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Let's Talk about the Italian Preposition In

One thing that's always tricky when learning a new language is how to use prepositions. We are especially aware of this when we hear Italians speaking English, since they often get prepositions mixed up. 

 

In your own language you rarely get it wrong. You just know. 

What's confusing for English speakers learning Italian, is that in can translate as different prepositions depending on the situation.

 

In can mean "in"

 

Lots of times in means "in."

 

Buongiorno. Oggi siamo in Toscana.

Hello. Today we're in Tuscany.

Caption 1, In cucina con Arianna - la panzanella

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

OK.  "We're in Tuscany - Siamo in Toscana. That's easy, but look at the title of the video. In cucina. In Italian, there is no article in this case, but in English there is. 

Dov'è Arianna (Where is Arianna)?

È in cucina (She's in the kitchen).

 

The kitchen is a place in the house. The same goes for lots of other places.

 

  • Il mio capo è in ufficio (My boss is in the office).
  • C'è qualcuno in bagno (There is someone in the bathroom).
  • Ho messo l'acqua in frigo (I put the water in the fridge).
  • Durante la pandemia, sono stata chiusa in casa (During the pandemic, I was stuck in the house).
  • Ho una cyclette in camera (I have an exercise bike in the bedroom).

 

The following example uses in zona, a great way to say "in the area." You might ask someone on the phone it they are in zona. Then you can meet up! Zone - zona is a nice true cognate, even though we will translate it as "area" in many cases.

 

Siamo nati qui in zona, in un paese qui vicino di Praia a Mare.

We were born in this area, in the nearby village of Praia a Mare.

Captions 3-4, Gente - al Porto di Maratea

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The seasons

We also use in to mean "in" when talking about the seasons:

 

Probabilmente preferirei una bella vacanza in montagna, allora.

I'd probably rather have a nice vacation in the mountains, then.

Un po' d'aria fresca, i boschi, i ruscelli.

A bit of fresh air, the woods, streams.

-Eh be', qualcosa della montagna piace anche a me.

-Oh well, I like some things about the mountains too

Ad esempio, in autunno, andare a prendere i funghi.

For example, in autumn, going to get mushrooms.

Captions 21-24, Escursione - Un picnic in campagna

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We can also note from the previous example that to talk about going on vacation in the mountains, Italians not only leave out the article, they use the singular: "mountain" — montagna. Also, not in the example, Italians use in vacanza to mean "on vacation." They could also say in ferie to mean the same thing.

 

Andiamo in vacanza la settimana prossima.

Were going on vacation next week.

 

In can sometimes mean "at"

Lavora in banca (He works at the bank). 

In can sometimes mean "on"

Sono in spiaggia (I'm on the sand by the waterfront)

In can mean "by"

 

In can mean "by" when we are talking about a means of transportation:

 

A Parigi ci vai in treno o in aereo (Are you going to Paris by train or by plane)?

Vado al lavoro in bici (I go to work by bike) ma quando piove vado in macchina (but when it rains I go by car).

 

In can mean "to"

This is where it gets tricky because Italians use in when they are going someplace but they use the same preposition when they are already there!

 

Devo andare in banca (I have to go to the bank).

Non posso parlare al telefono perché sono in banca (I can't talk on the phone because I'm at the bank).

Le donne anziane del villaggio vanno in chiesa tutte le sere (The elderly women of the village go to church every evening).

Quando sono in chiesa, mi copro le spalle (When I am in a church, I cover my shoulders).

 

All the cases above have in common the absence of an article between the preposition in and the noun following it. They mostly have to do with places, seasons, or means of transportation.

 

In followed by an article

But sometimes we do need need an article, for example:

in un attimo (in an instant)

 

When we have an indefinite article following in, both the preposition in (in, at, by, to) and the indefinite article un or una (a) stay separate and intact.

However when in is followed by a definite article in the singular or plural, the in gets combined with the article as follows: 

(in + il) nel 

(in + lo) nello 

(in + l') nell' 

(in + la) nella 

(in + i) nei 

(in + le) nelle 

 

Ciao ragazzi e benvenuti nella mia cucina.

Hi guys and welcome to my kitchen.

Caption 1, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara

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These prepositions are called preposizioni articolate and merit a lesson of their own, so stay tuned!

Viva la pasta

Imagine being on vacation in Italy. You’ve rented a little apartment, and you’d like to do some cooking! You might even have bought an Italian-language cookbook. What are some handy things to know? 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Most Italians have a kitchen scale for dry measure, and use kilos and grams. For example, when deciding how much pasta to cook, they will typically measure out un etto* (one hundred grams) per person, which will then get cooked in a big pentola (pot) of acqua bollente salata (salted boiling water).

*Short for ettogrammo (hectogram), equal to cento grammi  (a hundred grams). To convert to and from the metric system, click here.

Let's look at how real Italian cooks work in two videos, Marino: La maccaronara and Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara -  Part 1 of 2.

In Marino: La maccaronara, Marino is making fresh pasta. He talks about the impasto (dough). But impasto can also refer to a batter, or the result of whatever you have mixed up, like a filling or stuffing. Lavorare (to work) in this context means to manipulate, to knead, to mix up, to beat, or to form. He explains:

 

È molto semplice: fare un impasto di acqua e farina e sale, lavorarlo almeno quaranta minuti, così la pasta è più buona.

It's very simple: make a dough of water and flour and salt, knead it for at least forty minutes, that way the pasta tastes better.

Captions 10-12, Marino - La maccaronara

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Once you have kneaded it, you make it flatter and it becomes “la sfoglia”—thin and flat like a leaf (la foglia) or a piece of paper (il foglio).

 

E poi si fa la sfoglia con un mattarello in legno.

And then you roll out (the dough) with a wooden rolling pin.

Caption 18, Marino - La maccaronara

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Adriano, nel frattempo (in the meantime), has been working on la carbonara, a favorite piatto (dish) among students on a budget, or with those who want to make something simple but tasty and nutritious. Click here for some theories on the origins of the name, or listen to what Adriano has to say about it as he cooks. Carbone means “coal,” so many people associate the name with one of the important ingredients, black pepper (pepe nero).

 

Per iniziare, dobbiamo fare il soffritto.

To begin, we have to sauté [the onions].

Caption 23, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara - Part 1

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Facciamo soffriggere la cipolla, aggiungiamo un pizzico di sale.

We sauté the onion, we add a pinch of salt.

Caption 32, Adriano - Pasta alla carbonara - Part 1

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Soffrigere (to sauté) is carried out at a lower temperature than friggere (to fry or deep-fry). Il soffritto is the classic beginning to cooking a great number of sauces and dishes.

The most common kinds of soffritto use: aglio (garlic), prezzemolo (parsley), and concentrato di pomodoro (tomato paste), or cipolla (onion), carote (carrots), and sedano (celery). They cook at a moderate heat in olio di oliva (olive oil) using a thick-bottomed padella (skillet).

Have fun, and buon appetito!

For more about Italian dining and cooking, see Marika spiega: Pentole e posate (Marika Explains About Pots, Pans, and Tableware). 

 

Learning suggestion: Look up different recipes for la carbonara in an Italian cookbook or on the Internet and try making this delicious pasta dish—or cook along with Adriano!

Vocabulary

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Caption 18, 12, 11, 10
Intermediate

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