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What does su mean?

Let's have a look at the preposition su. Its most common meaning in English is "on." As Marika has been explaining in video lessons such as this one, the simple preposition su can be combined with a definite article — in Italian, there are several forms, based on gender and quantity — to become a preposizione articolata (a preposition combined with a definite article — ("the" in English).

 

So to say, "on the table," instead of saying su il tavolo, we say sul tavolo. The preposition and definite article combine into one word.

Aspettate, lascio il libro sul tavolo

Wait, I'll leave the book on the table

Caption 3, Corso di italiano con Daniela Il futuro - Part 4

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This process is similar for all the different forms of definite articles in Italian.

sul = su + il

sull' = su + l'

...nubi invece sull'Umbria e sulle zone interne della Toscana.

...clouds, instead, in Umbria and in the inland areas of Tuscany.

Caption 63, Anna e Marika in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo - Part 2

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sulla =  su + la

Allora, siamo qui con la nostra? -Chiara. Che ci risponderà a un po' di domande sulla mozzarella di bufala.

So, we're here with our... -Chiara. Who will answer a few of our questions about buffalo mozzarella.

Captions 1-2, Anna e Marika La mozzarella di bufala - La produzione e i tagli - Part 2

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sullo = su + lo

 

Sullo sfondo potete vedere il Vesuvio

In the background, you can see Vesuvius

Caption 4, Escursioni Campane Castello Normanno - Part 1

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sui = su + i

Allora, questa lista la scriviamo tutti insieme, io alla lavagna e voi sui quaderni.

So, this list we'll all write together, I on the blackboard and you in your notebooks.

Captions 10-11, Corso di italiano con Daniela Il condizionale - Part 5

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sugli = su + gli

Multiple meanings of su

 

Just as in English, prepositions often have multiple meanings and su is no exception.

Su can mean "on," but also "in," sometimes:

L'ho letto sul giornale.

I read about it in the newspaper.

Caption 22, Adriano Olivetti La forza di un sogno Ep.2 - Part 10

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Su often means "about."

E vi racconto qualche storia semplice sul gelato, ma molto interessante.

And I'll tell you a few simple stories about ice cream, but very interesting.

Caption 10, Andromeda in - Storia del gelato - Part 1

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Note that sometimes definite articles are used in Italian but not in English, as in the example above.

 

Su can mean "out of," as in the following example:

Nove volte su dieci lo fa perché ha qualcosa da nascondere.

Nine times out of ten, he does it because he has something to hide.

Caption 25, Provaci Ancora Prof! S1E2 - Un amore pericoloso - Part 19

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An expression with su

 

A good expression to know is sul serio (seriously)?

Sul serio?

Seriously?

Caption 4, Marika spiega La formazione degli aggettivi

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It can also be interpreted as "for real."

Però voglio dirti una cosa, questa è importante sul serio.

But I want to tell you something. This is important for real.

Caption 45, Francesca Cavalli - Part 1

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Being approximate

Another way we use the preposition su is to give an approximate time, weight, or age.

Arriverò sul presto (I'll get there on the early side).

Aveva sui cinquant'anni (he was around fifty years old).

 

Note that in this lesson, we talked about the preposition su, but su is also an adverb meaning up, upwards. We'll talk about that in a future lesson.

Maybe you have seen or heard other uses of su we didn't mention here. Let us know!

Prepositions

Talking about Dates in Italian

When we are learning a new language we pay attention to things that native speakers don't necessarily pay attention to. They don't have to. But we do! That is how we learn.

 

Here's a case in point. A learner was watching a Yabla video about numbers. When do we use ordinal numbers, and when do we use cardinal numbers? In the video in question, Marika is talking about dates. Every language expresses dates a bit differently, and there are often different options. The basic premise is that in contrast to how we do it in English, Italians mostly use a cardinal number (not an ordinal number as in English) when talking about a specific date, preceded by the definite article.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

The learner's question was, "Is there some special reason why Marika uses the preposition di (of) when talking about August, but not for the other dates?" It's a great question, and it is exactly the kind of question we like learners to ask. Because native speakers, or even experienced non-native speakers, might not be aware they are saying di (of). They just know it sounds right without thinking about it and may or not be able to explain why.

 

Si dice il cinque aprile, il quattro luglio,

One says the fifth of Aprilthe fourth of July,

il nove maggio, ehm, il venti di agosto.

the ninth of May, uhm, the twentieth of August.

Captions 24-25, Marika spiega - Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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So the short answer is that when talking about a specific date, you can just say the cardinal number (with the definite article before it) followed by the month. There was nothing special about the month of August to cause Marika to use the preposition di. She might have used it because it was the last month she said in a series and it just sounded better to her. And it's a valid option. So it is not wrong to use the preposition, but more often than not, Italians don't use it. 

 

Let's look at another example. Antonio is telling us about a festival in August, in his area of Italy. In the following example, he just says the cardinal number and the month. He is talking about a specific date.

 

E poi il diciotto agosto

And then on the eighteenth of August

la statua rientra qui nel... ehm, nel santuario.

the statue returns here, in the... uh, in the sanctuary.

Captions 19-20, Antonio - al Santuario

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In the same video, a few captions earlier, he is again talking about the dates of the festival. He uses the preposition di in the first instance.

 

Ehm, la Madonna della Grotta è la protettrice di Praia a Mare

Um, the Madonna of the Cave is the patron saint of Praia a Mare

e viene fatta una festa il quattordici e quindici d'agosto.

and there is a feast on the fourteenth and fifteenth of August.

Per l'esattezza inizia il quattordici a mezzanotte

To be exact it starts on the fourteenth at midnight

e finisce il diciotto agosto di ogni anno.

and ends on the eighteenth of August every year.

Captions 13-16, Antonio - al Santuario

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When he cited two dates together he used the preposition di before agosto. Sometimes it just seems clearer to add it. It could also be that since agosto starts with a vowel and diciotto ends with a vowel, it's easier to put a consonant in the middle, so it's clearer and easier to say.

 

Marika, in this video about the news, doesn't add the preposition (febbraio starts with a consonant!).

 

Il ventiquattro e venticinque febbraio,

On the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth of February,

in Italia si terranno le elezioni politiche,

Italy will hold political elections

che decreteranno la scelta di un nuovo governo.

that will ratify the choice of a new government.

Captions 8-9, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo

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The important thing to know is that it is correct to leave out that preposition and that we generally use a cardinal number except for when it's the first. When it's the first of the month, we use the ordinal number primo (first).

 

E si dice: il primo luglio, il primo agosto,

And one says: the first of Julythe first of August,

il primo settembre.

the first of September.

Caption 28, Marika spiega - Numeri Cardinali e Ordinali

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And if we are talking about the first few days of a month, we can say it like this with the plural of primo (note we use the preposition di (of)):

I primi di gennaio (the first days of January)

 

I mesi che ci interessano sono quelli di metà marzo, aprile,

The months that interest us here are half of March, April,

maggio e i primi di giugno.

May, and the first [days] of June.

Captions 29-30, Adriano - Le stagioni dell'anno

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It's funny this question has come up about the preposition di, because in our previous lesson we also talked about the preposition di and how it is common to use it when talking about saying "yes" and "no." In that case, too, it's an option. Learning which option works better comes with a lot of listening and repeating, and keeping your eyes and ears open. We thank the learner who wrote in about this topic!

Di is one of those prepositions that most learners of Italian struggle with, so don't feel bad if you often get it wrong. You are not alone! Non sei solo/sola!

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Caption 16, 15, 14, 13, 20, 19
Intermediate

The Future is Now (Probably)!

In this lesson, we're going to talk about the future tense in Italian, and how it's used, not just for the future, but also for probability.

In our first example, Federico Fellini is talking about a future meeting with Ingmar Bergman, and as you can see from the translation, he uses the verb essere in its future tense in a straightforward way. He has no doubts about the outcome: It’s going to be stimulating!

 

Io penso che l'incontro fra lui e me sarà veramente molto stimolante.

I think that the encounter between him and me will be really very stimulating.

Caption 37, Fellini Racconta - Un Autoritratto Ritrovato

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

In this next example, however, the verb essere is again used in the future tense, but here it means something completely different! In fact, one of the uses of the future tense in Italian is to express a supposition, probability, uncertainty, or doubt. In this case, the element of time is no longer taken into consideration and is replaced by a kind of conditional mood (appunto, the future is now—probably).

 

Guarda, stamattina ho appetito. Sarà l'aria di campagna...

Look, this morning I have an appetite. It must be the country air...

Captions 21-22, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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Although this special use can be applied to any verb, it’s most common with essere and avere. In Un medico in famiglia, Lele is reassuring his daughter, Maria, about the future. He’s sure!

 

Sono sicuro che ti piacerà la nuova scuola e avrai un sacco di nuovi amichetti.

I am sure you will like the new school and you will have a lot of new playmates.

Captions 11-12, Un medico in famiglia - s.1 e.1 - Casa nuova

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But here, the signora is just making a good guess as to how hungry her passenger Alessio is.

 

Avrai fame immagino, sì? Andiamo?

You must be hungry, I'd imagine, right? Shall we go?

Captions 14-15, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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In her Yabla newscast, Marika is giving us some very suspicious news from another planet, and she expresses her consternation:

 

Sarà vero?

Could it be true?

Caption 47, Anna e Marika - in TG Yabla Italia e Meteo

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Another way to ask the above question would be: potrebbe essere vero? (could it be true?) or even può essere vero? (can it be true?). But more often than not, the future tense will be used when talking about probability in the present, or even in the past (together with a participle), as in the following example, where there’s uncertainty in retrospect.

 

Non lo so. Sarà stata una buona idea farlo venire qua?

I don't know. Was it such a good idea to have him come here?

Captions 30-31, Ma che ci faccio qui! - Un film di Francesco Amato

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Here are a couple more examples to give you an idea.  

In an episode of Un medico in famiglia, the family members are wondering what Cetinka is about to take out of her suitcase:

 

Che è, che sarà? -Non lo so!

What is it, what could it be? -I don't know!

Caption 54, Un medico in famiglia - s.1. e.2 - Il mistero di Cetinka

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In a lively discussion between Lara and her zia about Ginevra, the attractive medical examiner, the aunt defends Commissario Manara, which infuriates Lara even more.

 

E Luca la sta coprendo! -Avrà le sue buone ragioni, eh!

And Luca is covering for her! -He must have a good reason, huh!

Captions 40-41, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in Blu

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BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Learning suggestion:

As you watch and listen to Yabla videos, notice how the future tense is used. You may be surprised at how often it is used to express probability, supposition, or uncertainty. And as you go about your day, maybe talking to yourself in Italian, use the future tense of essere or avere to wonder about things and their probability. Sometimes you may really be wondering about the future, as in:

Sarà una bella giornata?

Will it be a nice day?

But other times you may just be conjecturing:

Sarà una brava persona, ma dal suo comportamento non sembra proprio.

He may be a good person, but from his behavior it certainly doesn’t seem like it.

Sento bussare alla porta. Sarà il postino.

I hear someone knocking at the door. It’s probably the postman.

Perché non è ancora arrivato? Avrà avuto un contrattempo!

Why hasn’t he come yet? He must have had a setback.

So as you can see, in Italian, the future can be right now!

Grammar

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