Writing: an activity that some adore, that others hate but that we all need. After all, knowing how to write well is not only useful for school or for authors: we all need to write letters, e-mails, summaries, reports and so on and so forth. But very often both foreigners and Italians themselves have doubts about some rules of writing in Italian, especially those concerning punctuation – it is a very normal thing. After all, even Oscar Wilde said: “I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out”. In this article, I will show you all those punctuation mistakes you no longer must not make when you write in Italian!
12 PUNCTUATION MISTAKES in ITALIAN
In this article you can find a list of 12 punctuation mistakes to avoid when writing in Italian. We will talk about rules that concern commas, semicolons, full stops/periods, colons; but we will also talk about rules… that are not rules! For each rule you can find both an example of a mistake and a correct example in order to make you understand the rule as clearly as possible.
1 – COMMA BETWEEN THE SUBJECT AND THE VERB
The comma should never be placed between the subject and the verb, even if there are other words between them.
Sara, mangia la pasta. = WRONG!
(Sara, eats pasta.)
Sara__ mangia la pasta. = RIGHT!
La casa che abbiamo comprato, è molto luminosa. = WRONG!
(The house we have bought, is very bright.)
La casa che abbiamo comprato__ è molto luminosa. = RIGHT!
(The house we have bought__is very bright.)
The only exception is if there is an embedded clause between the subject and the verb: in this case you must put a comma at the beginning and another comma at the end of the embedded clause. For example:
I bambini, che avevano da poco cenato, andarono a dormire.
(The children, who had just had dinner, went to sleep.)
2 – COMMA BETWEEN THE VERB AND THE DIRECT OBJECT
The comma should never be placed between the verb and its direct object. For example:
Ogni giorno prendo, la metro per andare a lavoro. = WRONG!
(Every day I take, the metro to go to work.)
Ogni giorno prendo__ la metro per andare a lavoro. = RIGHT!
(Every day I take__ the metro to go to work.)
3 – COMMA BETWEEN THE VERB “TO BE” AND ITS ADJECTIVE OR NOUN
The comma should never be placed between the verb “to be” (essere) and its adjective or noun.
Luca è, un architetto. = WRONG!
(Luca is, an architect.)
Luca è__ un architetto. = RIGHT!
(Luca is__an architect.)
I suoi dipendenti, sono intelligenti. = WRONG!
(His/her employees, are smart.)
I suoi dipendenti__ sono intelligenti. = RIGHT!
(His/her employees__are smart.)
4 – COMMA BETWEEN THE NOUN AND ITS ADJECTIVE OR ADVERB
The comma should never be placed between the noun and its adjective or adverb.
Ieri alla festa abbiamo mangiato, troppo. = WRONG!
(Yesterday at the party we eat, too much.)
Ieri alla festa abbiamo mangiato__ troppo. = RIGHT!
(Yesterday at the party we eat__too much.)
Per il suo compleanno, Marta ha ricevuto delle rose, rosse. = WRONG!
(For her birthday, Marta has received some red, roses.)
Per il suo compleanno, Marta ha ricevuto delle rose__ rosse. = RIGHT!
(For her birthday, Marta has received some red__roses.)
5 – STARTING A NEW PARAGRAPH or LINE
After the full stop/period, if the following sentence has a different subject or gives new information compared to the previous one, it is best to start a new paragraph (or line).
- Burano è una delle isole di Venezia, famosa per le case colorate.__ Moltissime riviste internazionali annoverano Burano tra le prime 10 città più colorate al mondo. = WRONG!
(Burano is one of Venice’s islands, famous for its colorful houses.__ Many international magazines count Burano among the top 10 most colorful cities in the world.)
- Burano è una delle isole di Venezia, famosa per le case colorate. __
Moltissime riviste internazionali annoverano Burano tra le prime 10 città più colorate al mondo. = RIGHT!
(Burano is one of Venice’s islands, famous for its colorful houses.__
Many international magazines count Burano among the top 10 most colorful cities in the world.)
6 – USING TOO MANY FULL STOPS
Using full stops is a good thing, obviously, but do not overuse them! They indicate a long pause, for they end a sentence, a thought. So they should not be used to break a sentence. Let me clarify: every sentence that ends with a full stop must make full sense and should have a main verb – if it doesn’t, it must be connected to another one with a comma or a semicolon.
Ero molto stanca. Perché avevo lavorato tanto. = WRONG!
( I was very tired. Because I had worked a lot.)
Ero molto stanca__perché avevo lavorato tanto. = RIGHT!
(I was very tired__because I had worked a lot.)
Avevamo mangiato gli antipasti e i primi. Ma non eravamo ancora sazi. Perciò abbiamo ordinato anche i secondi. = WRONG!
(We had eaten the appetizers and the first courses. But we weren’t full yet. So we also ordered the second/main courses.)
Avevamo mangiato gli antipasti e i primi,__ma non eravamo ancora sazi, perciò abbiamo ordinato anche i secondi. = RIGHT!
(We had eaten the appetizers and the first courses but we weren’t full yet. So we also ordered the second/main courses.)
Obviously, in some books you might find dependent clauses used as main clauses -like those in the examples we have just seen-, but it’s more like an example of “poetic licence“, creative liberties that authors take that wouldn’t be appropriate in other contexts.
7 – SEMICOLON: WHAT A MESS!
Many misuse semicolons in Italian. It is an intermediate pause between comma and period, and should be used only in the cases that I am going to list:
7.a. To link the elements of a complex list, that is a list in which each item consists of more than a single word. For example…
Al supermercato ho comprato molte cose: pere, mele, farina, pasta, pomodori e formaggio.
(At the supermarket I bought many things: pears, apples, flour, pasta, tomatoes and cheese.)
(SIMPLE LIST = COMMA!)
Nonostante fossero passati molti anni, l’ho riconosciuta subito: aveva ancora gli stessi capelli lunghi e ricci; la sua pelle era più abbronzata del solito, perché forse era stata in vacanza; vestiva ancora di nero e aveva ancora la stessa espressione serena di sempre.
(Although many years had passed, I recognized her immediately: she still had the same long and curly hair; her skin was more tanned than usual, maybe because she had been on vacation; she still dressed in black and still had the same serene expression as always.)
(COMPLEX LIST = SEMICOLON!)
7.b. To connect sentences that already have other punctuation marks. For example…
Nel corso del trimestre si è notato un aumento delle vendite, così come una maggiore richiesta da parte dei fornitori, inoltre i guadagni sono aumentati, grazie alle sovvenzioni richieste durante l’anno scorso. = WRONG!
(During the quarter, there was an increase in sales, as well as increased demand from suppliers, in addition, earnings have increased, thanks to the subsidies requested during the last year.)
Nel corso del trimestre si è notato un aumento delle vendite, così come una maggiore richiesta da parte dei fornitori; inoltre i guadagni sono aumentati, grazie alle sovvenzioni richieste durante l’anno scorso. = RIGHT!
(During the quarter, there was an increase in sales, as well as increased demand from suppliers; in addition, earnings have increased, thanks to the subsidies requested during the last year.)
7.c. To connect ideas that are conceptually close. Take for example Article 5 of the Italian Constitution…
La Repubblica, una e indivisibile, riconosce e promuove le autonomie locali; attua nei servizi che dipendono dallo Stato il più ampio decentramento amministrativo; adegua i principi ed i metodi della sua legislazione alle esigenze dell’autonomia e del decentramento.
(The Republic is one and indivisible. It recognizes and promotes local autonomies; it implements the fullest measure of administrative decentralization in those services which depend on the State; it adapts the principles and methods of its legislation to the requirements of autonomy and decentralization.)
All these ideas need to be in the same sentence, slightly separated from each other but always close to each other!
8 – CAPITAL LETTER AFTER A COLON
In Italian, you should never use the capital letter after a colon. For example:
Questa settimana ho comprato tre riviste: Una di moda, una di informazione e una di politica. = WRONG!
(This week I bought three magazines: A fashion magazine, a news magazine and a political magazine.)
Questa settimana ho comprato tre riviste: una di moda, una di informazione e una di politica. = RIGHT!
(This week I bought three magazines: a fashion magazine, a news magazine and a political magazine.)
9 – USING THE COLON TO INTERRUPT A SENTENCE
The colon cannot interrupt a sentence and it should therefore be avoided when a list of complements depends directly on the verb. For instance:
Al mio compleanno c’erano: Giulia, Giorgio e Alessandra. = WRONG!
(At my birthday party there were: Giulia, Giorgio and Alessandra.)
Al mio compleanno c’erano__ Giulia, Giorgio e Alessandra. = RIGHT!
(At my birthday there were__ Giulia, Giorgio and Alessandra.)
As illustrated by the example, the colon must not separate the complement and the verb – although it could seem similar to the example for the previous rule (“Questa settimana ho comprato tre riviste: una di moda, una di informazione e una di politica”), in this case the colon does not interrupt anything because the verb “comprare” (to buy) has its own complement (“tre riviste“, three magazines).
10 – THE ELLIPSIS
The ellipsis is a series of three dots, always. Not two, not four… three! They usually stick to the word that precedes them and they are followed by a space.
+ Mangiamo pasta o carne?
(Are we eating pasta or meat?)
-Scegli tu….. = WRONG!
-Scegli tu… = RIGHT!
11 – THE ELLIPSIS: UPPER- OR LOWER-CASE LETTER AFTER THE THREE DOTS?
Regarding the use -or not- of capitalization after the ellipsis, the situation is complicated: there’s a great debate on this matter and there are no strict rule, but only customs, trends.
11.a. According to the trends, the capital letter must be used after the ellipsis if it indicates the conclusion of a thought, a concept.
Sono stata invitata alla festa ma sono stanca… penso che rimarrò a casa. = WRONG!
(I’ve been invited to the party but I’m tired…maybe I’ll stay at home.)
Sono stata invitata alla festa ma sono stanca… Penso che rimarrò a casa. = RIGHT!
(I’ve been invited to the party but I’m tired…Maybe I’ll stay at home.)
11.b. On the other hand, if the ellipsis indicates a momentary pause before resuming the previous speech, then the text will continue using the lowercase after.
Luca è strano! Non beve la birra con la pizza ma… La vodka! = WRONG!
(Luca is weird! He doesn’t drink beer with pizza but…Vodka!)
Luca è strano! Non beve la birra con la pizza ma… la vodka! = RIGHT!
(Luca is weird! He doesn’t drink beer with pizza but…vodka!)
12 – THE COMMA BEFORE THE CONJUNCTION “E”
This is another controversial matter. People argue about it… don’t sleep because of it… pull their hair out… Okay, I’m exaggerating but it’s a pretty big doubt! With regard to the use of commas before the conjunction E, in fact, there are no strict rules and even the Accademia della Crusca (one of the most important research institutions of the Italian language) has declared that… it depends! But there are trends.
12.a. Usually, we do not put a comma before the conjunction E.
Ho fatto una passeggiata, e ho comprato un vestito nuovo. = WRONG!
(I took a stroll, and I bought a new dress.)
Ho fatto una passeggiata__ e ho comprato un vestito nuovo. = RIGHT!
(I took a stroll__ and I bought a new dress.)
12.b. It is used when…
- The subject of the sentences is the same, but the information contained in the sentences is different…
Era tutto solo nell’ufficio__ e solo così ha avuto la possibilità di finire il progetto indisturbato. = WRONG!
(He was all alone in the office__ and only then did he have the chance to finish his project undistrubed.)
Era tutto solo nell’ufficio, e solo così ha avuto la possibilità di finire il progetto indisturbato. = RIGHT!
(He was all alone in the office, and only then did he have the chance to finish his project undistrubed.)
- The subject of the sentences is different and the sentences are distant both in content and grammar…
Eravamo in ritardo__ e Maria avrebbe voluto scomparire piuttosto che fronteggiare la rabbia del capo. = WRONG!
(We were late__and Maria wanted to disappear rather than face the boss’ anger.)
Eravamo in ritardo, e Maria avrebbe voluto scomparire piuttosto che fronteggiare la rabbia del capo. = RIGHT!
(We were late, and Maria wanted to disappear rather than face the boss’ anger.)
This article ends here! What do you think of these rules? Have you ever made these mistakes? Let me know in the comments! If you need to review the Italian punctuation, do not worry: we have already published an article (and a video) about it, in which we explain how to use punctuation marks.
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