Italian Simple Prepositions: What They Are and How to Use Them

Don't let 'in,' 'to' and 'from' in Italian get you down!

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Simple prepositions in Italian, or preposizioni semplici, are the magical little words that allow us to connect the meaning, details, and specificity of actions: with whom we are doing something, for what, to what end, where, and where to. They are a neat little bunch, easy to remember, and this is the order in which they are taught to Italian children.

Italian Simple Prepositions List

Di of (possessive), from, about 1. La moto è di Paolo. 2. Paolo è di Firenze. 3. Muoio di sete. 4. Parlo di Lucia. 1. The motorcycle is Paolo's. 2. Paolo is from Florence. 3. I am dying of thirst. 4. I am speaking about Lucia.
A to, at, in 1. Vivo a Milano. 2. Vado a Milano. 3. A scuola ci sono molti bambini. 4. Non credo alle favole. 1. I live in Milano. 2. I am going to Milano. 3. At school there are many children. 4. I don't believe in fairy tales.
Da from, from this moment on, around, through, over, to 1. Vengo da Milano. 2. Da domani non lavoro. 3. Abito da quella parte. 4. Da quella strada non si passa. 5. Vado da Piera. 1. I am from Milano. 2. From tomorrow on I am not working. 3. I live around that way. 3. You can't get there from that road. 4. I am going to Piera's.
In in, at, to 1. Vivo in Germania. 2. Sono in palestra. 3. Vado in biblioteca. 1. I live in Germany. 2. I am at the gym. 3. I am going to the library.
Con with, by means of/through 1. Vengo con te. 2. Con determinazione ha conseguito la laurea. 1. I am coming with you. 2. Through determination, she won her degree.
Su on, on top of, concerning, about 1. Il libro è su una sedia. 2. Su questo non ci sono dubbi. 3. Scrivo un tema su Verga. 1. The book is on a chair. 2. About this, there are no doubts. 3. I am writing an essay about Verga.
Per for, by way of or through, according to, in order to 1. Questo libro è per te. 2. Passo per Torino. 3. Per me hai ragione. 4. Il negozio è chiuso per due giorni. 5. Ho fatto di tutto per andare in vacanza. 1. This book is for you. 2. I am going by way of Torino. 3. According to me, you are right. 4. The shop is closed for two days. 5. I did everything in order to go on vacation.
Tra between, in 1. Tra noi ci sono due anni di differenza. 2. Ci vediamo tra un'ora. 1. Between us there are two years' difference. 2. We'll see each other in an hour.
Fra between, in 1. Fra noi non ci sono segreti. 2. Fra un anno avrai finito. 1. Between us there are no secrets. 2. In a year you will be finished.

A or In?

Note that in talking about living in a location, in and a can be somewhat confusing, but there are some simple rules: A is used for a city or a town; in is used for a country or an island. For a state of the United States or a region of Italy, you would use in

  • Abito a Venezia (I live in Venice); abito a Orvieto (I live in Orvieto); abito a New York (I live in New York).
  • Abito in Germania (I live in Germany); abito in Sicilia (I live in Sicily); abito in Nebraska (I live in Nebraska); abito in Toscana (I live in Tuscany)

Those rules hold with verbs of movement as well: Vado in Toscana (I am going to Tuscany); vado a New York (I am going to New York); vado in Nebraska (I am going to Nebraska); vado in Sicilia (I am going to Sicily). 

If you are outside your home and you are going inside, you say, vado in casa; if you are out and about and you are going home, you say, vado a casa.

In speaking about going or being somewhere habitual without specificity, you use in:

  • Studio in biblioteca. I am studying at the library. 
  • Vado in chiesa. I am going to church. 
  • Andiamo in montagna. We are going to the mountains.

If you are talking about going to a specific church or library or mountain, you would use a: Vado alla biblioteca di San Giovanni (I am going to the San Giovanni library).

Di or Da

When discussing provenance, you use di with the verb essere but da with other verbs such as venire or provenire. 

  • Di dove sei? Sono di Cetona. Where are you from (literally, whence you come)? From Cetona. 
  • Da dove vieni? Vengo da Siena. Where do you come/hail from? I come from Siena. 

Remember that different verbs call for different prepositions, and often you will find those specified in an Italian language dictionary: parlare di/con (to speak about/with), dare a (to give to), telefonare a (to call to). 

In terms of verbs of movement, venire wants to be followed by da. Some verbs can have either: andare, for example, when used as "leaving from" somewhere: Me ne vado di qui or me ne vado da qui (I am leaving here). 

As you know, the preposition di expresses possession as well as place of origin:

  • Di chi è questa rivista? È di Lucia. Whose magazine is this? It’s Lucia’s.
  • Questa macchina è di Michele. This car is Michele's.

A good way to remember the preposition of origin da and of possession di is to think of names of famous Italian artists: among the many, Leonardo da Vinci (from Vinci), Gentile da Fabriano (from Fabriano), Benedetto di Bindo (Bindo's Benedetto), and Gregorio di Cecco (Cecco's Gregorio).

Di and da also can mean of as in a cause of something: 

  • Muoio di noia. I am dying of boredom.
  • Mi hai fatto ammalare di stress. You made me sick from stress.
  • Ho la febbre da fieno. I have hay fever (fever from hay).

Da as 'To Someone's Place'

Among the prepositions, da is one of the most maddening. Granted, it connects to many meanings: provenance (from a place or from something); a complement of time (from now on), and even a causal complement, such as to cause something: un rumore da ammattire (a noise such as to drive you crazy); una polvere da accecare (a dust such as to blind you).

Also, it can define the purpose of some nouns: 

  • Macchina da cucire: sewing machine
  • Occhiali da vista: eyeglasses
  • Piatto da minestra: soup bowl
  • Biglietto da visita: calling card

But one of the most interesting (and counterintuitive) is its meaning as someone's place, a bit like the French chez. In that capacity, it means at:

  • Vado a mangiare da Marco. I am going to eat at Marco's.
  • Vieni da me? Are you coming to me/to my place?
  • Porto la torta dalla Maria. I am taking the cake to Maria's. 
  • Vado dal barbiere. I am going to the barber's (literally, to the barber's place).
  • Vado dal fruttivendolo. I am going to the fruit and vegetable store (to the place of the man who sells fruits and vegetables).

Articulated Prepositions

The last three sentences above bring us to articulated prepositions, which amount to prepositions added to the articles preceding nouns. You are ready: Delve in!

Alla prossima volta! To the next time!