As rspreng said, it just has to be there. There are many verbs in Spanish (and English) that require that you add a preposition to the end.
Empezar (a) = To start/begin
Comenzar (a) = To start/begin
Tratar (de) = To try ("tratar" does have other meaning, such as "to treat")
Aprender (a) = To learn (And as AndresC. said, you only add the "a" if it's followed by a verb)
Some examples of this happening in English are:
To look (at) = Mirar
To listen (to) = Escuchar
Notice that "mirar" and "escuchar" don't require a preposition, but the English equivalents do. There isn't really a reason to all this, it's just how it's done.
Note: If you wanted to add an object pronoun, you don't need the preposition. So you say "Aprenderlo" not "Aprender a lo" or "aprender a ello."
Aprender does not require "a" in all situations, por ejemplo:
-Quiero aprender a hablar alemán
-Quiero aprender alemán
As you see, aprender+verb requires the preposition, whereas aprender+noun doesn't.
The verb "mirar" does use the preposition "a" in most of its common uses.
-El hombre mira a su esposa
-La casa mira al mar
-¡Mírate al espejo!
And the same goes with "escuchar". In many cases, you need the "a".
-Escucha a esa persona, las cosas que está diciendo de tí.
(Listen to that person, the things he's saying about you).
Thanks! I know that they sometimes go with a preposition (that's why I said "don't require") and in your example, "Escucha a esa persona, las cosas que está dicendo de tí", that "a" is the "personal a", right? I wasn't going to try to explain those in my post.
Yes, you are right. Also, "miro al cielo, miro al suelo, miro al norte", when giving a sense of direction.
Yes, that would be "I look to the sky" etc. My point is that the preposition "a" isn't "tied" to "mirar" or "escuchar" like it is with "empezar (a)," etc.
For example, "Veo un coche", "Veo a un hombre." The second sentence requires an "a" because "un hombre" is a person.
Well, going back to the sentence that prompted the question in the first place, the rule is very simple: in Spanish you don't put two non conjugated verbs next to each other. The preposition will change accordingly, but there will always be one of them in the middle.
Empezar a comer
Volver a viajar
Comenzar a estudiar
Terminar de cocinar
Pensar en regresar
Tener que trabajar
Estudiar para progresar
Hope it helps.
Look (at) is a bad example because it's a phrasal verb and 'at' is used to introduce the indirect object, it isn't only used to catenate to another verb. It is important to differentiate between prepositions as part of phrasal verbs, and 'prepositions' only used between verbs; I use the quotes because in English we refer to the use of 'to' between verbs as a particle, not a preposition.
Anyway this sentence should be relatively straightforward because similar to empezar and comenzar, start and begin also use the 'to' particle when catenating.
Same old answer: that is how they do it. Empezar a + infinitive = to begin to do something
It's not that strange because it's the same in English. If you're not using the 'ing' form of the second verb then you have to say We are going to start/begin TO eat.
Here's a page that has every verb and what preposition it needs: http://www.elearnspanishlanguage.com/grammar/verb/verbswithprep.html
Again - Spanish usually uses the infinitive where we use the gerund. And the logic of one language does not transfer to another (not that language rules are truly logical, anyway.)
I translated we are about to eat and it was stated wrong. It means the same as we are going to start eating.
Your sentence is estamos en punto de comer. And, even in English, there is a bit of difference in the meaning. Don't answer the phone, we are about to eat. It's 9- we're going to start to eat brunch at 10, so we have another hour,
Why is the gerund of comer not used? Should it not be we are going to start eating not we are going to start eat?
It's just the way Spanish works. There are a handful of verbs that require the gerund afterward, generally they don't use a. So you can continuas comiendo but not empieza comiendo. And please, stop translating word for word. It only confuses you. Spanish just uses the infinitive in places where English uses the gerund.
What is the tip-off that we are looking for the gerund rather than the infinitive?