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).
This post is part of the series: Spanish Usage
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Above"
- Using "Actual" and "Actually" in Spanish
- A Problem Preposition: The Ways "About" is Expressed in Spanish
- The Many Spanish Faces of the English Verb "to Agree"
- Spanish Usage Questions: Ways to say "Again"
- Expressing the Many Meanings of After
- Spanish Usage Questions: How to Say "Ahead"
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Anyone" and "Anybody"
- Using "Anyway…" in Spanish
- Let's Learn About How to Talk About Appointments & Dating
- What Do You Use for "Around" in Spanish
- The Spanish Verbs Meaning "to Ask" are Many!
- Beware of False Cognates! How to Express "Attend," "Assist," and "Help"
- Are You "Cool" or "Cold"? Explore the Nuances in Spanish
- The Difference Between "Why" and "Because" in Spanish
- The Temporal and Spacial Meanings of "Before": How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Don't Be Left in the Dust! Learn to Express the Meanings of "Behind" in Spanish
- Get the Low Down on the Preposition "Below" and Say it Right in Spanish!
- Understand Saying "Help" in Spanish
- Translating "Beside" & "Besides" into Spanish: Interesting Solutions!
- Not all Meanings of "But" Are Equal!
- Expressing the Various Meanings of the Preposition "By" in Spanish
- What Can the English Word "Can" Mean and How to Get it Right in Spanish
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Corner"
- The Word "Country" in Spanish
- The Various Meanings of "Outweigh" in English and How to Express Them in Spanish
- Expressing the Idea of "Ownership" in Spanish
- How to Express "Time & Distance" in Spanish
- Treat, Try, Attempt, Deal with… In Spanish, You Probably Need "Tratar"
- Spanish Usage Questions: "Having Fun"
- Even a Word Like "Even" Has Many Counterparts in Spanish
- Don't Go Wrong When You Look for Ways to Express "to fail"
- Do You Mean "Fair" Weather, a "Fair" Game or a "Fair" Complexion? Learn How to Say Them in Spanish!
- Love, Desire and Wanting — Spanish Style!
- Discover the Right Spanish Verbs for Taking, Holding, Grabbing… and More
- You Have Nothing to Fear Except Not Knowing How to Say "Fear" in Spanish!
- Spanish Equivalents of the Common English Word "Find"
- Discover the Various Meanings of "Middle" and How to Say Them in Spanish
- Not All Spanish Words Meaning "Worker" Are Created Equal