Punctuation Rules in Italian: how to use PUNCTUATION MARKS

Punctuation is really important when we write, so that anybody can understand without difficulty or misunderstanding what we want to say. Fortunately, in Italian the punctuation rules are quite simple and you just need this lesson to learn them all and write well, in any context!

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How to Use PUNCTUATION MARKS in Italian

Before beginning, I want to show you a couple of examples on how punctuation can totally change the meaning of two seemingly identical sentences:

1- Andiamo a mangiare, nonna! / Andiamo a mangiare nonna! (Let’s go eat, Grandma! / Let’s go eat Grandma!)

2- Giornata difficile da dimenticare. / Giornata difficile, da dimenticare. (Hard day to forget! / Difficult day, one to be forgotten!)

Although, at first glance, these phrases may seem identical, they actually have completely different meanings!

Let’s see the first two: if you say, “Andiamo a mangiare, nonna!” (notice the comma before “nonna”?) means that you are calling your grandmother, to invite her to eat or warn her that you are going to eat. If, instead, you say, “Andiamo a mangiare nonna!” (without comma), means that you are inviting someone who is with you to eat your poor grandma, as a meal!

Let’s move on to the other two sentences: if you say “Hard day to forget!” (without comma), it means that you want to emphasize the fact that the day you are talking about will be hard to forget, because maybe something quite important, ugly or beautiful has happened. If instead you say “Difficult day, one to be forgotten!” (with a comma in the middle), it means that the day you are talking about was very bad and that you absolutely want to forget about it! Notice the difference?Misusing punctuation can create big misunderstandings, because the reader will understand something different from what you meant!

Let’s try to clarify what are the main punctuation marks in Italian: the period, the question mark, the exclamation mark, the semicolon, ellipsis, the colon, the comma, quotation marks, the hyphen, and parentheses.

1 – THE COMMA (LA VIRGOLA)

The comma marks a short pause in the sentence. It is a break, often used to let the reader breathe (if you are reading aloud) and give rhythm to the sentence. Here are the cases where to use it:

  • when you draw up a list, you place a comma between the various elements, except between the last two, where instead you have to put an “e (and)”.
    For example: “Sono andata al supermercato e ho comprato mele, arance, miele, carciofi, pane, marmellata e patate (I went to the supermarket and bought apples, oranges, honey, artichokes, bread, jam and potatoes)”;
  • after an element at the beginning of the sentence that refers to something previously said or known.
    Es: “Detto questo, dobbiamo pensare al futuro…(Having said that, we need to think about the future…)”
    “Fatta questa breve precisazione, possiamo iniziare lo spettacolo! (Given this brief clarification, we can start the show!)”;
  • to isolate a word or an entire phrase that offers non-essential additional information .
    Es: “Paolo, il ragazzo di cui ti ho parlato, è appena tornato da Parigi. (Paolo, the guy I told you about, has just returned from Paris.)”;
  • after the place name in the date.
    Es: “Roma, 10 luglio 2010. (Rome, 10 July 2010)”.
  • before prepositions or conjunctions to change the rhythm of the sentence or accentuate a meaning that you want to give.
    Es: “Lo farò, ma ho bisogno di tempo! (I will do it, but I need time!)”
    “Penso sia una buona soluzione, per te e per me. (I think it’s a good solution, both for you and for me)”;
  • in the hypothetical period to separate the two sentences.
    Es: “Se stasera esci, chiamami! (If you go out tonight, call me!)”;

If you don’t know or remember what the hypothetical period is and how it works, we wrote an article explaining it!

One doubt that many have is: do you have to put the comma before the conjunction “e (and)” or not?
For example, is it: “I haven’t gone to see Sergio yet after the accident and I think I will not go for the moment” or “I haven’t gone to see Sergio yet after the accident, and I think I will not go for the moment”?
There is no real answer to this question.
Even the Crusca Academy admits that it is generally a subjective and optional choice. You can put a comma before the “e”, if you think you need a pause in the sentence flow or a greater emphasis on a given element of the sentence or, again, to create a more dynamic rhythm, but it is often not necessary.

2 – THE PERIOD (IL PUNTO)

The period indicates the end of a sentence and, as a result, a much longer pause than the comma. Here are some golden rules to know about the period:

  • except for titles (of articles, books, or movies), each sentence must always end with a period.
    Es: “Lucia è una bellissima ragazza. Non pensavo che saremmo diventate amiche, eppure è successo. Le voglio molto bene. (Lucia is a beautiful girl. I didn’t think we were going to be friends, and yet it happened. I love her very much.)”;
  • the length of a sentence, before the period, is always a personal choice, but it is still advisable never to exaggerate if you want to avoid tiring the reader and create misunderstandings;
  • the word following the period should always begin with an uppercase letter.
    Es: “Sergio e Luca sono amici da tanti anni. Non hanno mai litigato perché vanno molto d’accordo. (Sergio and Luca have been friends for many years. They never fought because they get along very well.)”

3 – THE COLON (DUE PUNTI)

The two points have the function of introducing or announcing something. For example:

  • list, enumeration, or citation.
    Es: “Penso proprio che abbiamo invitato tutti alla festa: Luca, Stefania, Piero, Vincenzo, Lucia, Marta e Giulio. (I think we invited everyone to the party: Luca, Stefania, Piero, Vincenzo, Lucia, Marta and Giulio.)”
    “Il mio motto è: Rispetto per tutti, paura di nessuno! (My motto is: Respect for all, fear of no one!)”;
  • the cause of something, an explanation, a clarification.
    Es: “Non mi è piaciuta la torta: era troppo asciutta. (I didn’t like the cake: it was too dry.)”
    ““Penso che salterò la cena e andrò direttamente a letto: ho lavorato tutto il giorno e sono stanchissima. (I think I’ll skip dinner and go straight to bed: I’ve been working all day and I’m so tired.)”

Remember that it is best to avoid repeating the colon in the same sentence by trying, where possible, to replace them with a “perché (because)” or by rephrasing the sentence itself.
For example:
“Sofia non ha molta voglia di ballare: è stata una settimana difficile per lei perché il suo fidanzato ha avuto un incidente con la moto. (Sofia doesn’t really want to dance: it’s been a difficult week for her because her boyfriend had a motorcycle accident.)”

4 – THE SEMICOLON (IL PUNTO E VIRGOLA)

The semicolon is used to signal a pause that is longer than a comma and shorter than a period. This sign is used by few and underestimated by many, although it is extremely useful! I’ll show you the most important cases to know to make the most out of it:

  • indicates the end of the concept expressed, but not the end of the general idea, that is, there is a break in the form, but not in the content of the sentence.
    For example: “Non ho molta voglia di giocare a tennis oggi, perché mi sono svegliata piuttosto presto e non sarebbe il caso di fare sport; vedere la TV, invece, mi rilasserebbe di più. (I don’t really want to play tennis today, because I woke up pretty early and it wouldn’t be the case to play sports; watching TV, on the other hand, would relax me more.)”
    In the first part of this sentence, I say that I do not want to play tennis and I explain why, concluding the concept expressed, but after I add an alternative to tennis, TV, which is not related to tennis, but always refers to the general idea (how to pass the time tonight);
  • it is also used at the end of each item in a list, especially when this list is for points, such as the lists I’m proposing in this article.

5 – THE ELLIPSIS (I PUNTINI DI SOSPENSIONE)

The elipsis are always and only three dot, not one more nor one less! They indicate a rather long pause, more than a period, and, like other punctuation marks, can express various meanings:

  • make our interlocutor understand that we have a doubt, that we are not 100% sure of what we are saying:
    Es: “Ho fame: forse dovrei mangiare qualcosa prima del pranzo Mh, no, dai, aspetterò! (I’m hungry: maybe I should eat something before lunch Mh, no, well, I’ll wait!)”;
  • make it clear that the person who is talking/writing wants to take a long break, perhaps to reflect on what to say next or to make listeners or readers better absorb the information that precedes the elipsis.
    Es: “Mi dispiace Dico sul serio Non volevo ferirti È successo così velocemente e non pensavo sarebbe stato possibile Davvero (I’m sorry I mean it I didn’t mean to hurt you It happened so fast and I didn’t think it would be possible Really)”;
  • express the continuation of an enumeration, a list, replacing the classic “eccetera”.
    Es:”Abbiamo organizzato tutto per il matrimonio: vestito, anelli, ristorante, bomboniere, chiesa, invitati(We arranged everything for the wedding: dress, rings, restaurant, candy maker, church, guests)”;
  • are used to omit part of a vulgar word, an insult or to avoid it altogether.
    Es: “Hai distrutto tutte le mie piante con quel coltello! Sei uno str! Un vero e proprio ! (You destroyed all my plants with that knife! You’re a bast! A real !)”;
  • if placed in between square brackets, indicate a “cut” in a citation.
    Es: “La mia citazione preferita è: ‘“Io non voglio cancellare il mio passato, perché nel bene o nel male mi ha reso quello che sono oggi. […] Io ringrazio me stesso per aver trovato sempre la forza di rialzarmi e andare avanti, sempre.” di Oscar Wilde. (My favorite quote is, ‘”I don’t want to erase my past, because for better or worse it made me who I am today. […] I thank myself for always finding the strength to get up and move on, always.” by Oscar Wilde.)”

6 – QUESTION MARK AND EXCLAMATION MARK (PUNTO INTERROGATIVO E PUNTO ESCLAMATIVO)

These signs are quite simple to use!

  • The question mark is used at the end of a question.
    Es: “Che cosa possiamo fare per lei? (What can we do for you?)”;
  • indirect questions, on the other hand, should not be put.
    Es: “Mi ha chiesto se avessi visto suo figlio. (He asked me if I had seen his son.)”;
  • if put in parentheses indicates uncertainty about the information we are giving.
    Es: “Dante Alighieri è nato il 21 maggio (?) 1265. (Dante Alighieri was born on May 21 (?) 1265)”.
  • the exclamation mark, on the other hand, is used at the end of a sentence to emphasize it. It can express anger (“Che palle! Non me ne va bene una oggi!/Dammit! I can’t seem to get anything right today!“), surprise (“Ma che bel regalo! Non me lo aspettavo proprio!/ What a nice gift! I didn’t really expect it!“), exasperation (“È la quarta volta che ti chiamo! Non puoi ignorare sempre le mie chiamate!/ It’s the fourth time I’m calling you! You can’t always ignore my calls!“), orders (“Divertiti! Mi raccomando! E non tornare tardi!/ Have fun! Be careful! And don’t come home late!“);
  • it is also used after interjections.
    Es: “Ah! Mi sono dimenticata di dirti che oggi non ci sarò a cena (Ah! I forgot to tell you that I won’t be there for dinner today.)”
    “Oh! Ma sei impazzito? (Oh! Have you gone mad?)”

In this regard, I wanted to remind you that if you want to know what are the shortest words of the Italian language – among which there are many interjections such as “ah”, “eh”, “oh” – do not miss the video I made together with my boyfriend on this very topic!

  • the word following the exclamation mark or question mark must always begin with an uppercase letter.
    Es: “Che noia! Guardiamo un film? Magari quello nuovo con Brad Pitt? (I’m so bored! Do you want to watch a movie? Maybe the new one with Brad Pitt?)”;
  • as for reading, these two signs require a different intonation.
    Es: “Quanti amici hai!” vs “Quanti amici hai?” (“How many friends you have!” vs” “How many friends do you have?“).

7 – QUOTATION MARKS (LE VIRGOLETTE)

Quotation marks are used:

  • at the beginning and end of a quote.
    Es: Socrate diceva: “Chi vuol muovere il mondo, prima muova se stesso.”/ Socrates said, “Whoever wants to move the world, first move himself.”;
  • at the beginning and end of a sentence reported as a direct speech.
    Es: La preoccupazione sul volto del fidanzato fu evidente quando la ragazza gli disse: “Ne parliamo domani!”. / The concern on her boyfriend’s face was evident when the girl said to him, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow!”;
  • to indicate a word or expression that you want to emphasize, such as metaphors, foreign words, slang, or dialect expressions.
    Es:Ma non sarà un po’ “too much” tutta questa roba solo per noi due?/ Won’t it be a little “trop” all this stuff just for the two of us?;
  • to signal, often in an ironic tone, something meaning something else.
    Es: Il mio amico Gianni è un “influencer”: ha 2000 follower su Instagram!/ My friend Gianni is an “influencer”: he has 2000 followers on Instagram!

8 – BRACKETS (LE PARENTESI)

In Italian, there are 3 types of brackets: round (), squares [] and curly { }. In written texts, however, only rounds are used, apart from the case of the elipsis in the squares ones that we have seen before.

All three are used in math, but if you want to deepen the math in Italian I recommend watching the video exclusively dedicated to this topic!

Also remember that when you find a word or phrase in round brackets, you have to change the tone of the voice!
First of all, let’s see when to use them and then how to read:

  • to isolate a word or group of words within a sentence, because they express a comment or clarification.
    Es: “Secondo la superstizione (non che io ci creda) se un gatto nero ci attraversa la strada, ci porterà sfortuna! / According to superstition (not that I believe it) if a black cat crosses the road, it will bring you bad luck!”;
  • to add phrases that could be safely deleted from the text, with no consequences for the concept expressed.
    Es: “Francesco (con cui tra l’altro non parlo da un anno) sta per tornare in città. / Francesco (with whom I haven’t spoken for a year) is about to return to the city.”

I would like to point out that, in both of these two cases, we could also replace the brackets with commas:

  • Secondo la superstizione, non che io ci creda, se un gatto nero ci attraversa la strada, ci porterà sfortuna! / According to superstition, not that I believe it, if a black cat crosses our way, it will bring you bad luck!
  • Francesco, con cui tra l’altro non parlo da un anno, sta per tornare in città. / Francesco, with whom I haven’t spoken for a year, is about to return to the city.

9 – DASHES (I TRATTINI)

Finally, we have dashes that, like the semicolon, create a lot of confusion and no one ever knows how to use them. The dashes are used:

  • to add or highlight some information, pretty much like the brackets we saw just now.
    Es: “Federico – nonostante tutti gli impegni – è riuscito a portare a termine il suo lavoro.” “Federico – despite all the things he had to do – managed to get his job done.”;
  • in a dialogue, within a direct discourse, to add something more about the speaker and how he speaks (“Io credo – disse l’uomo con uno sguardo intenso – che tu sia la cosa più bella che mi sia mai capitata! / I believe – said the man with an intense look – that you are the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me!”) or if the person who is speaking says something to someone else or makes a digression (“Secondo me dovresti chiederle scusa – ahia! Questa tazza scotta! – perché sei tu che hai sbagliato! / I think you should apologize to her – ouch! This cup’s too hot! – Because you’re the one who made a mistake!”).

If you want to learn how to write a formal email, do not miss our article dedicated to this topic! These days, we write a lot of emails, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn how to write one correctly!

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