The Italian prepositions “fra” and “tra” are often used interchangeably and both have the meaning of “between” or “among”. However, there are some subtle differences in their usage that are worth exploring. This post shows you an important topic in Italian grammar: HOW TO USE PREPOSITION FRA/TRA
These FRA and TRA prepositions are identical in meaning.
The only clear reason to prefer one over the other is to avoid unpleasant sound combinations:
fra tre ore ➤ is preferred to ➤ tra tre ore
tra fratelli ➤ is preferred to ➤ fra fratelli
Indicate the space you need to get to a place – DISTANCE-
L’ufficio è tra 300 metri
The office is 300 meters from here
Indicate the beginning of a period of time when an action is taken – INTERVAL OF TIME
Mario arriverà tra le 5 e le 6
Mario will get there between 5 and 6
Indicate when an action takes place – TIME
Esco fra un’ora
I’ll leave in an hour
Indicate something in the middle
Lo stretto di Messina è tra la Sicilia e la Calabria
The Strait of Messina is between Sicily and Calabria
- Ho visto il cane tra le due macchine → I saw the dog between the two cars.
- Ho trovato l’assegno fra i documenti.→ I found the check among the documents.
- Arriveremo fra le due e le tre.→ We’ll get there between two and three.
- Spero di finire il libro fra un mese .→ I hope to finish the book in a month’s time
- Fra breve / tra poco / tra non molto → soon
- Tra due chilometri c’è un benzinaio → there’s a petrol pump in two km
- Arriverà fra venti minuti → she’ll be here in twenty minutes
- Una discussione tra amici → a discussion among friends
- Sei il migliore tra i miei amici → you’re the best of my friends
- Tra amici e parenti ci saranno state cento persone → there must have been 100 people including friends and relatives
- Tra lavoro e la famiglia non ho un momento libero → with work and the family I don’t have a free moment
This preposition occurs in useful expressions
- Pensavo fra me/Pensavo fra me e me. –> I was thinking to myself. Che
- Che rimanga fra me e te. –> Let’s keep it between you and me. fra/tra poco shortly
- Fra/tra poco –> shortly
- Tra l’altro → moreover, furthermore
- Detto tra noi → between us
- Parlava fra se (e se) → he was talking to himself
- Distinguere tra caso e caso → to distinguish between one case and another
TRA CAPO E COLLO
“Mi è arrivata tra capo e collo” o “mi è capitata tra capo e collo”:
This expression is used to express the discomfort due to an unexpected situation that requires modifying a program with consequent mix-ups and problems.
La notizia era proprio imprevedibile e mi e’ arrivata tra capo e collo.
detto tra/fra noi
Between you and me – Confidentially
Detto tra noi quella persona non mi piace (Between you and me I don’t like that person)
We use this phrase when we want to express a thought to someone confidentially
mettere i bastoni tra le route (put a spoke in somebody’s wheel)
Gianni vuole mettere i bastoni tra le ruote al nostro grande progetto (Gianni wants to put a spoke in the wheel of our great project)
The Italian prepositions “fra” and “tra” are very useful and versatile, but it is important to use them correctly in order to avoid misunderstandings. Remember that “fra” is used for a small number of things or people, “tra” is used for a larger number, “fra” indicates a future time point, while “tra” indicates a time span, “fra” is used for short distances, while “tra” is used for longer distances.
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