How to Use Italian Conjunctions to Link Thoughts and Ideas
When you first parachuted into the battlefield of Italian, you weren’t much concerned with conjunctions and other connectives.
You might have used words like e (and), o (or) and perché (because), without realizing that you were using conjunctions.
Conjunctions are the key to crafting your battlefield strategy as you soldier on into intermediate and advanced Italian.
Get these critical words on your side with our guide to Italian conjunctions!
- What Are Italian Conjunctions and Connectives?
- Why Bother Learning Italian Conjunctions
- Italian Conjunctions and How to Use Them
- Copulative Conjunctions: Putting Things Together
- Conclusive Conjunctions: What’ll Come Out of This?
- Causal Conjunctions: Show Me the Reasons
- Declarative Conjunctions: Explain Yourself
- Disjunctive Conjunctions: Contrasting Alternatives
- Correlative Conjunctions: Do Some Linking Up
- Conditional and Concessive Conjunctions: Revisiting the Past Subjunctive
- Italian Conjunction Practice
What Are Italian Conjunctions and Connectives?
Conjunctions are used to link thoughts together.
You use them a lot in English, too! Take a moment to refresh your memory about their function:
Conjunctions are part of a group called connectives. Not all connectives are conjunctions, a distinction that you can bedevil yourself with if you really want (though it’s grammatically loose and varies by language).
Why Bother Learning Italian Conjunctions
Italian learners tend to absorb the easier connectives early on as they learn their present tense and past tense verbs, or in just ordering octopus and having some wine with that.
In fact, some never take the time to actually study connectives on their own!
This is a mistake, because some popular connectives—like allora (more on this soon)—sprawl over many different uses for which there’s no one-to-one translation in English.
It can get confusing, and bit of dedicated focus can help.
For the same reason, a dictionary translation isn’t always useful when you’re dealing with conjunctions—it’s much more effective to see them in action as Italians use them.
How? Read an Italian book or magazine. Dive into an authentic TV series. Or use a virtual immersion platform. FluentU, for example, draws its videos from many different types of Italian mass media and combines them with interactive subtitles and review quizzes that let you instantly look up unfamiliar conjunctions and then practice them.
But sometimes, even authentic context doesn’t clear things up: You might not know, for instance, if a speaker is comparing or contrasting two parts of a sentence.
And so, learners can remain in a connective fog that never lifts as they advance in the language.
That’s why in this post, we’ll take the most popular but tricky connectives head on. While I certainly can’t cover every single Italian conjunction in this post, I’ll bring to light some of the most common connective issues for learners.
Italian Conjunctions and How to Use Them
This post is meant to be a handy reference for learners at all levels, but it’ll be more useful at the intermediate and advanced levels. That means you should already have knowledge of some basic vocabulary, present tenses, past tenses, and the Italian subjunctive.
We’ve grouped these Italian connectives into logical categories for your convenience.
Here we go!
Copulative Conjunctions: Putting Things Together
One of the most basic ways to combine ideas together is by using words like e (and). But you probably already knew that!
Anche (too) and pure (also) are more likely to give you trouble. They’re used interchangeably and often sound best before an un-conjugated verb or immediately after a conjugated verb.
Anche andare in Italia è bello.
It’s also nice to go to Italy.
Fanno anche la pizza disgustosa a San Paulo.
They also make disgusting pizza in São Paulo.
Ho pure delle opinioni forti!
I also have strong opinions!
In each of these cases an idea is being continued from earlier, adding on to it.
I once said that second sentence, for example, to an Italian who was justifiably complaining about the disgusting slabs of grease and plasticky cheese they sell as “pizza” in New York City. Then came the third sentence.
Conclusive Conjunctions: What’ll Come Out of This?
I mentioned allora earlier, an Italian word that—even more than most—seems to beg to be sung.
It can mean “so,” “therefore” and a number of other things. It connects the first part of a sentence to some sort of result.
Two other conjunctions used in the same way are dunque and quindi.
Sogno Raffaella tutte le notti, allora dormo bene.
I dream of Raffaella every night, so I sleep well.
Dicono che questo spettacolo di teatro sia sconfortante dunque penso di non andarci.
They say that this play is depressing so I’m thinking of not going.
Allora and dunque are also used quite often to start a conversation or lead into a change of subject.
Allora ti sposi.
So… you’re getting married! (I heard about it earlier but I’m bringing it up now.)
Allora come va?
Hey/well/so/tell me, how’s it going?
Listen up, let’s get going!
Dunque, se la sono svignata…
So… they got away with it…
They can be used to lead to a conclusion in a negative way, as well.
Daria: Vieni al concerto con me?
Daria: Are you coming to the concert with me?
Daria: C’è pure Raffaella.
Daria: Raffaella will also be there.
Andrea: No, allora non vengo.
Andrea: No, then/in that case I’m not going.
And finally, allora can be used to talk about bygone days.
Sono cresciuto negli anni 80, allora non c’erano i cellulari.
I was born in the 80s, back when there were no cell phones.
Causal Conjunctions: Show Me the Reasons
Three ways to show causal connections in Italian are grazie a (thanks to), a causa di (because of) and siccome (since). The parenthetical translations are quite approximate, and you can get a better sense of how to use them by seeing some examples.
Grazie a is used a lot more often to show cause than we use “thanks to” in English. As you might expect, this is used exclusively for results we’re positive about.
Stiamo bene? No! Siamo al settimo cielo grazie a questo buon vino.
Are we feeling OK? No! We’re in seventh heaven thanks to this good wine.
While grazie a sounds slightly better in positive relationships than a causa di, the latter can also be used there.
If we’re talking about neutral or negative things, however, we definitely switch to a causa di.
Abbiamo peccato a causa di quel vino.
We sinned due to/thanks to/because of that wine.
Another way to demonstrate cause is with siccome.
Siccome sono nomade digitale, posso lavorare dove voglio.
Since I’m a digital nomad, I can work from anywhere.
The word pioché could be substituted for siccome for a more literary or formal tone.
Declarative Conjunctions: Explain Yourself
When we write in English, we’re taught to avoid the boredom of repeating ourselves. Which is to say, if we rephrase what we’ve already said, ennui (or an editor) strikes.
Italians are more accepting of the human tendency to rephrase, rehash and expand on things in speech or writing, and even do so exuberantly.
They have a wide range of ways to connect two ideas that are essentially the same, and they use them a lot more than the English equivalents. This can sometimes make the English translations for these connectives sound odd.
This group of words, called declaratives, includes ossia, cioè, anzi and vale a dire, which may variously translate as “meaning,” “that is to say” or “in fact.”
Here they are in action:
Padroneggio l’italiano, cioè posso capire pure le persone che biascicano!
I master Italian, that is to say, I can also understand people who mumble!
Lui è un intellettuale, ossia, dice le stesse cose diverse volte e nessuno capisce.
He is an intellectual, by which I mean he says the same things many times and no one understands.
Cioè is the newer of these but it’s very common and is now considered correct in written language. It can also be used in conversation to request and receive clarification or more information on a subject.
Andrea: Voglio avere una conversazione con te.
I want to have a conversation with you.
Andrea: Why?/Concerning?/About what?/Meaning?
Andrea: Cioè sono stufo del tuo comportamento!
Andrea: Meaning/because I’m fed up with your behavior!
Anzi is used when you want to add emphasis to your clarification or the newly introduced information.
Ci incontriamo presto, anzi, prestissimo, amore!
We see each other soon, in fact, very soon, my dear!
Preferiamo andare in vacanza al mare, anzi, vorremmo vivere in una città di mare.
We prefer to go on vacations at the seaside; in fact, we would like to live in a coastal city.
Anzi can also be used to change your mind in the middle of a sentence.
Andiamo adesso, anzi no, non posso, scusa!
Let’s go now — actually, no, I can’t, sorry!
Since Italians tend to talk over each other, keep some declarative connectives on hand to repeat what you said when you suspect that no one’s been listening.
With them, you can make it sound like you’re just expanding on or clarifying what you’ve said and eventually get your point across. Maybe.
Disjunctive Conjunctions: Contrasting Alternatives
Another way to connect ideas is by showing their differences. That’s where disjunctive conjunctions or connectives come into play.
The obvious one is o (or), but you’ve probably also run across oppure, which means the same thing.
Ci pensi tu, oppure ci penso io?
You’re taking care of it, or I’m taking care of it?
Another common phrase for contrasts is piuttosto che (rather than), but as we’re about to see, I’d avoid actually using it.
È un’amica piuttosto che un’amante.
She is a friend rather than a lover.
The problem is that Italians now frequently (“incorrectly”) use piuttosto che to mean “and also.” Change that meaning in the above sentence and what happens? Many (most) Italians would hear it and think that there’s a lot more nooky going on than is intended.
(Italian isn’t the only language in which words sometimes come to mean their opposites: English has plenty of contronyms, too.)
If you want to be clear instead of merely “correct,” you could use anziché, which means the same and doesn’t cause confusion.
È un’amica anziché un’amante.
She is a friend rather than a lover.
To say “and yet,” you can use eppure or tuttavia interchangeably, tuttavia being the more literary option.
Lei si scaglia contro me quando è furente, eppure mi ama.
She lashes out at me when she is angry, and yet she loves me.
The word bensì (but, in fact, in reality) can be used to contrast but only after negative phrases.
Non padroneggiano i connettivi letterari, bensì quelli più comuni.
They don’t master their literary connectives, but rather the basic ones.
Correlative Conjunctions: Do Some Linking Up
Using a structure that resembles links on a chain, you can show the correlation between two ideas in Italian.
For positive ideas you can use “sia… sia…” The words translate into English in a variety of ways.
Here’s one example:
Vale la pena andare sia nel nord sia nel sud Italia.
It’s worth going to Italy, whether in the North or the South/both to the North and the South.
“Sia… sia…” shows a parallel relationship while adding a lot more emphasis than just using e (and). English doesn’t seem to have any structure that does the same thing as beautifully, unfortunately.
Likewise, for negative ideas we can use “né… né…”:
Non mangio né zucchero né cioccolato.
I don’t eat sugar nor do I eat chocolate.
To compare two items in a similar fashion, but give one particular item a more negative weight than the other, you can use tanto meno (let alone/even less).
Non mi piace la birra di San Paolo, tanto meno la pizza.
I don’t like São Paulo beer and moreover their terrible pizza
In other words, the pizza is even worse than the terrible beer they have there.
And yes I know there are a ton of Italian learners in São Paulo and yes I hope you’re reading this and boy do I hope you get yourselves to Italy to discover real pizza!
Conditional and Concessive Conjunctions: Revisiting the Past Subjunctive
You just loved tackling the Italian past subjunctive and the conditional, right? If you know these well, you can use them with some handy connectives to make causal statements about hypothetical situations.
Benché and sebbene mean something like “although” or “even if.” Note that the stress is on the final syllable for benché.
Benché ci sia uno sciopero, rischierei comunque di andare in treno.
Even if there were a strike, I would risk going by train anyway.
Sebbene si spezzassero le sedie in testa, erano amici fraterni.
Although they smashed up the chairs on their heads, they were close friends.
Another way to say “although” is with pur plus the gerund (-ando, etc.).
Pur non guidando, dicono come andare alla stazione.
Although (they’re) not driving, they say how to go to the train station.
Circling back to past subjunctive plus conditional, you can also link the two with anche se (if, even if, although).
Anche se spettegolassero su di me, io continuerei a fare peccati.
Even if they were to gossip about me, I would continue to sin.
And finally you can use nel caso che (should/if/in the case that) to discuss hypothetical situations, like what to do if a goddess should descend from the heavens and inquire about this whole mess we’re in.
Nel caso che la dea scenda dal cielo, ci pentiremo.
If the goddess should descend from heaven, we will repent.
There are a variety of ways to translate that connective in this case: “should the goddess…,” “were the goddess to…”
As we’ve seen, connectives are a messy business and a one-to-one relationship between languages is elusive. It pays to focus on the Italian uses for each and not worry too much about how you would try to render these thoughts in your own language.
Italian Conjunction Practice
All done with your connectives, or just getting going? I hope it’s the later.
The lovely textbook “Soluzioni: A Practical Grammar of Contemporary Italian” has an entire chapter on connectives, including some of the more recherché literary ones, along with explanations and examples. It would be my first choice for understanding what the heck is happening with any Italian conjunction or other connective in plain English.
While the latest editions can be frightfully expensive, you can pick up used previous versions for cheap anywhere college students are getting rid of them.
You can also find lots more connectives categorized into groups (also at Impariamo Italiano). In the previous two resources, you can further expand your vocabulary by seeing groupings of similar Italian conjunctions.
An absolutely wonderful way to see the many ways that a trickier conjunction can be used alongside its meaning is to search for it on Linguee.
You’ll get snippets in Italian and their English equivalents as conjured by translators on official EU materials and a variety of websites. This can give you a much more complete sense of real-world use than looking up a conjunction in a dictionary.
Studying connectives is hardly a one-shot deal.
You’ll continue to find more interesting ones, and other uses for the ones you know, for years.
But take heart: Even Italians are in a lifelong battle with them. Hopefully you can share the struggle and, in doing so, connect to Italians themselves.