"About" is a very common word in English. It is a preposition, but also an adjective and adverb. For now, we'll focus on the prepositional meaning "on the subject of" or "concerning." As in English, Italian provides a few different options. So let's take a look.
The first way: the preposition di (of/about).
If you think back to stories you have heard, even English uses “of” sometimes to mean “about.”
I will speak to you of love.
It may seem a bit antiquated, but it does exist. In Italian, it’s very common. In fact, Adriano speaks a very everyday kind of Italian, and normally uses the preposition di (about, of) to mean “about.”
Vi parlo della colazione, di una colazione italiana.
I'm going to talk to you about breakfast, about an Italian breakfast.
Caption 2, Adriano - fa colazionePlay Caption
Oggi vi parlerò delle stagioni.
Today I'm going to talk to you about the seasons.
Caption 2, Adriano - Le stagioni dell'annoPlay Caption
The second way: a (to, at).
The preposition a is used with the verb pensare (to think). We could also say “to reflect.” Then the preposition “on” could make sense. “To reflect on life.”
Sì, mi metto a pensare alla vita in generale. A... a tutto.
Yes, I get to thinking about life in general. About... about everything.
Captions 6-7, Amiche - FilosofiePlay Caption
But the preposition di can also be used with the verb pensare.
Cosa pensi di questo vestito?
What do you think about/of this dress?
Cosa ne pensi?
What do you think about it?
The third way: su (on).
Allora Rossana, ti faccio qualche domanda sul tuo mestiere, insomma.
So Rossana, I'm going to ask you a few questions about your profession, in short.
Caption 54, Anna e Marika - Il panePlay Caption
The fourth way: a proposito.
In a recent Yabla video on business English, Arianna is settling into her new job, but already has a problem she needs to discuss with her boss. She uses a more formal, longer way to say “about.” It’s a bit more precise, and, well, businesslike, and gives the topic a bit more importance.
Sì, certo. Ho anche bisogno di parlarti a proposito del nostro contatto della stampa estera.
Yes, of course. I also need to talk to you about our foreign press contact.Play Caption
In the above example, we might also translate a proposito as “regarding,” since it’s a moderately formal situation. In actual fact, these days, “regarding” would more likely be found in a letter than in a normal office conversation. The meaning is pretty much the same.
In the following example, too, a proposito could be translated as “regarding.” We would need some extra context to determine which would work better. If either Lara or Luca were talking to their boss, then “regarding” might be more appropriate.
A proposito del caso del cimitero...
Speaking of the cemetery case...
Regarding the cemetery case...Play Caption
It all depends on who is talking to whom, and whether they want to be formal or informal, or if the question is a bit off the cuff, or planned out.
Note: One important, and very common way a proposito is used, is all by itself, without a specified object: A proposito... In this case, it can mean “speaking of which” or “by the way.” It’s a rather non-aggressive means of getting a word in edgewise, changing the subject, or bringing up a topic out of the blue.
Ne parliamo stasera, OK? -A proposito, hai comprato il vino?
We'll talk about it tonight, OK? -Speaking of which, did you buy wine?/By the way, did you buy wine?
Captions 29-30, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto - Part 8Play Caption
Sometimes these different ways of saying "about" are interchangeable, and sometimes one works better than the other. Experience will help you determine the best one for any given situation. Keep your ears open!