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, uscire con gli amici, andare a vedere qualche bel film al cinema e fare molto sport.
Valdi and I like to go dancing at night, going out with our friends, going to see a good film at the movies and playing a lot of sports.
Captions 17-20, Adriano la sua ragazzaPlay Caption
Dall'Umbria alla Toscana, il passo è breve.
From Umbria to Tuscany, it's but a short way.
Caption 2, Alberto Angela - Meraviglie EP. 4 - Part 6Play Caption
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 GiornataPlay Caption
Why is it le otto? Isn't that plural? Yes. We use the feminine plural definite article (le) because 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, a mezzogiorno si mangiava: il primo, la carne, il contorno e la frutta,
I remember that at my house we'd eat, then, the, at noon we'd eat: the first course, meat, vegetable and fruit,
Captions 33-35, L'arte della cucina La Prima Identitá - Part 14Play Caption
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.Play Caption
When we mention the months or a holiday, we use a:
Sembrava che la nebbia ci fosse anche a Ferragosto.
It seemed as though there was fog even at/on Ferragosto (national holiday on August 15th).Play Caption
E si possono pagare con varie rate, anche non tutte insieme. Varie rate che scadono ogni semestre, perché l'anno dell'u'... l'anno in cui si frequenta l'università è diviso in due semestri. -Il primo che va da settembre a gennaio, e il secondo, va da? -Il secondo va da febbraio a luglio.
And you can pay in various installments, not all at once. Different installments that are due every semester, because the school year... the year in which you attend university is divided into two semesters. -The first that goes from September to January, and the second, goes from? -The second goes from February to July.
Captions 18-22, Serena sistema universitario italianoPlay Caption
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, vado a m'... vado avanti molto ad istinto.
Well I don't have a formula, look, I go... I go along very much by instinct.
Caption 47, That's Italy Episode 1 - Part 3Play Caption
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 ragazzaPlay Caption
In ogni caso, anche se sapevo che era veramente una cosa folle, ho deciso di prendere Ulisse,
In any case, even though I knew it was really a crazy thing, I decided to take Ulisse,
Captions 28-29, Andromeda La storia di UlissePlay Caption
Looking forward to seeing you in the next lesson. A presto!