Translated by Alanna Quintyne

Do you know how to use the apostrophe in Italian, but also exceptions and particularities of its use?
Read the following article called “The Apostrophe in Italian: Debunking its Myths!”

The apostrophe is a graphic sign which students who are learning Italian begin to deal with from the very first lessons. Essential when writing and indiscernible when speaking, it is a cornerstone of the Italian language.

Despite this, I have recently encountered some confusion regarding its use, which is why I decided to write this article, to clarify and dispel some myths about it.

But first of all, I would like to highlight that it is not the only graphic sign in Italian. We have in fact:

    • Punctuation marks, on which I do not wish to dwell at this time.
    • Accents, which can be acute or grave, and which in general in the written form are used exclusively on the last letter, thus making its pronunciation very short.
    • The apostrophe, which we have already mentioned in the introduction, is used to avoid the repetition of the same sound or the presence of neighboring vowels.

In practice, the purpose of the apostrophe is to make Italian sentences less heavy and more melodious. Read aloud and listen to these examples:

  • La amica mi incontra nella aula magna.
  • Lo oculista mi prescrive delle gocce. 

Needless to say, these sentences sound too robotic, and force the speaker into interrupting the flow of the sentence where the same vowels are repeated. Instead, listen to these sentences:

  • L’amica mi incontra nell’aula magna. = My friend meets me in the homeroom.
  • L’oculista mi prescrive delle gocce. = The eye doctor prescribed me eyedrops.

Much better, don’t you think?

Up to this point, however, it seems as if I haven’t said anything new. It’s as if I’ve repeated the obvious and this is probably the case for some of you. But in this article in addition to repeating this rule, I would like to delve deeper, and dispel some myths, 3 to be precise, regarding the apostrophe.

1. The apostrophe is used only when there is the same vowel

The apostrophe being used when there are two vowels that are the same is a fact, but this does not mean that it is used only and exclusively in that case. Let’s give some examples:

  • L’elefante è un animale molto intelligent. = The elephant is a very smart animal.
  • Quell’idea è geniale. = That idea is brilliant.
  • L’economista parla dei vantaggi della moneta unica. = The economist talks about the advantages of the single currency.

If we analyze the words used, and if we fully associate the right article to them, we will see that the apostrophe is not used only and exclusively when there are two of the same vowel close together. Let’s see this in detail:

  • L’elefante (lo elephant).
  • L’idea (la idea).
  • L’economista (la economista / lo economista).

We can therefore say that this is the first myth to be debunked, and that the apostrophe can be used even when different vowels are close together.

2. The apostrophe is used whenever we want to avoid two close vowels

The first point leads us right to this next one. Yes, I have just shown you how two vowels close together, even though they are not the same, are hardly tolerated by the Italian language, causing the last letter of the article to be eliminated.

On the other hand, however, this is not always necessary; in fact, there are two particular cases in which the apostrophe is not used:

I. With plural nouns:

    • L’idea / Le idee
    • L’informazione / Le informazioni
    • L’uomo / Gli uomini
    • L’orefice / Gli orefici

II. With Plural Pronouns

When I talk about plural pronouns, I am referring specifically to direct pronouns.

  • Conosci Stefano? Si l’ammiro molto! =  Do you know Stefano? Yes, I admire him very much!

Which in the plural becomes:

  • Conosci Stefano e Luca? Sì li ammiro molto! = Do you know Stefano and Luca? Yes, I admire them very much!

As you can see, even though the two vowels “i” and “e” are close together, in the plural form I keep the last letter of the article, without using the apostrophe and without eliding anything. The same thing applies to the past tense:

  • Conosci Giulia? Sì, l’ho conosciuta un paio di mesi fa. = Do you know Giulia? Yes, I met her a couple of months ago.

Which in the plural becomes:

  • Conosci Giulia e Paola? Si, le ho conosciute un paio di mesi fa. = Do you know Giulia and Paola? Yes, I met them a couple of months ago.

As you can see even with the past tense, with plural pronouns you don’t need to use the apostrophe, but quite the opposite…

3. The apostrophe separates two words

It is true that the apostrophe visually separates two words; this sign helps us to understand where one ends and the other begins. So why is this another myth to dispel? Because as mentioned above it only separates two words graphically.

In my article 3 Practical Tips to Improve Your Italian, I tried to explain as clearly as possible how to improve pronunciation, paying attention to small details that can make all the difference.

Many students, especially beginners, when they find themselves reading sentences and texts in Italian tend to make a lot of pauses that are not absolutely necessary where there is the apostrophe, saying for example:

– Un’ __ amica.

– Vorrei dell’__ acqua

Remember to avoid this as much as possible and try to link the words together. Even if they are two different words you must link them together to get a continuous and more melodious sound.

– Un’amica.

– Vorrei dell’acqua.

Conclusion

I don’t know if you’ve already noticed these peculiarities related to the apostrophe. I’m sure that if you have been studying Italian for a while, you have already come across them and made some reflections on them in order to better understand this language.

If, on the other hand, you are a beginner, these things may be new to you and you may benefit from reading about the use, peculiarities, and exceptions of this sign, which is so important in Italian.

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