How to use the apostrophe in Italian

The apostrophe sign (‘) replaces certain letters in a word to join two words together. Think of 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 find the answers to these questions and more 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? If you have a word that ends with an unstressed vowel, such as the indefinite article una, you can cut off that vowel if the following word also begins with a vowel, such as amica.

A female friend

two girls chatting

However, elision is not always necessary, and sometimes it is downright wrong to use it. Let’s see why in the next section.

When to use the apostrophe in Italian

Elision is mandatory before una when it precedes a word beginning with a vowel.

A label

A goose

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

No islands

small islands from above

The apostrophe in Italian is required before 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 before ci + conjugations of the verb to be beginning with e-, such as era, è or erano.

C’era, which translates into the English sentence there was, is actually the elision of ci era. However, you NEVER write it as ci era.

There is

You 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

When NOT to use the apostrophe in Italian

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

Un esame
An exam

Nessun elefante
No elephants

Qualcun altro
Someone else

The apostrophe in Italian is also not allowed before words that begin 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 before 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 before ci when translating “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 shortened to 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 worked as a factory worker.

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