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Sotto and Its Common Uses

 

Let's talk about a word that is used a lot in Italian to mean more than its one-word, traditional translation. We're talking about sotto (under, underneath, below). Not only is it a preposition, but it's also an adverb and sometimes a noun. It can combine with other words to take on a new meaning, and in this lesson, we will just mention a few of the common ways it's used to mean something different than what we might expect.

 

Sotto can mean "down" 

Sotto is often preceded by qua, qui, or là when indicating something either close by or further away, but in a downward direction.

 

E qua sotto c'è il fiume Tevere.

And down here is the river Tiber.

Caption 19, Anna e Marika - Trattoria Al Biondo Tevere

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When we talk about the stories or floors in a building or house, we can use sotto to indicate a lower floor. Usually, in this context, it's preceded by di (of).

 

Andiamo giù a vedere che cosa c'è al piano di sotto.

Let's go down to see what's on the lower floor.

Caption 23, In giro per l'Italia - Firenze

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When you want to talk about downstairs, you can also use sotto.

 

Ah, perché non è di sotto?

Ah, because she's not downstairs?

Caption 4, Sposami - EP 4 - Part 9

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Vai di sotto!

Go downstairs

 

In front of

Sometimes sotto means "in front of," usually referring to a house, a building, or... one's nose. Lots of people live on the upper floors of apartment buildings, so you have to go down to get to the front of the building.

 

Appena ha visto i carabinieri sotto casa Sua,

As soon as you saw the carabinieri in front of your house,

se n'è scappato tipo "Fuga di mezzanotte".

you ran away, "Midnight Express" style.

Captions 8-9, Imma Tataranni Sostituto procuratore - S1 EP2 Come piante fra sassi

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Sotto il profilo

Sotto il profilo is used to mean something to the effect of "in terms of" or "as regards." Il profilo is a true cognate and friend of "the profile," but it's used figuratively here.

 

Rita abbia dedicato la sua vita a fare crescere la sua anima

Rita devoted her life to nurturing her soul,

e non soltanto sotto il profilo della ricerca scientifica, eh.

and not only in terms of her scientific research, uh.

and not only as regards her scientific research, uh.

Captions 41-43, Illuminate - Rita Levi Montalcini

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On hand

Here, the Italian expression uses the preposition sotto, but the English one uses the preposition "on."

 

Eh... eh, non è questione di non avere nessuno sottomano,

Uh... uh, it's not a question of not having anyone on hand,

è che è molto difficile trovare la donna giusta.

it's that it's very difficult to find the right woman.

Captions 28-29, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP7 - Sogni di Vetro

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Handy 

Sottomano can also mean "handy," or "close by."

Non ho il numero sottomano ma lo posso cercare nella rubrica.

I don't have the number handy, but I can look it up in my address book.

 

Sotto as a noun

When you are talking about a 2-piece outfit, such as pyjamas, bikini, or athletic wear, you can refer to the bottoms as il sotto (the bottom part).

 

We have just scratched the surface of sotto but if you absorb all these meanings (or even one or two), you will be one step closer to becoming fluent.

 

Why not check out Marika's video about adverbs of place (avverbi di luogo)? Attenzione: Sometimes what are considered adverbs in Italian might be considered prepositions in English.

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