10 Facts About Spanish Prepositions

Part of Speech Can't Stand Alone

rappelling in Nicaragua
Hizo rappel en Nicaragua. (She rappelled in Nicaragua.). Photo by Scarleth Marie; licensed via Creative Commons.

Here are 10 facts about Spanish prepositions that will come in handy as you learn the language.

1. A preposition is a part of speech that is used to connect a noun with another part of a sentence. That noun — or noun substitute such as a pronoun, infinitive or phrase acting like a noun — is known as a prepositional object. Unlike interjections and verbs, prepositions cannot stand alone; they are always used with objects.

2. Prepositions, preposiciones in Spanish, are called that because they are positioned before objects. In Spanish this is always true. Except perhaps in some kind of poetry where the rules of word order are discarded, the prepositional object always follows the preposition. This is in contrast with English, where it is possible to place a preposition at the end of a sentence, especially in questions such as "Whom are you going with?" In translating that sentence to Spanish, the preposition con must come before quién, the word for "who" or "whom" in a question: ¿Con quién vas?

3. Prepositions can be simple or compound. The most common Spanish prepositions are simple, meaning that they're made up of one word. Among them are a (often meaning "to"), de (often meaning "from"), en (often meaning "in" or "on"), para (often meaning "for") and por (often meaning "for"). Compound prepositions should be thought of as a single unit even though made up of two or more words. Among them are delante de (usually meaning "in front of") and debajo de (usually meaning "underneath").

4. Phrases beginning with a preposition usually function like adjectives or adverbs. Two examples of adjectival usage, with prepositions in boldface:

  • En el hotel hay mucho ruido durante la noche. (In the hotel there is much noise during the night. The phrase provides a description of ruido, a noun.)
  • Compré la comida en el refrigerador. (I bought the food in the refrigerator.)

The same adverbial phrases used as adverbs:

  • Ella se levantó durante la noche. (She got up during the night. The phrase describes how the action of the verb, se levantó, was performed.)
  • Puse la comida en el refrigerador. (I put the food in the refrigerator.)

5. Numerous fixed phrases that include a preposition can also function as prepositions. For example, the phrase a pesar de means "in spite of" and like simpler prepositions must be followed by a noun or noun substitute: A pesar de la crisis, tengo mucho dinero. (In spite of the crisis, I have a lot of money.)

6. Spanish frequently uses phrases with a preposition in situations where English speakers often use adverbs. For example, you're more likely to hear phrases such as de prisa or a toda prisa to mean "hurriedly" than an adverb such as apresuradamente. Other common adverbial phrases among the hundreds in existence include en broma (jokingly), en serio (seriously), por cierto (certainly) and por fin (finally).

7. Meanings of prepositions can be vague and highly dependent on context, so the meanings of Spanish and English prepositions frequently don't line up well. For example, the preposition a, while often meaning "to," can also mean "by," "at" or even "off to." Similarly, the English "to" can be translated not only as a, but also as sobre, de, hacia and contra.

8. The most confusing prepositions for Spanish students are often por and para. That's because both are frequently translated as "for." The rules become complicated, but one quick tip that covers many situations is that por often refers to a cause of some sort while para often refers to a purpose.

9. When a sentence opens with a prepositional phrase that modifies the meaning of the entire sentence, that phrase is followed by a comma. This is common with phrases that reflect the speaker's attitude toward what is said. Example: Sin embargo, prefiero escuchar lo que dicen. (Nevertheless, I prefer to hear what they say.)

10. The prepositions entre and según use subject pronouns rather than object pronouns. So the equivalent of "according to me" is según yo (not using the me you might expect). Similarly, "between you and me" is entre yo y tú (me and ti aren't used).

See how well you know your Spanish prepositions with this quiz.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "10 Facts About Spanish Prepositions." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/10-facts-about-spanish-prepositions-3079335. Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). 10 Facts About Spanish Prepositions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/10-facts-about-spanish-prepositions-3079335 Erichsen, Gerald. "10 Facts About Spanish Prepositions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/10-facts-about-spanish-prepositions-3079335 (accessed June 7, 2023).