In English, "to believe" can be used in two constructions:

  • to believe (transitive):
    • to think that somebody is telling the true. Ex: I believe the witness.
    • to think that something is true. I believe the witness's testimony.
  • to believe in (intransitive):
    • to have confidence in somebody (eg his/her capacity). Exs: You must believe in yourself. I do not believe in doctors.
    • to have confidence in something. Exs: I do not believe in progress. I do not believe in the cure of cancer.
    • to have faith in the existence of something. Ex: I believe in God

In Italian:

  • to think that somebody is telling the true: credere a qualcuno. Ex: Credo al testimone.
  • to think that something is true: credere (a) qualcosa. Credo alla/la testimonianza del testimone.
  • to have confidence in somebody: credere a/in qualcuno. Exs: Devi credere in/a te stesso. Non credo nei/ai medici.
  • to have confidence in something: credere a/in qualcosa. Exs: Credo nel/al progresso. Credo alla/nella cura del cancro.
  • to have faith in the existence of something: credere a/in qualcosa. Ex: Credo in/a Dio.

(Reference: http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/credere/)

I assume that usually there is a preposition which is more usual in the last 3 cases (e.g., "credere in Dio"), i.e., when "credere" = "to believe in", and that this usual choice must be learned by heart?


For the last three cases there is, in fact, an option which is preferable over the other:

  • When you have confidence in somebody you should usually use "credere in"; in the last example "Non credo nei medici" and "Non credo ai medici" have slightly different connotations, the former meaning that you don't have confidence in the doctors' abilities, and the latter meaning that you don't believe what the doctors say.
  • When you have confidence in something the preferred form is "credere in".
  • And finally, when you have faith in the existence of something you should use, once again "credere in".

Generally speaking, you use "credere a" when you believe something someone says (even when you use it referring to a person, like in the example "credo al testimone", it references what the person is saying, not the person itself), while you use "credere in" when you have confidence or faith in someone or something.

  • 2
    Welcome to Italian.SE!
    – Denis Nardin
    Oct 10 '19 at 14:01
  • Thanks for the answer! A related question: could I say both "credere nella esistenza di qualcosa" and "credere alla esistenza di qualcosa" (as "credere" may mean either "to believe sth is real" or "to have faith in sth") ? Oct 22 '19 at 17:04
  • @AlanEvangelista I'm not sure if there is any difference, but I can tell you that 99.9% of Italians use the two in the same way. I guess the only preference comes from which is more used where you grew up. Oct 23 '19 at 10:08
  • @AlanEvangelista and also, in Italian if the word after "alla" or "nella" or similar words begins with a vowel, the vowel of "alla" isn't written or pronounced, and in its place you use the apostrophe ('). So it's "all'esistenza" and "nell'esistenza", not "alla esistenza" Oct 23 '19 at 10:14

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