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A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish

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

In English, there are various meanings of the word "about." This creates some confusion to students of Spanish. This brief article covers all the bases for you or your students. A great handout!

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    All About "About"

    It probably will come as a surprise to learn that there are several ways that about is used in English and each has a different solution in Spanish -- and often an alternative or two.

    By far the most common translation is sobre (also used for above,so be careful and learn more about this word! In its meaning as about, sobre can also be substituted with acerca de. They are used when in English, the word about means concerning or having to do with or dealing with a particular idea or topic.

    Es una clase sobre/acerca de la química orgánica (It's a class about/dealing with organic chemistry).

    Another common solution is the very common preposition de, which corresponds to about in the sense of concerning -- often when a person is the topic of "concern":

    ¿Has oído hablar de esa chica? (Have you heard about that girl? -- in the sense of "what is said of her").

    Yo sé mucho sobre los francmasones (I know a lot about the Freemasons).

    The use of de isn't limited to knowing about people. It can refer to a whole body of information:

    Por favor, quiero saber más de todo eso (Please, I'd like to know more about all that).

    Sometimes, English uses about in the sense of conveying an approximation, as when speaking of numbers or clock time. When this is the case, the phrase a eso de is used, in the sense of around, or 'round about:

    Mi amigo se despertó a eso de las siete (My friend woke up about/around seven).

    Similarly, the word sobre can be used colloquially, when expressing such approximations:

    Por favor, pase a buscarme sobre las cinco (Please come by for me 'round five).

    When rounding figures or other statistics, cerca de or unos (and unas) are also very common:

    Hay cerca de cien personas en el tren (There are about a hundred people on the train).

    Tengo unas docenas de alfombras pérsicas (I have a few dozen Persian rugs).

    Still another solution is to use más o menos is another way of approximating, and is not limited to numbers, but also qualities:

    Hay más o menos cincuenta dólares en la caja (There are more or less fifty bucks in the till).

    Juan es más o menos alto (John is kind of tall).

    Finally, if you want to know what something is about, you can also use the verb tratarse de:

    ¿De qué se trata este libro? (What is this book about?)

References

  • Author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.

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