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.
The best way to master the propositions is to learn them in “chunks”.
A “chunk” (or a collocation) is a recurring combination of words and prepositions (or words and verbs)
For example: andare al cinema, andare all’università, etc…
THE USE OF THE PREPOSITION “A”
A is used before the names of cities.
- Vado a Venezia
- Vivo a Palermo
A becomes AD before the names of cities that starts with a vowel.
- 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 (iniziare a) – comincio a lavorare alle 9 del mattino
- Aiutare a – mi aiuti a pulire?
- Essere abituato a – non sono abituato a parlare in pubblico
- Riuscire a – non riesco a dormire
THE USE OF 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.
- 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 Idioms Using The Preposition “IN”
in campagna, in montagna, in spiaggia
in macchina, in bici
in palestra, in piscina
in centro, in città
Common Idioms Using The Preposition “A”
A messa, a scuola, a lavoro, a teatro
a letto, a tavola
a colazione, a pranzo, a colazione
a destra, a sinistra
al bar, al ristorante, al cinema, al mare, al lago
a Nord, a Sud, a Est, a Ovest