23 January 2020

The Spanish "a" | When and how to use this tricky preposition

Prepositions are one of the hardest parts of a language to learn. We wish they could be translated directly, but oftentimes we can’t. We are going over the various uses of the preposition “a” with many examples. Read on to find out when to use it!

Hands in mittens holding out a gift.
Le di un regalo a mi mamá.

Spacial function of “a” – space

We use the preposition “a” in Spanish to indicate movement, places, directions and distances.

Movement

Many verbs of movement, such as the ones below, use the preposition “a”:

  • ir
  • venir
  • volver
  • llegar

Los findes, me gusta ir a la playa.
On the weekends, I like to go to the beach.

Lorena vendrá a mi casa para desayunar.
Lorena will come to my house to have breakfast.

El vuelo llegua a Mallorca en una hora.
The flight arrives in Mallorca in an hour.

Distance

We use the preposition “a” in Spanish to measure spatial (metres, blocks, etc.) and temporal (minutes, hours, etc.) distances.

La piscina está a 20 minutos de aquí.
The pool is 20 minutes from here.

Mi casa está a 3 cuadras de la universidad.
My house is 3 blocks from the university.

Place & direction

We use “a” to indicate the location of something, as in the examples below, as well as to give directions.

  • a la izquierda
  • a la derecha
  • al fondo
  • al borde
  • al límite
  • a la sombra
  • a la mesa
  • a la orilla

Su cuarto está al fondo del pasillo a la izquierda.
Your room is down the hall on the left.

Gira a la derecha, por favor.
Turn right, please.

Man is running in front of a glass building.
Él va con prisa a su casa.

Temporal function of “a” – time

The Spanish preposition “a” is often used in relation to time. This can include parts of the day, age and time.

Parts of the day

  • a mediodía
  • a medianoche
  • al amanecer
  • al atardecer

A medianoche, siempre tengo hambre y necesito comer un tentempié.
At midnight, I’m always hungry so I have to eat a snack.

Al atardecer, la vista es hermosa desde los bunkers.
At sunset, the view is beautiful from the bunkers.

Age

We use “a” to indicate the age at which an action occurs.

Empecé a aprender francés a los 4 años.
I started to learn French at 4 years old.

Time

“A” is used to express the time at which an action occurs.

El partido empieza a las 6 de la tarde.
The game starts at 6 in the evening.

White-haired woman sitting in front of the fireplace with a book.
Mi abuela se jubiló a los sesenta.

Verbs with preposition “a”

Some verbs, such as the ones below, use “a”:

  • acostumbrarse
  • acudir
  • atreverse
  • conectarse
  • dedicarse
  • dirigirse
  • enfrentarse
  • preferir
  • renunciar

Elena tuvo dificultades de conectarse al internet en casa de su abuela.
Elena had difficulty connecting to the internet at her grandmother’s house.

Todavía no me he acostumbrado al estilo de vida en Barcelona.
I still have not gotten used to the lifestyle in Barcelona.

“A” with infinitives

The rule for the simple present is:

ir + a + infinitive

Vamos a viajar por Italia.
We are going to travel around Italy.

We can also use a when talking about games or sports:

jugar + a + game/sport

Ayer jugamos al fútbol.
Yesterday we played football.

The personal “a”

Something tricky for English speakers is what is called la a personal (the personal a). Whenever a person is involved, we always include “a” before. In some special cases, we can use the personal “a” for pets or personified things (mother nature, for example).

Regalé chocolates a mi padre.
I gave my dad chocolates.

Llevé a mi gato al veterinario.
I brought my cat to the vet.

Smiling man at work making a phone call.
Jorge llamó a su jefe.

Manner, method & reason

We can use “a” to explain the way in which something is done or how it is made, or even the reason for an action occurring.

Esta bolsa está hecha a mano. (method)
This bag is made by hand.

Vamos a pie. (manner)
We’re going on foot.

A sus primos les gusta jugar al escondite *a oscuras.* (manner – in the dark)
Their cousins like to play hide-and-seek in the dark.

A causa de la nieve, muchos vuelos han sido cancelados. (reason)
Because of the snow, many flights were cancelled.