16 Italian EXPRESSIONS with the PREPOSITION «A»

When it comes to language learning, one of the hardest parts is certainly the comprehension of idiomatic expressions which for native speakers are obvious, but for a foreigner are difficult, because of their nonliteral meanings! That’s why in this video and article we’re going to meet 16 Italian expressions that start with the preposition “A”, widely used by Italians, which will be very useful. We are sure that you have already read or heard many and wondered “What does it mean?”.

Espressioni idiomatiche italiane

The expressions with the “A” that we are going to see today are widely used in oral and sometimes written Italian. A large part is used to describe the way in which an action takes place, the others… you’ll find out!

1. A squarciagola


Squarciagola” is a word composed by the verb “squarciare” (to violently break) and by “gola”. So, the expression “a squarciagola” by verbs such as cantare (to sing), urlare (to shout) o gridare (to scream). It means that you use all the strength of your voice, in a very intense way, so strongly that the throat could just “squarciarsi”.


“Quando parte la mia canzone preferita, la canto sempre a squarciagola” (“When my favorite song starts, I always sing it out loud”)

2. Alla rinfusa


The word “rinfusa” derives from the almost totally unused verb, “rinfondere”, which indicated, in the lexicon of cargo ships, the arrangement of goods in transport ships as they were, without packaging or containers. This expression is used today mainly with nouns and verbs, and it means, in fact, “in a confused way, without order”.


Quando torna a casa dal lavoro, Paolo lascia sempre tutte le sue cose alla rinfusa, facendo infuriare sua moglie” (“When he comes home from work, Paolo always leaves all his things in bulk, making his wife angry”)

3. Alla buona


The expression “alla buona” has 2 meanings:


-with a noun, it indicates a thing or a person “simple, not sophisticated or refined”

Non sapevamo che avremmo ricevuto ospiti, così abbiamo preparato una cena alla buona in pochi minuti” (“We didn’t know we were going to have guests, so we prepared an informal dinner in few minutes”)

– with verbs, on the other hand, it has the meaning of “in an approximate way, not accurate”, that is, without giving too much importance to what you are doing.

Per l’esame, mi ero preparata alla buona, perciò sono stata bocciata” (“For the exam, I prepared badly, so I failed”)

4. A crepapelle


“Crepapelle” is a compound of “crepa” and “pelle”. The expression “a crepapelle” is used together with verbs, such as to eat or to laugh, and means “a più non posso” (with a vengeance), without ever stopping, “almost to bursting” (if we burst, in fact, the skin cracks, so it breaks).


“Quando guardo un film di Checco Zalone, rido sempre a crepapelle dal primo all’ultimo minuto” (“When I watch a Checco Zalone film, I always laugh out loud from the first to the last minute”)

5. A tratti


The expression “a tratti” means “from time to time”, “at intervals”, “not constantly”, but scattered over time.
For example, while we teach Italian, it sometimes happens that the student’s connection is not stable. In that case, we say “Ti sentiamo a tratti”. That is, we don’t hear everything you say, but we only hear scattered things here and there.

6. All’insaputa (di)


The word “insaputa” derives from the verb “sapere” (to know) and the preposition “in”, and means “without being aware”. It is used with possessive adjectives (a mia insaputa, a tua insaputa…) or in the form “all’insaputa di + qualcuno”; it is accompanied by verbs and means “to do something secretly, without letting that particular person know”.


Da giovane, Sofia usciva sempre all’insaputa dei genitori” (“As a young woman, Sofia always went out without her parents’ knowledge”)

7. All’antica


The term “all’antica” mean “linked to past patterns and traditions” and it is often used to talk about a person or a way of doing or thinking, describing them as not very modern and not very much up with the times, but rather linked to old traditions.


Gianluca è un ragazzo all’antica: prima di fare la proposta di matrimonio alla sua fidanzata, ha chiesto la mano al padre di lei” (“Gianluca is an old-fashioned boy: before making the marriage proposal to his girlfriend, he asked the father for her hand)

8. A stento/A fatica


These expressions have the same meaning, they indicate “barely, with great difficulty”.


Ho un mal di denti così forte che riesco a stento a parlare” (“I have a toothache so bad I can hardly speak”)

9. A manetta


The expression “a manetta” is definitely informal, and means “at maximum, at full speed, at the highest power”.


Quando sono felice, mi piace mettere della musica a manetta e ballare” (“When I’m happy, I like to play loud music and dance”)

10. A tutta birra


This expression, like the previous one, belongs to the informal language, and also has the meaning of “at the maximum, at full speed”. The origin of this expression is linked to the use made of beer in past centuries: it was, in fact, considered an energy drink and even the jockeys would give it to the horses before the race.


Quando ha fatto l’incidente con la sua Lamborghini, Piero andava a tutta birra” (“When he had an accident with his Lamborghini, Piero was going at full speed”)

11. A puntino


The expression “a puntino” has 2 meanings:


– “with great precision, attention, care”

Ogni volta che mette piede fuori casa, Anna si veste sempre a puntino” (“Every time she sets foot out of the house, Anna always dresses to perfection”)


– “perfectly, very well”

Questo vestito mi sta a puntino!” (“This dress fits me very well”)

12. A ridosso (di)


The expression “a ridosso” refers to the distance, which can be physical or temporal. Speaking of physical distance, it means “in proximity, very close, against”

“Sto registrando questo video a ridosso della parete” (“I’m recording this video against the wall”)


While, speaking of temporal distance, it means “soon, close in time”

Ogni anno è sempre la stessa storia: mi ricordo di cominciare la dieta a ridosso dell’estate, e puntualmente non sono mai pronta per la prova costume” (“Every year it’s always the same story: I remember starting the diet close to summer, and I’m never ready for the dress rehearsal”)

13. A buon rendere


The expression “a buon rendere” is used to refer to a favor that another person does for us. It means that we remember that favor and that we intend to return it as soon as possible. For example, if I borrow a dress from a friend of mine, I tell her “a buon rendere”, with which I want to tell her that I will lend her one in turn when she needs it.

14. A prescindere


The expression “a prescindere” derives from Latin, with the meaning of “cut the front”. Today the meaning of this expression is “not taking into account”, “in any case”, “regardless of”. It can be used after a verb or before a noun (introduced by the preposition DA).


“Domani andremo in spiaggia a prescindere dal meteo” (“Tomorrow we’re going to the beach, regardless of the weather“)


“So che avevamo detto che non ci saremmo fatti dei regali, ma ti ho preso qualcosa a prescindere”
(“I know we said we weren’t going to make gifts, but I got you something regardless”)

15. A priori


The term “a priori” derives from philosophical language, and indicates the argument made from the reason, not from scientific evidence. In today’s language it still has a similar meaning which is “in the abstract, without first having proofs or real reasons”, but it also means “even before, proviously”.


La sorella di Sergio è proprio antipatica: giudica tutti a priori e vive di pregiudizi, per questo non vuole mai conoscere gente nuova” (“Sergio’s sister is really unpleasant: she judges everyone a priori and she lives by prejudices, that’s why she never wants to meet new people”)

16. A discapito (di)


The expression “a discapito di” is often accompanied by a noun or a possessive adjective, and means “against the interest of”, so it’s like saying “at the expense of”.


Il Presidente ha aumentato gli stipendi solo ai dirigenti, a discapito di tutto il resto del personale della compagnia” (“The President has increased only the executives’ salary, to the detriment of all the other staff of the company”)

We hope this article was useful! Try to choose an idiom and write a sentence in the comments! But that’s not all! If you’re interested in the subject, don’t miss our article about the Italian expressions with C!

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