Italian Prepositions: How To Use ‘In’ and ‘A’

One of the most common mistakes in Italian (for foreign learners) concerns the use of the preposition a and in.

And it is totally normal.

In fact, in some cases, specific rules are telling you how to use the preposition in and when using the preposition a. However, the truth is that in most cases, there is not a specific rule.

Smart Tip

The best way to master the  propositions is to learn them in ‘chunks‘.

A chunk (or an idiom, an expression) is a recurring combination of words and prepositions (or words and verbs).

For example, ‘andare al cinema’,’ andare all’università’ or ‘andare in pizzeria’ are chunks.

The preposition ‘A

When to use the preposition ‘a’

A is used before the names of cities. Also, ‘a’ becomes AD before the names of cities that starts with a vowel. 

  • Vado a Venezia
  • Vivo a Palermo
  • Vivo ad Amburgo
  • Vivo ad Alessandria 

A is also used in front of  names of small states, such as:

  • Vado a San Marino
  • Vado a Gilbirteterra 

A is used in front of the names of small islands, for examples:

  • Vado a Malta
  • Vado a Ibiza

A is used with cardinals points:

  • A Sud, a Nord, a Est, a Ovest

A is also used with some verbs when they are followed by another action (and the infinitive verb is used), for example:

  • Continuare a – continuo a studiare più tardi 
  • Cominciare a – comincio a lavorare alle 9 del mattino
  • iniziare a – ho iniziato a studiare italiano 5 anni fa
  • Aiutare a  – mi aiuti a pulire?
  • Essere abituato a – non sono abituato a parlare in pubblico 
  • Riuscire a – non riesco a dormire

The preposition ‘In

In is used before nouns of countries:

  • Vivo in Italia
  • Vivo in Germania

If the countries is grammatically plural, such as, the United States or the Netherlands, the correct Italian prepositions to use are nei, negli.

  • Vivo negli Stati Uniti
  • Vivo nei Paesi Bassi

In is used too with the names of regions or states:

  • Vivo  in Lombardia
  • Vivo in Texas

In is used with names of the big islands, for instance

  • Vivo in Sicilia
  • Vivo in Sardegna

In is used with the names of the streets or squares.

  • Vivo a Londra, in Oxford Street
  • Vivo a Milano, in via Petrarca

In is finally used with the name of shops or places ending in –ia.

Vado…

  • in farmacia
  • in pizzeria
  • in gelateria
  • in macelleria
  • in periferia
  • in profumeria
  • in campagna

There are rules and trends when it comes to deciding whether to use the preposition in or a, but sometimes it is difficult to pick up the right one. Thus it’s better off to learn by heart the most common expressions using these prepositions.

Common Expressions Using The Preposition ‘In’

in pizzeriain/to/at a/the pizzeria/pizza parlour
in discotecain/to the disco
in cittàin/to town
in centroin/to the city centre
in chiesain/to church
in mensain/to the canteen
in camerain/to the bedroom
in bagnoin/to the bathroom
in classein/to the classroom
in palestrain/to the gym
in casermain/to the barracks
in prigionein/to prison
in ufficioin/to the office
in piscinaat/to the swimming bath
common idioms with the Italian preposition ‘in’

Common Idioms Using The Preposition ‘A’

a casaat home
a scuolaat/to school
a lettoin/to bed
a lezionein class/to (one’s) class
a tavolato the table [i.e. come and sit down]/at table
a destra/a sinistra(on/to the) right/left
a nord/a sud/a est/a ovest(in/to the) north/south/east/west
a colazione/a pranzo/a cenaat/for breakfast/lunch/dinner, supper or tea
a mezzogiorno/a mezzanotteat midday/midnight
a 10/11/12 [etc.] anniat ten/eleven/twelve [etc.] (years of age)
a metàin the middle/mid-
all’ombra/al solein the shade/in the sun
al barin the bar
al ristoranteat/to the restaurant
alla stazioneat/in/to the station
common idioms with the Italian preposition ‘a’

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

Learn Italian
the smart way!

Sign up and receive the best exercises that have already helped my private clients to finally speak italiano + weekly doses of Italian!

Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

7 Romance Short Stories for Italian Language Learners