How to use “di” in Italian

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To speak fluently in another language, it is important to know how to introduce an object or to describe direction, location or time. We do this naturally in our own language with prepositions — short words like of, to, at/in/from, and by. All languages use prepositions but the choice of preposition in a given situation will differ from one language to another. This is the case for English and Italian; English and Italian often use prepositions in a different way. Also, in some situations Italian sentence structure may require a preposition where English does not!

Let’s take a look at how the essential preposition “di” is used in Italian.

 Use “Di” to Say
Where You are From

One of the most frequent questions asked during polite conversation is, “Where are you from?” This is expressed in Italian with the verb to be (essere) and di, which is translated in English to the preposition from in this situation. The Italian sentence structure is, “From where are you?”

di + dove + essere from + where + to be

In proper English, of course, we would say, “Where are you from?” Although the Italian sentence sounds awkward in English, the rule in Italian is never to end a sentence with a preposition; in effect, the English sentence likely sounds awkward to Italians!  The answer in Italian will also use di and is followed by the town of one’s birth. Notice that the subject pronoun io (I) is usually left out of the answer, as it is understood from the ending of the verb. For instance:

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

Note: there is another way of asking where someone is from in Italian — the phrase, “Da dove viene?” This phrase uses the conjunction da with the verb venire, and is a more general reference to where one has been living in prior years. The answer is “Vengo da…” for “I am from…” This phrase will be discussed in more detail in a future blog about the preposition da.

 


 

Expressing Possession with “Di”

In Italian, the word di is used to expresses possession, and in this situation, di means of. To describe ownership of a car in Italian, for instance, one would use di to create the sentence: “Questa è la macchina di Pietro.”

We can translate the Italian way of thinking into English with the following sentence: “This is the car of Peter.”  To the American ear, though, this sounds formal and too wordy. We have the option of expressing this thought with [apostrophe + the letter s] (‘s) tacked onto the name of the person doing the possessing. The English version of our example above would be, “This is Peter’s car.”  In Italian, though, if we want to use someone’s name to describe possession, we have only the very first sentence structure: “Questa è la macchina di Pietro.”

 


 

General Uses for “Di”

1. In order to express authorship of a work, Italians use di, which in this case corresponds to the English word by.  Also use di with the verb conoscere to describe “knowing someone by” their appearance or their name. Notice we may render these ideas a bit differently in English.

8 ½ è un film di Frederico Fellini. 8 ½ is a film by Fredrico Fellini.
Conosco Marco di vista, ma non ci siamo mai incontrati. I know what Mark looks like, but we have not (ever) met.
Conosco Marco di nome, ma non ci siamo mai incontrati. I know Mark’s name, but we have not (ever) met.

 

2. In order to express what something is composed of, Italians use di. In English, we say “made of,” and in Italian the past particle fatto can be used as an adjective to make the corresponding phrase fatto(a,i,e) di.” However, in Italian the adjective fatto is optional and the entire meaning of the phrase is usually conveyed just with the preposition di. This is why it is so important to learn how to use Italian prepositions correctly. A short, simple preposition can change the meaning of an entire sentence!

Note: for all metals that are not gold (oro) and for the cloth velvet (vellutouse the preposition in instead of di. These exceptions are simply by convention.

Questa sedia fatta di legno è dura. This chair made of wood is tough.
Ho comprato un camicia di seta oggi. I bought a silk blouse today.
Mio marito mi ha regolato un’anello d’oro. My husband bought me a ring made of gold.

—–but-—-

Questa è una scultura in bronzo. This sculpture is made of bronze.
La vecchia poltrona è stata rivestita in velluto. The old chair was restored with velvet cloth.

 

3. In order to relate that a topic is being talked about, or discussed/argued about, Italians use di to link certain verbs with the subject matter under discussion. The most common verbs used in this way are: parlare (to talk), discutere di (to discuss) and trattarsi, (concerning or regarding).   

For the verb parlare, the Italian preposition di is translated as “about” in English. When a verb follows parlare di or discutere di to complete the sentence, Italian simply adds an infinitive verb after di. English uses [about + gerund of the verb]. You remember, of course, that the gerund is the commonly used “-ing” form of a verb in English. Below are two examples using parlare and discutere. 

Caterina parla di viaggiare, non di politica. Kathy talks about traveling, not about politics.
Marco discute di politica troppo! Mark discusses/talks about politics too much!

 

Tratarsi di is generally used in the third person as “Si tratta di…” to ask and answer the question “What is this regarding?” Parlare often starts a conversation of this type, when one person asks to speak to another about something, someone, or an action. Two example conversations are below; the first could take place between a boss and a worker, the second perhaps between two family members. To add a feeling of urgency or importance to the conversation, the examples start with “devo” for “I have to.”  Notice again how  the Italian preposition di is always placed at the beginning of a question, just like in the first section examples that ask where someone is from.

Devo parlarti. I have to talk to you.
Di cosa si tratta? What is this regarding?
Si tratta del tuo stipendio. It is regarding your salary.
Devo parlarti di una cosa importante; I must speak to you about something important;
…si tratta di Paolo. …it’s concerning Paul.
…si tratta della mia macchina vecchia. …it’s regarding my old car.
…si tratta di viaggiare in Italia insieme. …it’s regarding traveling in Italy together.

 

To complete our discussion, note a change in use of the preposition di required in Italian that is not evident in English: when talking about a person or something by name, the Italian preposition su is used in the following construction: [su + definite article + noun]. The English translation “about” is the same.

Sto leggendo un bel libro su DaVinci.
Ho guardato un bel film su DaVinci.
I am reading a good book about DaVinci.
I watched a good film about Da Vinci.
Ho imparato molto sul Rinascimento all’Università. I’ve learned a lot about the Renaissance at college.

 

4. The verb pensare has a special relationship with the preposition di.  When saying, “I think so,” to agree with someone, or “I don’t think so,” to disagree, one might say pensare is being used as a verb of discussion, as in #3 above. In this situation, the conjugated form of pensare is followed by “di si” or “di no.”

Also use [pensare di+ infinitive verb] when thinking about an action you may want to carry out.  But, use [pensare a +noun] when thinking about a person, place, or thing. 

For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that [pensare che + subjunctive mood verb] is used to link to phrases with different subjects in a single sentence. However, use of the subjunctive mood is beyond the scope of this blog!

Penso di si. I think so.
Penso di no. I don’t think so.
Penso di viaggiare in Italia l’anno prossimo. I am thinking about traveling to Italy next year.

—–but-—-

Penso a te, a Rosa, e alla vostra famiglia. I am thinking about you, Rose, and your family.
Penso a Roma ogni giorno. I think about Rome every day.
Penso a tutti i bei vestiti fatti a Roma. I am thinking about all the beautiful dresses made in Rome.

 

5. To mention an acquaintance’s age in conversation, use di before giving the age in years. This also works for the age of an inanimate object, such as a bottle of wine!

Lei è una signora di ottantadue anni. She is a lady of 82 years.
Ho una bottaglia di vino rosso di 10 anni. I have a ten-year-old bottle of red wine.

 

6.  To say something happened “in” or “at” a particular time of day, use di before the Italian words for morning (mattina), afternoon (pomeriggio), evening (sera), or night (notte)

Ci vendiamo di mattina. We’ll see each other in the morning.
Di pomeriggio, vado al lavoro. In the afternoon, I go to work.
Io e mio marito ceniamo alle sei di sera. My husband and I eat dinner at 6 in the evening.
“Buona notte!” dice mia figlia preciso alle undici  di notte.   “Good night,” my daughter says at precisely 11 o’clock at night.

 

7. To say something happened “in” the summertime or wintertime, use di before the Italian words for summer (estate) and winter (inverno). Use the Italian preposition in for spring (primavera) and autumn (autunno).  This is by convention.

D’estate, andiamo spesso alla spiaggia. In the summer, we go to the beach often.
Andiamo in montagne a fare sci d’inverno. We go to the mountains to ski in the winter.
In primavera, tutti i fiori fioriscono. In springtime, all the flowers are in bloom.
In autunno, le foglie cadono dagli alberi. In autumn, the leaves fall from the trees.

 


 

Common Expressions with “Di”
Avere and Essere 

There are several Italian phrases used to express one’s feelings that require the preposition di to link the conjugated form of the verb avere with the infinitive form of the verb of action that will complete the sentence. In English, replacing the Italian preposition di with the translation of is variable. In some cases, the English infinitive verb will be used alone or the English expression may use a gerund instead of an infinitive verb. You must really learn to think in Italian to use these expressions! Some examples of how to use these phrases are given in the last column. How many more can you think of?

avere bisogno di  to have need of Ho bisogno di… riposare.
I need to rest.
avere paura di to be afraid/have fear of Ho paura di… guidare.
I am afraid of driving/to drive.
avere voglia di to feel like Ho voglia di… mangiare una pizza.
I feel like eating a pizza.

 

There are several expressions of feeling that use the verb essere and take the preposition di prior to adding an infinitive verb to complete a sentence. Again, in English, we do not always use an additional preposition for these phrases, aside from the word to that is already a part of the infinitive verb.

essere certo di to be certain of Sono certo di… ricordare il tuo nome.
I am sure to remember your name.
essere sicuro di to be certain of Sono sicuro di… ricordare questo posto.
I am sure to remember this place.
essere contento di to be happy to Sono conteno di… stare qui.
I am happy to be here.
essere felice di to be happy to Sono felice di… incontrare mio cugino oggi.
I am happy to meet my cousin today.
essere fortunato di to be lucky to Sono fortunato di… mangiare questa cena.
I am so lucky to be eating this dinner.
essere libero di to be free to Sono libero di… viaggiare.
I am free to travel.
essere stanco di to be tired of Sono stanco di… volare.
I am tired of flying.

 


 

When to Use “Di”
to Link Italian Verbs

When we link two Italian verbs together in the present tense, the first verb, or helping verb, is conjugated and the second verb, or action verb, is left in the infinitive form. For instance, “Tomorrow, I have to go to work,” is a simple statement that can be translated as, “Domani, devo andare al lavoro.” “I have to” meaning, “I must,”  is the first person present tense of dovere, which is devo. Andare means “to go.”

Other helping verbs, such as potere and volere work the same way in the present tense. In fact, using the polite first person of potere, which is può, followed by an infinitive verb, is a simple way to ask for what you need while traveling in Italy. Once you remember “Mi può…” no further conjugation is necessary using this method Just tack on the infinitive verb for what you need and finish the sentence!

Some examples that use [può + infinitive verb] useful for traveling are given below:

Mi può portare a Piazza Navona? Could you take me to Piazza Navona?
Mi può parlare in englese? Could you speak to me in English?
Mi può chiamare un tassì? Could you call a taxi for me?

 

Although the traveler to Italy can get by with simple phrases, it is important to understand how to create a more complex sentence if one truly wants to be fluent in Italian. This is where the preposition di becomes important. There are some action verbs that need to be followed by the Italian conjugation di before an infinitive verb is added to complete the sentence.

Most of the verbs that must use di prior to an infinitive verb describe speaking, thinking, or an activity that needs to be completed. We have already discussed parlare and pensare. Other actions, such as  trying to (cercare di), finishing (finire di), and waiting (aspettare di) need the preposition di to join them to an additional verb of activity.

In the case of cercare, the meaning will change when di is used to link this verb to another. By itself, cercare means to look for, but cercare di means to try to. For the Italian speaker, it is natural to insert the preposition di after certain verbs; it just sounds correct when one has grown up with the Italian language.  For the Italian student, listening to Italian will also be important. Listen for the word di when these phrases come up in Italian movies and songs and soon it will become natural to say these phrases correctly!

Accettare to accept Accetto di… lavorare duro perché è necessario.
I accept working hard because it is necessary.
Aspettare to wait Aspetto di… ricevere un regalo dal mio fidanzato.
I am waiting to receive a present from my fiancée.
Cercare di to try to Cerco di… studiare bene.
I am trying to study well.
Credere to believe Credo di… avere ragione.
I believe I am correct.
Decidere to decide Decido di… andare a trovare la mia amica mentre in giro.
I decide to visit my friend while I am out and about.
Dimenticare to forget Non dimenticare di… prendere la medicina! (command)
Don’t forget to take the medicine!
Dire to say/tell Dico di… no. Non sono d’accordo.
I say no. I don’t agree.
Finire to finish Finisco di… lavorare per oggi alle sei di sera.
I finish working every day at 6 PM.
Occuparsi di to work at Mi occupo di… medicina.
I work as a doctor/nurse/in the medical field.
Ordinare to order La mamma ordina ai bambini di… studiare.
The mother orders the children to… study.
Pensare to think Penso di… si. 
I think so.
Pregare to pray/beg Prego di… andare in Italia l’anno prossimo.
I pray to go to Italy next year.
Ricordare
Ricordarsi
 to remember Ricordati di… prendere la medicina! (command)
Remember to take the medicine!
Scegliere to choose Sceglo di... prendere un caffé con un biscotto ogni mattina.
I choose to take coffee with an Italian cookie every day.
Scrivere to write Scrivo di… viaggiare.
I write about traveling.
Smettere to stop Smetti di… bere il vino! (command)
Stop drinking the wine!
Sperare to hope Spero di… trovare la strada giusta.
I hope to find the right road.

 

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

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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