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Parts of Speech: Prepositions in Spanish

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/17/2012

There aren't many prepositions in English or Spanish -- a couple dozen, plus compounds. But their usage is tough to master. This primer defines prepositions and provides enough material for even advanced learners of Spanish.

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    What are Prepositions?

    Prepositions are relator words; that is, they indicate the relationship between other words. The simplest relationships are those between nouns, in regard to time and space. Relationships that are more complex involve verbs and adjectives as well as verbs and their objects. These usually must be learned one at a time. The explanation for their usage extends beyond the scope of even advanced language classes and belongs to the field known as historical linguistics, since prepositional usage results from the evolution of Latin into Spanish.

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    Memorizing Prepositions

    The first step is to memorize the simple prepositions. Keep in mind that prepositional usage in Spanish is difficult to master for three reasons. First, because several have more than one solution in English, such as en, which can mean on, inside or even at. It is also difficult because two prepositions, namely por and para, translate into one English preposition, and (c), the usage for a given pronoun in English may not correspond to its dictionary counterpart in Spanish.

    Note: When a pronoun is the object of a preposition, it assumes the prepositional case, which is the same as the nominative (subject) form, except for the first and second persons singular ( and ) and the reflexive object pronoun of the third person, singular and plural (si). Also with con, the forms are conmigo and contigo. Notice the contrast between con él, con ella, etc.(mere accompaniment) and consigo (with himself, herself, etc.).

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    List of Simple Prepositions

    Simple Prepositions:

    a: at, to

    ante: before

    bajo*: under

    con: with

    contra: against

    de: of, from

    desde: from, since

    durante*: during

    en: in, into, at, on

    entre: among, between

    excepto*: except

    hacia: towards

    hasta: until, to, up to

    mediante*: be means of

    para: for

    por: for, by, through, along

    salvo*: except, save

    según: according to

    sin: without

    so: under (obsolete, archaic; therefore found in legal documents -- so pena de muerte -- on pain of death)

    sobre: on, about

    tras: after

    Bajo is an adjective serving as a preposition; the others are of verbal origin: durar, exceptuar, medir, salvar.

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    Compound Prepositions

    There are also compound prepositions, synonymous with some of the simple forms. The difference is that the compound forms tend to be locative (that is, they refer to place) whereas the simple ones tend to be figurative:

    ante: before

    delante de: in front of

    tras: after

    detrás de: after (behind)

    bajo: under, beneath

    debajo de: under, below

    sobre: on, upon, over

    encima de: on top of, over

    In order to master the usage of the following compound prepositions, it is best to note them when encountered in reading articles or when heard in speech in order to distinguish the various situations in which one is more appropriate than another whose dictionary meaning may be identical.

    adversamente a: adversely to

    conforme a: according to

    junto a: close to

    relativamente a: in relation to

    congruamente a: consistent with

    contrario a: contrary to

    tocante a: in (or with) regard to

    correspondiente a: corresponding to

    concerniente a: concerning

    frente a: opposite to

    respecto a: with respect to

    acerca de: about, concerning

    dentro de: within

    además de: besides, in addition to

    después de: after (time, order)

    alrededor de: around

    detrás de: behind, after (place)

    antes de: before (time, order)

    encima de: over, on top of

    debajo de: under

    lejos de: far from

    delante de: before (place)

    en cuanto a: as for

    con tal de: provided that

    a causa de: on account of

    en frente de: in front of

    a excepción de: with the exception of

    en vez de: instead of

    a fuerza de: by dint of

    en virtud de: by virtue of

    a través: across

    por causa de: on account of

    a menos de: unless

    por razón de: by reason of

    a pesar de: in spite of

    sin embargo de: notwithstanding


  • Author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.


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