” and “fra” are synonyms and you can use either one or the other.

+ il + lo + la + l’ + i + gli + le
tra/fra tra/fra il tra/fra lo tra/fra la tra/fra l’ tra/fra i tra/fra gli tra/fra le

They mean “between” or “among” and are both used to indicate:

1. Something that is located between two things or places.

  • Il supermercato è tra la scuola e la chiesa – The supermarket is located between the school and the church.

2. An alternative (between two things or multiple choices).

  • Fra la carne e il pesce, preferisco quest’ultimo – Between meat and fish, I prefer the latter
  • È il migliore tra tutti gli studenti – He’s the best among all students

Differences between “Di” and “Da”

Both the prepositions “di” and “da” can be used to say that you come from somewhere, so how do you know how to use one or the other? For instance, you can say:

Sono di Milano – I’m from Milan

Vengo da Milano – I come from Milan

The difference is quite easy: with the verb “venire” (to come) you must use “da” while with “essere” you have to use “di”. The meaning of the two sentences is practically the same, but venire has a double use. You can use venire both to tell where your place of birth is or where you are coming from in a certain moment. For instance:

  • Da dove vieni, correndo così? Vengo dall’ufficio
    Where are you coming from, running so fast? I’m coming from the office

Differences between “a” and “in”

Similarly, the Italian prepositions “a” and “in” are both used to mean state in place and can be translated with the English preposition “in”. How to know which one is correct? Let’s see some examples first.

  • Vivo a Parigi – I live in Paris
  • Vivo a Milano – I live in Milan
  • Vivo in Italia – I live in Italy
  • VIvo in Toscana – I live in Tuscany

While English uses “in” for all cases, in Italian the rule is that you use “a” with cities and “in” for regions, countries, continents and big islands.

Where to put prepositions?

In Italian, prepositions are used in front of nouns or pronouns to show the relationship between them and the rest of the sentence.

  • Quella penna è di Marcello – That pen is Marcello’s
  • Vado a scuola con la mia amica Giulia – I go to school with my friend Giulia

In English, you can use a preposition at the end of a question (for instance: who did you come with?) but you can’t do so in Italian. Italian prepositions are always placed in front of another word and never at the end of a question or at the end of a sentence.

Conclusions

Due to the significant differences with English, Italian prepositions are one of those grammar topics which require a bit more practice.

Don’t try to master them in a single day: they’ll probably only get you frustrated. Instead, listen to the use of prepositions by native speakers and check out the exercise we prepared for you!

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning Italian prepositions might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with Italian prepositions.

Sign up here to save your progress and start getting fluent with thousands of Italian sentences at Clozemaster.

Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Italian.

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