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Using Sotto (Under) and Dietro (Behind)

Marika is offering a video series explaining the different kinds of adverbs used in Italian. In many cases, however, these adverbs can also be used as prepositions, or even as conjunctions in other contexts.


Besides knowing what adverb or preposition to use in a given instance, it can be tricky knowing whether you need an extra preposition or not. In fact, when Italians speak English, they often add prepositions where it isn’t necessary. Instead of saying “behind me” they’ll say “behind of me.” It makes a certain amount of sense because we say “in front of me.” And it makes sense to them because that’s how they often do it in Italian. What's even trickier in learning Italian, is that in some cases you can add a preposition or not, and it will still be correct.


Let’s look at a couple of adverbs/prepositions on Marika’s list that can cause confusion. As you can see in the example below, she uses sotto (under, underneath) and dietro (behind) plus another preposition a (to, at).


"Sotto": conservo il pigiama sempre sotto al cuscino.

"Under." I always keep the pyjamas under the pillow.

"Dietro": la mia [sic. il mio] aspirapolvere non arriva dietro al divano.

"Behind." My vacuum cleaner doesn't reach behind the sofa.

Captions 21-22, Marika spiega - Gli avverbi - Avverbi di luogo

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The example below is about putting a halter on a horse.


Qui ci andrà il muso.

Here's where the muzzle goes.

Si chiude sotto alla mandibola questo,

You fasten this under the lower jaw,

-OK. -e questo passa dietro alle orecchie.

- OK. -and this goes behind the ears.

Captions 23-26, Francesca - Cavalli - Part 2

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In the previous examples, there is a preposition added to the adverb/preposition. But you will also hear plenty of Italians leaving the second preposition out. Sotto il cuscino is pretty much as common as sotto al cuscino and both are correct. Al combines the preposition a and the article il.


The examples above could be expressed just as correctly without the addition of a before the object. In this case, the article would be written out: sotto il cuscinodietro il divanosotto lamandiboladietro le orecchie.


Here are some examples where there is no additional preposition.


Ed eravamo un... un mucchio di ragazzini

And we were a... a bunch of kids

e lavoravamo sotto questi camion senza tanta sicurezza.

and we worked underneath these trucks with very few safety measures.

Captions 22-26, Gianni si racconta - Chi sono

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Si nascose dietro uno scoglio per osservare

She hid behind a rock to see

cosa gli stesse accadendo.

what was happening to him.

Captions 50-51, Ti racconto una fiaba - La sirenetta

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There is an important exception connected with these adverb/prepositions. If the object is a personal pronoun, then you do need the (second) preposition.

Dietro di me, c’è una finestra.
Behind me, there’s a window.

Vieni dietro a me.
Come on behind me (follow me).

The more you listen, the more often you will catch the short words. They can easily get lost, especially since they are so often combined with the article.


There is more to say about sotto and dietro, as they are used in lots of different contexts. And there are plenty of adverbs to talk about. But we’ll save them for future lessons. Until then, we look forward, as always, to your comments and questions.

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