Italian language: Are you sure you are just going “to”?

Feb 16, 2019 178

People probably have been telling you how Italian is hard because of its verbs, tenses, endings, and articles. But what about prepositions? Has anyone ever told you anything about them? Well, well, well. Let me just tell you about them. 

To begin with, what are prepositions? They are usually short words that precede a noun or pronoun and that express the relation with another word or element. In English, there are over 150 prepositions (!), for example: about, in, on, over, of, among, around, for, with, from, by, into, through…I can keep going and list them all, but that’s not the point. As you can probably guess, English preposition are no joke for someone who’s learning the language. So, what about Italian prepositions? Italian has only (technically) eight preposition – di, a ,da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra – plus another “special” ten – davanti, dietro, dopo, fuori, lontano, lungo, mediante, prima, sopra, sotto. You’ll think: “Easy peasy lemon squeezy then!” Nope. I think they are one of the hardest parts of Italian. Why? Well, they make no sense at all! What do I mean? Let me explain. 

English has a ridiculous amount of prepositions, however, they follow some kind of logic. If you have to move from one place to another it will always be “from” and “to” no matter what the places are. If you have to describe what means of transportation you use, except for the exception “on foot,” you will always use “by” independently from the means of transportation. Again, to indicate a location or a place it’s either “in” or “at.” Well, in Italian it depends on what comes afterwards. For example, if you are going “to” a place, it depends where you go. Are you going to a state? Like Italy? Then you will use in: vado in Italia. Are you going to a city? In again: vado in città. But if you specify which city, let’s say Milan, you will have to use a: vado a Milano. Are you going to the sea? Al mare. Are you going to the mountains? In montagna. To an island? You will have to go in Sicily but a Lipari. A square? In piazza. To the pharmacy? In farmacia. But you will always go a casa – home – and a scuola – to school. And to a friend or a person? Da Lucia. 

That was if you were going there, but if you are already there? Country? In Italia. City? In città. Specific city? A Milano. Sea? Mountains? Islands? Square? Pharmacy? Friend or person? Home? School? They keep the same preposition whether you are going there or you are there: sono al mare, in montagna, in piazza, in farmacia, da Lucia, a casa, a scuola. Easy right? You just have to remember if it’s the sea, the mountains, an island, a square, a pharmacy, a friend or a person, home, or the school. 

And if you want to say where you come from? For example, you were born and raised in Rome. It depends on what verb you choose to use: You come da Rome but you are di Rome. And you can use a means of transportation in two different ways: in or con: in macchina or con la macchina – by car. 

Ok, moving in Italy is difficult, but the rest of the prepositions are pretty easy, no? Well, except for using them in totally different ways than English, we didn’t think they were already hard enough. Well, you don’t think they don’t change according to the gender and number of the following noun, right? Because, the eight prepositions I was talking about before, sometimes they stay the same, let’s say “simple,” and other times they combine with the different articles. For example: you go ‘’to’’ home – a casa – but you go to ‘’the’’ university – all’università – which, by the way, means that you attend university, otherwise you’ll have to say in università if you are physically going there. Why? When? Well, this article will become way too long, and the reality is that most Italians don’t even know. We are just lucky enough to just “feel” when and why combining them. 

Anyway they can be combined with the articles and must be done when it is required. So a can be combined with il forming al, with lo forming allo, with la forming alla, with gli forming agli, with i forming ai, and le forming alle. That’s easy, but then you have in which combined with the six articles changes a bit becoming nel, nello, nella, negli, nei, nelle. Or tra e fra which really are the same exact preposition and don’t really combine, becoming simply: tra il, tra lo, tra la, tra gli, tra i, tra le. That means that you have to be aware if the word is feminine or masculine and singular or plural even when choosing something so short and tiny as a preposition.

So, what are you going to tell your friend when they list all the hard parts of learning Italian?

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