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nel, nelle vs. al, alle



I see nel, nelle,  and al , alle 9and their various forms) both used for "at" in the translations. How can I know which one to  use? 


Hi cedch, 

Thanks for your question!

All the terms you listed are referred to as "compound prepositions" and are the combination of a "preposition" and a "definite article".  For example:

nel is the combination of in + il (in the + singular masculine noun)
nelle is the combination of in + le (in the + plural feminine noun)
al is the combination of a + il (at the + singular masculine noun)
alle is the combination of a + le (at the + plural feminine noun)
...and so on.

It might not be easy to understand when to use them, but you can take a few examples as reference and start using the right term in the right context.
Let's take the terms you mentioned and let's find some examples:

Non cadere nel pozzo. = (literally) Do not fall in the well.
We used "nel" (in + il) because the term "pozzo" is a singular masculine noun. 

Gli ospiti soggiorneranno nelle ville. = (literally) The guests will stay in the villas.
We used "nelle" (in + le) because the term "ville" is a plural feminine noun. 

Mangio una mela al giorno. = (literally) (I) eat an apple at the day.
We used "al" (a + il) because the term "giorno" is a singular masculine noun. 

Il ristorante chiuderà alle ore 23:00. = (literally) The restaurant will close at the hours 23:00.
We used "alle" (a + le) because the term "23:00" is a plural feminine noun when referring to "hours".

As you can see,  not all of the compound prepositions can be translated as "at". 

Please note that the above list is not complete: there are 12 prepositions in Italian, which can be combined with definite articles to create all the different compound prepositions. Here is another useful thread about this topic:

Hope this helps :)



Thank you for this information. Although I have not yet reached this level of learning having read what you have written about compound prepositions has added a little more understanding to how the Italian language is constructed.

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