Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Thanks for All the Fish: How to Say Thanks in Italian With the Prepositions di, per, or a

Overview


One of the easy thinks to learn to say in Italian is thank-you: grazie. But grammatical questions arise soon as you start being specific about what you are thanking someone for. Specifically, should you use grazie di, grazie per or grazie a.

Consider the title of the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984). In Italian, the title became Addio, e grazie per tutto il pesce. Why wasn’t the title translated as grazie di tutto il pesce? Or take another example in conversation when thanking someone for everything will they cringe if they hear grazie per tutto instead of grazie di tutto? These two questions and many more lead us on another Italian language investigation.

The result? After some digging around, we found that with all questions dealing with language, there are rules, exceptions, and opinions. (Soliloquy: languages are every evolving, so why do we insist on fix rules?) It seems whether to follow grazie with the prepositions di, per or a depends upon some “general” rules you can follow which will list here. Please remember that this is our attempt to make sense of language use patterns and therefore, may contain some inaccuracies.

Is the thank-you for something (a noun) or an action (a verb)?

For nouns, per or di can be used.
  • If thanking someone for something (noun) in an informal setting, say in a chat message, use di.
    • grazie dell’invito, grazie del passeggio.
  • If the something (noun) is abstract or in a formal setting, say in a business meeting, use per.
    • Grazie per la vostra comprensione.
  • When we surveyed a few mother-tongue Italian speakers, we learned that per and di are the same with perhaps a slight preference for per. One person explained that per puts the focus on the thing (noun) and implicating it was useful or important. We wonder if the difference is like the subtle difference between “thanks for” (more casual) and “thank you for” (more formal), with the former translating with di and the latter with per.
For an action with a verb in the present infinitive form, use di.
  • grazie di essere qui.
  • We see that grazie per essere qui appears often enough, but from what we’ve learned this is horrible for an Italian to read or hear.
For an action with a verb in the past perfect tense, both di and per can be used. For some, per seems more elegant or formal.
  • grazie per essere stato un amico, grazie di avermi aiutato.
  • You can try changing an action to a noun as instead of saying grazie per avermi invitato you can say grazie dell’invito or grazie per l’invito.
Is the thank-you for something connected to the past, present, or future?

For an action clearly in the past, you can use per or di.
  • grazie per esservi venuti, grazie di avermi aiutato.
For thanking someone for something in the present or connected to the present, or for something not connected to any time frame, use can use per or di with a noun to avoid verb forms.
  • grazie del regalo, grazie dei fiori.
  • You could say grazie per avermi dato il regalo to mean grazie del regalo or grazie per il regalo, but that longer form is mouthful.
For something in the future, neither per or di by themselves is technically correct and you may need other words to express what you mean.
  • grazie in anticipo per il tuo aiuto and grazie fin d’ora della vostra attenzione.
Is it a case where either per or di could work?

If so, you can look at the dependent clause to see if one choice is better in how it introduces the idea in the dependent clause, or one choice overall produces a cleaner statement.

For a longer dependent clause, per is usually better. Some references we consulted suggest that per should be used over di when the dependent clause (what you are thanking the other person for) includes additional information.
  • Something short like grazie dei fiori is fine, but with a more descriptive statement some prefer using per as in grazie per i bellissimi fiori che hai portato. Or, instead of grazie di avermi dato l'opportunità di esprimermi it seems less confusing and sounds better to say grazie per avermi dato l'opportunità di esprimermi thereby avoiding the use of di twice.
  • Even grazie per il tuo aiuto seems to be more common than grazie del tuo aiuto as if the addition of the possessive tuo is enough to warrant per.
We think this is why the Hitchhikers Guide book mentioned in the introduction is translated as grazie per tutto il pesce: because it is not a simple dependent clause like grazie del pesce. Or maybe it was the translator’s prerogative?

How does the sentence sound and who you are speaking to?

Many prefer di because it sounds smoother and the constructions using it (with nouns) sound more relaxed – especially between friends an in informal situations. Per seems more bureaucratic and stilted.

For an official letter or speaking formally with someone, per might be the better choice.

Is the thank-you directed at someone or some agent for helping achieve something?

In this sense it’s equivalent to “thanks to” or “by the will of”, which has a slightly stronger impact than “thank you for”. For this you use the preposition a.
Grazie a is typically used in a full sentence.
  • Example: Grazie a Dio, sono quasi guarito.
Is it thank-you an idiomatic or fixed expression?

In these cases, di is often used and there is no optional per or a.

  • Examples: grazie di tutto, grazie di cuore.


Thank-You Examples


In this section we show some example thank-you phrases in English and “suggested” translations. YMMV. We must reiterate we are not experts on language so take these translations and notes as our observations as students of the Italian language for a few years.

Where the English is “thanks” below, it can often be substituted with “thank you”.

thanks for everything – grazie di tutto
  • Short and sweet with no qualification of “everything”. Though, you will see grazie per tutto as well, it seems to be cringe worthy because with the di is an idiomatic way of saying this.
thanks for helping – grazie di/per avermi aiutato, grazie dell’aiuto, grazie per il tuo aiuto
  • Seems grazie del tuo aiuto is less common when counting search results for both phrases.
thanks to your help – grazie al tuo aiuto
  • Signifies that the person you are saying this to was critical to whatever it is you achieved. This phrase is – in our opinion – more impactful than saying grazie per il tuo aiuto.
thank you so much – grazie di cuore

thank you so much for everything – grazie di cuore per tutto
  • Use “di” with cuore and then what comes after that use per.
thank you so much for sharing the most beautiful day of our life - grazie di cuore per aver condiviso il giorno più bello della nostra vita

thank you for everything you have done – grazie per tutto quello che hai fatto

thank God, goodness – grazie al Dio, grazie al cielo
  • The prepositions per and di just wouldn’t work here. The thanks grazie al Dio is short for rendiamo grazie a Dio which comes from the Latin Deo gratis.
thanks to you – grazie a Lei
  • You commonly say this in a formal situation when someone helps you out, say in a store or a bank, and you don’t know the person and is older than you.
thanks for nothing – grazie di/per niente, grazie di nulla

thanks for the gift – grazie del regalo

thanks for the ride – grazie del passaggio
  • The gift or ride might have been given in the past or just a few seconds ago, the exact time frame is not known, but the sentiment is still felt at the time the thanks are given. This statement is a shorter way of saying something in a longer and less elegant way, e.g., grazie per avermi dato un regalo.
thanks for the flowers – grazie dei fiori
  • Same reasoning as above. This was a title of the winning song in Italy’s San Remo Music Festival in 1951.
thanks for being here – grazie di/per essere qui
  • It seems that both per and di are commonly used, but as pointed out in several places in this post, some Italians will cringe at the use of per so we would recommend you use di.
  • You could also avoid the problem and use a verb form and say grazie di/per essere venuto/a/i/e.
thanks for loaning me the car – grazie per avermi prestato la macchina
  • While you still are thankful for the loan at the time the words are spoken, the sense is that the thank-you is for the action of loaning the car, which was in the past.
thanks for coming to pick me up at the station – grazie per essermi venuto a prendermi alla stazione
  • Don’t say grazie per avermi preso dalla stazione.
thanks for telling me – grazie per avermelo detto
  • Thanks for telling “it” (represented by direct object lo) to “me” (indirect object mi which becomes me before lo) such that we have avermelo.
thanks for telling us – grazie per avercelo fatto sapere

thanks in advance for information – grazie in anticipo per le informazioni
  • Could also say grazie fin da ora per le informazioni
thanks in advance for understanding – grazie in anticipo per la tua comprensione

thanks for watching / thanks for joining us – grazie per averci seguito
  • As this little Treccani gem points out, it could be seguiti or seguite (plural) as well in the above phrase. The choice of agreement is optional for the first and second person singular and plural.
  • If you said “thanks for finding her” – grazie per averla trovata – then you need agreement with the ending A of trovata.

Sources


Here are a few sources consulted for this piece.
  • Word Reference forum: per and di are largely interchangeable.
  • Word Reference forum: Toward the end of the thread, some rules are proposed.
  • Italianistica forum: There is one comment with the proposal that di is followed by a noun and per is followed by an infinitive verb form in the past (in English the past perfect tense).
  • Yahoo Answers: The use of per explains the motivation for the thank-you better.
  • Accademia della Crusca: per and di are interchangeable but be careful about thanks for something net yet done. However, they also point out that grazie is an holophrasis, i.e., one word representing a more complex idea. In this case, grazie stands for vi rendo grazie or “I give you thanks”. If we understood correctly, in this full sentence, rendere takes an indirect complement introduced with di. But if the thing you are thankful for is expressed in a phrase with a verb infinitive (an action), you could still use di, but per is also commonly used because the phrase looks like a causali implicite (an implicit explanation of a cause) where per is typically used.
  • Corriere: Per is more elegant, but di isn’t wrong.
  • Learnamo: Either per or di.
  • Accademia della Crusca Forum: Not nice to hear grazie per esistere. Use di instead.
Good sources of thank-you phrases are greeting card and related sites:

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