An Introduction to Spanish Prepositions

Prepositions are small words that pack a big punch. They define, identify, and explain, and are an essential part of everyday speech.

They help you identify the girl with the long hair, and you need them to explain that dinner is on the table. It’s almost impossible to say a single sentence without (see what I mean?) one of these useful little words!

Learning to use prepositions in Spanish isn’t overly difficult but does take some practice. Read on for a quick introduction to these very useful little words.

Let’s start at the beginning…

Before we dive in too deep with what the Spanish prepositions are and how we use them, let’s take a step back and review what prepositions are.

What are prepositions and why are they so important?

A preposition is a (usually) little word that can have a big impact on what you’re saying. It is what forms the connections and relations between different elements in a sentence.

For example (prepositions in bold):

  • The girl from Spain
  • The boy across the street
  • The store in the mall

They can be very important because there’s a big difference between saying: “The dog is on the table” and “the dog is under the table” and it would make absolutely no sense to say “the dog is in the table”.

Prepositional Phrases

A preposition is always followed by an object (a noun or pronoun). In the examples given previously, the prepositional phrases would be:

  • The girl from Spain
  • The boy across the street
  • The store in the mall

These phrases function as either adjectives or adverbs. In the examples above, the prepositional phrases are all functioning as adjectives, describing the nouns (girl, boy, store) answering the question “Which (girl,boy,store)?”

An example of a prepositional phrase functioning as an adverb would be the set of examples relating to the dog.

  • The dog is under the table

Here, the prepositional phrase answers the question “Where (is the dog)?”

Prepositions in Spanish

Prepositions in Spanish function much the same as they do in English. They always take an object, and they will serve as either an adverb or adjective.

While on the surface they appear pretty easy (since they’re like English and all) sometimes they can cause a few problems. Mainly, this comes when deciding which preposition to use when.

For example, one of the prepositions that gets misused frequently in Spanish by English speakers is en.

Spanish EnglishExamples
EnIn, On, AtEstoy en la tienda.
Está en la mesa.
Estoy en la casa de un amigo.

Two of its uses are pretty easy (in, on) since it sounds like its English equivalents.

Estoy en la tienda.- I’m in the store.

Está en la mesa.– It’s on the table.

This little word causes problems, however, with its third meaning “at”. Often times, as English speakers, we want to use the Spanish preposition a in place of en because we associate the a with our own “at”. This is wrong, though. For example:

Estoy en la casa de un amigo– I’m at a friend’s house.

NOT: Estoy a la casa de un amigo.

Let’s look at some of the most common prepositions in Spanish and their different meanings and uses.

Most Common Prepositions in Spanish

In addition to en which we’ve already seen, you will also commonly hear/see the following prepositions in Spanish:

Spanish
English
Examples
ATo, At (for time)Voy a la tienda. (I’m going to the store.)
Estaré allí a las tres. (I’ll be there at 3:00.)
Antes deBefore
Debes estirar antes de hacer ejercicio. (You should stretch before doing exercise.)
Cerca deNearEstamos cerca de tu casa. (We are near your house.)
ConWithElla está con sus padres. (She is with her parents.)
DeOf, From, Indicating Possession¿Qué piensas de la pélicula nueva? (What do you think of the new movie?)

Soy de los Estados Unidos. (I am from the USA.)

Estamos en la casa de María. (We are at Maria’s house.)
Dentro deInside ofMi coche está dentro del garaje. (My car is inside of the garage.)
DesdeSince, FromNo he estado allí desde hace un mes.(I haven’t been there since a month ago).

Tiró la pelota desde aquí. (He threw the ball from here.)
Después deAfterDespués de clase, voy a estudiar. (After class, I’m going to study.)
Detrás deBehindEl pan está detrás de los huevos. (The bread is behind the eggs.)
DuranteDuringDurante el vuelo, dormí. (During the flight, I slept.)
Encima deOn top ofLa sal está encima de la mesa. (The salt is on top of the table.)
Enfrente deOpposite (across from)Quedamos enfrente de la biblioteca. (We’ll meet across from the library).

*Note: This is another one that usually trips up English speakers since it sounds like our version of “in front of”.
If you want to say “We’ll meet in front of the library” it would be Quedamos en (at) la biblioteca.
EntreBetween, AmongEntre nosotros, no me gusta el profe de inglés. (Between us, I don’t like the English teacher.)

Hay un traidor entre nosotros. (There’s a traitor among us.)
Fuera deOutside ofLos servicios están fuera de la estación. (The restrooms are outside of the station.)
HastaUntilNo llegaré hasta las seis. (I won’t arrive until 6:00).
ParaFor, In order toCompré el regalo para ti. (I bought the gift for you.)

Para aprender español, tienes que estudiar mucho. (In order to learn Spanish, you have to study a lot.)
PorFor, By, ThroughDamos gracias por su paciencia. (We are thankful for your patience.)

El Quijote fue escrito por Cervantes. (The Quixote was written by Cervantes.)

Tenemos que pasar por el parque para llegar a la escuela. (We have to pass through the park in order to get to the school.)
SinWithoutNo puedo vivir sin ti. (I can’t live without you.)
SobreOver, AboutEl avión vuela sobre el océano. (The plane flies over the ocean.)

El libro es sobre la Guerra Civil. (The book is about the Civil War.)

Some tricky verb/ preposition combinations

So, now that we have a working list of the most common prepositions in Spanish, let’s look at some of the verb/ preposition combinations that tend to be more difficult for English speakers.

A lot of verbs in Spanish take a specific preposition. For example:

  • Empezar a– to start
  • Acabar de– to finish
  • Dejar de– to quit

The best way to learn these is by simply familiarizing yourself with them as you come across them. Below, however, I want to list the ones that seem to be common pitfalls for English speakers because we would also use a preposition with the verb. However, the preposition we use, and the one used in Spanish are different (i.e. they don’t translate exactly).

  • Pensar de– We saw this one on our list. It means to think of.
      • This is used to give an opinion (as in the example given above).
  • Pensar en- Meaning to think about. This is where the verb pensar with a preposition can get tricky. The translation isn’t exact (as it would be “think in/on”).
      • This is used to say “I’ve been thinking about him a lot” or “I’m thinking about going to England for the summer.”
  • He estado pensando mucho en él.  Or Estoy pensando en ir a Inglaterra durante el verano.
      • NOT an opinion.
  • Soñar con- Meaning to dream about/ of.
      • For example: Anoche soñe con ir a Paris. (Last night I dreamed about/ of going to Paris.)
      • NEVER soñar de.
  • Enamorarse de- Meaning to fall in love with
      • For example: Me enamoré de España. (I fell in love with Spain).
      • NEVER enamorarse con
  • Depender de– Meaning to depend on
      • For example: Eso depende de lo que hace él. (This depends on what he does.)
      • NEVER depender en
  • Contar con– Meaning to count on
    • For example: Cuento mucho contigo. (I count on you a lot.)
    • NEVER contar en  

The dreaded “por” and “para”

These two little words can easily insight a sense of fear in English speaking Spanish students everywhere. Being that, more often than not, we translate both of them to our preposition “for” knowing when to use each one can be a little confusing.

While giving an in depth explanation of when to use each one may be a little too much for this specific article, let’s just look at a quick chart that might help to clear up a few things.

PorPara
Used to show something in process. There’s no finality associated with it.
Commonly means or is used to show:

  • “Through”

  • “By”

  • “On behalf of”

  • Express gratitude or extend an apology

  • Exchange (including sales)

  • Express cause or reason

Used to show the “end” of something. There’s a sense of finality with it.
Commonly means or is used to show:

  • Indicate destination

  • Show the purpose of an object

  • Indicate the recipient of something

  • “In order to”

  • Express a deadline

Example:

Compré un regalo para (recipient) mi madre. Pagué 5 Euros por (exchange-sale) ella. También tenía que comprar un regalo para (recipient) mi madre por (“on behalf of”) mi hermano, porque no podía ir a la tienda.

I bought a present for my mom. I paid 5 Euros for it. I also had a buy a present for my mother from/for/on behalf of my brother because he couldn’t go to the store.

Contractions in Spanish

There are only 2 contractions in Spanish, and they both happen to relate to prepositions. So, let’s just go ahead and take a quick look at those, shall we?

  • A+El=Al
      • In you ever find these two little words (a and el) right next to each other, you can go ahead and mush them into one!
      • Quiero ir a el cine= Quiero ir al cine. (I want to go to the movies.)
  • De+El=Del
    • You can do the same thing if you come across these two words (de and el).
    • Vengo de el dentista= Vengo del dentista. (I’m coming from the dentist.)

Conclusion

On the surface, Spanish prepositions appear to be just like the ones in English. However, there are a few little nuances that every English-speaking Spanish student should be familiar with. These little, but extremely useful, words can be confusing sometimes. But, don’t worry! The more you practice them, the easier they become.

What do you think? Are there any frequently used prepositions that didn’t make our list that you think should have? Are there any other tricky verb/preposition combinations that always trip you up? We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author Ana

Anastasia is a Chicago, Illinois native. She began studying Spanish over 10 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Living in Spain since 2012, she loves Spanish tortilla, vino tinto, and anything that contains jamón ibérico.

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