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Italian Improper Prepositions

Preposizioni Improprie

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The Italian prepositions di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra (fra), the so-called preposizioni semplici (simple prepositions), perform a variety of functions and are the most frequently used.

In addition to these prepositions, there are numerous others that have less variety and are less widespread, but that have a greater specificity of meaning:

davanti, dietro, contro, dopo, prima, insieme, sopra, sotto, dentro, fuori; lungo, vicino, lontano, salvo, secondo; durante, mediante, nonostante, rasente, escluso, eccetto, tranne

Many grammarians define these forms as improper prepositions (preposizioni improprie), which are also (or have been in the past) adverbs, adjectives, or verbs. They define as proper prepositions (preposizioni proprie) those that have only a prepositional function, namely: di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra (fra) (su also has an adverbial function, but routinely is considered one of the proper prepositions).

The following are some examples of preposition-adverbs, preposition-adjectives, and preposition-verbs, highlighting their diverse functions.

  • The largest group is that of the preposition-adverbs (davanti, dietro, contro, dopo, prima, insieme, sopra, sotto, dentro, fuori):

L'ho rivisto dopo molto tempo.
I saw him again after a long time. (prepositional function)

L'ho rivisto un'altra volta, dopo.
I saw him again after that. (adverbial function)

  • Less numerous are preposition-adjectives (lungo, vicino, lontano, salvo, secondo):

camminare lungo la riva
to walk along the shore (prepositional function)

un lungo cammino
a long walk (adjectival function)

  • There are also some verbs, in the form of participles, that in contemporary Italian function almost exclusively as prepositions (durante, mediante, nonostante, rasente, escluso, eccetto):

durante la sua vita
during his lifetime (prepositional function)

vita natural durante
lifetime (participial function)

Among these preposition-verbs, a special case is that of tranne, from the imperative form of trarre (tranne = 'traine').

To determine whether a certain term is used as a preposition or has a different function, note that in the previous examples what characterizes and distinguishes the prepositions from other parts of speech is the fact that they establish a relationship between two words or two groups of words. Prepositions introduce a complement to the verb, the noun, or the entire sentence. If there is no "complement" it is not a preposition.

Some Italian improper prepositions can be combined with other prepositions (especially a and di) to form locuzioni preposizionali (prepositional phrases) such as:

vicino a, accanto a, davanti a, dietro a, prima di, dopo di, fuori di, dentro di, insieme con (or assieme a), lontano da

Many prepositional phrases result from the pairing of prepositions and nouns:

in cima a, in capo a, in mezzo a, in base a, in quanto a, in confronto a, a fianco di, al cospetto di, nel mezzo di, per causa di, in conseguenza di, a forza di, per mezzo di, per opera di, a meno di, al pari di, a dispetto di, a favore di, per conto di, in cambio di, al fine di

Prepositional phrases have the same function as prepositions, as shown by these examples:

L'ha ucciso per mezzo di un pugnale / L'ha ucciso con un pugnale
He killed him using a dagger / He killed him with a dagger

L'ha fatto al fine di aiutarti / L'ha fatto per aiutarti
He did it in order to help you / He did it to help you

Note, however, that prepositions and prepositional phrases are not always interchangeable: for example, either of the following phrases are valid: il ponte è costruito dagli operai (or da parte degli operai). But la costruzione del ponte dagli operai is grammatically incorrect, while la costruzione del ponte da parte degli operai is acceptable.

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