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Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!

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

Don't let prepositional usage be a stumbling block that discourages your intermediate students from becoming advanced students of Spanish. This article deals with 'below', another high-frequency word in both languages that often is dealt with differently in Spanish and English.

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    Getting Below the Surface

    Many of the difficulties encountered in learning to master the various ways in which below is translated into Spanish have to do with whether its various solutions are due to an adverbial or prepositional use. To complicate matters a bit, one adverbial usage takes into account the position of another object or point of reference and one does not.

    In the case of an adverbial use of below that is not dependent on the position of something else, abajo is used, meaning below as in underneath, or even downward; but again, not relative to the position of something else. (The opposite of abajo is arriba). Note that in the following examples, the word abajo, performs the function of an adverb, modifying the verb, indicating in what manner or direction the subjects were looking:

    Abajo los astronautas podían ver la Tierra (The astronauts could see Earth below).

    El equilibrista se cayó porque miraba abajo (The tightrope walker fell because he looked down).

    When there is a reference to something else, that is, when the position of something else matters (stated of simply necessary for the sentence to make sense), then the word debajo is used, meaning below in the sense of under (the opposite of debajo is encima).

    Lo voy a meter debajo (I'm going to put it underneath) -- clearly there must be some other object under which something (lo) is being placed.

    Juan es muy engañoso; encima se ve muy honesto, pero debajo es mentiroso (Juan is deceptive; on the surface, he looks very honest, but underneath, he's a liar).

    Finally, the prepositional usage of debajo simply requires de to be added: debajo de. It is also sometimes rendered as bajo (a true preposition, not to be confused with abajo, an adverb, as seen above):

    Debajo de la superficie, hay muchos peces (Below the surface, there are many fish).

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

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