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 Prepositions||English Equivalents|
|ante||before, in the face of, in the presence of|
|contra||against, in exchange for|
|de||of, about, from|
|en||in, into, by, inside, within, at|
|entre||between, among, amongst|
|hacia||towards, about, around|
|hasta||as far as, up to, until, till|
|mediante||by means of|
|para||for, in order to, toward|
|por||because of, (in order) to, for, by, through, per|
|según||according to, depending on|
|sobre||on (top of), over, above, about, upon|
|tras||after (later in time / in search of), behind (on the other side of)|
Complex (Multi-Word) Prepositions
|Spanish Prepositions||English Equivalents|
|además de||as well as, in addition to, besides|
|al lado de||beside|
|alrededor de||around, about|
|antes de, delante de||before|
|a pesar de||despite|
|cerca de||near, close (to)|
|con respecto a||in respect of|
|de acuerdo con||in accordance with|
|debajo de||under, underneath|
|delante de||in front of|
|dentro de||in, inside, into, within|
|encima de||on (top of), above, over|
|(en) frente a/de||opposite, towards|
|fuera de, a excepción de||except for, apart from|
|junto a||next 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.
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.
As in English, “en” is used to talk about when something will happen:
en un minuto – in a minute en otoño – in the autumn
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:
los zapatos de Jose… Jose’s shoes… (literally: the shoes of Jose)
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.
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
de día by day
de sábado a domingo from Saturday to Sunday
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!