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I've been studying the "a" in spanish and how it's used. The 2 ways I've seen so far Re:

  1. Between a verb and an infinitive like: "voy a llamar."
  2. Between a verb and a direct object like: "llamar a la policia."

However I also see "a" at the beginning of sentences like in "¿A dónde vamos?" which translates to "where are we going?"

There is no proceeding verb so it is not explained by the 2 rules I mentioned above. But based on the translation it seems to mean "we", the subject of the sentence. What rule is this?

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  • 1
    A dónde is used to talk or ask about someone’s destination context.reverso.net/translation/spanish-english/… A literal translation would be ¿to where are we going/where are we going to?
    – Traveller
    Sep 26 at 7:08
  • 2
    ir a un lugar. That's where it comes from.
    – Lambie
    Sep 26 at 17:15
  • "A", in this case, is a preposition (preposición), meaning something like "To". A quick tip is that you can try to replace "A" with "Para", like "¿Para donde vamos?", to know when it's a preposition.
    – BrunnoFdc
    Sep 27 at 10:22
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It's not 'we'; the 'we' is implied by 'vamos', which is the first person plural form of the verb 'ir' ('to go').

It's 'to', as @Traveller mentions in the comments, so it literally translates as 'To where are we going', but English omits the 'to' here.

In my limited experience, translating 'a' with 'to' works most of the time; for example in a typical response to this question: 'Vamos a la playa' ('We are going to the beach'). Your point 2. is a major exception, and sometimes another preposition is more idiomatic in English. In point 1. it also translates as 'to', though you could consider that as part of the infinitive ('llamar' = 'to call').

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  • What about "vamos a hacer una fiesta". What rule explains that "a"?
    – sara
    Sep 26 at 15:13
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    @sara same rule. In fact, here it is the same as in English where you'd say "we are going to have a party" and not "we are going have a party".
    – terdon
    Sep 26 at 15:39
  • @terdon But hacer as the infinitive is performing the role of to have there. Sep 26 at 20:22
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    @JonathanPotter that's just because English doesn't really have an infinitive and we sorta "fake" it by using the first person singular with "to". Spanish has a proper infinitive, but that is hacer, not a hacer. Note how we don't say we are going to to* have a party".
    – terdon
    Sep 26 at 20:36
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    In English, people often say "Where are we going to?", but "¿Donde vamos a?" doesn't work in Spanish. It also doesn't work in Latin, which led to people to consider ending sentences with prepositions to be incorrect in English as well. Sep 27 at 3:11
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Just a small clarification re the a used

between a verb and a direct object like: "llamar a la policia."

this is called the personal a and is used when the direct object is a person or possibly a pet. Although in the above example it is correct to translate as "to", typically it is ignored when translating to English eg

No conozco a tu esposo (I do not know your spouse) 
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In Spanish, you say: ir a un lugar.

Ergo, it's logical to say: ¿A donde vamos? It is also said: ¿Donde vamos? just like English.

However, in English, though we say go to a place, there is no need for the preposition to in the sentence.

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To mirror your question: I've been studying the preposition “for” and how it's used, what I have found so far is:

for  (fôr; fər when unstressed)
prep.
1.
a. Used to indicate the object, aim, or purpose of an action or activity: trained for the ministry; put the house up for sale; plans to run for senator.
b. Used to indicate a destination: headed off for town.
2. Used to indicate the object of a desire, intention, or perception: had a nose for news; eager for success.
3.
a. Used to indicate the recipient or beneficiary of an action: prepared lunch for us.
b. On behalf of: spoke for all the members.
c. In favor of: Were they for or against the proposal?
d. In place of: a substitute for eggs.
4.
a. Used to indicate equivalence or equality: paid ten dollars for a ticket; repeated the conversation word for word.
b. Used to indicate correlation or correspondence: took two steps back for every step forward.
5.
a. Used to indicate amount, extent, or duration: a bill for five dollars; walked for miles; stood in line for an hour.
b. Used to indicate a specific time: had an appointment for two o'clock.
c. Used to indicate a number of attempts: shot three for four from the foul line.
6.
a. As being: take for granted; mistook me for the librarian.
b. Used to indicate an actual or implied listing or choosing: For one thing, we can't afford it.
7. As a result of; because of: jumped for joy.
8. Used to indicate appropriateness or suitability: It will be for the judge to decide.
9. Notwithstanding; despite: For all the problems, it was a valuable experience.
10.
a. As regards; concerning: a stickler for neatness.
b. Considering the nature or usual character of: was spry for his advanced age.
c. In honor of: named for her grandmother.
conj.
Because; since.
adv.
Because of this; for this reason.

Source: https://www.thefreedictionary.com/for

Sames goes for Spanish “a”, which is a preposition and very polysemous grammaticalized word (it translates as: it has many meaning and it helps create many types of structures and relations between words) — you have a good (not completely exhaustive, but reasonable) list here: https://www.spanishdict.com/translate/a

I wouldn't fixate too much on finding out all uses of that word if you are in your early stages of learning Spanish, as many of those people tend to learn organically.

That being said, you touched on the most important ones. The uses you quoted specifically are:

  1. ir a creates a future tense-like structure, such as English “to be going to (do something)” or “will soon do something”.
  2. a in structures such as llamar a comes from two places at the same time, kind of. First one is just what a verb sometimes needs: compare “to” sometimes connecting these words: I gave him the package vs I gave the package to him. The other reason (the one more important here) is that whenever you “do something” to an animate entity (mostly humans, but some socially important animals, such as dogs, cats and horses) you have to mark it with this preposition, i.e.: https://www.spanishdict.com/answers/272049/another-personal-a-question. In other words, if you fail to use preposition with animate words, you are commiting a grammatical mistake and are borderline rude by treating people as stuff.
  3. a can also introduce the goal of movement. Spatial relationships are the primary function of core prepositions, both logically and etymologically. Hence, vamos a la playa means going to the beach – on a tangent, a is similar to hacia here, in the same sense that to is similar to towards (but the latter pair doesn't specify reaching the destination, only the direction).
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  • Me voy a la playa. is not going to go. It's going,
    – Lambie
    Sep 27 at 19:50
  • @Lambie correct, this falls partially under my point #2, but let me put it in a separate point. Sep 28 at 5:22
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native spanish speaker here.

"a" refers to a place, it's pretty much like "to" in english. Also, that "a" in the begining could be omitted, so "¿donde vamos?" instead of "¿a donde vamos?" is a valid sentence as well.

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  • [Please correct your spelling and punctuation errors. Thanks.
    – Lambie
    Sep 28 at 15:38
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Another possibility is that this is a personal "A" which I learned of in a High School Spanish Class.

If you aren't sure what that is, Spanish Academy says this:

The basic rule of the personal A is that an a precedes the mention of a person or people who are the direct object in the sentence, as in the following examples: Entiendo a Carlos.

The subject in Adonde Vamos is "we" or "Nosotros." Although it isn't actually present in the sentence, the entire sentence is actually, "¿A Donde Nosotros Vamos."

"We" or "Nosotros" is the direct subject of the sentence.

The 'A" is just there for grammar purpose, it doesn't actually change the sentence at all.

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  • The personal a is used for the direct object, never for the subject. The sentence "¿A dónde vamos?" has no direct object, as "ir" is an intransitive verb.
    – wimi
    Sep 29 at 9:24
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Are you sure this isn't "¿Adónde Vamos?" Translation: To where are we going?

Adonde means "To where" and vamos means "we go," short for "¿Adónde Nosotros Vamos?"

The "A" in "Adónde" could be loosely translated as "to"

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  • Both 'adonde' and 'a donde' are accepted as correct spellings, although it is true that the first one as one word is much more common (at least here in Spain) and is how I always write it. But note that, either way, it must have an accent when used in an interrogative sense, so the correctly spelled expression here is: '¿Adónde vamos?' or '¿A dónde vamos?'. Sep 28 at 23:54
  • @ÁngelJoséRiesgo There is no accent mark option on my device
    – ava
    Sep 29 at 13:12
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    Fair enough. I simply mentioned it because the original answer had no accent marks and people reading this and other answers (and the title of the thread) might be misled into thinking that '¿a donde vamos?' could be correctly spelled. The difference between 'donde' and 'dónde' is important and even us native speakers often get it wrong. Sep 30 at 12:16

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