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I think that to say "They told me to call you" would be:

"Mi hanno detto di chiamarti"

Is this correct? And if so, why do we use the preposition 'di' here?

I have seen endless 'explanations' that prepositions are just too hard and you need to memorize, but that cannot be the case here. Can anyone suggest a resource that explains this in a clear and accurate way? I get very confused between the uses of 'di', 'da', and 'a' in anything other than their simple use to mean 'of', 'from' and 'to'.

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    Dire chiedere ordinare and other verbs want the preposition di when followed by an infinitive. The “explicit” form would be mi hanno detto che ti chiamassi, it's a subordinata oggettiva, that takes the place of the object. – egreg Nov 24 '15 at 10:22
  • I can hardly believe it: Stento a crederci – N74 Nov 24 '15 at 15:22
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    Indeed, @N74, and there are many more verbs that require the preposition a: provare, esitare, riuscire, cominciare and so on. Then there are those requiring di, as egreg recalled. Let's not forget those which don't need any preposition, such as the verbi servili (volere, dovere, potere), as well as many other ones, such as those denoting sensations (ti vedo arrivare, say). Even verbs with similar meaning may have different constructions (cerco di chiamarti / provo a chiamarti). So, it would be quite hard to find a few rules governing all the cases. – DaG Nov 24 '15 at 17:01
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The explanations are correct: in Italian, different constructions such as evito di chiamarti, provo a chiamarti, preferisco (no preposition) chiamarti exist, and there is no clear rule to tell which verb mandates which; you need to memorize which verb goes with which prepositions. I have seen many Italian learners struggle with this aspect of grammar.

That shouldn't be surprising: prepositions and other grammatical constructs are often somewhat arbitrary. No matter which language you are learning, a moment will come when you have to memorize a list of seemingly random valid and invalid constructs. When learning English, for instance, one needs to know if an expression demands a gerund (I love sailing) or an infinitive (I need to go). Why do you say I love sailing but I'd love to sail? It's completely arbitrary, as far as I know, and there are no effective rules.

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  • I think it might be a good idea to add the examples of the comments to this answer. – Charo Nov 25 '15 at 9:58
  • @Charo Added them, although I think the problem is already clear in OP's mind. – Federico Poloni Nov 25 '15 at 10:25
  • Yes but in those English examples, "I love to sail" is also perfectly correct. "I would love sailing" is also fine for certain cercumstances, neither expression 'demands' one form or the other. – Jesse Nov 25 '15 at 10:35
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    @Jesse I think that you feel English as more natural just because you're used to it. I can assure you that for a foreign learner English sounds just as unnatural and arbitrary – Denis Nardin Nov 25 '15 at 14:47
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    If you want a better English example take any phrasal verb; any non native speaker considers them madness! Take for instance "look". "I look at the tree", "I look up to him", "I look forward to meet you", "I am looking after the kids", "I'll look into that", "Look out for pickpockets!", "Look that up in the book", "Would you look over this text?", "I am looking for him"... – nico Nov 25 '15 at 17:36

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