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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. 

Places

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)!

 

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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.

Time

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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How?

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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Expressions

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!

The Good, the Bad...

When we talk about people and life, we use certain somewhat standard words and expressions to describe the good and the bad.

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Rather than using the adjectives “good” and “bad,” and their comparatives (for better or for worse), Italian tends to use the nouns il bene (goodness) and il male (evil) or, ”the good” and “the bad.”

 

In this week’s episode of L’Eredità quiz show, the host and contestants are talking about someone’s character. Some character traits can be either positive or negative or both, and that’s what they’re talking about here.

 

Nel bene e nel male.

For better and for worse.

-Nel bene e nel male, per il resto tutti pregi, insomma.

-For better and for worse, but for the rest, all positives, in short.

Caption 9, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 1

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In wedding vows, Italians traditionally say it a different way.

 

Vuoi tu, Lara Rubino, prendere il qui presente Luca Manara

Do you Lara Rubino wish to take the here present Luca Manara

come tuo legittimo sposo,

as your lawful husband,

essergli fedele sempre nella buona e nella cattiva sorte,

to be ever faithful to him in good and bad times,

nella gioia e nel dolore?

in joy and in sorrow?

Captions 45-48, Il Commissario Manara - S2EP1 - Matrimonio con delitto

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Bene and male are both nouns and adverbs.The adjective forms are buono (good) and malo (bad). See this lesson about malo.

 

Closely connected to bene and male are pregi e difetti (strengths and weaknesses, strong points and weak points, virtues or qualities and shortcomings or flaws). There are various ways to say this in English but Italians commonly talk about un pregio or un difetto. Links have been provided to WordReference so you can see how many nuances there are of these nouns.

 

Note that Adriano uses qualche (some, a few) with a singular noun, but the intention is plural. See this lesson about qualche. He could have said alcuni difetti (a few shortcomings).

 

La mia ragazza ha molti pregi, ma anche qualche difetto.

My girlfriend has many great qualities, but also a few defects.

È molto testarda, è un po' capricciosa...

She's very stubborn, she's a bit unpredictable...

Captions 33-34, Adriano - la sua ragazza

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Back to our quiz show... They talk about excess as being both a quality and a weakness.

 

È anche il suo pregio.

It's also his strong point.

L'eccesso è... -È così...

Excess is... -It’s like that...

è così, insomma... -il suo pregio e il suo difetto.

is like that, all in all... -his strong point and his weakness.

Captions 10-12, L'Eredità -Quiz TV - La sfida dei sei. Puntata 1

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Practice:

Quali sono i tuoi pregi (what are your strong points)?  i difetti (and your weak points)?
Can you talk about your job or your school, your teachers or your boss, your friends, siblings, or pets using pregi and difetti?

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Conjugated Verbs + Infinitives Part 1

Conjugated verbs have different endings depending on the type of verb, the tense, and the person carrying out the action. Daniela has taught video lessons on the different conjugations of Italian verbs. Un verbo all’infinito (a verb in the infinitive), on the other hand, is the basic verb, with nothing done to it. It always ends in “e.”

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Conjugated verbs combine with verbs in the infinitive in different ways. Sometimes a preposition (to, at, of) is needed and sometimes not. Let's talk about the cases in which no preposition is needed between the conjugated verb and the verb in the infinitive.

 

No preposition needed!

In these cases we have the formula:

conjugated verb + verb in the infinitive

 

Modal verbs

In the following example, the conjugated verb is the modal verb volere (to want). Let’s quickly review what modal verbs are. They generally combine with verbs in the infinitive and normally don’t stand alone. Another word for verbo modale is verbo servile (servant verb) because these verbs serve another verb. The modal verbs in Italian are potere (to be able to), volere (to want to), sapere (to know how to), and dovere (to have to). See this video lesson about modal verbs.

 

Voleva entrare dalla finestra all'alba.

He wanted to come through my window at sunup.

Caption 15, La Tempesta - film Part 3

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Let it happen

But here is a non-modal verb that works the same way. The verb lasciare (to leave, to let) is conjugated, and it's followed by a verb in the infinitive entrare (to enter), with no preposition between the two verbs.

 

Non ti lasciamo entrare in casa.

"We won't let you come in the house."

Caption 4, Ti racconto una fiaba - I tre porcellini

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An adjective in the middle

The second formula Daniela talks about is:

conjugated verb essere (to be) + adjective + verb in the infinitive

 

E per lei non è stato difficile conoscere tanti nuovi amici.

And it hasn't been hard for her to get to know a lot of new friends.

Caption 24, Adriano - la sua ragazza

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Mix and Match

The following are some examples of the two different formulas Daniela has explained. They don’t correspond in meaning exactly, but are close enough to give you a visual idea of how these two combinations of verbs work.

 

verbo essere + aggettivo + verbo all'infinito (verb “to be” + adjective + verb in the infinite)
verbo coniugato + verbo all’ infinito (conjugated verb + verb in the infinitive)

 

È bello parlare con te (it’s nice talking to you).

Mi piace parlare con te (I like talking with you). 

 

È noioso fare i compiti a casa (it’s boring to do homework).
Non mi piace fare i compiti a casa (I don’t like doing homework).

 

Non è sano mangiare troppo (it is not healthy to eat too much).
Non si dovrebbe mangiare troppo (one shouldn’t eat too much). 

 

Sarebbe preferibile prendere un'altra strada (it would be preferable to take another road).
Preferirei prendere un'altra strada (I would prefer to take another road).

 

Per me è stato molto faticoso camminare fin qua (it was very tiring for me to walk here).
Non ho potuto camminare fin qui senza stancarmi. (I couldn’t walk here without getting tired).

 

È brutto parlare male degli altri (it is bad to speak badly about other people).
Non dobbiamo parlare male degli altri (we shouldn’t speak badly about other people).

 

È facile parlare italiano (It's easy to speak Italian).
So parlare italiano (I know how to speak Italian).

 

Sarà importante andare a letto presto stasera (it will be important to go to bed early tonight).
Devo andare a letto presto stasera (I must go to bed early this evening).
 

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In part 2, we talk about formulas where we need the preposition between the conjugated verb and the infinitive.

Grammar Verbs

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