How To Use Compound Prepositions in Spanish

Such prepositions provide nuances of meaning that simple prepositions can’t

Guatemala bus
Estamos a bordo del bus. (We are aboard the bus.).

John Barrie / Creative Commons.

Prepositions are handy words for showing the relationship among the various words in a sentence. But with something like only two dozen prepositions available, you're limited if you stick to simple prepositions to indicate the connection that a noun or pronoun might have with another word.

Fortunately, both Spanish and English have a wide range of prepositional phrases, also known as compound prepositions, that function in much the same way as simple prepositions

Using Compound Prepositions

An example of compound preposition can be seen in a sentence such as Roberto fue al mercado en lugar de Pablo ("Robert went to the market instead of Paul"). Although en lugar de is made up of three words, it functions much the same as one word and has a distinct prepositional meaning as a phrase. In other words, like single-word prepositions, prepositional phrases show the connection between the noun (or pronoun) that follows and other words in the sentence. (Although you could probably figure out what en lugar de means by translating the individual words, that isn't true of all prepositional phrases.)

The list below shows some of the most common phrases that function as prepositions. Prepositions can also be used in phrases that are used as adverbs, as explained in our lesson on adverbial phrases. As you can see in the examples following this section, not all Spanish prepositional phrases are best translated as prepositional phrases in English.

  • abajo de — underneath
  • a bordo de — aboard
  • a cambio de — in exchange or trade for
  • a cargo de — in charge of
  • a causa de — because of
  • acerca de — about, concerning
  • además de — besides, in addition to, as well as
  • adentro de — inside
  • a disposición de — at the disposal of
  • a excepción de — with the exception of, except for
  • a falta de — due to the lack of, in the absence of
  • a fin de — with the goal or intent of, in order to
  • afuera de — outside
  • a fuerza de — by means of
  • al contrario de — contrary to
  • al estilo de — in the style of, in the manner of
  • al frente de — at the forefront of
  • al lado de — next to
  • alrededor de — around
  • antes de — before (in time, not location)
  • a pesar de — in spite of
  • a prueba de — roughly equivalent to the English suffix "-proof"
  • a punto de — on the verge of
  • a través de — through, across
  • bajo condición de que — on the condition that
  • cerca de — near
  • con rumbo a — in the direction of
  • de acuerdo con — in agreement with
  • debajo de — underneath, under
  • delante de — in front of
  • dentro de — within
  • después de — after
  • detrás de — behind, after
  • en caso de — in case of
  • encima de — on top of
  • en contra de — against
  • en forma de — in the shape of
  • enfrente de — opposite
  • en lugar de — instead of, in the place of
  • en medio de — in the middle of
  • en vez de — instead of
  • en vías de — on the way to
  • fuera de — except for
  • frente a — opposite, towards
  • lejos de — far from
  • por causa de — because of
  • por razón de — because of

Samples Sentences Using Compound Prepositions

Las complicaciones después de la cirugía de cataratas pueden incluir visión opaca o borrosa. (Complications after cataract surgery can include dull or blurry vision.)

A pesar de todo, digo sí a la vida. (Despite everything, I am saying yes to life.)

Vea nuestra colección de cámaras compactas a prueba de agua. (See our collection of compact waterproof cameras.)

La ciudad grande está a punto de un desastre ambiental. (The large city is on the verge of an environmental disaster.)

No busques más hoteles cerca de este. (Don't look for more hotels near this one.)

¿Por qué los gatos duermen encima de sus humanos? (Why do cats sleep on top of their humans?)

Muchas cosas cambiaron por causa de mi error. (Many things changed because of my mistake.)

Key Takeaways

  • Compound prepositions in both English and Spanish are phrases that function in the same way as single-word prepositions.
  • Meanings of compound prepositions can't always be determined by the meanings of the individual words.