Meet the Two Contractions: Del & Al
The written English language abounds in contractions. Contractions are words like isn’t, don’t, I’d and so forth. The apostrophe shows the place where a letter or a large part of a word has been omitted. Our speech also shows this. We rarely say I would like to go, but rather I’d like to go. Such constructions make English difficult for many people learning our language.
Learners of Spanish should be glad to know that Spanish has only two contractions! Both of them occur when the singular masculine definite article el (meaning the, not he) comes after the prepositions a (which usually means to or at) or de (which means of or from). The two contractions are al (a + el) and del (de + el). In both cases, it is easy to see that the e of el has been dropped. The best way to remember to write them is to notice whenever a and el or de and el would come together in that order. Of course, in speaking, they would probably elide naturally, unless if the speaker is very slow.
In terms of usage, al offers no real surprises for the speaker of English, since we too will find that to the occurs quite often, e.g., He is going to the park – Él va al parque. However, the preposition de deserves a closer look, particularly when it means of. There is no apostrophe plus s in Spanish denoting possession or ownership. The boy’s bicycle has to be expressed by saying The bicycle of the boy: La bicicleta del niño. The bicycle of the girl is La bicicleta de la niña, and does not require the contraction del, but the important lesson about how possession or ownership is expressed is still there. Remember, there is no apostrophe + s to show ownership in Spanish. It must be expressed with del or de la, de los or de las, the owner following the article, as in the examples above.