When we talk about verbs, we distinguish between conjugated verbs and verbs in the infinitive. In Italian, verbs in the infinitive are easily recognizable most of the time because they end in either -are, -ire, or -ere. Exceptions occur when verbs in the infinitive are combined with particelle (particles), when they are reflexive, or when they are truncated. Then, admittedly, they may be harder to recognize.
In this lesson, we are talking about the specific case of when we want to use a conjugated verb followed by a verb in the infinitive. How do we connect them?
In part 1, we talked about combining a conjugated verb with an infinitive where no preposition is necessary. This typically occurs with the modal verbs potere (to be able to), volere (to want to) e sapere (to know how to, to be able to). Here's an example that can be useful if you are traveling in Italy.
Posso andare in bagno?
May I use (go to) the bathroom?
But there are also other, non-modal verbs where we don't need a preposition. See Daniela's series for examples.
Lascia fare a me!
Let me do it!
In other cases, we need a preposition between the conjugated verb and the verb in the infinitive.
If we want to say the same thing we did above with a different verb, we might need a preposition, as in this example:
Permettimi di aiutarti.
Let me help you (allow me to help you).
There are two main prepositions we will use to connect a conjugated verb to a verb in the infinitive: di and a. Roughly, di corresponds to "of" or "from," while a corresponds to "to" or "at." These translations are not much help, though. One general rule (with many exceptions) is that verbs of movement use a to connect with a verb in the infinitive. The bottom line is, however, that you basically just have to learn these combinations little by little, by reading, by listening, and (sigh) by being corrected.
In some cases, the same verb will change its meaning slightly by the use of one preposition or the other.
Non penserai mica di andare via senza salutare!
You're not thinking of leaving without saying goodbye, are you?
Ci penso io a comprare i biglietti.
I'll take care of buying the tickets.
In this lesson, we'll look at some important verbs that need the preposition a.
Here's the formula:
verbo coniugato + preposizione "a" + verbo all’ infinito (conjugated verb + the preposition a [to, at] + verb in the infinitive)
aiutare (to help)
Per esempio, io ho un amico
For example, I have a friend
e lo aiuto a fare qualcosa dove lui ha difficoltà,
and I help him in doing something he has difficulty with,
lo aiuto a riparare la bicicletta, lo accompagno in aeroporto...
I help him repair his bicycle, I take him to the airport...
Captions 28-30, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Approfondimento Verbi ModaliPlay Caption
cominciare (to begin)
Comincia a fare il nido il povero cucù
The poor cuckoo starts making his nest
Caption 8, Filastrocca - Il canto del cucùPlay Caption
continuare (to continue, to keep on)
E si continua a pestare.
And you keep on crushing.
Caption 53, L'Italia a tavola - Il pesto genovesePlay Caption
riuscire (to manage, to succeed, to be able)
Così riesco a seguire meglio la faccia
That way, I manage to follow the face better,
eh... e le labbra di chi sta parlando.
uh... and the lips of whoever is speaking.
Captions 41-42, Professioni e mestieri - il doppiaggioPlay Caption
insegnare (to teach)
Oggi, ti insegno a cucinare la parmigiana di melanzane.
Today, I'm going to teach you to cook eggplant Parmesan.
Caption 2, Marika spiega - La Parmigiana di melanzanePlay Caption
andare (to go)
Sì, lo diciamo a tutti e dopo andiamo a ballare.
Yes, we'll tell everyone, and afterwards we'll go dancing.
Andiamo anche a ballare.
We'll go dancing, too.
Captions 11-12, Serena - vita da universitariPlay Caption
We've talked about several verbs that take the preposition a before a verb in the infinitive. Why not try forming sentences, either by improvising ad alta voce (out loud) or by writing them down? Take one of these verbs (in any conjugations you can think of) and then find a verb in the infinitive that makes sense.
Here are a couple of examples to get you started:
Mi insegneresti a ballare il tango (would you teach me to dance the tango)?
Non riesco a chiudere questa cerniera (I can't close this zipper).
To find charts about verbs and prepositions, here is an excellent reference.
Go to Part 3 where we talk about verbs that take the preposition di.