Often, reading mathematical papers in English, I see at the beginning an introductory chapter called 'Background' in which it is explained the required knowledge needed to understand the paper itself. I would like to have a similar chapter in a mathematical paper I am writing in Italian. The best guess I came out with as a translation of "Background" is the word 'Preliminari', but I am unsure if this word is appropriate. The uncertainty comes from the results I obtain googling 'preliminari': something like "Preliminari sessuali", "Sesso, ecco i preliminari giusti per lui e per lei", ...

Is it appropriate in the context of a paper? What alternatives are there?

  • 5
    That is just one of the possible uses of the word! Reasoning like this, we shouldn't be using uccello, venire and many more words anymore.
    – DaG
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 11:55
  • That's why you should avoid using Google translator using straight words, but always putting them in a sentence or context. By the way, I am puzzled why didn't the translator suggest "sfondo [desktop]" ([desktop] background/wallpaper) as first result Commented May 4, 2017 at 16:42

6 Answers 6


Preliminari is perfectly fine (and if it brings to mind only sexual references you should probably read less magazines... :)). Furthermore it is already widely used.

Other alternatives are

  • Prerequisiti: This has a somewhat scholastic tone. I'm not sure I'd use it in a scientific paper but on the other hand maybe yes.
  • Fondazioni: I'm a bit uncertain about this but I wanted an alternative that emphasizes the "foundational" aspect of the English word background. Moreover I could swear I've seen it used like this somewhere, although I do not remember the exact place.

And remember: a scientific paper should be also enjoyable to read and not overly formal. There are already too many boring papers.

EDIT: I'll add a couple of sentences about how I see the Background section of the paper, so that it might be clear the context of this answer. In my mind it is different from the Introduction, where you briefly explain the contents of the paper without many details (of course this might involve the exposition of some background). Instead it is the section where you quickly review material which, while present in the literature, cannot be taken for granted but it is nonetheless important for the remainder of the paper. Let me give an example of the structure of an imaginary paper:

1) Introduction: This paper is about descending thick subcategories along flat maps. This is important because blah blah and it will be done by realizing the simplicial objects as blah blah...

2) Background on GHM obstruction theory: Let us quickly review the foundations of GHM obstruction theory. A more comprehensive account can be found in [1]. Blah blah...

3) The main theorem ... Etc.

  • 2
    Premessa is more akin to Introduction in my opinion. I have not much experience with math papers in Italian (there aren't that many of them...) but from what I've seen preliminari is used. The sexual one is not in the first five meanings that would come to my mind. I don't know what this says of me :).
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 17:10
  • 9
    Better to use Nozioni preliminari than Preliminari alone.
    – N74
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:36
  • 1
    @Matteo I have to confess that I am unable to find math papers in Italian. I looked in the complete works of Francesco Severi but he did not seem to divide his papers into sections. The best I can offer is, in French, the chapter 0 of EGA. I suppose I might have got the impression that it was common from there (I've certainly read it often enough)...
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:48
  • 1
    @Denis Nardin. I've just found one: www​.dima.unige.it/~mazza/data/ tesi.pdf
    – Matteo
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 18:52
  • 1
    @algiogia The discussion is long enough, so I won't respond after this. Feel free to downvote if you think my answer is not useful. Effectively Google yields only results about preliminari sessuali. What can I say? Maybe the corpus of Cosmopolitan is bigger than the corpus of Italian math papers :). I guess this is going to be one of those things were I fight uselessly to save a part of the language from an ignominious destiny.
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 13:17

Premesse seems like an appropriate translation with no double meanings.

  • Apart from double meanings and related jokes, I vote this as the answer. Singular please (Premessa) Commented May 4, 2017 at 16:39

You could use propedeuticità, which is used to define something you need to learn before studying a new discipline.


  • 4
    I will not downvote because this answer is strictly speaking correct, but it makes me want to scream because of the "bureaucraticness" of the word...
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 13:07
  • I second Denis, and moreover, in my academic experience, propedeuticità is used more to mean “the status of being propedeutico”, said for instance of a course to be taken before another one, that about the material itself.
    – DaG
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 14:17

I'd use "nozioni richieste" / "conoscenze richieste" or variations along the same line (I'm pretty sure I've heard of variations of this many times, usually at the start of some test).

  • "nozioni" / "conoscenze" =~ "notions" (intended as "concepts", "ideas");
  • "richieste" =~ "needed", "necessary", "required".

Prerequisiti is much better than Preliminari, and without any overtone. Prerequisiti refers to something the reader should know about the subject as to understand the paper.

If you just wish to tell something about how you got to develop the main body of the paper, I would use Premessa or Introduzione.

  • Thank's for the answer. But "Prerequisiti" sounds to me like only a list of things you should know to understand the paper; "Preliminari" instead had also the purpose of explaining those listed things.
    – Matteo
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 12:25
  • I am not convinced. Have you seen any example of such use?
    – mario
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 13:13
  • Not in papers. But, look for example at www.google.it/url?q=mat.unimi.it/users/paparoni/comdig/IstMat-F47-F58/…
    – Matteo
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 17:13

Maybe you may also use a set of words like "Partendo da" meaning starting from some concepts or a list of things.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.