Italian Prepositions Tra and Fra

Learn seven ways to use tra and fra

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Among the many pesky little prepositions you will encounter in your study and use of Italian are two that look particularly similar and pop up a lot: tra and fra, fortuitously similar in purpose as well as looks.

Luckily, they are rather straightforward and much simpler to use than their counterparts di, da, or in, and they translate in English to between or among, and sometimes in.

Is There a Difference Between Tra and Fra?

Before we take a look at ways in which these two little words are commonly used in Italian, you should know upfront that there is no difference in meaning between tra and fra: the choice is governed by personal preference, some regional habit, and sometimes phonetics. For example, it is preferable to say fra travi and tra frati to avoid groups of identical sounds (other examples include tra fratelli and fra tre anni).

How to Use Tra and Fra: Between

The most common meaning of tra and fra is to signify space or time between two places, points, things, events, or people:

  • Il libro è caduto tra il divano e il muro. The book fell between the couch and the wall.
  • Sono tra Milano e Venezia. I am between Milan and Venice.
  • La mia casa si trova a mezza strada tra Siena e Firenze. My house is located halfway between Siena and Florence.
  • Tra qui e lì ci sono circa dieci metri. Between here and there are about 10 meters.
  • Tra oggi e domani ti porto il libro. I will bring you the book sometime between today and tomorrow.
  • Il treno si è fermato dieci volte tra Perugia e Siena. The train stopped 10 times between Perugia and Siena.
  • Tra me e te ci corrono otto mesi. You are I are eight months apart.
  • Tra l'arrivo e la partenza ci sono due ore. There are two hours between the arrival and the departure.
  • Fra noi non ci sono segreti. There are no secrets between us.
  • Fra noi è tutto a posto. Everything is alright between us.

Sometimes you will find the last two sentences as tra di noi or tra di noi It is a common construction.

Tra and fra also indicate a status between two states of being or figurative things:

  • Il nonno è tra la vita e la morte. Grandfather is between life and death.
  • Quando ha squillato il telefono ero tra il sonno e il risveglio. When the phone rang, I was between sleep and awakening.
  • Tra il dire e il fare c'è di mezzo il mare (Italian proverb). Between words and actions lies the sea (between saying and doing lies the sea).

In Distance and Time to Come

In cases in which we are discussing distance or time to something in the future it translates in English to in:

  • Tra due chilometri c'è un benzinaio. There is a gas station in two miles.
  • Tra due ore ci vediamo! We will see each other in two hours.
  • Tra poco arriviamo. We'll be there shortly.
  • Arriverà tra due ore. She’ll arrive in two hours.

Among Us

Another common meaning of tra and fra translates to among and it indicates comparison; one or more people or things among many or others; or something held between two or more people. In these cases, fra is preferred by many and more commonly used. See these examples:

  • Siamo fra amici qui. We are among friends here.
  • Il rapporto fra noi è speciale. The relationship among us is special.
  • Si consultarono fra loro. They conferred among themselves.
  • Giulio ama stare fra i suoi parenti. Giulio loves to hang out among his relatives.
  • Sei il migliore fra i miei amici. You’re the best among my friends.
  • Fra tutte le ragazze, Giulia è la più simpatica. Among all the girls, Giulia is the nicest.
  • Alcuni fra i presenti protestarono. Some among those present protested.
  • Ho guardato fra le carte, ma non ho trovato il documento che cercavo. I looked among my papers, but I didn't find the document I was looking for.
  • Fra i miei libri ne ho senz'altro uno sulla storia francese. Among my books I surely have one on French history.

And fra me and me and me and you:

  • Parlavo fra me e me quando ho visto Giulio che mi guardava. I was talking to myself when I saw that Giulio was looking at me.
  • L'uomo diceva fra sé e sé, "Non può essere!" The man was saying to himself, "It can't be!"
  • Detto fra me e te, sono stanca del mio lavoro. Between me and you, I am tired of my job.

Other Uses of Tra and Fra

In some sentences, the expression tra tutto o tra tutti means between everything (or between one thing and the other) or all together:

  • Tra tutti saremo una dozzina. All together there must be a dozen of us.
  • Tra tutto, il pranzo ci sarà costato 100 euro. Between everything, the lunch probably cost us 100 euros.
  • Ho preso il pane e il vino, e fra tutto ho fatto tardi. I got the bread and the wine, and between everything I ran late.

In certain expressions, the preposition tra or fra has a causal value: in other words, it amounts to something causing something. For example, fra la casa e i bambini non ho mai il tempo di uscire. Between the house and the children, I never have time to get out. There, the combination of what is on either end of the tra or fra amounts to a cause of something.

  • Tra la mano rotta e il mal di stomaco sono dovuta andare dal dottore. Between my broken hand and my stormach ache, I had to see the doctor.

Fra me e voi, questa lezione è finita! Buono studio!