Ways to Use the Multi-Purpose Italian Preposition 'Di'

'Of,' 'From' and 'About': An Essential Preposition

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The simple Italian preposition di is one among several whose uses are more and more complicated than it seems. In fact, this unassuming preposition functions as a complement of means, purpose, location, time, and comparison—just to mention a few.

It can mean, among others:

  • Of
  • From
  • For
  • About
  • By
  • Than

Common Ways to Use the Italian Di

Here are the most important ways in which di is used, along with some examples to help you clarify how you can use it in conversation, too.

Possession

  • È il libro di Maria. It’s Maria's book.
  • La nonna della mia ragazza è qua. My girlfriend’s grandmother is here.
  • Vado al negozio di Giovanni. I’m going to Giovanni’s shop.
  • Questa è la casa dello zio. This is our uncle's house.

Note the articulated preposition with possession.

Di is also be used to talk about authorship—what in English translates to "by" (unless you use the English possessive apostrophe):

  • Ho letto i libri di Rossana Campo. I’ve read Rossana Campo’s books.
  • Oggi inizieremo La Divina Commedia di Dante. Today we’re going to begin Dante’s "Divina Commedia."
  • Quello è un quadro di Caravaggio. That is a painting by Caravaggio.
  • Mi piacciono i film di Fellini. I like Fellini's movies.

Common 'Of'

Di is peppered throughout the language with the meaning of "of" or "about" with all sorts of descriptions and specification. It is perhaps helpful to remember that the construction "of something" in English is avoided because often nouns serve as adjectives: the history exam, the hair color, the geography book, the train schedule. In Italian, on the other hand, you have to say, "the exam of history," "the color of hair," "the book of geography," "the schedule of trains":

  • Di cosa parli? What are you talking about? (of what do you speak?)
  • Di che colore sono i tuoi capelli? Of what color is your hair?
  • Che numero porti di scarpe? What size of shoes do you wear?
  • Di che età è il signore che descrive? Of what age is the man you describe?
  • Un uomo di buon carattere: a man of good character
  • Imposta d registro: registration tax (tax of registration)
  • Permesso di soggiorno: permit of residence
  • Orario dei treni: the train schedule

Made Of

Di is used to specify materials, much like the English "of":

  • Quel tavolo è fatto di legno pregiato. That table is made of a prized wood.
  • Ho vinto la medaglia di bronzo. I won the bronze medal.
  • I soldati avevano spade di ferro. The soldiers had steel swords.

(Sometimes the preposition in is used for the same purpose: le case in pietra, or houses in stone; le statue in marmo, or the marble statues.)

Origin and Location

Di is used to say where someone is from:

  • Di dove sei? Where are you from?
  • Elisa è di Napoli. Elisa is from Napoli.
  • Maurizio è di Prato. Maurizio is from Prato.
  • Sono di origine umile. I am of humble origin.

And:

  • Non si passa di qui. You can't go through here/this way.
  • Vai via di qui. Go away from here.
  • Esco di casa ora. I am leaving home/from home now.

Time

It is common as a complement of time as:

  • D'estate: in summer
  • D'inverno: in winter
  • Di sera: in the evening
  • Di mattino: in the morning
  • Di lunedì: on Mondays

Di as Means or Cause

Di is used often to describe how or with what something is done or happens:

  • Muoio di noia. I am dying of boredom.
  • Vive di frutti e radici. She lives of fruits and roots.
  • Sono sporca di farina. I am dirty of/with flour.
  • L'erba è bagnata di rugiada. The grass is wet of/with dew.

Partitive

You need the preposition di to make the partitive, which you need for shopping (again, used very often in articulated form):

  • Vorrei del formaggio. I would like some cheese.
  • Voglio delle fragole. I want some strawberries.
  • Vuoi del pane? Do you want some bread?

About

Di translates to the English "about," so it is rather ubiquitous with that meaning:

  • Mi piace discutere di cinema. I like to talk about movies.
  • Scrivo articoli di storia. I write history articles (about history).
  • Parliamo di altro. Let's talk about something else.
  • Non so molto di lui. I don't know much about him.

(Sometimes su is used in similar fashion: Scrivo libri sulla politica: I write books about/on politics.)

Comparisons

Di is necessary in making comparisons, for the equivalent of the English "than":

  • La mia macchina è più bella della tua. My car is more beautiful than yours.
  • Susan parla l’italiano meglio di suo marito. Susan speaks Italian better than her husband.
  • La mia amica Lucia è più alta della mia amica Marta. My friend Lucia is taller than my friend Marta.

In Various Locutions

Some of the most common using di:

  • Ai danni di: to the damage of
  • A riguardo di: concerning
  • A vantaggio di: to the benefit of
  • A valle di: following, subsequent
  • Al di fuori di: except
  • Di bene in meglio: from good to better
  • Di modo che: in such a way as to
  • Di contro: on the side
  • Di fronte: in front
  • Di sbieco: crosswise, obliquely
  • Di lato: on the side
  • Di questo passo: at this rate

With Verbs

Certain verbs demand to be followed or used with certain prepositions (not including verbs that use di to link to other verbs: finire di scrivere, for example). Di follows many, meaning "of" or "about":

  • Avere bisogno di: to be in need of
  • Accorgersi di: to notice/take notice of
  • Innamorarsi di: to fall in love with/of
  • Vergognarsi di: to be ashamed by
  • Lamentarsi di: to complain about
  • Dimenticarsi di: to forget about

Examples:

  • Non mi sono dimenticata di te. I didn't forget about you.
  • Mi sono subito innamorata di Francesco. I immediately fell in love with/of Francesco.

Buono studio!