How to Use “Da” in Italian

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Let’s continue our series about Italian prepositions with the essential Italian preposition “da.” The Italian preposition da can be translated into the English prepositions from” and “by.It serves as an essential link between Italian nouns, is used in Italian phrases that describe time in a complex way, and is also integral to many common expressions. If we learn how to use the Italian preposition da, we will truly sound like a native Italian!

 

Use “Da” to Say
Where You are From

One of the most frequent questions asked during polite conversation is, “Where are you from?” We learned how to use the preposition di to ask and answer this question in an earlier blog in this series, “How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian.”   You will remember that phrases with the preposition di are used to inquire about one’s place of birth, with the understanding that this place is often the same town the person is still living in. The examples from our previous blog:

Di dov’è Lei? Where are you (polite) from?
Di dove sei? Where are you (familiar) from?
Sono di Chicago. (I) am from Chicago.

 

The second way to ask, “Where are you from?” in Italian uses the preposition da and the formula below:

Da + dove + venire from + where + to come

 

The phrase created with the preposition da uses the action verb venire and may come up in conversation when someone is visiting or has moved to a new place. The reply will most often use the io form of venire, which is vengo (I come) and da (from), followed by a city, town, region/state, or country. Once again, the question may be asked politely or in a familiar way.

Da dove viene? Where are you (polite) from?
Da dove vieni? Where are you (familiar) from?
Vengo da Chicago. (I) am from Chicago.

 

Remember that when speaking of a region, state, or country, the Italian definite article (il, lo, la, l’, gli, le) must be used. The preposition da is then combined with the definite article to make dal, dallo, dalla, dall’, dagli or dalle, which all mean “from the.” (Note: not all definite articles and combinations have been listed here and the rules for combining the Italian definite articles are beyond the scope of this blog.) For now, just look up and remember the correct way to describe the region, state, or country in which you are living.

If you are from the United States of America, the most common reply when conversing in Italian is even easier — “Sono americano”! Of course, following the usual gender rules, females will have to say, “Sono americana.” Another possible reply, Vengo dall’America,” is grammatically correct but probably sounds a bit awkward to the Italian ear. Vengo dagli Stati Uniti,” would be considered a better choice if one wants to precisely state their origin in North America rather than South America. 

Those of Italian descent may want to mention their family’s origin in Italy and therefore that they are “italo-americano(a).”  This comment can be prefaced with the sentence, “La mia famiglia viene dall’Italia,” in this case conjugating venire according to the third person singular used for the collective noun famiglia.

Some examples:

Sono americano.
Sono americana.
(I) am American. (male speaker)
(I) am American. (female speaker)
Sono italo-americano.
Sono italo-americana.
La mia famiglia viene dall’Italia.
(I) am Italian-American. (male speaker)
(I) am Italian-American. (female speaker)
My family comes from (originates in) Italy. 
Vengo dagli Stati Uniti. (I) come from the United States.
Vengo dall’Illinois. (I) come from Illinois.
Vengo dalla California. (I) come from California.
Vengo dal New Jersey. (I) come from New Jersey.
Vengo dalle (isole dell’) Hawaii.  (I) come from (the islands of) Hawaii.

By the way, have you noticed that nationalities are not capitalized in Italian, although the names of countries are?

 


 

Use “Da” or “A” to Describe
Visiting an Office or Home

We have just seen that the verb venire requires the preposition da to describe where an individual “comes from,” or lives, in the first section of this blog. This idea can be expanded to include people one visits during daily life. Da is also used to describe going to visit a person if that person is associated with a particular place. For instance, the dentist, doctor, and lawyer are professionals who hold consultations in an office. Therefore, the verb andare is followed by [da + definite article + professional].

Odio andare dal dentista!
I hate going to the dentist!

Domani devo andare dal dottore.
Tomorrow I have to go to the doctor.

Vado dall’avvocato spesso per discutere sui problemi del mio divorzio.
I go to the lawyer often to discuss the problems of my divorce.

 

Two examples regarding one’s home:

To work from home is “lavorare da casa.”
To “drop in for a minute/few minutes” is “passare un attimo da casa.”

A causa di COVID, io devo lavorare da casa questa settimana.
Due to COVID, I have to work from home this morning.

Domani, passo un attmo da casa.
Tomorrow, I (will) drop in for a few minutes.

 

However, when someone is to be visited in their home, use a casa. This construction also works for family, friends or acquaintances you plan to visit at their home. Remember that “to go to visit a person” is “andare a trovare una persona” and “to come to visit a person” is “venire a trovare una persona.” Visitare is only used when one visits a place.  See below for how this works:

Oggi, vado a trovare mia mamma a casa sua.
Today, I will go to visit my mother at her house.

Pietro, posso andare a trovarti a casa tua?
Peter, can I visit you at your house?

Certo! Puoi venire a trovarmi a casa mia Domenica!
Certainly! You can come to visit me at my house Sunday.

 


 

Expressing Purpose with “Da”

In Italian, unlike in English, two nouns cannot be linked together in a phrase without a preposition to clarify their relationship.  Take the English word “sunglasses,” for instance. The noun “sun” in this case acts as an adjective that modifies the noun “glasses.” In English, we think nothing of stringing nouns together to create new words that give a descriptive name to a particular entity. But in Italian, this is never the case. When one noun is used as an adjective to describe the purpose of another, the two nouns must be linked by the preposition da.  It makes sense, then, that the Italian translation of the English sunglasses is occhiali da sole! 

Listed below are a few Italian noun combinations that are used to give a descriptive name to things like common household items, rooms in a home, clothing, and clocks. This construction is also used frequently in Italian to describe different types of tickets or cards, beach items, and items that have to do with sports. Most of the items listed below, but not all, use da to connect two nouns, as will be discussed below. The original noun has been listed along with its modifications for some of the items.  Some of these descriptive names are written as one word in English, while others are written as two separate words. How many more examples can you think of? 

spazzolino da denti toothbrush
crema da barbara shaving cream
piatto plate
piattino da dessert dessert plate
bicchiere glass for drinking
bicchiere da vino wine glass
bicciere per l’acqua water glass
cucchiaio spoon
cucchiaio da minestra soup spoon
cucchiaio da caffè coffee spoon
fork forchetta
forchetta da tavola dinner fork
forchettone per insalata salad fork
forchetta da dolce dessert fork
coltello knife
coltello da tavola dinner knife
coltello da scalco carving knife

 

 

camera da letto bedroom
sala da pranzo dining room

 

 

vestito dress
vestito da sera evening dress
vestito da sposa wedding dress
camicia shirt
camicia da notte nightgown
camicia da uomo man’s shirt
orologio watch
orologio da polso wrist watch
orologio a pendolo grandfather clock

 

 

scarpe shoes
scarpe da ginnastica sneakers
scarpa da neve snow shoes
scarponi da trekking hiking boots
scarponi da sci ski boots
tuta da sci ski suit

 

biglietto ticket/note/paper money
biglietto da visita business card
biglietto di auguri
di compleanno
birthday card
carta d’imbarco boarding pass (plane)
carta d’identità identification card
carta di credtio/debito credit/debit card
carte da gioco playing cards

 

 

occhiali da sole sunglasses
costume da bagno bathing suit
telo da spiaggia beach towel
ombrellone da spiaggia beach umbrella
barca a vela sail boat
giacca da sci ski jacket
pantaloni da sci ski pants
bastoncini da sci ski poles
campo field
campo da calcio/
tennis/golf/basket
soccer field/
tennis/golf
basketball field
pallone da calcio soccer ball
pallone da rugby soccer/rugby ball
racchetta da tennis tennis racket
mazza da golf golf club
mazza da baseball baseball bat

 

Did you notice the use of prepositions other than da to link nouns in the list above? The Italian name for a dessert fork is forchettone per insalata and for a water glass is a bicchiere per l’acqua. In these two cases, the Italian preposition per, which means for, is used to create a name that describes the purpose of these items.

In the previous blog, “How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian,” we discussed briefly how to use di with camicia di seta and castello di sabbia. It was noted that some of Italian noun combinations must be linked with di if the descriptive term represents what the main item is made of. We have several additional  examples for when di is used to link a descriptive noun with another noun in the lists above.

The Italian name for grandfather clock, orologio a pendolo, is a name that describes the means by which the clock functions. The pendulum swings in order to keep time. Therefore, the preposition a is used to link pendolo to orologio, since Italian uses the preposition a to describe what makes something run.  And a sailboat is a “boat that runs on the wind” — barca a vela. Remember from our blog in this series “Italian Preposition ‘A’ or ‘In’? that the preposition a is used to describe how other, more common items function, such as by battery, by solar energy, etc.

 

To summarize…

Italian is a very precise language,
and the Italian use of prepositions
is a paramount example of this precision!


 

Use the Italian “Da” 
in Reference to Time 

When Italians reference a point in time, several prepositions may be used, including da, which in this case means “from” or “since.”  

In a previous blog in this series on prepositions, “How to Use ‘Di’ in Italian,”  it was noted that the preposition di is used to refer to the general time of day with the phrases di mattina, di pomeriggio, di sera, and di notte.

The same blog  discussed that both di and in are used to refer to the seasons: d’estate, d’inverno, in primavera, in autunno.

The Italian prepositions a and in also have a role to play when describing units of time, which was discussed in another blog in this series, “Italian Preposition ‘A’ or ‘In’?  When referring to the month a particular event takes place, either a or in can be used. The Italian a or in replaces te English in. Also, the prepositionis used to refer to a precise time with the formula  [alle + time] which corresponds to the English [at +time].

 

In contrast to the prepositions di and a,
which are linked to a distinct period of time,

da is used to make generalizations about time
as it relates to one’s life experiences.

 

Da is a more difficult Italian preposition for the English speaker to learn how to use than di or a because its meaning of “from” or “since” makes reference to a period of time that started in the past and continues in the present. Although the idea behind these phrases is “from or “since,” the English translation most commonly uses the preposition “for” to start these phrases. But the real difficulty comes in the choice of verbs; the Italian choice is to link da with present tense verbs for a period of time that refers back to the past and this does not translate directly into English!

 

Let’s go through this Italian way of thinking step by step…

Phrases that use da in reference to a period of time can be non-specific, such as, “da anni” (for years), da molti anni” (for many years), or mention an exact period of time, such as “da uno, due, tre… settimane, mese, anni… etc.” These phrases translate into English as “for many years,” or “for one, two, three weeks months, years, etc.,” although in Italian they really mean, “Since/From many years ago and continuing into the present…”

[Da + period of time] can begin an Italian sentence , or be placed in the middle or end, along with the phrase that describes what has been happening during this time.  Since the action linked to these phrases is considered ongoing, Italian uses the present tense for all phrases in the sentence. English, instead uses the continuous past tense for the phrase that describes the beginning of the action that extends into the present and the present tense for the main action.

In the examples below, the phrase with da has been underlined, the present tense verbs are green, and the past tense verbs are brown. Notice how sperare is linked to another verb with di and riuscire with a, as discussed in previous blogs.

Studio l’italiano da tanti anni , ma non riesco  a capire i film italiani molto bene.
I have been studying Italian for many years, but I can’t understand Italian films very well.
[Note: Verb tenses in Italian and English differ.]

Da tre settimane non fumo e spero di riuscire a smettere completamente.
I haven’t been smoking for three weeks and I hope to be able to stop completely.
[Note: Verb tenses in Italian and English differ.]

 


 

Use the Italian “da quanto” 
in Reference to Time

The  adjective “quanto,” which means “how much” or “how many” is commonly used to refer to a period of time, and is always preceded by da, as in the formula:

 

Da + quanto + tempo for + how much + time

The formula [da + quanto + tempo] can be used to ask a question about “how much time” an activity has been taking. Or, the noun tempo (time) can be replaced with a unit of time, such as days, months, or years. As in the preceding section, use of da in this formula implies that the action has started in the past and is still going on in the present. Therefore, whenever a question is asked regarding “how much time” with “da quanto tempo,” Italian uses a present tense verb for all phrases in the sentence. English, instead, uses the continuous past tense. 

See examples below from a dialogue taken from the Conversational Italian for Travelers story, “Caterina Travels to Italy” and note the different ways Italian and English express this idea of time.

Elena asks:
Da quanto tempo
stai viaggiando in Italia?

For how much time (how long) have you been traveling in Italy?
[Note: Verb tenses in Italian and English differ.]

Caterina replies:
Sto viaggiando in Italia da un mese.
I have been traveling in Italy for a month.
[Note: Verb tenses in Italian and English differ.]

 

The same rules described above for “da quanto tempo” apply to the phrase “da quando,” which means, “since when.” To answer the question “Since when…?” for “Since… ” use [da + the specific date] and remember to combine da with the definite article il when stating the date.

Example: In order to say the date in Italian, one must say, “Il sedici agosto.” Therefore, the translation for, “since the 16th of August” is “dal sedici agosto.”  Again, from the dialogue from “Caterina Travels to Italy”:

Elena asks:
Da quando sei a Stresa?

Since when have you been staying in Stresa?
[Note: Verb tenses in Italian and English differ.]

Caterina replies:
Sono a Stresa dal sedici agosto
I have been staying in Stresa since August 16th.
[Note: Verb tenses in Italian and English differ.]

 


 

Use the Italian preposition “Per” 
for a Completed Action

In contrast to the use of the preposition da in reference to time, the use of the preposition per is straightforward. Per means for and is used with the passato prossimo form of the past tense to describe a past action that has been completed. The description of time may be general, such as “for many years,” or specific, the same as with da. The past tense verbs are again brown in the examples below.

Ho vissuto per molti anni a Roma.
I lived for many years in Rome.

Ieri ho lavorato in casa per tre ore.
Yesterday, I worked at home for three hours.

 


 

Use the Italian Prepositions “Per, Fra, Tra”
for Future Events

Per can replace the English preposition by when describing a task that must be completed in the future.

Marco, dobbiamo finire questo progetto per domani!
Mark, we must finish this project by tomorrow!

 

To describe other actions that will take place in the future, Italian uses either fra or tra. These two prepositions are interchangeable, although native Italian speakers may intuitively favor one preposition over the other to keep the language flowing smoothly. The English translation will be the preposition in. Remember that the present tense often substitutes for the near future in Italian, so the future tense is not a requirement when using fra or tra.

Il treno parte fra cinque minuti.
The train will leave/leaves in 5 minutes.

Andrò in Italia tra un mese.
I will go to Italy in one month.

 


 

General Uses for “Da”

1. Use the preposition da to express an attribute of a person, to say a person is acting in a certain way or like a character.

In some cases, the preposition da substitutes for a longer introductory phrase. For instance, the common phrase “da giovane” means, “as a child,” and it is understood to mean that general period of time “when I was young.” This also works for other Italian descriptors of the phrases of life, such as da bambino(a), da ragazzo(a), da piccolo(a) or da adulto(a), da grande (grown up).

To say someone is “acting like…” use da.  A common characteristic combined with da is stupido, as in “da stupido” for when one is “acting like a stupid person.” 

If a man is living well, he is living as “da gran signore,” or like royalty or like God or da re, like a king.

If one dresses like a particular character in fable, book, or movie or is pretending to be a professional, they can be referred to with da, such as da Pinocchio, da Cenerentola (Cinderella), da cowboy, or da dottore.

Another personal attribute connected with da is matti, for crazy, as in the exclamation, “Roba da matti!” which loosely translated means, “Stuff for crazy people!” and refers to a crazy or unbelievable situation. 

“Da morire” when used alone or in a sentence describing someone or something is an expression that describes a feeling of extreme liking, similar to the English expression, “It’s to die for!”  Or, this expression can be used to take a negative feeling to the extreme, as in, “Sono annioato(a) da morire!” for “I am bored to death!”

 

Some examples:

Da giovane, ho vissuto in campagna.
When I was young, I lived in the countryside.

Non comportarti da stupido!
Don’t act like an idiot!

Per lo spettacolo, Maria si veste da Cenerentola.
For the show, Mary is dressed as Cinderella.

Ti è piaciuto quel film? Si, da morire!
Did you like that film? Yes, It was to die for!

 

2. To describe the cause of an action or feeling. Some common examples might include why you are tired, hot, cold, or nervous. Da translates into from and [da + definite article] translates into “from the.”

 

Sono stanco morto dal lavoro.
I am dead tired from work.

Ho sudato dal caldo inferno durante tutto di agosto.
I sweated from the infernal heat during all August.

Sono nervosa dal pensiero che forse tu non tornerai mai.
I am nervous from the thought that maybe you will not ever return.

 

But be careful to use the preposition di to connect one verb to another to express feelings that are related to an action — not da!  The many phrases that take di as the connecting preposition were discussed in the first blog in this series.  The idea in the first example above can also be stated as follows:

Sono stanco morto di lavorare questa settimana.
I am dead tired from working this week.

 

3. To describe the distance from one place to another, use da, which translates as from.
To describe distance in general or numerical terms, or when giving the directions from a compass, use the preposition a.  The preposition a is used in English when describing distance in general terms, but not before a number or for directions from a compass (north, south, east, west, etc.)

L’ufficio postatale è a pochi isolati da casa mia.
The post office is a few blocks from my house.

La scuola si trova a cinque chilometri da Roma centrale.
The school is five kilometers from central Rome.

Canada è a nord degli Stati Uniti.
Canada is north of the United States.

 


 

Common Expressions with “Da”

  1. Other important phrases that refer to time:
da allora since then
da allora in poi from then on
from that time
thenceforth
da ora in poi from now on
da quel momento

da quel momento in poi

since that moment

from that moment on

 

da qui in poi from here on
henceforth
da domani starting tomorrow
da subito starting now
immediately
da sempre always
da un pezzo since a while ago
for a while now

 

2. Phrases that begin with “C’è… da” for “There is…”

C’è poco da dire. There’s not much to say about it.
C’è poco da fare. There’s not much one can do about it.
C’è poco da stare allegri.  There’s little to rejoice about.

 

3. Miscellaneous phrases with da:

da niente of little or no importance
da quattro soldi cheap
da zero from scratch
da favola like a fairy tale
da sogno like a dream/very nice/wonderful 
Vacanza da sogno dream vacation
da incubo nightmarish/very unpleasant
dare da mangiare to feed
dare da mangiare al cane to feed the dog
tempo da ladri bad weather
tempo da lupi bad weather
da solo/ da sola to be all alone, by yourself
va da sé it goes without saying
vita da cane a dog’s life

 

Remember how to use
the Italian preposition “da” in conversation
and I guarantee you will use the Italian “da” every day!

 

For “All the Italian you need to enjoy your trip to Italy,” click on the links below to purchase my Conversational Italian for Travelers books – Kathryn Occhipinti

 

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Verbs
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the  Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

 

Cell phone with the cover of Conversational Italian for Travelers "Just the Important Phrases" book downloaded
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from www.learntravelitalian.com

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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