The prepositions of time in Italian are words like di, a, da, in, per, tra/fra, and su. When my students ask me how to use prepositions, I tell them to think about the context: time, place, or something else?
Depending on the context, prepositions can express:
- location, directions, and movement;
- other information;
- time and length of an action (keep reading).;
In this postarticle, we’ll discover how Italian prepositions of time work, and how they are used to answer questions like quando? [when?], or da/per quanto tempo? [how long?].
⤷Did you know? In Italy, children learn the nine simple prepositions in this order: di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra/fra.
Here are the most common prepositions of time:
Table of Contents
How do you use the prepositions of time?
Prepositions of time are used to express time, date, length of time, etc. If you have wondered why in English you say “on Monday,” while in Italian we say lunedì, or di lunedì, then you are in the right place!
The preposition di expresses times, such as days of the week, parts of the day, or seasons:
I negozi sono chiusi di lunedì. Stores are closed on Mondays.
Studio di pomeriggio. I study in the afternoon.
D’inverno fa molto freddo. In winter it is very cold.
The examples above describe recurring events. Di can also be used with parts of the day without that nuance of recurring:
Domani partiró di notte. Tomorrow I’m leaving at night.
We have created a table for you with the prepositions that go with the parts of the day.
⤷TIP 1: We can also use in with seasons, as in in estate [in summer].
⤷TIP 2: When we want to refer to a specific afternoon and show length of time, we will say nel pomeriggio:
Domani sono libera solo nel pomeriggio.
Tomorrow I am free only in the afternoon.
⤷Did you know? Before a word beginning with a vowel, di becomes d’: d’estate [in summer], d’autunno [in autumn], etc. to avoid having two vowels together, which is something we do not like in Italian!
Frequent expressions with ‘di’
Here are some frequent expressions with di:
The preposition a expresses time (in addition to place and direction of movement. A can be used for:
- a specific age when something happens:
In Italia si prende la patente a 18 anni. In Italy, one gets the driving licence at 18.
- a specific time when something happens:
A che ora arrivi? Arrivo alle 10:30. What time do you arrive? I arrive at 10:30.
Alle, in alle 10:30 (at 10:30), is a combination of the preposition and the article le. Often in Italian, you will find prepositions combined with one of the definite articles il, lo, la, l’, i, gli, or le [the], which are called preposizioni articolate [articulated prepositions] as shown in this table.
When telling time in Italian, you use a and the article le (alle (a+le)) because the word ore [hours] is implied. Careful: use all’una [at 1:00] for one o’clock!
- a specific length of time, with months and celebrations such as Pasqua [Easter], Natale [Christmas], etc.:
Festeggiamo a maggio We celebrate in May.
⤷TIP We can also use in (in maggio) with months.
A Pasqua mangiamo la Colomba* At Easter we eat Colomba.
Frequent expressions with ‘a’
Here are some frequent expressions with a:
See you soon!
See you tomorrow
See you later!
Da is also used to express time (in addition to place). For example:
- the moment when something began (and it is still going on):
Studio italiano da due anni. I have been studying Italian for two years.
Da quando studi l’italiano? How long have you been studying Italian?
- a specific moment in someone’s life (in the past or in the future):
Da bambina giocavo a tennis. When I was little, I played tennis.
Da grande farò l’avvocato. When I grow up, I will be a lawyer.
- when indicating schedules use da(l)… a(l)…:
- da, to indicate the beginning, and a to indicate the end.
Seguo i corsi da agosto a dicembre. I have classes from August until December.
Vado al mare dal 10 al 31 luglio. I am going to the beach from July 10 until July 31.
Ho lezione dal martedì al giovedì. I have class from Tuesday to Thursday.
- When expressing times use the articulated preposition dalle (da+le) and alle (a+le), where ore [hours] is implicit. Remember to say dall’una and all’una:
Il supermercato è aperto dalle (ore) 8 alle (ore) 22.
The supermarket is open from 8 to 10 pm.
The preposition in has many uses, one of which is to express time, as in: .
- expressing length within a larger period of time with seasons
In estate le giornate sono lunghe. In/during the summer, days are longer.
⤷TIP We can also use di with seasons (d’estate)
- defining a limit within a period of time:
Devo finire questo lavoro in 4 giorni. I have to finish this job in four days.
- talking about year, or century:
Use in + il = nel
Maria Montessori è nata nel 1870, nel XIX secolo.
Maria Montessori was born in 1870, in the nineteenth century.
The preposition per is like the English preposition “for” when…
- expressing length of time of a past (concluded) action:
Ho abitato a Pisa per 3 anni. I lived in Pisa for three years.
- specifying a moment in time when making plans:
Cosa fai per Capodanno? What are you doing for New Year’s Day?
Per indicates a length of time that is now over (otherwise you would use da.)
- Ho studiato italiano per cinque anni.
I have studied Italian for five years.
Meaning: I am not studying it anymore.
- Studio italiano da cinque anni.
I have been studying Italian for five years.
Meaning: I am still studying it.
- Nel 2008 studiavo italiano da cinque anni.
In 2008, I had been studying Italian for five years.
Tra/fra mostly mean “between/among,” but when used to express time in Italian they are used:
- when an action in the present may take place in the future:
La pasta è pronta tra/fra 10 minuti. The pasta will be ready in about ten minutes.
- when indicating a time range
La lezione inizia tra/fra le 10 e le 10:15. Class starts between 10 and 10:15.
⤷Did you know? Tra and fra are used interchangeably today: Just use the one you prefer!
Sometimes su is used to express:
- an approximate time, when in English you use “around” or “about”:
Parto sulle (su+le) 10:00. I leave around 10.
Ho camminato sulle due ore. I walked for about two hours.
You can also use intorno (a+le) alle… (ore) or verso le…, or circa to express this idea of time “approximation”.
- Find an interesting use of an Italian preposition that does NOT correspond to English among the examples provided in this article, and try to use it right away.
Remember that in Italian prepositions are never left “hanging” at the end of a phrase (in English this is acceptable), in fact they are always placed in front of a word: In quale città sei nato? [Which city were you born in?]
These are the prepositions used to express time in Italian, and some uses are quite different from English, so here are some useful suggestions:
- When in English you say “on” (on Monday), in Italian we say di lunedì, or il lunedì to indicate a recurring action (every Monday), or just lunedì to express the actual weekday.
- When in English you say “in May,” in Italian we say a maggio or in maggio when talking about months.
- You can use either in or di with seasons: in inverno or d’inverno.
Now let’s practice with these activities!