It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an expert: using the Italian prepositions “in” and “a” is always a bit confusing, and Italians usually state: “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t sound right.”
- When do we use “in” or “a” in Italian
- When you need to use the preposition “in”
- When you need to use the preposition “a”
- Andare al mare vs andare in mare
- Attending university vs going to university
- Andare a casa vs andare in casa
When do we use “in” or “a” in Italian
“In” and “a” are two of the most used prepositions in Italian. In fact, they have a lot of different meanings.
The most widespread meaning is describing the position or the destination of a person or an object. So you can say:
- Vado in palestra
- Mi trovo al supermercato
- Ci vediamo in biblioteca
- Faremo l’esame nell’aula 110
In most of the cases, you can use them as you want, but there are few exceptions, which make it sound “strange” according to Italians. It is definitely easier to memorize these few rules to make you talk like a native.
When you need to use the preposition “in”
First of all, you need to consider that the preposition in is a synonym of the word dentro, so you may find it very handy to use this preposition when you are inside a building.
- Mi piace lavorare in ufficio, quando sto a casa mi annoio
- Solitamente pranzo in mensa
- Mi alleno in palestra
However, you can also use the preposition “in” with location that are not properly inside. In this case feminine nouns usually follow the preposition “in”:
- Giovanni mette in mostra il proprio talento
You can also add the preposition “in” before all the rooms of a house:
- Metti il cappotto in salotto
- Il frigorifero si trova in cucina
However, “in” is also used before nations, provinces and regions (but not with cities):
- Marsiglia è una grande città in Francia
- Sanremo è in provincia di La Spezia
- Molti tedeschi vanno in Veneto in vacanza
In Italian, the preposition “in” is also used with all the leisure activities, such as:
- Domani gli studenti andranno in gita
- Tiziano Ferro andrà in tour il prossimo aprile
The preposition “in” is even used when talking about time expressions, in particular with years and months (even if it’s a little bit old-fashioned):
- Nel 1946 Michele Ferrero fondò la sua azienda
- Nel giugno del prossimo anno verrò in Italia
“In” is also followed by those shops that ends in -ia and -teca. In fact, you usually go inside them and they are feminine nouns.
- Dobbiamo andare in farmacia
- In panetteria puoi comprare pane fresco ogni giorno
- Andrò in enoteca per comprare il vino da portare alla festa stasera
- Ho giocato a un bellissimo gioco da tavolo sabato scorso in ludoteca
When you need to use the preposition “a”
The preposition “a” is used to indicated the position or the destination in the surrounding of a place, so it is usually employed with open spaces
- I bambini comprano spesso un ghiacciolo al chiosco dei gelati.
Moreover, the preposition “a” is also used with masculine nouns that indicates leisure activities, with expressions like:
- andare al cinema
- comprare un biglietto per andare a teatro
- Lo scorso fine settimana siamo andati a vedere una mostra al museo civico di Milano
The preposition “a” can also be used when talking about cities. Hence, you may refer to trips in other cities as:
- fare una gita a Verona
- prendere un biglietto per gli Uffizi a Firenze
Andare al mare vs andare in mare
We need to pay attention to these two expressions:
- andare al mare
- andare in mare
Although it seems like there’s just a small difference, it is very important to be able to distinguish them and to use them properly.
Please, note that the same difference can be found with other words that indicate a water surface, such as:
Andare al mare
Andare al mare means that you go to the seaside, and it is the same as saying Andare in spiaggia.
For example, you can:
- andare al mare a prendere il sole
- andare al mare a giocare a racchettoni
- andare al mare a fare un aperitivo
Andare in mare
On the other hand “andare in mare” means that you go in the sea. For example, you can:
- andare in mare a nuotare
- andare in mare a giocare a palla
- andare in mare a fare immersioni
Attending university vs going to university
In Italian there’s a difference between “attending university” and “going to university” and it relies on the preposition you choose.
This expression means that you attend university, so if someone asks you “Cosa fai nella vita?” you can reply saying “Vado all’università e studio lingue straniere”.
Andare in università
On the other hand “andare in università” means that you are on your way to the university. In big cities, you may find people asking for interviews or donations. If you are in a hurry, you can say “Mi spiace, sto andando in università e sono in ritardo”.
Andare a casa vs andare in casa
This expression is particularly useful even for elementary levels.
Andare a casa
When you say “devo andare a casa” it means that you need to go back home. You can also say “Devo tornare a casa” to say the same thing.
Andare in casa
If you say “andare in casa”, it means that you go inside a house. This expression is synonymic to “entrare in casa”. In fact, we use the preposition “in” because we go inside a building.
In Italian there are few exception for some grammatical rules. Italians don’t really know why we need to say it in a certain way.
In fact, when we want to talk about a trip we took to the mountains, we actually need to say “andare in montagna”.
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