Using the Preposition 'Sobre'

Meanings Include 'On,' 'About' and 'Over'

¿Qué piensas sobre el uso de los antibióticos? (What do you think about using the antibiotics?). Photo by Martin Cathrae; licensed via Creative Commons.

Like many prepositions, sobre can be used in a variety of ways that don't seem to have any logical connection. One of the more common Spanish prepositions, sobre can be the equivalent of "on," "about" or "over," among others. (Sobre also can function as a masculine noun meaning "envelope," "packet" or, in informal usage, "bed.")

Here are the most common ways in which sobre is used:

To mean "on" or "over" in terms of location: In some cases, sobre can be used more or less interchangeably with en.

There usually isn't much significant difference, for example, between sobre la mesa and en la mesa, which both can be translated as "on the table."

  • Examples: Coloca una pierna sobre el piso. (Place your knee on the floor.) La distribución correcta de la presión del cuerpo sobre la silla es esencial para el confort. (The correct distribution of the body's weight over the chair is essential for comfort.) Una lluvia de astillas voló sobre el coche. (A shower of splinters flew on the car.)

To mean "about" in the sense of "concerning" or "with regard to": De can sometimes be used in a similar way; sobre might be considered a bit more formal.

  • Examples: Ésta es la primera edición de un libro sobre nuestra música popular. (This is the first edition of a book about our popular music.) Pelé presenta documental sobre su vida en Nueva York. (Pelé is presenting a documentary about his life in New York.) ¿Qué piensas sobre el uso de los antibióticos? (What do you think about using the antibiotics?)

    To have a meaning similar to "over" in matters such as superiority, influence or control:

    • Examples: El uso del bus triunfa sobre el coche entre los universitarios. (Among university students, the use of buses triumphs over the use of cars.) La industria de salud posee una enorme influencia sobre las políticas de salud. (The health industry has a great influence over the politics of health.) Me es repugnante la dominación de un sexo sobre el otro. (The domination of one sex over the other is repugnant to me.)

      To indicate approximation: This is used most often when discussing time.

      • Examples: Sobre las seis de la tarde volvimos al hotel. (We are arriving at the hotel at about 6 in the evening.) Sobre 1940 el mercado de la ciencia ficción comenzó a subir de nuevo. (About 1940 the market for science fiction began to grow again.)

      To indicate motion around a center of rotation:

      Example: El planeta gira sobre su eje una vez cada 58,7 días. (The planet rotates around its axis once each 58.7 days.)