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Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish

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

One of the translations of "by" is "por" -- but ... not always. This article will give a few other ways to render the nuances of "by" into Spanish.

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    Means, Proximity, Mode... Let's Take a Look at What "By" Does in English and How to Say it in Spanish!

    In a passive sentence, by is rendered as por, and marks the passive agent of an action. Thus, it shows means or instrumentality:

    La ventana fue rota por los niños (The window was broken by the children).

    El incendio fue apagado por las lluvias (The fire was put out by the heavy rain).

    Me informaron de mi ascenso por correo electrónico (They told me of my promotion via/by e-mail).

    Sometimes, by is used in such as way as to indicate an emotion or attitude, even a condition that has come into being. In such cases, de is used instead of por. Examples are worth a thousand words:

    El Emperador Nerón fue muy odiado de los romanos (The Emperor Nero was hated by the Romans).

    La actriz está rodeada de fotógrafos (The actress is surrounded by photographers).

    When dealing with means of transportation and people are being transported, either por or en can be used. However, when people are not taking some form of transport, but rather things are being sent, then por is the only way to express by.

    Mis amigos siempre viajan en avión pero yo voy siempre en tren (My friends always travel by plane but I always go by train).

    Los cheques fueron enviados por correo de entrega inmediata (The checks were sent by special delivery mail).

    However, when the English preposition by is used to express a deadline, in Spanish, the preposition para is used instead of por. This is one of the many distinctions between this troublesome pair of prepositions.

    La tarea tiene que entregarse para mañana a más tardar (The homework must be handed in by tomorrow at the latest).

    Hay que terminar el proyecto para el quince del mes (The project must be finished by the fifteenth of the month).

    Sometimes, in English, the word by is omitted, but para must be used in Spanish:

    ¿Para cuando es la tarea? (When is the homeword due?)

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