Friday, July 16, 2010

An important idiomatic use of da

You should know by now that, unfortunately, the prepositions, little and harmless-looking as they are, are actually one of the more difficult aspects of Italian (and many other languages as well.) The reason for this is that you often cannot simply translate the dictionary meaning of a particular preposition into the other language. Additionally, sometimes Italian will have a preposition where English doesn't, and vice-versa.

An example is an idiomatic use of the preposition da, which the dictionary will tell you means "from." It is very commonly used in expressions where in English we would use "at" or "to" and is similar to the use of chez in French. Let's look at some of these.

Torno da mia madre!

I'm going back to my mother!

E' andato dal dentista.

He went to the dentist.

Dovresti portare la macchina dal meccanico.

You should take the car to the mechanic.

E' dalla sorella.

She's at her sister's place.

What characterizes this use is that it pertains to fixed places where one may go recurrently but usually not on a regular basis.

Contrast with:

Va in chiesa tutte le domeniche.

He goes to church every Sunday.

Mi piace andare al supermercato.

I like to go to the supermarket.

Ormai odio andare al lavoro.

I've gotten to the point where I hate to go to work.

Mio figlio va a scuola da solo.

My son goes to school by himself.

Restaurants and even small hotels will also sometimes start with da, usually followed by someone's name (presumably the owner.) Examples: Ristorante Da Mario, Trattoria Da Pina, Hotel Da Bruno. The French also will use chez in such cases. This gives an air of familiarity because of the idea of recurrence: they are suggesting that the place is well-known and frequented by regulars who come back. Just to add a little confusion, which is always fun, Italian restaurants sometimes begin with the preposition a. Trattoria al Gambero, Ristorante all'Ancora. But these refer to things and not people, the things being associated here with the business in some way.

(The illustration is from the famed Burano, Venice, restaurant Da Romano, which was indeed founded by a man named Romano.)