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Let's Talk about the Italian Preposition A

In a previous lesson we talked about the preposition in, and in a subsequent lesson we talked about how we modify the preposition in when a definite article follows it. The preposition a works in a similar way, and sometimes means the same thing as in, but certainly not always. 


A is used to refer to places, both going somewhere and being somewhere. Sound familiar? Yes. Just like in, a can mean "to" (indicating direction to a place) or "at" (indicating being in a place). Consider this short example.


OK, ho finito. Vado a casa (OK, I'm done. I'm going home).

Che bello! Finalmente sono a casa (How great! I'm finally home)!



Note that if I say sono in casa, I imply that I am inside the house, whereas if I say sono a casa, it might mean I am at home, but outside in the garden!


If we look at the preposition a in the dictionary, there's a long list of meanings, or rather, uses. But in this lesson, we'll look at just a few of the most common ways you need to know how to use this preposition.


We also say a scuola with no article. This is similar to English.


Sono a scuola (I'm at school).

Sto andando a scuola (I'm going to school).


Although these locations without an article are exceptions, they are important ones, since most of us have a home and many of us go to school or have kids or friends who go to school. Another perhaps less crucial one is a teatro ("to" or "at the theater").


In most other cases regarding places, we do need a definite article after the preposition, as in:


A me e a Vladi piace andare a ballare la sera,

Valdi and I like to go dancing at night,

uscire con gli amici,

going out with our friends,

andare a vedere qualche bel film al cinema

going to see a good film at the movies

e fare molto sport.

and playing a lot of sports.

Captions 17-20, Adriano - la sua ragazza

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Dall'Umbria alla Toscana, il passo è breve.

From Umbria to Tuscany, it's but a short way.

Caption 2, Meraviglie - EP. 4 - Part 6

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Watch this space!

  • In the next lesson we will give you the rundown (with videoclip examples) on how we modify a when followed by a definite article, just as we did with the preposition in. However, even in this lesson, we can't avoid looking at some examples where we do use a definite article.
  • We will also devote a specific lesson to the prickly topic of prepositions preceding cities, states, countries, and regions. Knowing when to use in and when to use a is a common challenge for those of us learning Italian, even if we have lived in Italy for years and years.


But for now, let's look at some other ways we use the preposition a.


We use a to talk about "when" or "until when." 

For example, when we talk about "at what time" something is going to happen, we use a and in this case we use a definite article when talking about "at what time."


La mattina mi sveglio intorno alle otto.

In the morning I wake up at around eight o'clock.

Caption 5, Adriano - Giornata

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Why is it le otto? Isn't that plural? Yes. We use the feminine plural definite article (lebecause there's a "hidden" word: le ore (the hours). Think of a clock striking the hours. So, yes. Time, when considered by the clock, is expressed in the plural, and of course, it takes some getting used to. For more about telling time, see this video from Marika.


But if we are talking about noon or midnight, then it's in the singular and there is no article.


Io mi ricordo che a casa mia si mangiava, allora, il,

I remember that at my house we'd eat, then, the,

a mezzogiorno si mangiava: il primo,

at noon we'd eat: the first course,

la carne, il contorno e la frutta.

meat, vegetable and fruit.

Captions 33-35, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá

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We also use a when we talk about until what time something will go on.


Sì, ma fino a mezzanotte il commissario sono io.

Yes, but until midnight, I'm the commissioner.

Caption 74, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP12 - Le verità nascoste

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When we mention the months or a holiday, we use a:


Sembrava che la nebbia ci fosse

It seemed as though there was fog

anche a Ferragosto.

even at/on Ferragosto (national holiday on August 15th).

Caption 26, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole Rivoluzioni

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E si possono pagare con varie rate, anche non tutte insieme.

And you can pay in various installments, not all at once.

Varie rate che scadono ogni semestre,

Different installments that are due every semester,

perché l'anno dell'u'...

because the school year...

l'anno in cui si frequenta l'università è diviso in due semestri.

the year in which you attend university is divided into two semesters.

-Il primo che va da settembre a gennaio,

-The first that goes from September to January,

e il secondo, va da? -Il secondo va da febbraio a luglio.

and the second, goes from? -The second goes from February to July.

Captions 18-22, Serena - sistema universitario italiano

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And finally, we use a when we say what something is like, what something is made of, or in what way something is done. We often use "with" for this in English, or we use an adjective. This topic is addressed in the Yabla lesson: A Righe or a Quadretti?


We talk about olio di oliva spremuto a freddo (cold-pressed olive oil).


In the following example, Monica Bellucci is describing how she goes about her career. Note that since istinto (instinct) starts with a vowel, she adds a d to the a!


Ma io non ho una formula, guarda,

Well I don't have a formula, look,

vado a m'... vado avanti molto ad istinto.

I go... I go along very much by instinct.

Caption 47, That's Italy - Episode 1 - Part 3

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Here are two expressions, one with a and one with in, that essentially mean the same thing. You just have to remember which is which. They are worth memorizing.


Ad ogni modo, mi piace tanto.

In any case, I like her a lot.

Caption 36, Adriano - la sua ragazza

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In ogni caso, anche se sapevo che era veramente una cosa folle,

In any case, even though I knew it was really a crazy thing,

ho deciso di prendere Ulisse.

I decided to take Ulisse.

Captions 28-29, Andromeda - La storia di Ulisse

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Looking forward to seeing you in the next lesson. A presto!

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