Spanish Prepositions

Cat over the rainbow

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Where exactly do dreams come true? We’ll need a few prepositions (and maybe even a prepositional phrase) to find out…

Somewhere over the rainbow Way up high

Someday, I wish upon a star Wake up where the clouds are far behind me Where trouble melts like lemon drops High above the chimney top

Prepositions help describe where one thing is in relation to another, in addition to describing movement, time, or providing a description of something/someone based on their location. Prepositional phrases can consist of multiple words, which, when combined, function as a preposition does.

In Spanish there are also many locuciones preposicionales, which can be thought of as “compound prepositions.” Usually, prepositions answer the questions “where?” (functioning as an adverb) and “which one?” (functioning as an adjective).

These small words make a big difference. Consider the difference between these two responses:

– ¿Dónde está la araña? Where’s the spider?

A: Está en el tocador It’s in the dresser.

B: Está sobre el tocador. It’s on top of the dresser.

If you’re hunting a large spider in your apartment, I imagine you’d like to know the difference.

Though Spanish allows you to express the same types of spatial (e.g., beneath, above) and temporal (e.g., before, after) relations between objects, the correlations between prepositions is not one to one. It’s more like a mix-and-match between English and Spanish prepositions, with certain Spanish prepositions doing double duty (correlating to multiple English prepositions) and vice versa. In situations like the one above, it’s very important to know the difference!

The Most Common Spanish Prepositions

The good news is that apart from the contraction of a and de with el (al and del, respectively), prepositions do not change to show gender/number, etc. like many other Spanish words. This means that you can just plug the appropriate preposition into the sentence. Be aware that in Spanish, prepositions cannot come after the noun like they can in English (actually called postpositions), so rather than translating word for word, you’ll need to keep in mind which preposition is appropriate as well as where it belongs.

Simple (One-Word) Prepositions

Spanish PrepositionsEnglish Equivalents
aat, to
antebefore, in the face of, in the presence of
bajounder, below
conwith
contraagainst, in exchange for
deof, about, from
desdesince, from
duranteduring, for
enin, into, by, inside, within, at
entrebetween, among, amongst
exceptoexcept (for)
haciatowards, about, around
hastaas far as, up to, until, till
medianteby means of
parafor, in order to, toward
porbecause of, (in order) to, for, by, through, per
segúnaccording to, depending on
sinwithout
sobreon (top of), over, above, about, upon
trasafter (later in time / in search of), behind (on the other side of)

Complex (Multi-Word) Prepositions

Spanish PrepositionsEnglish Equivalents
además deas well as, in addition to, besides
al lado debeside
alrededor dearound, about
antes de, delante debefore
a pesar dedespite
cerca denear, close (to)
con respecto ain respect of
de acuerdo conin accordance with
debajo deunder, underneath
delante dein front of
dentro dein, inside, into, within
encima deon (top of), above, over
(en) frente a/deopposite, towards
fuera de, a excepción deexcept for, apart from
junto anext to, right by, near

Are you en the know?

“In” may seem like the obvious translation of “en.” In some cases, you can get away with using “en” in the same way as “in,” while in others the usage diverges from English.

Location

El pastel está en la nevera. The cake is in the fridge.

Estoy en casa. I’m in the house.

As for talking about being inside of a building or a location like a park, forest, or beach, the Spanish “en” actually seems more consistent than English… We won’t get into why English uses “at” for some locations, but in Spanish, you can use “en” for all of these examples:

Estoy en la casa de mi abuela. I’m at my grandmother’s house.

Estamos en el banco. We are at the bank.

¿Te gusta hacer fiestas en la playa? Do you like to party at the beach?

En should also be used when talking about an event, rather than a strictly physical location.

Entramos en la fiesta. We enter the party.

Lloré en la boda. I cried at the wedding.

Where English uses “on” or “by” to talk about modes of transport, Spanish thinks of you as being “in” the mode of transport (Yes, we are counting swings as a mode of transport!).

Ella bebe cerveza en el tren. She drinks beer on the train.

El niño se sienta en los columpios. The child is sitting on the swings.

Voy en bus. I’m going by bus.

Time

As in English, “en” is used to talk about when something will happen:

en un minuto – in a minute en otoño – in the autumn

Describing “How”

Solo hablamos en español. We only speak in Spanish.

¿En serio? Are you serious?

Subjects or Skills

When talking about subjects or fields of skills, Spanish uses en where English uses both in and at:

Todos son terribles en matemáticas. They are all terrible at math.

Ha tenido mucha práctica en negociaciones. She’s had a lot of practice in negotiation.

De: it’s more than “de nada”

Apart from the phrase for “You’re welcome” or more literally “of nothing/it’s nothing,” “de” can correspond to “of,” “to,” “from,” and even “by” in English in the following contexts:

Ownership

los zapatos de Jose… Jose’s shoes… (literally: the shoes of Jose)

Origin

Ella es de Colombia. She is from Colombia.

Topic or “Aboutness”

un curso de física… a physics course…

una empresa de marketing… a marketing company…

Sabemos todo del helado. We know everything about ice cream.

Location

encima de on top of

al lado de beside

From Here to There

de aquí a Londres from here to London

de una cosa a otra from one thing to another

Bits and Pieces

un pedazo de manzana a piece of apple

un poco de azúcar a little bit of sugar

When

de día by day

de sábado a domingo from Saturday to Sunday

Causes

morirse de la risa to die of laughter

llorar de felicidad to cry from happiness

What it’s made of

Está hecho de seda. It’s made of silk.

Though these tables of translations are helpful to draw your attention to the differences between prepositions in Spanish, the real trick is being exposed to as much Spanish as possible! After hearing prepositions paired with certain verbs, the appropriate preposition will begin to feel right in certain contexts without any explanation, just as they do in your native language. Try listening to Spanish podcasts or radio stations while on the go or comparing the use of prepositions in English and Spanish versions of short stories side by side. Sign up for Lingvist’s online Spanish course to quiz yourself using fill-in-the blank exercises and more!