Articulated Prepositions in Italian

'Dalla' and 'Negli': How and When to Use Articulated Prepositions

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You’ve learned about simple prepositions: di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, and fra.

But you have also seen some that look like al, del, and dal. Are these the same prepositions, and if so, how do you know when to use them?

These prepositions are called articulated prepositions, and they are formed when a simple preposition such as di or su precedes and combines with a noun's definite article such as lo or la to form one word that looks like dello or sullo.

Articulated prepositions are probably one of the reasons you like listening to Italian, since they reinforce the language's mellifluous flow.

Most important, they are crucial little words, a smoothing tool, in essence, born exactly of that: speaking.

When Do You Use Articulated Prepositions?

Generally, articulated prepositions are formed any time a noun following whatever preposition you’re using requires an article.

So, for example, instead of saying Il libro è su il tavolo, you say, Il libro è sul tavolo.

Or, instead of saying, Le camicie sono in gli armadi, you say, Le camicie sono negli armadi.

Because Italian nouns get articles most times, you use articulated prepositions most everywhere. But in constructions that don't use an article before a noun, you do not articulate your preposition (since there is nothing to articulate with).

What Do Articulated Prepositions Look Like?

In the table below, note the more dramatic change that occurs when you combine the preposition in with a definite article, causing the reversal of the consonant:

  di da in con  su
il del al dal nel col sul
lo dello allo dallo nello collo sullo
la della alla dalla nella colla sulla
dei ai dai nei coi sui
gli  degli agli dagli negli cogli sugli
le delle alle dalle nelle colle sulle

You don't need to articulate per, tra, or fra. Regarding con, it is included in the table for your information. However, while you do run into coi, cogli, and colla in speaking, as many Italians say con i, con gli, con la, and so on, the written articulation has fallen into disuse almost completely. You write con i, con la, etc.

Of course, if an articulated preposition is followed by a vowel, you can contract. For example, nell'aria; nell'uomo; dell'anima; dell'insegnante; sull'onda.

Examples

  • Vai al cinema? You’re going to the movies?
  • All'entrata del palazzo ci sono i venditori di biglietti. At the entrance to the building, there are ticket sellers.
  • Vorrei tanto andare negli Stati Uniti! I would really like to go to the United States!
  • Ci sono tanti ristoranti sulla spiaggia. There are a lot of restaurants on the beach.
  • Mi piace leggere alla sera. I like to read in the evening.
  • La bambina era seduta sugli scalini. The girl was seated on the steps.
  • Ho visto un bel piatto di pasta nella vetrina dell'osteria. I saw a beautiful plate of pasta through the window of the restaurant.
  • Nei primi minuti della partita l'Italia ha fatto tre gol. In the first minutes of the game, Italy scored three goals.
  • In questi giorni sui giornali si legge molto della politica italiana. These days in the papers, one reads a lot about Italian politics.

Follow the Preposition

Of course, since the preposition di also means possession, you use the articulation with di a lot simply for that reason. See this sentence from English to Italian:

  • The owner of Lucia's sister's favorite restaurant comes from France's lower region. Il padrone del ristorante preferito della sorella della Lucia viene dalla parte bassa della Francia.

The articulated prepositions accommodate all the quirks of the simple prepositions. So, if da is used to mean "to someone's place"—for example, I'm going to the baker's shop—if those words get articles, those prepositions become articulated.

  • Vado dal dentista. I am going to the dentist (dentist's office).
  • Vado dal fornaio. I am going to the bakery.
  • Torno dalla parrucchiera venerdì. I am returning to the hairdresser's on Friday.

If essere di or venire da—to be from someplace—is used before a noun with an article, you articulate it. Towns don't get articles; regions do.

  • Sono del paesino di Massello. I am from the little town of Massello.
  • Veniamo dal Veneto. We are from Veneto.

Time

Since you use articulated prepositions any time a preposition is followed by an article, that means you articulate your prepositions when you speak about time. Remember, time is expressed in le ore, even when le ore are not stated ("the two o'clock"). Just like in English, mezzogiorno (noon) and mezzanotte (midnight) do not get articles (except when you are speaking about the noon hour or the midnight hour: for example, Amo la mezzanotte, I love the midnight hour).

With the expression prima di—before or earlier than—you couple di with the article of your ore. Dopo does not get a preposition (generally).

  • Arrivo alle tre. I arrive at three.
  • Arriviamo dopo le tre. We will arrive after three.
  • Vorrei arrivare prima delle sette. I would like to get there before seven.
  • Il treno delle 16.00 arriverà dopo le 20.00. The train scheduled for 4 p.m. will arrive after 8 p.m.
  • Il ristorante serve dalle 19.00 a mezzanotte. The restaurant serves from 7 p.m. to midnight.
  • Devi venire prima di mezzogiorno o dopo le 17.00. You have to come before noon or after 5 p.m.

Partitives

In partitives, expressed with the preposition di (some of something), if you are saying, I would like some oranges, instead of saying, Vorrei di le arance, you say, Vorrei delle arance.

  • Voglio comprare dei fichi. I would like to buy some figs.
  • Posso avere delle ciliegie? May I have some cherries?
  • Posso comprare del vino? May I buy some wine?
  • Vorremmo degli aciugamani puliti, per favore. We would like some clean towels, please.

Articulation With Pronouns

If you are using pronomi relativi such as la quale, il quale, le quali, or i quali, if they are preceded by a preposition, you articulate it. For example:

  • Il tavolo sul quale avevo messo i piatti cominciò a tremare. The table on which I had put the plates began to shake.
  • La ragazza, della quale mi ero fidata, scomparve. The girl, whom I had trusted, disappeared.
  • I suoi biscotti, dei quali avevo sentito parlare, erano eccellenti. Her cookies, which I had heard about, were excellent.

But: You do not use an article before aggettivi dimostrativi (questo, quello, etc.), so no articulation (just like in English):

  • Voglio vivere su questa spiaggia. I want to live on this beach.
  • Stasera mangiamo a quel ristorante. Tonight we are eating at that restaurant.

Verbs With Prepositions

If a verb is followed by a preposition and that preposition is followed by a noun with an article, you use an articulated preposition. Since most verbs do use prepositions, the list would be too long to entertain, but think of these:

Imparare da:

  • Ho imparato dal professore. I learned from the professor.

Sapere di:

  • Ho saputo del tuo incidente. I learned about your accident.

Parlare di:

  • Abbiamo parlato dei tuoi viaggi. We talked about your trips.

Andare a:

  • Siamo andati alla scuola di lingue. We went to the language school.

Mettere su or in:

  • Mettiamo i libri sulla scrivania. Let's put the books on the desk.

Hence, the ubiquity of articulated prepositions.

Expressions With Prepositions

If an expression uses a proposition and it is followed by a noun with an article, you articulate the preposition. For example:

A partire da—starting with, in English:

  • Amo gli animali, a partire dai cani. I love animals, starting with dogs.
  • A partire dal mattino, le campane suonano sempre. Beginning in the morning, the bells ring away.

A prescindere da—regardless of, aside from, setting aside:

  • A prescindere dalle sue ragioni, Marco ha sbagliato. Reasons aside, Marco was wrong.
  • A prescindere dal torto o dalla ragione, capisco perché sia successo. Regardless of right or wrong, I understand why it happened.

Al di fuori di—except for, other than:

  • Al di fuori dei bambini di Franco, vengono tutti. Except for Franco's children, everyone is coming.
  • Al di fuori della mia torta era tutto buono. Aside from my cake, everything was good.

In seguito a—following or in the aftermath of:

  • In seguito alle sue decisioni, hanno chiuso il negozio. In the aftermath of his decisions, they closed the store.
  • In seguito al maltempo il museo è stato chiuso. Following the bad weather, the museum was closed.

Remember, there are times when an article is not called for in English and it is in Italian.

With Infinitives and Past Participles

Remember that infinitives can be sostantivati, functioning as nouns, and past participles can function as adjectives or nouns (past participles actually become nouns). As such, they take articles (il or lo with infinitives) and any prepositions preceding them need to be articulated:

  • Nell'aprire la finestra ha urtato il vaso e si è rotto. In opening the window she hit the vase and it broke.
  • Sul farsi del giorno la donna partì. At the beginning/making of the day, the woman left.
  • Non ne poteva più del borbottare che sentiva nel corridoio. He was fed up with the mumbling he was hearing in the hallway.
  • Dei suoi scritti non conosco molto. Of her writings, I don't know much.
  • Ho scritto storie sugli esiliati. I wrote stories about the exiled (people).

Do's and Don'ts

You do not use articles in front of singular relatives (aunt, uncle, grandmother) with possessive adjectives, so no articulated propositions there. (Or you can forego the possessive and use the article.)

  • Parlo di mia mamma. I am speaking of my mother.
  • Parlo della mamma. I am speaking of mom.
  • Dai il regalo a mia zia. Give the gift to my aunt.
  • Dai il regalo alla zia. Give the gift to grandmother.

Generally, you don't use articles in front of names of days or months, but sometimes you do—if there is an adjective, for example. So, you say, Vengo alla fine di aprile (I am coming at the end of April), but, Vengo alla fine dell'aprile prossimo (I am coming at the end of next April).

Technically, you do not use definite articles in front of proper names (of people or cities, for example), so no articulated prepositions there either. Note, however, that in Tuscany and other areas in northern Italy where female names (and sometimes male names and last names, too) in common use are often preceded by an article, you do hear, della Lucia, or dalla Lucia, or even dal Giovanni).

In Italian you do use articles in front of the proper names of countries, regions, (American) states, islands, oceans, and seas when they are direct objects (not, for example, with the verbs andare and venire, which are intransitive and followed by indirect objects: Vado in America). Hence, if used with a preposition, they need to be articulated:

  • Amo parlare della Sicilia. I love talking about Sicily.
  • Abbiamo visitato una mostra sulla storia del Mediterraneo. We visited a show about the history of the Mediterranean.
  • Ho scritto una poesia sulla California. I wrote a poem about California.

Buono studio!