Italian is a complex language and there's always something new to learn. By now, you should already be aware of the 'preposizioni semplici' (as discussed here) and ask yourself what to do next. Italians love grammar (ok, maybe 'love' is a bit too much), and they divided a chunk of vocabulary (prepositions) into different categories. In this article, we will discuss how this system works
What is a preposition?
A preposition is a short word that correlates a noun, or a pronoun, to another element of a sentence in order to express a specific function (more about this, in the series on preposition, here). While in English we refer to them simply as 'prepositions' and we locate them into a big unique group, since they are mostly defined by their function (and their ambiguity with adverbs in various situations such as phrasal verbs), in Italian three categories were created:
Preposizioni semplici (simple) - a closed group of 9 basic prepositions (di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra);
preposizioni articolate (articulated) - formed by the union of the preposizioni semplici plus definite articles (e.g. di + il = del; in + la = nella; etc);
Preposizioni improprie (improper) - all those words that don't belong to the previous categories but would still cover the role of a preposition.
How does it work? The preposizioni improprie might be considered as extra or complementary prepositions. Let's describe the image on the left.
We've got a cat (un gatto) and it's going to be the subject of our sentence. It is inside a box (scatola). We've got almost everything, a subject : IL GATTO; an action, therefore a verb, E' (is); and the complement : (inside what?) LA SCATOLA. Looking at this, we notice that there's still something missing : a link word between the two parts of the sentence - il gatto è - [subject+verb] and the complement - la scatola -.
In English, we would use 'inside', a preposition that helps us to express the location of the noun. In Italian, the direct translation for this preposition would be 'dentro'.
Il gatto è dentro la scatola
as you can see the function expressed by 'dentro' makes it fit into the prepositions but since it's not a preposizione semplice or articolata it would be considered as a preposizione impropria or locuzione prepositiva (just another fancy name).
How many? Well, that's the jackpot question, while we've got specific numbers for the other two categories (9 preposizioni semplici, and 35 articolate), the preposizioni improprie are too many to be listed but they are so commonly used that you will learn easily using them in the right context. I wouldn't advise trying to learn lists of locuzioni prepositive, you didn't do that in your first language and it's unlikely that it would work to learn Italian!
Some of the most common, that you've probably already encountered are : dopo, durante, prima, di sopra/sopra, sotto, davanti, dietro, dentro, fuori, vicino, accanto, lontano, verso, oltre, fino, insieme, senza, tranne, invece, nonostante, etc.
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