When to use the preposition SU in Italian

When do you use the preposition su in Italian? Are there any tricks you can learn to avoid making mistakes?

Su un tavolo
On a table

Sullo scaffale
On the shelf

Sul mio cadavere!
Over my dead body!

boy taking a pair of shoes from a shelf

Learn all about the su preposition in Italian and its variants here!


Preposition su in Italian

How to use the preposition su in Italian

Let me start with a general explanation of how prepositions work in this language.

Every preposition in Italian can either be semplice, simple, or articolata, “with article”.

Italian simple prepositions are what you probably already know as prepositions: DI, A, DA, IN, CON, SU, PER, TRA, FRA.

C’è un libro sulla sedia.
There is a book on the chair.

If necessary, any of these prepositions can be followed by an indefinite article, which is placed in front of the preposition as a separate word.

Sto scrivendo su un foglio di carta.
I am writing on a piece of paper.

man holding a long roll of paper

However, when used in a sentence, DI, A, DA, IN and SU cannot be followed directly by a definite article. The definite article merges with these prepositions to form what is called a preposizione articolata, “preposition with an article”.

Le posate sono nel cassetto.
The cutlery is in the drawer.
(IN + il)

Ci sono tre metri dal divano al televisore.
There are three meters from the sofa to the TV set.
(DA + il)

You cannot say:

Le posate sono in il cassetto.
Ci sono tre metri da il divano a il televisore.

Remember: if you need to use a definite article before DI, A, DA, IN and SU, you must merge the article with the preposition itself.

PER, TRA and FRA are never merged with a definite article, so they exist only in their simple form.

Chiamami fra cinque minuti, ora sono occupato.
Call me in five minutes, I’m busy now.

Questo regalo è per te.
This gift is for you.

couple exchanging gifts

CON can only merge with the masculine singular article il to form the preposition COL. No other variants are allowed.

That said, how many variants are there of the preposition su in Italian? Have a look at the table below.

Preposition su in Italian

SUsulsullosullasuisuglisulle
+illolaiglile

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Because there is a preposizione articolata for each definite article, there are a total of 7 variations of the preposition su in Italian.

For example, you could say…

L’uomo corre sulla collina.
The man runs up the hill.

L’uccellino riposa sul ramo.
The little bird rests on the branch.

two people birdwatching

Don’t worry. It all sounds so tiresome, but I assure you it’s not!

Now that we’ve seen how to use the preposition su in Italian, let’s see when you can use it.


When to use the preposition su in Italian

As you probably already know, the Italian preposition su is roughly equivalent to the English preposition on. However, there is one particular case where this rule does not apply.

At first glance, it can be difficult to understand when and how to use this preposition. However, as you will see, there are a number of rules that tell you exactly when to use su in a sentence. You must use su and its variants with an article…

  • to tell that something is over something else, or its general place
  • to translate “about” when taking about a topic
confused boy

Che confusione! That can be… quite overwhelming, so let me make a few real-life examples for both situations.


Preposition su in Italian for every situation

To tell that something is over something else, or its general place…

C’è acqua su Marte?
Is there water on Mars?

Mattia si siede sul sedile posteriore.
Mattia sits in the back seat.

Il pirata ha un pappagallo sulla spalla.
The pirate has a parrot on his shoulder.

a pirate with a treasure

To translate “about” when taking about a topic…

Sto leggendo un libro sui dinosauri.
I am reading a book about dinosaurs.

Sto leggendo un libro sui dinosauri.
I am reading a book about dinosaurs.

Oggi ho letto un articolo sulla crisi economica.
Today I read an article about the economic crisis.

These are the main rules you need to follow to use the preposition su correctly in Italian. And if you’re still not sure if you can use it in a sentence, remember that the other Italian prepositions have their own rules. You can go by exclusion, andare per esclusione!

And that’s the end of our lesson on the preposition su in Italian! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

Now that you’ve seen how and when to use the preposition su in Italian, 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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