Loro scrivono su di lei - They write about her

Why is, "they write about her" written as, "scrivono su DI lei" but something like, "they write about Paris" written as, "Scrivono su Parigi"?

Why is there a need for, 'di' in the first instance and not in the second?

September 22, 2018


Italian has two types of preposition.

The so-called proper prepositions are nine all together, and rather short: di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra or fra:

When these prepositions are used before a noun(✱), they do not require any additional word:

di Firenze
con tuo fratello
per Paolo
da uomo a uomo
tra le persone

(✱) Note: not only a noun can follow the preposition, but also a demonstrative pronoun, e.g. con quello, or an indefinite pronoun, e.g. per qualcuno, or an adverb, e.g. da qui a lì.

When proper prepositions are used before a personal pronoun (object personal pronoun, me, te, lui, lei, noi, voi, loro), most of them do not require any additional word:

di me
a te
da lui
in lei
con noi
per voi

Only three of them (su, tra, fra) can take an extra di, which is rather commonly spoken by native speakers, but is not mandatory:

su di loro (or su loro)
tra di noi (or tra noi)
fra di voi (or fra voi)

The extra di is used only if the preposition is followed by one personal pronoun. If two personal pronouns follow the preposition, di is never used:

su noi e voi (alternatively, su di noi e su di voi)

The second group includes the so-called improper prepositions, most of which can act also as adverbs when they stand before a verb (whence the name 'improper').
They are much more numerous; among the common ones are: sopra, sotto, prima, dopo, davanti, dietro, fuori, dentro, vicino, accanto, senza, invece, fino, verso, tranne, and others.

When these prepositions are used before a noun(✱), about half of them do not require any additional word:

sopra il tavolo
dopo la partita
senza soldi
verso il sole
tranne una persona

(✱) The same note mentioned for proper prepositions applies also to improper prepositions.

Among the remaining ones, a majority of improper prepositions require either an extra di or, more often, an extra a (very few require da):

prima dello spettacolo
invece di un esempio
davanti alla scuola
vicino alla casa
accanto a un albero
fino alla piazza

For a few of them, the use of the extra preposition is optional:

sopra il tavolo (without, preferable) / sopra al tavolo
dietro il muro (without, preferable) / dietro al tavolo
dentro il palazzo / dentro al palazzo

or different prepositions can be used:

fuori del negozio / fuori al negozio / fuori dal negozio

When improper prepositions are used before a personal pronoun (object personal pronoun), almost all of them take an extra preposition, more often di:

sopra di me
dopo di te (dopo te is heard, but not fully grammatical)
senza di lui (senza lui is also accepted)
verso di lei (verso lei is also accepted)
prima di noi
invece di voi

but the ones that take a before nouns use the same preposition also before personal pronouns:

davanti a loro
vicino a me
accanto a te
fino a lui.

Only very few do not take an extra preposition before a personal pronoun:

tranne lei

Unfortunately, whether an improper preposition takes an extra preposition, and which one it takes, cannot be predicted, but only studied (a good dictionary should mention the correct one), and then memorized out of practice.

I'll try to provide a reference table with more improper prepositions.

September 23, 2018

So helpful, thank you.

September 23, 2018

Thank you so much for the detailed explanation! :)

September 23, 2018

Siamo sempre in forma vedo... : )

September 24, 2018

holy moly Civis. I lingot you

September 24, 2018

Here is a table of the most important improper prepositions.
The left colum shows the preposition as it is used before nouns, demonstratives, adverbs.
The right column shows the same preposition as it is used before personal pronouns (the additional di is highlighted in red).

full size image

September 24, 2018

Ciao Civis. Sai che voglio dire... :-)

September 24, 2018

Grazie mille, ho già capito! :-D

September 24, 2018

Ciao, I can add that the prepositions su and su + di introduce an indirect complement, the so-called "complemento di argomento" (i.e. topic), but here and in general they can also be replaced by the preposition di (e.g. Scrivono di lei/di Parigi), or locutions such as a proposito di/ riguardo a (e.g. Scrivono a proposito di/riguardo a lei or Parigi); further in other contexts this complement can also be introduced by an articulated preposition (about "su" read more below) and even by the pronoun ne (e.g. He spoke about it yesterday. - Lui ne ha parlato ieri.)

ABOUT THE FIRST SENTENCE Scrivono su di lei.:

More generally, in according to the grammar, "su" can be directly followed by complements (then without "di"), in two specific cases:

1. when there is a personal pronoun (su me, te, lui, lei, esso, noi, voi, loro, essi), however it's always advisable to use "di" too, it's more common;

2. when there is an indefinite article (su un, uno, una); this is more common than "su di un".


Conto su te! / Conto su di te! (more common) - I count on you!

Lui mi ha fatto delle domande su lei. / Lui mi ha fatto delle domande su di lei. (more common) - He asked me some questions about her.

Siamo sperduti su un'isola deserta.(more common) / Siamo sperduti su di un' isola deserta. - We are lost on a desert island.

Concluding, in your specific sentence, you should use su + di + lei.


You should use only su, because with people's names, names of cities, indefinite/demonstrative pronouns and talking about a single relative when you use a possessive adjective, it's necessary only "su" (rule applied to different contexts/prepositions too, as Civis wrote in general).


Ho scritto un libro su Irnerio. (personal name) - I wrote a book about Irnerio.

Ho scritto molto su quello / su qualcuno che tu conosci bene. (demonstrative/indefinite pronouns) - I wrote a lot about that /about someone you know well.

Ho letto un articolo su Parigi. (name of city) - I read an article about Paris.

Ho pubblicato una poesia su mia madre. (relative) - I published a poem about my mother.

Instead with all the other nouns, you must use sul/sullo/sulla (with singular n.) and sui/sugli/sulle (with plural n.) or su un/uno/una, i.e. "su + the" and "su + a/an" (rule applied to other prepositions too).


Ho dibattuto sul giurista Irnerio. - I debated about/on the jurist Irnerio.

Ho scritto un articolo sulle città di Parigi e di Londra. - I wrote an article about the city of Paris and London.

Ho scritto un'opera sulla figura di mia madre. - I wrote a work about my mother's figure.

A. Einstein ha sviluppato un'opera sulla "Teoria del relativismo". - A.Einstein developed a work on/about the "Theory of relativism.".

Scriverò un libro su una storia interessante. - I will write a book about an interesting story.

Sorry for the long speech but it's certainly a complex topic !

September 24, 2018

Grazie, Emy. Lingots for you as well.

September 24, 2018

Di nulla! Grazie a te : )

September 25, 2018
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