Italian Language/use of "di"


Dear Maria,

I hope very much that you will not mind another question about the use of “esempio”.  

I am trying to understand why the preposition “di” is included in the following sentence:
“Questa frase può essere di esempio.”

Does the modal construction - “potere essere” require the use of “di”?   Must “di” always be placed after “potere essere”?     If “yes” can you please tell me the meaning of “potere essere di”.

Or, does the noun -   “esempio” require the preposition “di?    If “yes”, does the complemento - “di esempio” mean something different than the noun “esempio”?

As you can see, I am at a loss how to translate the above sentence.  

The best I can translate this sentence is as follows:    
“This sentence can be of example”.  

Would you please tell me if this translation be correct?

I was also wondering of it is possible to say:
“Questa frase può essere un esempio.”
This sentence can be an example.

Thank you.



Dear Rich,

“Questa frase può essere di esempio” corresponds to “This sentence can be an example” as well as “This sentence can serve as an example”.

See also:”Che ti serva d'esempio!” (Let that be a lesson to you!); “Mi sei stata di esempio” (You was an example for me/You served as an example ...); “Devi essere di esempio a tuo fratello minore” ( You must be  an example for your younger brother); “E’ suo dovere essere d’esempio”; “Mi sei stato di aiuto”; “La tua presenza mi fu di conforto”, etc.

So, as you can see, in Italian we use “essere di esempio/di aiuto/di conforto” or “servire di esempio” as idiomatic constructions which derive from Latin Double Dative structure such as “Alicui exemplo esse” just meaning “To be an example for somebody/ to serve as an example ...” with the Dative of Purpose and Dative of Reference.

As for your questions about  “poter essere”, it is not “poter essere” that  requires the use of “di”, but “essere” when it is used in the above mentioned idiomatic constructions.

Similarly, the noun  “esempio” is preceded by the preposition “di”  in “essere/servire di esempio”, i.e. in this idiomatic construction.

Lastly, “di esempio” means something  a little bit different than the noun “esempio” without the preposition “di”, since “Questa frase può essere un esempio” (in the sense that this sentence can be an example on how to write a phrase) sounds different from “Questa frase può essere di esempio” in the sense that this sentence can serve as an example, especially because “essere di esempio”  implies the concept of leading the way.

Hope all is clear enough.

Best regards,


Italian Language

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts




Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.


Over 25 years teaching experience.

I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

This expert accepts donations:

©2017 All rights reserved.