Using preposition "a" to indicate how/in which style something is done

The preposition a is often used in phrases in Spanish to indicate how something is done, or in which style.

  • Means/tools

The preposition is followed by a singular noun. For example:

Fuimos a su pueblo a caballo.We went to his village on horseback.

Tendrás que ir a pie porque hoy no hay autobuses.You will have to go on foot as there are no buses today.

Los chicos cruzaron el río a nado en pleno invierno.The boys swam across the river in midwinter.

El mantón está bordado a mano. Es precioso.The shawl is hand embroidered. It is beautiful.

Note that not all means of transport use the preposition a (en avión, a avión, en tren, a tren...)

  • Denoting abruptness 

Used generally with a plural noun. For example:

Lo echó del restaurante a patadas.He kicked him out of the restaurant.

La multitud consiguió salir de allí a empujones.The crowd managed to get out by pushing and shoving.

  • Expressing how an action is carried out or how it unfolds, sometimes expressing intensity.

Used generally with a plural noun. For example:

Íbamos caminando a ciegas porque perdimos las linternas.We were walking blindly because we lost our torches.

Se bebió la botella de whisky a tragos. Estaba muy borracho.He gulped down the bottle of whisky. He was very drunk.

El agua caía a raudales y se inundó el lugar.The water was pouring down and the place was flooded.

  • Using a + lo / la + adjective/noun

This is generally referring to something that is generally established as a specific way of doing something, imitating a certain way/style. It is often seen with nationality adjectives, and it is very common when talking about cooking styles. For example:

Hoy vamos hacer una cena rápida, cocinaré unas tortillas a la francesa y una ensalada.Today we are having a quick dinner, I'll cook some simple omelettes (French-style omelettes [not Spanish tortillas]) and a salad.

El pulpo a la gallega es sin duda mi plato español preferido.Galician-style octopus is undoubtedly my favourite Spanish dish.

Mis padres celebraron sus bodas de plata a lo grande. Invitaron a 300 personas.My parents celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in style. They invited 300 people.

Subió al escenario y se puso a cantar a lo Elvis Presley. Lo hizo fenomenal.He went onstage and started to sing like Elvis Presley. He nailed it.

Note that when we say that something is done in a certain style the way a specific celebrity does/did, it is always "a lo" (not a la) even if the celebrity is female. For example:

Esa chica lleva un peinado de los 50, a lo (a la) Marilyn Monroe.That girl has a '50s hairdo, like Marilyn Monroe.

Have a look at this list of adverbial manner expressions using different prepositions.

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Examples and resources

Los chicos cruzaron el río a nado en pleno invierno.The boys swam across the river in midwinter.
Se bebió la botella de whisky a tragos. Estaba muy borracho.He gulped down the bottle of whisky. He was very drunk.
Esa chica lleva un peinado de los 50, a lo (a la) Marilyn Monroe.That girl has a '50s hairdo, like Marilyn Monroe.
Fuimos a su pueblo a caballo.We went to his village on horseback.
El agua caía a raudales y se inundó el lugar.The water was pouring down and the place was flooded.
Íbamos caminando a ciegas porque perdimos las linternas.We were walking blindly because we lost our torches.
Hoy vamos hacer una cena rápida, cocinaré unas tortillas a la francesa y una ensalada.Today we are having a quick dinner, I'll cook some simple omelettes (French-style omelettes [not Spanish tortillas]) and a salad.
El pescado que hiciste al horno te salió exquisito.That fish you oven-baked was delicious.
La multitud consiguió salir de allí a empujones.The crowd managed to get out by pushing and shoving.
El mantón está bordado a mano. Es precioso.The shawl is hand embroidered. It is beautiful.
Tendrás que ir a pie porque hoy no hay autobuses.You will have to go on foot as there are no buses today.
Lo echó del restaurante a patadas.He kicked him out of the restaurant.
El pulpo a la gallega es sin duda mi plato español preferido.Galician-style octopus is undoubtedly my favourite Spanish dish.
Mis padres celebraron sus bodas de plata a lo grande. Invitaron a 300 personas.My parents celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in style. They invited 300 people.
Subió al escenario y se puso a cantar a lo Elvis Presley. Lo hizo fenomenal.He went onstage and started to sing like Elvis Presley. He nailed it.
Hicimos unas gambas a la plancha riquísimas.We made some very tasty grilled prawns.
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