Compound Prepositional Phrases

Compound prepositions provide nuances of meaning that simple prepositions can't

Guatemala bus
Estamos a bordo del bus. (We are aboard the bus.). Photo by John Barrie; licensed via 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 that function in much the same way as simple prepositions. (Although the term "prepositional phrase" is used here, some grammarians prefer the term "compound preposition.") An example 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. You can see many of these prepositional phrases in use in the sample sentences using prepositional phrases.

  • 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