Writing practice in Italian: how does the punctuation work? | ELLCI

Writing practice in Italian: how does the punctuation work?

totò e peppino nella celebre scena in cui totò detta la lettera a peppino

Writing practice in Italian: how does the punctuation work?

Introduction to the Italian punctuation

Easy exercises in Italian about the punctuation

Hi, I’m Francesca, L2 / LS Italian teacher at ELLCI Milano.
Today I will give you some indications on how to use punctuation in Italian.

Punctuation is important because it helps to define the meaning and expression of a sentence.
Punctuation can attribute two completely different meanings to the same sequence of words. Let’s look at this example together:
First sentence: Andiamo a mangiare nonna!/Let’s eat grandma!
Second sentence: Andiamo a mangiare, nonna!/Let’s eat, grandma!
As you see, using punctuation well is very important in order not to


The point, also called full stop, indicates a long pause and therefore is used at the end of a complete sentence. The sentence following the point always starts with a capital letter:
“Era una bella giornata di luglio. Il sole brillava alto nel cielo e Paolo aveva deciso di uscire con Laura. Fin dalla sera precedente aveva preparato la bicicletta e tutto il necessario per stare fuori fino al tramonto.” (G. Brancacci)/It was a beautiful day in July. The sun was shining high in the sky and Paolo had decided to go out with Laura. From the previous evening he had prepared the bicycle and everything necessary to stay out until sunset. (G. Brancacci)

The full stop is also used to write a word in an abbreviated way:
• Sig. to shorten the word signore, mister.
• Prof. to shorten the word professore, professor.
• Mitt. to abbreviate the word mittente, the sender.


The comma indicates a short pause and therefore we use:

  • in the word lists: ho comprato latte, caffè, biscotti e marmellata/I bought milk, coffee, biscuits and jam;
  • to separate an inscription within a sentence (the inscription is additional information inserted in the sentence): ieri, 28 febbraio, era il mio compleanno/yesterday, February 28th, it was my birthday;
  • in the dates, after the name of the place: Milano, 18 aprile 2018/
  • Milan, April 18, 2018;
  • in the first, second and third conditional, to separate the two sentences: se stasera vai al cinema, vengo con te/ if you go to the cinema tonight, I’ll come with you;

before the conjunction “or” to strongly emphasize: preferisci stare qui a far niente, o fare qualcosa di utile?/ do you prefer to stay here doing nothing, or do something useful?


The semicolon is similar to the comma, it also indicates a pause, but of greater intensity and duration. For example, the semicolon is used in a period to separate two complete sentences, but referring to the same concept: non giocare più così; quel gioco è pericoloso! don’t play like this anymore; that game is dangerous!”



A colon is used before writing lists or explanations:

  • Paolo legge di tutto: novelle, racconti, romanzi e anche fumetti/ Paolo reads everything: short stories, novels and even comics.
  • Ho fatto un bel sogno: vincevo una gara di cucina!/ I had a good dream: I was winning a cooking competition!



The three ellipsis indicate a rather long pause to express various meanings:

  • doubt: non mi sento bene, forse dovrei andare a dormire un po’…/I don’t feel well, maybe I should go to sleep for a while …
  • embarrassment: non trovo le parole per dirti cosa ne penso... /I can’t find the words to tell you what I think …;
  • when you want to imply something: mi raccomando…(sottintendendo: comportati bene!)/please … (implying: behave yourself/be sure!)
  • in the continuation of a list instead of “etc.”: every two or three months I reorder all my documents, bills, account statements ….;

Three dots in square brackets […] indicate the omission of a part of the original text in a quote: Diventare adulti non è una scelta, solo diventare maturi lo è. Non è da tutti rischiare per i propri sogni, cadere e risollevarsi. Ritentare. […] Questa è la vita di chi sceglie di vivere, non solo di esistere.” (Agostino Degas)

/“Becoming an adult is not a choice, only becoming mature is. It is not for everyone to take risks for their dreams, to fall and rise again. Try again. […] This is the life of those who choose to live, not just exist. ” (Agostino Degas)



The question mark must always be written at the end of a direct question: come ti chiami?/what is your name? When pronouncing the sentence, the pitch of the voice must be slightly ascending. The question mark between two round brackets (?) Indicates uncertainty about the information we are giving: Giovanni Boccaccio è nato il 12 giugno (?) 1313./Giovanni Boccaccio was born on 12 June (?) 1313.



The exclamation point is used at the end of an exclamation: mi hai fatto proprio una bella sorpresa!/you really gave me a nice surprise!

When pronouncing the sentence, the intonation of the voice must be slightly descending.

Furthermore, the exclamation point is used after an interjection. The interjection expresses a particular state of mind of the subject: oh, mamma mia!/oh my God!



Quotation marks are used:

  • at the beginning and at the end of a quote: Paulo Coelho scrive: ”Quando sei entusiasta di ciò che fai, senti questa energia positiva. E’ molto semplice./Paulo Coelho writes: “When you are enthusiastic about what you are doing, you feel this positive energy. It’s very simple.”;
  • to define a direct speech: Marco disse:”Torno a casa!”/Marco said: “I’ll be back home!”
  • to delimit words or expressions in dialect or in a foreign language: Paola è la “new entry” nel nostro gruppo./Paola is the “new entry” in our group.



Round brackets are used for:

  • enclose a word or a group of words in a sentence, to express a clarification or a comment: sapevo che stava per suonare il campanello (lo avevo visto arrivare dalla finestra.)/I knew the bell was about to ring (I had seen it coming from the window.);
  • to add an information: Maria (una mia amica) sta per avere una bambina./Maria (a friend of mine) is having a baby girl. In this sentence we could also replace the parentheses with commas.



The hyphen is used:

  • between two words that are joined together occasionally: questo è un dizionario italiano-francese/this is an Italian-French dictionary
  • in some compound words: socio-linguistico/socio-linguistic, even if the tendency is to write them without a hyphen;
  • in the subdivision of a word into syllables: a-mo-re;


DASHES (- -)

The dashes, which are written as longer dashes, are used:

  • instead of quotation marks to introduce direct speech: Dove stai andando? – Chiese la ragazza al suo compagno di viaggio/- Where are you going? – The girl asked her travel companion; 
  • instead of commas or brackets in the incisions: la ragazza – a detta di tutti – era la migliore ballerina della città./the girl – by all accounts – was the best dancer in town.





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