When to use the preposition A in Italian

When do you use the preposition a in Italian? Are there any tricks you can learn to avoid making mistakes?

A Londra
In London

A mezzogiorno
At noon

A Natale
At Christmas

two women dressed as Santa Claus and celebrating Christmas - how to use the preposition a in italian

Learn all about the a preposition in Italian and its variants here!


Preposition a in Italian

How to use the preposition a in Italian

Let me start with a general explanation of how prepositions work in this language.

Every preposition in Italian can be either semplice, simple, or articolata, “with an article”.

Italian simple prepositions are what you probably already know as prepositions: DI, A, DA, IN, CON, SU, PER, TRA, FRA.

Vado a mangiare.
I’m going to eat.

If necessary, any of these prepositions can be followed by an indefinite article, which is placed in front of the preposition as a separate word.

Vado a una festa.
I’m going to a party.

three people at a birthday party

However, when used in a sentence, DI, A, DA, IN and SU cannot be followed directly by a definite article. The definite article merges with these prepositions to form what is called a preposizione articolata, “preposition with an article”.

Vado alla festa.
I’m going to THE party.
(A + la)

Domenica vado al mare.
I’m going to THE seaside tomorrow.
(A + il)

You cannot say:

Vado a la festa.
Domenica vado a il mare.

Remember: if you need to use a definite article before DI, A, DA, IN and SU, you must merge the article with the preposition itself.

PER, TRA and FRA are never fused with a definite article, so they exist only in their simple form.

La libreria si trova tra il museo e la farmacia.
The library is located between the museum and the pharmacy.

Questo regalo è per te.
This gift is for you.

couple exchanging gifts

CON can only merge with the masculine singular article il to form the preposition COL. No other variants are allowed.

That said, how many variants are there of the preposition a in Italian? Have a look at the table below.

Preposition a in Italian

Aalalloallaaiaglialle
+illolaiglile

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Because there is a preposizione articolata for each definite article, there are a total of 7 variations of the preposition a in Italian.

For example, you could say…

Ti aspetto alle 8. Non tardare!
I’ll be waiting for you at 8. Don’t be late!

Luca è alla fermata dell’autobus.
Luca is at the bus stop.

green and grey bus

Don’t worry. It all sounds so tiresome, but I assure you it’s not!

Now that we’ve seen how to use the preposition a in Italian, let’s see when you can use it.


When to use the preposition a in Italian

As you probably already know, the Italian preposition a is roughly equivalent to the English preposition at. However, there are many cases where this rule does not apply.

At first glance, it can be difficult to understand when and how to use this preposition. However, as you will see, there are a number of rules that tell you exactly when to use a in a sentence. You must use a and its variants with an article…

  • to indicate the place where you live or where you’re going
  • to indicate an indirect object pronoun
  • before adverbs of place
  • to indicate distance and speed
  • to specify a time
  • to specify an age
  • before important holidays
  • to indicate one’s purpose
  • to specify a quality of an object
  • after certain verbs
confused boy

Che confusione! This can be… quite overwhelming, so let me give you some real-life examples for each of the given situations.


Preposition a in Italian for each situation

To say where you live or where you’re going…

Federico abita a Venezia.
Federico lives in Venice.

La mamma va a Milano ogni mattina.
Mom goes to Milan every morning.

Paolo è appena andato al bar.
Paolo has just gone to the bar.

bartender holding a glass

To indicate an indirect object pronoun

Giorgio dà la rosa a una donna.
Giorgio gives the rose to a woman.

A chi devo dare questi libri?
To whom should I give these books?

Il bambino dà un bacio alla mamma.
The little boy gives his mother a kiss.

Before adverbs of place

L’uomo si nasconde dietro a una colonna.
The man is hiding behind a pillar.

C’è un passaggio segreto dietro alla libreria.
There is a secret passage behind the bookshelf.

Vivo vicino a un supermercato.
I live near a supermarket.

front of a supermarket

To indicate distance and speed

Milano è a circa 150 km da qui.
Milan is about 150 km away.

Stai andando a 150 km/h! Rallenta!
You’re going 100 mph! Slow down!

To indicate the time

Sarò davanti al museo alle 3.
I will be in front of the museum at 3 o’clock.

Il fiorista è aperto dalle 8 del mattino alle 5 di sera.
The florist is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To specify an age

I bambini cominciano a camminare a nove mesi circa.
Babies start walking at about nine months.

Alla tua età, aiutavo sempre i miei genitori.
When I was your age, I always helped my parents.

A cinque anni sapevo già leggere.
I could read when I was 5.

little girl reading an ABC book

Before important holidays

Le persone si scambiano regali a Natale.
People exchange presents at Christmas.

Non so dove andremo a Pasqua. Forse rimarremo a casa.
I don’t know where we will go for Easter. Maybe we will stay at home.

To specify one’s purpose

Siamo andati al cinema a vedere il nuovo film della Marvel.
We went to the movies to see the new Marvel movie.

Esco a prendere della legna.
I’m going out to get some wood.

two black wood pieces

To indicate a quality of an object…

Ho comprato una macchina a benzina.
I bought a gasoline-powered car.

Una casa a tre piani è troppo grossa per una persona sola.
A three-story house is too big for one person.

Non riesco a dormire in questo sacco a pelo!
I can’t sleep in this sleeping bag!

After certain verbs… I’m afraid you will need to learn them by heart!

Ho provato più volte ad accendere il computer, ma non funziona più.
I have tried to turn on the computer several times, but it no longer works.

A che ora inizi a studiare?
What time do you start studying?

These are the main rules you need to follow to use the preposition a correctly in Italian. And if you’re still not sure if you can use it in a sentence, remember that the other Italian prepositions have their own rules. You can go by exclusion, andare per esclusione!

And that’s the end of our lesson on the preposition a in Italian! If you still have any doubts, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

Now that you’ve seen how and when to use the preposition a in Italian, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

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