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How do we use Italian prepositions ‘in’ and ‘a’ for place and movement?

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When we talk about where something or someone is, or where they are going, learners of Italian are often unsure whether to use the preposition in or a. These prepositions can be especially confusing for English speakers, since they can be used in a variety of contexts and are often used differently from their English equivalents. In this post, we will look at how to use them when talking about place and movement, both as simple prepositions and when combined with definite articles, so read on to delve into it!

When we talk about where something or someone is, or where they are going, learners of Italian are often unsure whether to use the preposition in or a. These prepositions can be especially confusing for English speakers, since they can be used in a variety of contexts and are often used differently from their English equivalents. In this article, we will look at how to use them when talking about place and movement both as simple prepositions and when combined with definite articles, so read on to delve into it!

Where? Talking about place and movement using ‘in’ and ‘a’

Prepositions are short words that we use to connect two parts of the sentence, for example: Abito a Roma [I live in Rome] or Vivo in Italia [I live in Italy]. Among the so-called simple prepositions in Italian are in and a. Like we mentioned, they are used in different contexts and they are often used differently from their direct translations in English, so let’s clear up some confusion on their main uses:

Screen Shot 2021-08-19 at 12.17.51 PM*With est [east] and ovest [west], sometimes we see ad est, ad ovest - the d is added just to make it easier to pronounce.                                                                                                                                                                          **In bagno refers to the room in the house, while al bagno refers to the actual purpose of the restroom.

No Italian grammar topic would be complete without... 

EXCEPTION!

We say...

  • a Cuba, a Creta, a Porto Rico (even though they are big islands).

For an extensive list of words preceded by in or a, check out this table!

So far, we discussed the simple prepositions. Below is a comprehensive look at all the combinations of in and a + articles and their uses to talk about place and movement.

Combinations of ‘in’ and ‘a’ with articles

How to form them

Simple prepositions — including in and a — can be combined with the definite articles to create the so-called preposizioni articolate. These are the combined prepositions with in and a:

Screen Shot 2021-08-19 at 12.26.39 PM

Combined ‘in,’ ‘a’ + articles to talk about place and movement

How do we use these combinations to talk about place and movement? Let’s have a look:

Screen Shot 2021-08-19 at 12.32.40 PM

*We saw in bagno refers to the room in the house, while al bagno refers to the actual purpose of the restroom.

Important tips and highlights

  • Relying on the English translations might be misleading: as we can see in the table above, the prepositions in the two languages often don’t match (e.g., Voi rimanete in ufficio [You’re staying at the office]).

  • Another difference we can see in the table is that the position of Italian prepositions is always before the noun they refer to, unlike English where we could have prepositions at the end of questions, e.g. “A quale scuola vai?” [Which school do you go to?]

  • in is used with public spaces related to business activities, and in particular with all the words ending in -ia and -teca, e.g., in pizzeria [pizzeria], in biblioteca [library].

  • a is used with places related to the private life, education, and culture (e.g., a casa, a scuola, a teatro); however, we can use in when we mean inside a private space, e.g. La mamma è in casa, non è in giardino. [Mom is inside the house, she’s not in the garden].

  • Remember: if the place ending in -ia or -teca is specific, instead of in we use a combination of a + article, e.g. “-In quale pizzeria andiamo? -Andiamo alla Pizzeria Garibaldi [-Which pizzeria are we going to? -We’re going to the Pizzeria Garibaldi.]

  • We say al lavoro [at work], using a combination of a + the article il, even if we say in ufficio.

Summing up

We’ve seen that prepositions are small words that connect two parts of the sentence; we have focused on in and a as they can be confusing, especially because they follow different rules than their English equivalent; we have covered in particular when to use them when talking about place and movement, by themselves, or when combined with definite articles as well.

The best way to practice is to see them in context, just like in these activities… give it a try and a presto [see you soon]!

https://italian.stackexchange.com/questions/9402/when-to-use-preposizioni-a-vs-in
https://www.easitalian.com/blog/how-to-choose-from-a-or-in-preposition/
http://www.learnitaliandaily.com/en/italian-grammar/simple-and-articulated-prepositions-in-italian

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