Why do some verbs in the infinitive require 'a' before them but others do not. E.g voglio decidere is ok but voglio morire is not (voglio a morire is correct in this case).
Also, i have seen 'per morire' in the exercises (cannot remember the exact sentence) instead of a morire?
What are the rules about using a or per with infinitives?
"Voglio a morire" is not correct. It doesn't really depend on the infinitive but on the word (the specific verb, adjective, noun...) introducing the infinitive and its role in the sentence:
- Voglio morire (I want to die)
- Sono pronto a morire (I'm prepared to die)
- Sono buoni da morire (they're to die for)
- Un buon giorno per morire (a good day to die)
- Ho il diritto di morire (I have the right to die)
I started writing about it in the Tips & Notes of Verbs:Infinitive1, but it's not complete; a complete list is nearly impossible, but I'll expand it soon.
Thank you, that is useful. I must admit I used Voglio a morire for simplicity, the example I saw in the exercise was Non voglio a morire and assumed it would be the same without the negation.
Does this apply to all verbs? and do we need to memorise each case for the correct preposition.
No, it doesn't depend on the negation either; probably the sentence you met didn't have volere or the infinitive was introduced by an adjective.
When the infinitive is introduced by a verb it depends on the latter: I tried to list some in those Tips & Notes, but even grammars are mostly empirical on this, there are often synonyms which take different prepositions just because. But note that with verbs you only have three options: either no preposition, "a" or "di".
In all other cases the prepositions have a meaning of their own, e.g. "per" expresses finality (un buon giorno per morire -> a good day when your purpose is dying), "da" (but with some adjectives "a") expresses passivity ("carta da lettere" -> paper to be used for letters, "bollette da pagare" -> bills to be paid"), "di" expresses a specification ("diritto di morire" -> the right related to dying), and can be introduced by just about any sentence element, or even be standalone ("per dire" -> just saying).
I have been writing up a summary of this for French and Italian (they have the same pattern) but I'm going to need a native speaker to look at my results and tell me if they're reasonable.
For example, one principle is that a makes a very tight connection between the main verb and the infinitive--so tight that it assumes they both have to happen. That means the difference between tentare di nuotare and provare a nuotare is that although they both mean "to try swimming" the first has the implication that you might fail to swim at all ("He tried to swim, but he drowned"), while the second assumes that you will definitely swim and will evaluate the experience ("I tried swimming, but it was just too dull").
Another principle is that you use a for things in the future and di for those in the past, with respect to the action of the main verb. So we expect comminciare a mangiare and terminare di mangiare.
The biggest exception is things that involve permission. The thing being permitted is obviously in the future, but it always takes di. permettere di mangiare.
I've been slowly working through a few lists of verbs looking for counterexamples, but so far this seems to work pretty well. A little native help (maybe after the holidays) would be appreciated. :-)
I'd be glad to help; I doubt you can devise any hard rule, but some rule of thumb would be enough, and we could list the exceptions covered by DL. Treccani has a whole article about it, but too complicated and as I said mostly empirical; they also noted that "a" is often used for sentences where the infinitive is "in the future", but they say that no such limitation applies to "di".
I'll look forward to seeing the confirmed version of this (please?) ;)
Honestly, I think I fail more questions on this than anything else combined.
Yes, a fairly simple rule of thumb with a handful of exceptions is all I'm looking to create. I did spend a little time to see if there was a deep principle I could write a paper about (or if anyone had already written such a paper) but I don't think such a thing exists in English, French, or Italian.
I'll put some more work into the document I have, and I'll ask you to take a look at it some time in January. Thanks!
If you think about it, in English, we have "I want to ski" but "I can ski". Where prepositions are concerned, it is just that some languages require them for no obvious reason. Unfortunately, this elicits rote learning...