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Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish

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

At times a preposition, at others an adjective or an adverb, "behind" has a number of solutions in Spanish. Yes, there are several that have to do with what you sit on! See this article to learn more!

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    Behind the Eight Ball or Behind the Times?

    Remember that prepositions are relator words -- they show the relationship between nouns or pronouns in space and time. When examining any prepositional usage, it is important to know which two nouns are being related through a preposition and then if the relationship is literal or figurative, spatial or temporal.

    As a preposition that shows the spatial relationship between two things, behind is expressed by detrás de in the sense of something being in back of something else:

    Mi mochila está detrás de la silla (My backpack is behind the chair).

    El gato se metió detrás del estante de libros (The cat went behind the bookcase).

    The opposite of detrás de is delante de (in front of):

    Mi madre me espera delante de la casa (My mother is waiting for me in front of the house).

    Another prepositional solution for behind is tras, which means following after (think of the Pied Piper):

    Los perros iban tras los gatos (The dogs followed after the cats).

    Adverbially, that is, modifying a verb to show manner, the word for behind is atrás. In this adverbial situation it means backwards: Note that it does not depend on the position of one thing or person with respect to another:

    El soldado dio un paso hacia atrás (The soldier took one step backwards).

    The opposite of atrás is adelante (forwards).

    Finally, atrasado is the adjectival form of behind, hence atrasada or plural forms too, are possible. It means that something or someone is behind, as in not as fast as other similar people or things, such as a clock or watch or the progress of a project:

    La construcción va un poco atrasada por falta de fondos (The construction is a little behind due to lack of funds).

    Mi reloj está atrasado (My watch is behind/slow).


  • 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