I have read the following sentence in an Italian language learning tool:

Noi pensavamo che il posto si trovasse sul mare.

Does that mean that the place is on the sea (eg a petroleum extraction platform, an island) or by the sea (= on the coast)?

  • By the sea, otherwise it would rather be "in mare". Oct 2 '19 at 14:48
  • As usual, a learning tool that uses the pronoun subject in this case is a bad tool. In standard Italian it is “pensavamo che il posto si trovasse sul mare”. The pronoun subject would be used if there is some opposition: noi pensavamo che…, loro invece che…”.
    – egreg
    Oct 2 '19 at 17:27
  • AFAIK it is not wrong to use the personal pronoun, only unusual Oct 2 '19 at 17:50

Usually, the intended meaning by a native Italian speaker would be the latter, by the sea, on the coast.

You could also say:

Noi pensavamo che il posto si trovasse in riva al mare.

meaning the place is facing the sea is next to the sea.

In the case of the petroleum extraction platform you would say:

La piattaforma petrolifera si trova in mare (aperto).

  • What about a fish or a body in the sea? "in mare" too? Oct 2 '19 at 15:25
  • You would say nel mare ci sono i pesci e in mare c'è un corpo.
    – abarisone
    Oct 2 '19 at 15:26

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