When you start learning Italian sooner or later you’ll come across words such as un’ape, quest’anno, sta’ a vedere, etc.
What do they have in common?
A symbol. This symbol ’.
Now, looking at the examples above you might be thinking that this symbol ’ has always the same function. But it actually doesn’t.
Indeed, while un’ape and quest’anno show an example of apostrophe in Italian, sta’ a vedere shows an example of apocope.
So, what’s the difference between apocope and apostrophe in Italian? And why is it useful to know it?
Generally speaking, the apostrophe in Italian is an elision that you make when a word ending with a vowel and a word starting with a vowel are used together in a sentence.
In these cases, in fact, the first word loses its final vowel and adds an apostrophe.
- L’olio -> instead of lo olio
- Un’aquila -> instead of una aquila
- Quest’albero -> instead of questo albero
- Quest’estate -> instead of questa estate
- Quell’anno -> instead of quello anno
- Quell’amica -> instead of quella amica
You can see how the words lo, una, questo/a, quello/a loses their final vowel and add an apostrophe when they’re followed by a word starting with a vowel.
We use the apostrophe with:
- Singular definite articles and their articulated prepositions-> l’oro, l’acqua, dell’oro, nell’acqua, etc;
- Feminine indefinite articles -> un’amica;
- Singular demonstrative articles -> quest’anno, quest’auto, quell’esercizio, quell’aiuola;
- Come and ci when they’re placed before the verb to be -> Com’è andata?, c’è una volpe in giardino;
- The words bello and santo -> E’ un bell’uomo, è un sant’uomo;
- Some expressions such as -> senz’altro, tutt’altro, nient’altro, mezz’ora;
- 19th centuries and decades -> ‘300; ’68.
The apocope is the loss of one or more sounds at the end of a word. These sounds can be vowels, consonants or syllables.
Ex: Un bel quadro -> instead of un bello quadro
The apocope can be used with adjectives, indefinite articles, indefinite adjectives and pronouns, and with nouns used as titles and followed by proper nouns.
- Un buon giorno -> instead of un buono giorno
- Un elefante -> instead of uno elefante
- Non c’è nessun dubbio -> instead of nessuno dubbio
- Il dottor Rossi è arrivato -> instead of il dottore Rossi
As you can see from the examples above, the apocope usually doesn’t require the use of an apostrophe. But there are some exceptions.
We have to use an apostrophe when we use apocope with:
- the second person singular of the imperative of the following verbs: andare, dare, dire, fare, stare -> va’, da’, di’, fa’, sta’.
- the word poco, bene, modo: po’, be’, mo’.
How do we know if a word has to be used with an apostrophe or an apocope?
Well, if a word used without its final part can be placed both in front of a word starting with a vowel and in front of a word starting with a consonant, then it requires an apocope. When you make this test remember to use words of the same genre.
- Non c’è nessun animale in giardino
- Non c’è nessun cellulare sul tavolo
Animale and cellulare are both masculine. Animale starts with a vowel, cellulare with a consonant. Both can be used with the word “nessun”, so nessun is an example of apocope.
If, instead, a word used without its final part can be placed only in front of a word that starts with a vowel, then it requires an apostrophe.
- Non c’è nessun’auto qui
- Non c’è nessuna busta sul tavolo
Both auto and busta are feminine. Auto starts with a vowel, busta with a consonant. I can use nessun with auto but not with busta – I’ve to use nessuna. So, nessun’ in this case requires an apostrophe.
I really hope I helped you understand the difference between apostrophe and apocope.
Original image by RobinHiggins