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Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 2/14/2012

Are you wondering how to express the exact meaning for above in Spanish? There are different words which are used for nuance in Spanish. Is something on or above, on top or what? This article explores all the ways and means Spanish has for distinguishing the fine points.

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    First: What do you mean by "above"?

    The opposite of above is below, but that does not quite help you to know whether to use arriba, encima, sobre or encima de -- the various ways that the basic concept of the English word above can be expressed in Spanish.

    Let's start with sobre. It can mean almost the same as encima de, which conveys the idea of close contact, of something resting on something else. El libro está sobre la mesa (The book is on the table). Sobre can also be used in a non-literal way, as in sobre todo, which means above all. As a noun, sobre is masculine and means an mailing envelope.

    Encima de is often used exactly in the same situations as sobre, but with a connotation of a pile of things. More importantly, it can mean that something is hanging above something else. Mi mochila está encima de la ropa (My backpack is on top of the clothes), or Colgamos la ropa encima del patio (We hung the clothes above the deck).

    When encima is not used with de, it is an adverb of manner or means. and is best interpreted -- as adverbs are -- by noting its relationship to the verb. Mi amigo se cayó encima de la leña (My friend fell on top of the firewood). This shows the manner in which he fell. Here's another example: Primero, pintó la pared, y encima, puso el sellante (First, he painted the wall, and on top of that, the sealant), or Había mucha nieve, y encima, hielo (There was a lot of snow, and on top of that, ice).

    Arriba is also an adverb. It is the most generic translation of above, but as the previous examples show, it may not be the best choice. Use arriba when the sense of "above" is not limited, that is, not so connected with things underneath: Arriba se ven todas las constelaciones del invierno (Above, all the winter constellations can be seen).

Spanish Usage

The articles in this series deal with various questions about the right choice of word or phrase when English may have one or two structures but Spanish has more. They often deal with prepositional issues.
  1. Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"
  2. Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
  3. A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
  4. The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
  5. Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
  6. Expressing the Many Meanings of After
  7. Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
  8. Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
  9. Using "Anyway..." in Spanish
  10. Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
  11. What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
  12. The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
  13. Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
  14. Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
  15. The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
  16. The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
  17. Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
  18. Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
  19. Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
  20. Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
  21. Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
  22. Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
  23. What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
  24. Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
  25. The Word "Country" in Spanish
  26. The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
  27. Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
  28. How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
  29. Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with... In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
  30. Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
  31. Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
  32. Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
  33. Do You Mean "Fair" Weather, a "Fair" Game or a "Fair" Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
  34. Love, Desire and Wanting -- Spanish Style!
  35. Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing... and More
  36. You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
  37. Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word "Find"
  38. Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
  39. Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal