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Prepositions in Italian: Rules and Use

By- Claudia Quesito

Prepositions are typically considered a headache when studying a language; there seems to be an endless number of them and no strict rules on how to use them. Let’s start with the basics: “di a da in con su per tra fra,” learned as a nursery rhyme by Italian children in elementary school. There is good news: if you begin by learning these nine prepositions, you’ll have a great start, especially considering that two of them have the same meaning (tra and fra are interchangeable and translate as both “among” and “between”). Remember, though: when there is a definite article, di, a, da, in, and su combine with it to form single words, and so to express “on the table,” you combine su (on) + il and say sul tavolo.

What do the other prepositions mean? Di translates as “of/about,” a means “to/at/in,” da means “from,” in means “in/to,” con is the equivalent of “with,” and per expresses “for.” The trickiest Italian prepositions are in and a; they are used with motion and location verbs and, as was just mentioned, they both translate as “to” and “in.” It is often confusing to learn which of the two is needed, and sometimes you just have to memorize which preposition goes with which place, like in Vado in piscina. (I go to the swimming pool.) versus Vado a teatro. (I go to the theater.).

Here’s the second piece of good news, however: there are a few rules that may be helpful. Use a with cities, either if you are in that place: Sono a Milano. (I am in Milano.)—or if you go there: Vado a Milano. (I go to Milano.) Use in, instead, with regions, U.S. states, countries, and continents—so you say Sono in Italia. and Vado in Italia. to express, respectively, that you are in Italy or you’re going to Italy. Islands follow their own rules: generally, tiny islands take a and bigger islands require in: Andremo a Capri e in Sicilia. (We’ll go to Capri and to Sicily.).

So, go ahead and study your prepositions, be ready to use them (and make inevitable mistakes), and, believe it or not, after a while, you’ll start “feeling” what the right preposition is on every occasion.

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