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In the sentence, "Jugaba al tenis todos los días cuando era más joven" why is it "al" over "el"? "Why is "a" needed?

  • 1
    good question, i don't know where this kind of speach is, but over here (Mexico) you would only say "Jugaba tenis todos los dias" without the "a", "a el" or "al" at all, but i think it is used in some places in Spain. – Mike Jun 4 '19 at 20:10
  • @Mike I can confirm that "jugar al tenis" is the common way to say it in Spain. – Charlie Jun 4 '19 at 21:30
  • This question should rather be "why do we say jugar a?" It's a collocation, just like "decide to do" instead of "decide do" – FGSUZ Jun 4 '19 at 21:44
  • I'm not sure there's an answer. Maybe jugar al (sport) indicates that the thing you're playing has a lot of structure and jugar by itself is more free form. – aparente001 Jun 5 '19 at 3:20
  • @Mike comment also applies to Colombia. We never use al. We would say *"Jugaba tenis todos los días". – DGaleano Jun 5 '19 at 12:54
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According to the DLE, the verb jugar is used with that meaning followed by the a preposition:

  1. intr. Entretenerse, divertirse tomando parte en uno de los juegos sometidos a reglas, medie o no en él interés. Jugar A la pelota, AL dominó.

The most important part of the definition is where it says the verb is intr(ansitive). This means it does not accept a direct object, hence in the sentence

Jugaba al tenis todos los días

"al tenis" is a prepositional complement (Spanish: complemento de régimen preposicional), in this case using the preposition a.

Nonetheless, this is what the DPD has to say about this verb:

[...] en el habla coloquial de amplias zonas de América, probablemente por calco del inglés (to play tennis, to play football, etc.), se usa a menudo como transitivo, esto es, sin que el sustantivo que denota el juego vaya precedido de preposición, además de no llevar artículo: «Es empleado bancario y juega fútbol» (Bryce Vida [Perú 1981]); «Juntaba a sus paisanos para jugar cartas» (Mastretta Vida [Méx. 1990]); es uso que, por su arraigo en el español americano, ha de considerarse válido.

This means that in many parts of America the verb is widely used as a transitive verb and hence "tenis" would be a direct object and would not need the preposition a. And by influence of the English language the article el would also be omitted, so depending on the country you will also hear:

Jugaba tenis todos los días.

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  • In Colombia we do not use al but I don't think that it is "a calco del inglés" as the DPD says. My grandparents lived in a remote zone with no outside influences and that is the way they used it. I know I referencing something only about 100 years old but if it was used like that before 1900 I would think the origin is further back and has nothing to do with the English. – DGaleano Jun 5 '19 at 13:01
  • No creo que sea indirecto. Me sonaría raro decir, mira, el fútbol. Tú le juegas, ¿verdad. Solo diría tú juegas, lo cual me dice es un complemento de otro tipo – user0721090601 Jun 5 '19 at 17:59
  • @guifa pues tienes razón, creo que puedo haberme columpiado un poco con lo del complemento indirecto. Voy a consultar a la RAE a ver qué me cuentan. – Charlie Jun 6 '19 at 10:18
  • @guifa respuesta arreglada con la respuesta de la RAE, que me ha vuelto a pasar la mano diciéndome que esa pregunta no me la tenían que haber respondido. – Charlie Jun 7 '19 at 13:59
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I can give you the Spanish perspective, from Spain. It depends on the verb. If transitive or intransitive. The sentence of your example, "jugaba al tenis" is actually "jugaba a el tenis" ("a el" can be contracted, also "de el" we say "del") That's because in Spanish -at least, in Spain- "jugar" is only used for games or sports, whilst if we are talking about "playing guitar" we would say "tocar la guitarra". And, as you can see, in this case it's not "tocar a la guitarra"; but you can "touch" -which is another meaning for tocar- a person: "He tocado a Pablo y estaba sudado de jugar al tenis" (I touched Pablo and he was all sweaty after playing tennis). I hope I helped!

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  • Bienvenido. Sería bueno que usaras un par de puntos aparte para que la idea sea más clara. Empiezas bien con la idea de la diferencia entre verbo transitivo e intransitivo pero luego the pasas a hablar de play y de touch pero el que pregunta no tiene dudas sobre esos verbos. Si puedes, dale un revisada y complementa la primera idea que es realmente por la que se pregunta. – DGaleano Jun 7 '19 at 21:37

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