The Spanish preposition a is often thought of as the equivalent of "to" - but in fact it has far more uses. A can also be the equivalent of "on," "at," "from," "by" or "in", among others. And in many cases it is not translated at all.
Rather than learning how to use the Spanish a by its translation, it is probably best to learn the purposes for which a is used. The following list doesn't cover all its uses, but it does show the uses you are most likely to come across at the beginning stages of learning Spanish. Where a is translated, the translation is indicated in boldface.
Using A To Indicate Motion or Location
Almost any verb indicating motion, and even nouns, can be followed by a before a destination. It can also be used with some other verbs to indicate where the verb's action takes place.
- Llegamos a Argentina. (We arrived in Argentina.)
- Se acercó a la casa. (He approached the house.)
- Cayó al piso. (It fell to the floor.)
- Ofrecemos servicios especializados para facilitar su visita a Disneyland. (We offer specialized services to facility your visit to Disneyland.)
- Esa es la puerta al baño. (That is the door to the bathroom. Al is a contraction of a + el, usually meaning "to the.")
- Me siento a la mesa. (I am sitting at the table.)
Using A Before an Infinitive
A is often used to connect a verb with an infinitive that follows. This use is especially common when indicating the start of an action. In these cases, a is not translated separately from the infinitive.
- Empezó a salir. (She began to leave.)
- Entró a hablar contigo. (He came in to talk to you.)
- Él se negó a nadar. (He refused to swim.)
- He venido a estudiar. (I have come to study.)
- Comenzó a bailar. (She began to dance.)
The most common usage following this patter is using "ir a + infinitive" to form the a type of future tense known as the periphrastic future.
- Si no jugamos bien no vamos a ganar. (If we don't play well we aren't going to win.)
- Voy a cantar. (I am going to sing.)
- Tenemos que aceptar que tal vez no nos vayan a entender. (We have to accept that sometimes they aren't going to understand us.)
Using A To Indicate Manner or Method
Numerous expressions begin with a followed by a noun to indicate how something is done. The phrase starting with a functions as an adverb and is sometimes translated as one.
- Vamos a pie. (We are going on foot.)
- Hay que fijarlo a mano. (It is necessary to fix it by hand. Note that a mano also could have been translated as "manually," an adverb.)
- Estoy a dieta. (I am on a diet.)
- Escribo a lápiz. (I am writing with a pencil.)
- Andan a ciegas. (They are walking blindly.)
- Llegamos a tiempo. (We are arriving on time.)
- La internet evoluciona a cada instante. (The Internet is changing constantly.)
- Lee el libro a escondidas. (She is studying the book covertly.)
Introducing an Object With A
Before a direct object, a is used before name or noun that represents a person in a usage known as the "personal a." The preposition in these cases usually is not translated. A can also introduce an indirect object.
- Conozco a Pedro. (I know Peter. In this and the next two examples, the name functions as a direct object.)
- Encontré a Fido. (I found Fido.)
- Veré a María. (I will see Mary.)
- Le doy una camisa a Jorge. (I am giving a shirt to George. In this and the next three examples, "George" is an indirect object. Note how the translation of a varies with the verb.)
- Le compro una camisa a Jorge. (I am buying a shirt for George.)
- Le robo una camisa a Jorge. (I am taking a shirt from George.)
- Le pongo la camisa a Jorge. (I am putting the shirt on George.)
Using A in Time Expressions
A is sometimes used in specifying times or days.
- Salimos a las cuatro. (We are leaving at four.)
- A la una de la noche escuchamos maullar. (At 1 in the morning we heard meowing.)
- Estamos a lunes. (Today is Monday. Literally, we are at Monday.)