what does a-t-il usually mean and what kinds of contexts can it be used in
Excellent question. I also had trouble remembering this, Glad someone else asked.
OK- my mistake. I didn't see the link.
But it could also mean "does it have", hence the need for more context.
Yes, but you can see the context in the lesson. The link is on the top of this page ;-)
It's "does he have" in English.
"a-t-il" is a verb-subject inversion when asking a question in a formal way.
The most common ways to ask questions in French are:
- Changing the intonation: "Il a des réunions". Question: "Il a des réunions?"
- Using "est-ce que": "Est-ce qu'il a des réunions?"
But there's a 3rd way, very formal, and mostly used in written formal French, which is switching verb and subject : "A-t-il des réunions?". If the subject is a name or a noun, then you say name + verb/ pronoun inversion, that means the subject is said twice: "Jean a-t-il des réunions". "Jean" and "il" refer to the same subject.
We use a "t" here to avoid having two vowels together between the verb "a" and the pronoun "il".
The same happens with "elle": "Claire a-t-elle des réunions?" and with all verbs that end with a vowel in 3rd person singular:
"Claire mangera-t-elle du pain?" "Pierre va-t-il au cinéma?" "Le chat mange-t-il du poisson?" "Regarde-t-il la télé?", "La table sera-t-elle assez grande?") . But with a verb ending with a consonnant or a pronoun begining with a consonant we don't have that problem, we just switch verb and subect: "Allez-vous au cinéma?", "Ai-je le temps d'y aller?",... making the "liaison when the pronoun begins with a vowel; "Les chats mangent-ils du poisson", "les tables seront-elles assez grandes" : in these cases we do pronounce the "t" at the end of the verb, although we usually don't.
It's impossible to translate this without more context.