"Jugar a las damas, "jugar al ajedrez". Why do we have to have "a" in there?
My Spanish book is saying that the phrase "to play checkers" is "jugar a las damas." Similarly, "to play chess" they're saying is "jugar al ajedrez." Why do we have to have "a" in there? I thought "a" was only supposed to be used before people. Is it possible to just say "jugar las damas" or "jugar el ajedrez" instead?
Also, is it possible to drop the definite articles in these phrases? Could you just say "jugar damas" or "jugar ajedrez?" I'm not really sure when to use the definite articles and when not to use them!
The "a" you're referring to is a preposition. You see, every language has its own prepositional patterns, so does English or Spanish. In general, to play something is translated as "jugar a": jugar a las muñecas, jugar al ajedrez/a las cartas, jugar a la lotería. You can check other phrases in our dictionary.
In Polish it's also necessary to use a preposition after play - grać w (jugar a); you'll find lots of differences between Spanish and English... and lots of similarities too
Actually, in older texts in English you sometimes see "play at darts" "play at cards" etc. Same thing