How to use the apostrophe in Italian

The apostrophe sign (‘) replaces certain letters in a word so that two words are joined together. Think about the English expressions it is and it’s.

A female friend

Un arco
A bow

female cupid aiming to shoot an arrow

How does the apostrophe work in Italian? Can you always replace a letter with this symbol? Read on to answer these and other questions in this ultimate guide to the apostrophe in Italian!

The apostrophe in Italian

When elision occurs, an apostrophe is added in Italian.

What is elision? When you have a word that ends in an unstressed vowel, such as the indefinite article una, you can cut off this vowel if the following word begins with another vowel, such as amica.

A female friend

two girls chatting

Elision, however, is not always mandatory, and other times it is downright wrong to use it. Let’s see why in the next paragraph.

When to use the apostrophe in Italian

Elision is mandatory in front of una when it precedes a word beginning with a vowel.

A label

A goose

It is also needed with indefinite adjectives ending in -una, such as ciascuna or nessuna. The following word must always begin with another vowel.

No islands

small islands from above

The apostrophe in Italian is mandatory in front of the definite articles lo and la and the demonstrative adjectives quello and quella.

L’esame, quell’esame
The exam, that exam
(Lo esame)

L’ape, quell’ape
The bee, that bee
(La ape)

It is mandatory in front of ci + conjugations of the verb to be beginning with e-, such as era, è or erano.

C’era, translating to the English sentence there was, is actually the elision of ci era. You NEVER write it as ci era, however.

There is

You also always use an apostrophe in Italian in common expressions such as nient’altro, tra l’altro or quarto d’ora.

Nothing else

Quarto d’ora
Quarter of an hour

clock showing 5 pm

Aiuta Lingookies con un 👍!

When NOT to use the apostrophe in Italian

Elision in Italian is never used with the indefinite articles un and uno and the indefinite adjectives such as nessuno or qualcuno, even if the last vowel is cut off.

Un esame
An exam

Nessun elefante
No elephants

Qualcun altro
Someone else

The apostrophe in Italian is also not allowed in front of words beginning with a semi-vowel, such as iena. Even if the definite article is la, it is never l’iena and always la iena.

La iena
The hyena

It is also never used in front of the definite articles le and gli.

Le oche
The geese

Gli alberi
The trees

three tall trees

The apostrophe in Italian is also never used in front of ci when it translates “us”, unless the following word begins with i-.

Ci amiamo
We love each other

Ci ascoltate
You listen to us

Ci interrogano, c’interrogano
They interrogate us

The apostrophe is also not allowed in front of the pronouns le and li.

Le amo
I love them

Li odio
I hate them

boy disgusted by vegetables

Special cases

Poco can be shortened to po’, with an apostrophe. It’s never written as .

Un po’ di zucchero
A little sugar

Quale è is cut off to qual è, never as qual’è.

Qual è il tuo colore preferito?
What is your favorite color?

An apostrophe can also be used to cut off the first part of the years in the 20th century.

Negli anni ’80 lavoravo come operaio.
In the 1980s I was working as a factory worker.

And that’s it with the apostrophe in Italian! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.

What next?

Now that you’ve seen how the apostrophe in Italian works, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

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