What is a preposition?

How many times have you come across very short Italian words like di, da and a and you weren’t sure what they were or how to translate them?

Italian prepositions are short words (the equivalent of in, at, for etc.) usually followed by a noun or a pronoun, which show how people and things relate to the rest of the sentence.

For example, in the following sentence, ‘a’ is the preposition, and it tells you where the subject (we) is in relation to another word (Milan): the preposition is telling that we are in Milan.

Siamo a Milano. We are in Milan.

Where do prepositions go in a sentence?

Usually prepositions are to be found in front of a noun (a person, an item etc.) or a pronoun (te, noi, loro etc.), to show the relationship between that noun and the rest of a sentence.

Voglio andare fuori con te. I want to go out with you.

Remember: in English you can put the preposition at the end of a question, separating it from the noun, whereas in Italian you can’t do that: the preposition always goes in front of another word!

Di chi stai parlando? Who are you talking about?

What are and how do I use the Italian prepositions?

The Italian prepositions are: DI, A, DA, IN, CON, SU, PER, TRA (or FRA).

If some of them have the same meaning and use of their equivalent in English (for example con / with, or tra / between), most of them can have a lot variations in the way they’re used. This is because, depending on the sentence, a simple word like ‘to’ can be translated with A, DA or IN.

So, here’s how to use the Italian prepositions:

DI (of):

  • possession: la macchina di Luca / Luca’s car
  • material: la camicia di seta / the silk shirt
  • origin (with the verb essere): lei è di Palermo / she is from Palermo
  • age: un uomo di 45 anni / a 45 year old man
  • before an adjective and after an indefinite pronoun (something, nothing…): oggi non c’è niente di bello da fare / today there’s nothing nice to do

A (to, in):

  • before towns / cities: abito a Perugia / I live in Perugia Vado a Roma / I go to Rome
  • time: ci vediamo a mezzogiorno / see you at midday
  • months: a settembre inizio la scuola / in September I will start school
  • directions: a destra, a sinistra / to the right, to the left
  • location: sei a scuola / you are at school

DA (from):

  • origin (with the verb venire): vengo da Firenze / I come from Florence
  • with the passive form: il libro è scritto da me / the book is written by me
  • use of an item: occhiali da sole / sunglasses
  • to state how long for: vivo in Italia da sei anni / I have lived in Italy for 6 years
  • before a verb in the infinitive and after an indefinite pronoun (something, nothing…): qualcosa da mangiare / something to eat
  • going to people’s places: vado da mia mamma / I go to my mum’s
  • ..to: da ottobre a dicembre / from October to December

IN (in, by):

  • with countries or regions: in Lombardia, in Italia / in Lombardy, in Italy
  • transport: vado in macchina, in treno, in aereo… / I go by car, by train, by plane…
  • with names of places ending in -ia: mangiamo in pizzeria / we eat at the pizzeria

CON (with):

  • company: guardo un film con mio padre / I watch a film with my Dad
  • means: apro la porta con la chiave / I open the door with the key

SU (on):

  • topic: ho letto un libro su Monet / I read a book about Monet
  • position: il bicchiere è sul tavolo / the glass is on the table

PER (for):

  • destination: il treno parte per Parigi / The train is leaving for Paris
  • a set amount of time: ti ho aspettato per tre ore / I waited for you for 2 hours
  • cause: sono svenuto per il caldo / I fainted due to the heat
  • intention (followed by verb in the infinitive): lavoro per vivere / I work to live
  • recipient: ho un regalo per te / I have a present for you

TRA o FRA (between):

  • position: il tavolo è tra due sedie / the table is between two chairs
  • in (time): esco tra dieci minuti / I am going out in ten minutes

Prepositions + definite articles.

When using the Italian prepositions together with definite articles (il, lo, la etc.), these two elements combine and form a newer word, which you can easily learn if you look at the following chart. We called these PREPOSIZIONI ARTICOLATE.


Prepositions after verbs

In Italian there are a lot of verbs which are followed by prepositions, in the same way as certain English verbs: to rely on, to think of, to talk about etc.

In some cases, the same verb can be followed by more than one preposition, and the meaning changes depending on which preposition we are using.

  • Parlo a te. I talk to you.
  • Parlo di te. I talk about you.

Here’s some commonly used verbs with their prepositions:

Verbs followed by a:

  • dare a = to give to
  • mandare a = to send to
  • dire a = to say (something) to
  • arrivare a = to arrive to
  • chiedere a = to ask (something) to
  • partecipare a = to part in
  • credere a = to believe to
  • pensare a = to think of

Verbs followed by di:

  • discutere di = to discuss something
  • fidarsi di = to trust
  • avere bisogno di = to need
  • avere voglia di = to want
  • lamentarsi di = to complain about
  • interessarsi di = to be interested in

Verbs followed by da:

  • dipendere da = to depend on
  • scendere da = to get off something
  • sporgersi da = to lean out of something

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