It’s very important to know the use of special signs in writing to clarify how words are used, so if you want to write well, you must use punctuation correctly. In written, punctuation is vital to clear up the meaning of the sentence. The rules of punctuation vary with language, location and time and are constantly evolving.
Unlike in English, punctuation such as commas and periods are placed outside the quote marks when writing in Italian. For example: “Leggo questo libro da molto tempo”. The same sentence in English, though, is written: “I’ve been reading this book for a long time.”
These are the most used punctuation marks in this language:
, la virgola = comma
. il punto = period
; il punto e virgola = semicolon
: due punti = colon
… i puntini di sospensione = ellipses
! il punto esclamativo = exclamation point
? il punto interrogativo = question mark
– il trattino = hyphen
– la lineetta = dashes
«» le virgolette = quotation marks
() le parentesi tonde = brackets
 le parentesi quadre = brackets
* l’asterisco = asterisk
‘ l’apostrofo = apostrophe
/ la sbarretta = slash
The comma is the most used mark of punctuation, which usually elucidate the meaning of the story or sentence and establish an order in the written language. It is useful punctuation device because it separates the structural elements of sentences into manageable segments.
The typical role of the comma are:
1) It separates the clauses of a sentence when there are two independent clauses joined by a conjunction, especially when the clauses are not very short:
Es. Tom wanted to see the ocean at sunrise, but he overslept that morning = Tom voleva vedere l’oceano all’alba ma dormìi più a lungo quella mattina.
- 2) It can separate the clauses of a sentence when there is a series of independent clauses, the last two of which are joined by a conjunction.
Es. The bus ride to the campsite was very uncomfortable, the cabins were not ready for us when we got there, the cook had forgotten to start dinner, and the rain was torrential = Il viaggio in autobus al campeggio fu molto scomodo, the cabine non erano pronte quanto siamo arrivati , il cuoco aveva dimenticato di iniziare la cena, e la pioggia fu torrenziale.
- 3) It is used to precede , a non restrictive dependent clause (a clause that could be omitted without changing the meaning of the main clause):
Es. The tea, which is recently brewed, is in the dining room.= Il tè che è stato appena preparato , è in soggiorno.
- 4) It follows an introductory phrase:
Es. In the beginning, they had very little money to invest.= All’inizio, loro avevano pochi soldi da investire.
- 5) It puts in motion words used in direct address:
Es. Yes, Mrs. Rossi, I will be happy to invite you at the party.= Si, signora Rossi , sarò felice di invitarla alla festa.
6) The comma can separate two or more adjectives (adjectives that could otherwise be joined with and) that modify one noun:
Es. The boy was tall, lean, and muscular.
- 7) I can use a comma to separate three or more items in a series or list:
Es. I need eggs, mik, coffe, sugar for my tiramisù.
- 8) To isolate a vocative:
Es: ” Cantami, o Diva, del Pelide Achille l’ira funesta….”
Period Use in Italian
The period has two basic functions:
- – It is used to mark the end of a sentence and it’s used at the and of a title.
Es:° The sun is a source of light for the earth and human beings.
° Dott. Bianchi, Ing. Rossi.
Exclamation Points and Question Marks
The only sentences that do not end in a period are those that end in either a question mark or an exclamation point.
Exclamation point indicates a feeling of surprise or pain: My God, what surprise!, and question mark that indicates a question that has expressed in direct form: Who can count all the stars on the sky?
The colon has different basic functions in Italian:
- – It can introduce something, especially a list of items:
Es: A cook should have the following items: spoons, forks, knives…….
- – It can separate two clauses in a sentence when the second clause is being used to explain or illustrate the first clause:
Es: Most of the houses in our neighborhood are quite big: two of them are beautiful villas.
- – It can introduce a statement or a quotation:
Es: Her mother say the most important rule is this: always tell the truth.
The semicolon has two basic functions:
1. It can separate two main clauses, particularly when these clauses are of equal importance:
The crowds gathered outside the cinema hours before the doors were opened; this was one movie no one wanted to miss.
He always complained when he had to prepare an exam; even so, he usually was happy when it finished.
2) Ahead the conjunction “ma”(but) usually we find the comma but often semicolon too:
Es: When last time I finished the exam they took me at home, but I was sad….= quando l’ultima volta finii l’esame loro mi portarono a casa, ma io ero triste…
An ellipsis usually indicates that the sentence it’s not finished or they indicate the place in a passage where stuff has been omitted.
Es: However you know……says Renzo ( Manzoni)
Hyphen and Dash Use in Italian
A dash, is used most commonly to replace the usage of parentheses within sentences. If the information being set off is in the middle of the sentence, a pair of dashes is used; if it is at the end of the sentence, just one dash is used:
Es: The stores were filled with holiday shoppers-even more so than last year.
Hyphen: Hyphen has this function:
It can join two or more words to make a compound, especially when so doing makes the meaning more clear :
Es: I met to discuss long-range planning.
Parentheses are used, in pairs, to enclose information that gives extra detail or explanation to the text. Parentheses are used in two basic ways:
1. They can separate a word or words in a sentence from the rest of the sentence:
On our way to school, we walk past the Turner Farm (the oldest dairy farm in town) and watch the cows being fed.
The stores were filled with holiday shoppers (even more so than last year).
(Note that the period goes outside the parentheses, because the words in the parentheses are only part of the sentence.)
2. They can form a separate complete sentence:
Please bring a dessert to the dinner party. (It can be something very simple.) I look forward to seeing you there.
It used to do a recall, for example at the bottom of the page and if you repeat them (***) more times, it indicates you omitted a name.
Es: “Padre Cristoforo da *** era un uomo più vicino ai sessanta che ai cinquant’anni” ( Manzoni) = Father Cristoforo from *** was a man closest about sixty than fifty.
In Italian the apostrophe (l’apostrofo) is generally used to indicate the dropping of the final vowel before the word that follows it.
l’amico instead of lo amico (the friend)
l’automobile instead of la automobile (the automobile)
un’università instead of una università (a university)
d’Italia instead of di Italia (of Italy)
dov’è instead of dove è (where is)
Exercise: How to use Commas and Semicolons Correctly
Pasta is made from durum wheat flour which makes a strong elastic dough. Hard durum wheat has the highest wheat protein value. The flour is mixed with water kneaded to form a thick paste and then forced through perforated plates or dies that shape it into one of more than 100 different forms. The macaroni die is a hollow tube with a steel pin in its center the spaghetti die lacks the steel pin and produces a solid cylinder of paste. Ribbon pasta is made by forcing the paste through thin slits in a die shells and other curved shapes are produced with more intricate dies. The shaped dough is dried carefully to reduce the moisture content to about 12 percent and properly dried pasta should remain edible almost indefinitely. Pastas can be colored with spinach or beet juice. The addition of egg produces a richer yellower pasta that is usually made in noodle form and is often sold undried.
Pasta is made from durum wheat flour, which makes a strong, elastic dough. Hard durum wheat has the highest wheat protein value. The flour is mixed with water, kneaded to form a thick paste, and then forced through perforated plates or dies that shape it into one of more than 100 different forms. The macaroni die is a hollow tube with a steel pin in its center; the spaghetti die lacks the steel pin and produces a solid cylinder of paste. Ribbon pasta is made by forcing the paste through thin slits in a die; shells and other curved shapes are produced with more intricate dies. The shaped dough is dried carefully to reduce the moisture content to about 12 percent, and properly dried pasta should remain edible almost indefinitely. Pastas can be colored with spinach or beet juice. The addition of egg produces a richer, yellower pasta that is usually made in noodle form and is often sold undried.
By Elisa Bressan