Languages are filled with tiny words. In Italian, some of these words are called prepositions and are constantly used to connect various parts of sentences. Prepositions connect nouns, adjectives, or phrases to express directions, possession, limitations, and much more. In this article, we will focus on the preposition 'da'.
This article is part of a series on Italian prepositions, if you are interested in the topic click on the category 'prepositions' to see the other article on the same topic!
We already discussed the use of the preposizione 'di' in this article . This article will focus on the preposition 'da', often used in questions such as : 'Da dove vieni?' ('where are you from?'), 'Da quanto tempo...' ('for how long...'), 'Da quando...?' ('since when..?'). This small particle doesn't correspond to a singular element of the English language. So how does it work?
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. We use them constantly to express concepts such as possession [e.g. A friend of yours], the idea of origin [e.g. I am from Rome], and much more. In Italian the prepositions have the same function but, as in the English language, their use is often correlated to idiomatic expressions and functions. The prepositions in Italian are :
di / a / da / in / con / su / per / tra / fra .
What is the general role of the preposition 'da'?
The 'preposizione da' expresses various functions, but we can summarise its role as a preposition that allows us to indicates the origin or a starting point in time or space.
This preposition helps us to indicate when an event or a journey started but it gives us also information about purposes and separation.
'Da' is used to express the idea of origin :
Da dove vieni?
Io vengo da Londra
This question can be translated with 'where are you from?' and the answer would be 'I come from Italy'. This specific question indicates the point of origin where the speaker is from - Da Londra.
Di vs da
Many students find this specific use confusing because it seems really similar to the question 'Di dove sei?'. The difference is really subtle but with 'di' we are giving information about the place we live, we were born, or the place we 'belong to'. With 'da' we describe a starting point / origin of a journey, the place we were before we got there. Imagine you are a Londoner travelling across Asia who just landed at the airport in Rome. If someone asks you 'Di dove sei' you would answer 'Sono inglese, di Londra' - You are giving information about the place you are from and where you belong to. If they, instead, would ask you 'da dove vieni?' you could answer 'da Tokyo'. You are not Japanese, but you where there before arriving in Rome. It may make more sense if we use them together in a whole sentence :
Io sono inglese, di Londra. Arrivo da Tokyo.
[I'm English, from London. I arrive from Tokyo]
We can use this preposition also to express a starting point in time.
Da quanto tempo studi italiano?
Da quando avevo 6 anni!
(How long have you been studying Italian? - Since I was six) In sentences like this, the preposition 'da' gives us the time when the action started. It can be found with this meaning also in expressions such as : da bambino, da giovane, etc. (when I was kid, when I was young, etc.).
Other uses of this preposition regard purposes and separation. When we talk about the purpose of an item we can use 'da'. For instance if I wear ski boots I would use the expression 'stivali da neve', or jogging shoes 'scarpe da corsa'. The 'da' in these expressions indicates the purpose of the items. We can use the same system to describe a Wine glass - 'bicchiere da vino' or a racing car, 'macchina da corsa'.
The separation function is used when we are separating two items or more. In expressions such as 'I'm different from the rest of them' we would use 'da' - 'Sono diverso da loro'. The idea is to create distance from one element to the others.
These are the most common uses of the preposition 'da' that a beginner/elementary learner might encounter. There are many more but the best way is to start bit by bit. Remember that your brain is a wonderful machine and it will register this preposition (along with the others) and you will master their use without even realising it!
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