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A preposition (preposizione) is a part of speech that connects one element in a sentence to another (generally two nouns or pronouns), in order to provide qualifying details about their relationship. The preposition often occurs right before a noun or a pronoun and the prepositional phrase refers to the connecting preposition plus the words that go after it. In the following examples, the prepositional phrases are italicized, and the prepositions that initiate them are in bold.

  • I studied for the exam in the library in the evening.
  • Cristina works with very nice people.
  • The gloves are in the back of the closet.

The prepositional phrases describe, for example, where, when, and why the studying took place, who to associate Cristina with, and where the gloves are located. Prepositions are used in both English and Italian, to express so many things like time, location, destination, possession, association, material constitution, and manner. Common prepositions in English include in, on, with, to, of and from, and in Italian in, a, di, da, per, con, su, and fra/tra. Italian is different from English in that it includes two distinct classes of prepositions: simple prepositions (those that appear alone), and articulated prepositions (those that are combined with the definite article of the nouns that follow them).

Definite articles (il, la, lo, etc.) are the Italian words for the.

Simple prepositions

Simple means that the prepositions appear alone, without contracting with the definite article. Below are the most common prepositions, in their simple form.

a to, at, in
da from, by, since
in in, to
di of
con with
per for
su on, on top of
tra, fra between, among

The chart above includes the most common prepositions along with their most common meanings. However, prepositions also have many idiomatic uses, which are best learned by memorization and with lots of time and practice. Examples include:

  • Studio da solo. (I study by myself.)
  • Si dipingono questi piatti a mano. (These plates are painted by hand.)
  • Vado in macchina. (I go by car.)
  • Stasera andiamo da Marco. (Tonight we’re going to Marco’s.)

There are also many verbs in Italian which are followed by a particular preposition. They could be considered “idiomatic” phrasal verbs because they do not have word-to-word equivalents in English.

avere bisogno di to need
avere voglia di to feel like, to want
parlare di to talk about
pensare a to think about
credere in / a to believe in
decidere di to decide to


It is easy to get overwhelmed by the many idiomatic uses of prepositions. Learning them takes time and practice. Using flashcards to study them as you would any other vocabulary will help expand and reinforce the knowledge.

Articulated Prepositions

The articulated preposition is a contraction of the simple preposition with the definite article that accompanies the noun that follows it. For example:

  • Vado a . . . . il mare: Vado al mare.
  • La lettera è in . . . la busta: La lettera è nella busta.
  • Questo è la macchina di . . . i miei amici: Questo è la macchina dei miei amici.

As you can see, some of these contractions involve dropping or adding a vowel. You may use the chart below to help you memorize the ways in which the prepositions combine with the definite articles.

il l’ lo la i gli le
a al all’ allo alla ai agli alle
di del dell’ dello della dei degli delle
da dal dall’ dallo dalla dai dagli dalle
in nel nell’ nello nella nei negli nelle
su sul sull’ sullo sulla sui sugli sulle

Per, tra and fra never combine with the definite article. Con was articulated in the past, but its use now is considered antiquated. You may come across it in literature but it is rarely used in contemporary Italian.

In many instances, the prepositions are not combined with their articles. For example:

  • Vado a casa.
  • Studiamo in biblioteca.

When in is used with common places in the city (e.g. banca, biblioteca, chiesa), the simple preposition in becomes articulated, only if one of these places is modified, or described. For example:

  • Studiamo in biblioteca. / Studiamo nella biblioteca principale.
  • Vado in chiesa. / Vado nella chiesa di mia madre.

Sometimes the article is missing when used right before possessive adjectives  used with singular family members. For example:

  • Questa è la macchina di mia madre.
  • Vado da mio zio stasera.

Other Prepositions

In the table below you can check out other common prepositional expressions. Some are combined with di and a.  Those two prepositions will articulate as before if they are followed by nouns used with definite articles.

durante during
invece di instead of
insieme a together with
davanti a in front of
in cima a at the top of
in mezzo a in the middle of
attorno a around
in fondo a at the bottom of
rispetto a with respect to
vicino a near to
fino a until
prima di before
a causa di until
fuori di outside

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