Languages › Italian Improper Prepositions in Italian How to express words like “under,” “over” and “behind Share Flipboard Email Print Woman studying Italian prepositions. Ezra Bailey Italian Grammar History & Culture Vocabulary By Michael San Filippo Italian Expert M.A., Italian Studies, Middlebury College B.A., Biology, Northeastern University Michael San Filippo co-wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Italian History and Culture. He is a tutor of Italian language and culture. our editorial process Michael San Filippo Updated March 16, 2017 The Italian prepositions di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra (fra), the so-called preposizioni semplici (simple prepositions), perform a variety of functions and are the most frequently used. However, these prepositions have a lesser-known counterpart -- ones with less variety, but that have a greater specificity of meaning. They’re called “improper prepositions.” And yes, if you’re wondering, there are “proper prepositions,” and we’ll talk about those soon. Why must you get to know these? Because they help you say things like “behind the house,” “during dinner,” or “except him.” Many grammarians define these forms as improper prepositions (preposizioni improprie), which are also (or have been in the past) adverbs, adjectives, or verbs. Here they are: Davanti - In front, across from, opposite fromDietro - Behind, afterContro - In front of, againstDopo - After, beyondPrima - First, in front ofInsieme - With, together with, along withSopra - On top of, upon, above, over Sotto - Below, beneathDentro - In, inside, withinFuori - BeyondLungo - During, throughout, along, alongsideVicino - NearbyLontano - Faraway, distantSecondo - On the basis of, according to, alongDurante - During, throughoutMediante - By, through, via, by means ofNonostante - In spite of, despiteRasente - Very near to, very close toSalvo - Save, except forEscluso - ExceptEccetto - ExceptTranne - Except So, which prepositions are proper? Grammarians define proper prepositions (preposizioni proprie) as those that have only a prepositional function, namely: di, a, da,in, con, su, per, tra (fra) (su also has an adverbial function, but routinely is considered one of the proper prepositions). The following are some examples of preposition-adverbs, preposition-adjectives, and preposition-verbs, highlighting their diverse functions. Preposition-Adverbs The largest group is that of the preposition-adverbs (davanti, dietro, contro, dopo, prima, insieme,sopra, sotto, dentro, fuori): L'ho rivisto dopo molto tempo. - I saw him again after a long time. (prepositional function)L'ho rivisto un'altra volta, dopo. - I saw him again after that. (adverbial function) Preposition-Adjectives Less numerous are preposition-adjectives (lungo, vicino, lontano, salvo, secondo): Camminare lungo la riva - To walk along the shore (prepositional function)Un lungo cammino - A long walk (adjectival function) Participles There are also some verbs, in the form of participles, that in contemporary Italian function almost exclusively as prepositions (durante, mediante, nonostante, rasente, escluso, eccetto): Durante la sua vita - During his lifetime (prepositional function)Vita natural durante - Lifetime (participial function) Among these preposition-verbs, a special case is that of tranne, from the imperative form of trarre (tranne = 'traine'). To determine whether a certain term is used as a preposition or has a different function, note that in the previous examples what characterizes and distinguishes the prepositions from other parts of speech is the fact that they establish a relationship between two words or two groups of words. Prepositions are special because they introduce a complement to the verb, the noun, or the entire sentence. If there is no "complement," it is not a preposition. Some Italian improper prepositions can be combined with other prepositions (especially a and di) to form locuzioni preposizionali (prepositional phrases) such as: Vicino a - Near, next toAccanto a - Next to, besideDavanti a - In front ofDietro a - BehindPrima di - BeforeDopo di - AfterFuori di - Outside ofDentro di - Inside, withinInsieme con (or assieme a) - Together withLontano da - Away from Prepositions & Nouns Many prepositional phrases result from the pairing of prepositions and nouns: In cima a - On top of, at the top ofIn capo a - Within, underIn mezzo a - In the middle of, amongNel mezzo di - In the middle of, in the midst ofIn base a - On the basis of, according toIn quanto a - As for, in terms ofIn confronto a - Compared to, in comparison toA fianco di - At the side of, on the side ofAl cospetto di - In the presence ofPer causa di - Because of, on grounds ofIn conseguenza di - As a result ofA forza di - Because of, through , by persisting thatPer mezzo di - By means of, by way ofPer opera di - ByA meno di - Less than, withoutAl pari di - As much as, in common withA dispetto di - In spite of, despiteA favore di - In favor ofPer conto di - On behalf ofIn cambio di - In exchange forAl fine di - For the purpose of, in order to Prepositional Phrases Prepositional phrases have the same function as prepositions, as shown by these examples: L'ha ucciso per mezzo di un pugnale / L'ha ucciso con un pugnale. - He killed him using a dagger / He killed him with a dagger.L'ha fatto al fine di aiutarti / L'ha fatto per aiutarti. - He did it in order to help you / He did it to help you. Attenta! Note, however, that prepositions and prepositional phrases are not always interchangeable: for example, either of the following phrases are valid: il ponte è costruito dagli operai (or da parte degli operai). But “la costruzione del ponte dagli operai” is grammatically incorrect, while “la costruzione del ponte da parte degli operai” is acceptable.