Getting there with “a” and “in”

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 Use the Italian in”
for Italian Regions

Both Italian prepositions “a” and “in” can be used to describe where someone is going, as well as their destination when they arrive. The Italian “a” can be translated as both “to” or “in” in English.  The Italian “in” is translated the same as in English — “in”!   In simple terms, Italian prepositions are linked to the place that they describe. 

We’ve already learned the basics of how to use the Italian prepositions a and in  in our first blog on this topic, Italian Preposition “A” or “In”?  The general rule, stated again, from our previous blog is:

In Italian the type of place is linked to the preposition used; there is no distinction made in Italian between traveling “to” a place or being “in” the place itself.


Italians travel directly into (in) a country, region, or large island,
but to (a) a city, town, or small island.


Following this rule, when Italians speak about their plan to visit a region, such as Tuscany, they would say, “Vado in…”  For example, “Vado in Toscana,” or “Vado in Abruzzo.” The preposition in is used without a definite article (il, lo, l’, la…) prior to mentioning the region. Sicily and Sardinia are large islands, and also regions, so one would  use the same rule and say, “Vado in Sicilia,” and “Vado in Sardegna.”

There are 20 regions in Italy, and each region has a capital city. Interestingly, although most of the self-governing regions on the Italian peninsula were officially united  as the “Kingdom of Italy” in 1861, the Italy we know today that encompasses the entirety of the peninsula and the adjacent region to the north had not yet been established. Venice was not annexed from Austria until 1866. Rome, along with the Papal states, was the last city to join the union, only after the French occupation ended in 1870. Rome was quickly made the capital of Italy that same year.

The Italian Constitution was not written until the last century and dates back to 1948. The Italian regions have, of course, been a part of Italian culture for centuries but the regions as we know them today were only officially created until 1970. Changes to regional powers were made during the constitutional reform of Italy in 2001. Today, each region in Italy has a type of constitution for governing, called a “statute.” Fifteen of the 20 Italian regions have “ordinary statutes” and 5 have “special statutes” (with the islands Sicily and Sardinia included in the “special status” group). A region’s “special status” grants extended autonomy from Italian national rule. Each region has a capital city, and is further divided into provinces. Italian regions are each headed by a president and governed by a parliament, whose members are elected directly by the residents of the region.

The regions of Italy and their capital cities are listed below:

Italian Region Capital City
Abruzzo L’Aquila
Aosta Valley Aosta
Basilicata Potenza
Calabria Catanzaro
Campania Napoli
Emilia Romagna Bologna
Friui Venezia Giulia Trieste
Lazio Roma
Liguria Genova
Lombardia Milano
Marche Ancona
Molise Campobasso
Piemonte Torino
Puglia  Bari
Sardegna Cagliari
Sicilia Palermo
Trentino Alto Adige Trento
Toscana Firenze
Umbria Perugia
Veneto Venezia


Getting back to linguistics, the official rule that requires the Italian in to be used alone to preface an Italian region has only two exceptions. For instance, the preposition in is combined with the definite article le to make, “Vado nelle Marche.”

Could this linguistic exception have anything to do with the long history of Italian regional autonomy before the unification of Italy? According to, the name of the region of  Marche, “comes from the establishment by the Franks of  ‘Marche,’ that is Marquisdoms, such as Camerino, Fermo and Ancona.” In effect, then, the name of Marche itself was originally plural in Italian, creating a situation where the singular “in” would not be appropriate; instead, in proper Italian, there is the need to combine “in” with the definite article, as if to say, “in the kingdoms of.”

The region of Lazio provides a second exception. To speak about going to the region of Lazio, perhaps to describe a visit to its famous capital, Rome, one must combine the Italian in with the definite article il to create the sentence, “Vado nel Lazio.” 

This use of the definite article to describe an important place has precedent; famous or important people are often spoken of including a definite article before their name. Could Lazio’s history as the home of the hills that comprise Rome and gave birth to the all-important Roman empire have to do with how Italians reference the region today? Or perhaps Lazio’s linguistic exception originated from the fact that Emperor Augustus reorganized the Roman Empire into regions and determined that Lazio and Campania together would be called the “Prima Regio.” Of course, this is speculation! But a story, whether verified or not, often helps us to remember the exception to a rule.

Interestingly, when speaking in generalities of the well-known divide of northern and southern Italy, one must use “nel.” 

Vado nel Sud Italia.          I go to Southern Italy. (in the south of Italy)
Vado nel Nord Italia.       I go to Northern Italy. (in the North of Italy)


How to Use
the Italian in” and “nel”
for the United States of America

As you can imagined, when one must apply the Italian way of thinking to the “regions” of the United States of America, called “states,” variations abound to the general rule of using the Italian in to describe large territories. Of course, it would be a difficult (and boring) task to memorize all the prepositions for all 50 of the United States. But it is an interesting exercise to try to list each state and and attempt to discover the logic behind the linguistic differences. Of course, the important take-away is to learn the correct way to refer to where you live or are planning to travel to … if you want to speak about these topics with your Italian friends!

We’ve already hinted at the variations to be encountered when talking in Italian about the states that comprise the United States of America.

From our last blog on this topic, 

Let’s see how an Italian would answer the polite question, “Dove va per il suo viaggio?” “Where are you going on your trip?” The answer in Italian for someone taking a trip to America, depending on how specific they would like to be, is as follows: “Vado in America, in Illinois, e a Chicago.” “I am going to America, to Illinois, and to Chicago.” Notice that the English prepositions are the same, although the Italian prepositions change, depending on the size of the place that the preposition is linked to.

Also, what we call “states” in America are treated the same as “regions” in Italy when assigning a preposition in Italian. It would seem simple enough to use the Italian preposition in to describe an American state, given that most states in America are fairly large. Notice that “in Illinois” is given in the example above. 

But… of course there are variations, and not all states in the United States take the Italian preposition in when speaking about them in Italian. There are enough differences in how an Italian would refer to a state in the United States, in fact, that this will be the subject of a future blog!


To follow is a full discussion about how to refer to all of the states in the United States of America and its territories in Italian

First, the general rule for states in the United States is slightly different than for regions in Italy, and is as given below:

For all the states in the United States, one may use “in” alone
or “in” combined with the Italian definite article.


The question then becomes: how do we choose between the Italian “in” alone or  [“in + definite article”]?  Technically, there is really no reason to choose if both are correct. And yet, if one searches Italian translation sites online, it becomes apparent that some states in the United States typically take “in” and others [“in” + definite article”]. Let’s go through the different United States to see their most common titles.


The Basics for the United States of America:

  1. Use in for most states in the US.

Vado in Illinois
Vado in California.
Vado in Florida.
Vado in Connecticut.
Vado in Pennsylvania.
Vado in Virginia.
Vado in Carolina del Nord.
Vado in Carolina del Sud.
Vado in Georgia.

  1. In some cases, Italians may use the preposition “a” when speaking about Rhode Island, perhaps because it is the smallest state in the union. Or, maybe the reason for the confusion is because the name of the state includes the word “Island” and an Italian may not be familiar with the details of a map of the United States. If one queries an online translation service, the state of Rhode Island may appear to be a true exception to the rule of using “in,” since the preposition “a” appears before its name. In the case of online software, the confusion may arise because there are four cities in the United States named Rhode Island or, again, that the name includes the word “island.” This brings up the difficulty with translation software; often mistakes are made because the software does not understand the context of a phrase! For purposes of this blog, we will include Rhode Island in the section to follow that describes the use of “nel” for the original 13 colonies.
  2. In some cases,  combine in with the definite article for the state.

Some states have the same name as a city in that state. In this case, for clarity, it is best to use “in the state of” by combining [in + definite article lo]. Lo is needed, of course, when one applies the rule of [s + consonant] for Italian masculine nouns to the English word state. For District of Columbia, you are going in the District of Columbia,” so [in+ definite article il] is used. (If you need a refresher on the rules governing definite articles and their combination with prepositions, see the reference book Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar.“) Notice that the English translation uses “going to,” as one would say in a typical conversation, while the Italian uses the simple present tense. Remember that there is no “going to” to Italian; this same idea is expressed in Italian with the simple present tense!

In the two examples below, the translation in English reflects the typical American way of referring to New York state, New York City, Washington state, and Washington D.C. Although, of course, there are no hard-and-fast rules. If the speaker wants to emphasize that he or she is going to New York for a retreat in the country, the word “state” may be added as part of the place name. If, on the other hand, the speaker frequently visits or has a strong connection to New York City, he or she would probably only mention “New York” when in conversation with a friend.

The same applies to Washington and Washington D.C. Americans almost never use the official name, “District of Columbia” in conversation. Although, if mentioning the District of Columbia in Italian, one must include the Italian definite article. The Italian preposition in is combined with the definite article il to make nel. We will discuss this concept in more detail for the original colonies in the US in the next section.

Vado nello stato di New York.
I am going to New York (state).

Vado a New York.  (New York City understood from preposition a)
I am going to New York City.

Vado nello stato di Washington.
I am going to Washington (state).

Vado a Washington. (Capitol of the US; District of Columbia)
I am going to Washington D. C.

Vado nel Distretto di Columbia.
I am going to Washington D.C.


As a corollary, to say you are from a state, or the city of the same name in that state, use vengo (to come) with [da + definite article]. For the city, simply use da (from).  

Vengo dallo stato di New York.
I am from (come from) New York (state).

Vengo da New York.
I am from New York City. 

Vengo dallo stato di Washington.
I am from (come from) Washington (state).

Vengo dal Washington. (Capitol of the US; District of Columbia)
I come from Washington D.C.

Vengo dal Distretto di Columbia.
I come from Washington D.C.


When to use nel for states in the United States and the possible origins of this variation:

All of the current 50 states in the United States have a history of being a territory, initially of another country or later of the United States. For instance, some of the original 13 colonies (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) commonly take the definite article along with the Italian in, possibly due to their political standing at the time their Italian name was assigned. Two northeastern states, Vermont and Maine, also take the definite article (Vermont was originally a colony and Maine was considered a district of Massachusetts). Finally, the definite article is still in use for the prior US territories of Wyoming and Utah.

The US states below were probably given original Italian names that included the idea of “in the commonwealth” of or “in the district of” with [in + definite article]. Although the states listed below are now full states, the [in + definite article] is still used in Italian. See below for the full list of states that still carry this designation.

Vado nel Delaware. (Originally ruled by the Dutch and Swedes and called “New Netherland,” then “New Sweden,” as the territory changed hands. Finally ruled as a British colony, with different portions governed by the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania and declared itself a separate state in 1776 as one of the original 13 colonies to revolt against British rule.

Vado nel Maine.  (A district of the US state of Massachusetts from 10/23/1780 -3/13/1820)

Vado nel Maryland. (Originally a charter colony, with charter granted by King Charles I of England in 1632, as a haven for Catholics.)

Vado nel Massachusetts. (English settlers embarked from Holland in a boat called  the Mayflower and landed on Cape Cod on November 21, 1620. The explorer John Smith had formerly named the area Plymouth. The settlement became known as “Plymouth Colony” or “The Old Colony.” The original Pilgrims were not granted a royal charter but instead governed according to “The Mayflower Compact,” which was signed by 41 men on the ship prior to arrival in the new world. In 1630, a separate colony of Puritans from England was established in the Boston area, governed by a charter  from King Charles I and called “The Massachusetts Bay Colony.”  The  company charter was revoked in 1684, and replaced in 1691 by a British royal colony under the name “Massachusetts.” At that time, Massachusetts included the original two former colonies of Plymouth, along with Maine and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Vado nel New Hampshire. (Province of New Hampshire est. 1629, named after the English County of Hampshire)

Vado nel New Jersey. (British colony named in 1664 after the island of Jersey on the English Channel)

Vado nel Rhode Island. (Self-governing colony called Providence Plantations founded by the Puritan Roger Williams (from the Massachusetts Bay Colony) in 1636 on land deeded to him from  the Narragansett Indian chief Canonicus. Additional settlements in the area and the original settlement were granted a Royal Charter from Great Britain in 1663 and again in 1688. Rhode Island declared independence as one of the original 13 colonies in 1776.)

Vado nello Utah. (US Territory and then a state)

Vado nel Vermont. (Known as “The Vermont Republic,”  Vermont was an independently functioning state when it declared its independence from  the British colonies of Quebec, New Hampshire and New York, from 1/15/1777 to 3/4/1791, after which it was accepted into the newly established US as the 14h state.) 

Vado nel Wyoming. (US Territory and then a state)



How to Use
the Italian “a”
for the Islands of United States of America

Use a for the small, individual islands that are a part of the United states, and alle or all’ when referring to a group of islands. Alle is short for “alle isole di…” Drop the “e” at the end of “alle” if a vowel follows.

Vado a Long Island, New York.
Vado a Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Vado a Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Vado a Puerto Rico. 
(Unincorporated Territory of the US)
Vado a Guam. (Unincorporated Territory of the US)
Vado a Wake Island, Howland Island, Baker Island (Unorganized/unincorporated Territories of the US)

Vado alle (isole di) Hawaii. (all the islands that make up the archipelago of Hawaii)
Vado all’isola di Hawaii.
(the largest island of Hawaii; the “Big Island” of Hawaii)
Vado a Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai.

Vado alle (isole di) Florida Keys.
Vado a Key West.

Vado alle Isole Vergini. (Unincorporated Territory of the US)
Vado all’Atol di Midway. (Unincorporated Territory of the US)


Finally, when speaking in generalities of the well-known divide of north, south, and Midwest in the United States, one must use “nel.”

Vado nel sud-est (degli Stati Uniti). I am going to the Southeast of the United States.
Vado nel nord-est. I am going to the Northeast.
Vado nel midwest. I am going to the Midwest.
Vado nel sud-ovest. I am going to the Southwest.
Vado nel nord-ovest. I am going to the Northwest.


Remember how to use
the Italian preposition “in”
to talk about Italian regions and the United States
and I guarantee you will use this prepositions every day!

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

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

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