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 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 everything you need to know about this preposition 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 either be semplice, simple, or articolata, “with 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.

When needed, any of these prepositions can be followed by an indefinite article, which will be placed in front of them as a word of its own.

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

three people at a birthday party

When used in a sentence, however, DI, A, DA, IN and SU cannot be directly followed by a definite article. The definite article will fuse with these prepositions to create what is called a preposizione articolata, “preposition with 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 in front of DI, A, DA, IN and SU, you will need to fuse the article with the preposition itself.

PER, TRA and FRA are never fused with a definite article, so they only exist 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 fuse with the masculine singular article il, forming the preposition COL. Any other variant is not allowed.

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

Preposition a in Italian

Aalalloallaaiaglialle
+illolaiglile

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Since there’s a preposizione articolata for each definite article, there are a total of 7 variants 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 roughly translates to the English preposition at. However, there are many cases where this rule does not apply.

At first glance, it might be hard to understand when and how to use this preposition. As you will see in a moment, however, there are quite a few rules that specify exactly when you have to use a in your sentence. You have to use A and its variants with an article…

  • to specify the place where you live or where you’re going
  • to specify an indirect object pronoun
  • in front of adverbs of place
  • to specify distances and speed
  • to specify time
  • to specify an age
  • in front of major holidays
  • to specify one’s purpose
  • to specify some quality of an object
  • after certain verbs
confused boy

Che confusione! That can be… quite overwhelming, so let me make a few real-life examples for each of the given situations.


Preposition a in Italian for every situation

To specify the place 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 just went to the bar.

bartender holding a glass

To specify 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 do I have to give these books?

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

In front of adverbs of place

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

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

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

front of a supermarket

To specify distances 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 specify 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 begin to walk at about nine months.

Alla tua età, aiutavo sempre i miei genitori.
At your age, I always used to help my parents.

A cinque anni sapevo già leggere.
By the time I was five, I could read.

little girl reading an ABC book

In front of major 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 at 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 cinema to see the new Marvel movie.

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

two black wood pieces

To specify some 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 several times to turn on the computer, but it no longer works.

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

These are the main rules that you need to follow for using the preposition a in Italian correctly. And if you still aren’t 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 it with 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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