Using the Spanish Preposition ‘Sobre’

Meanings include ‘on,’ ‘about,' and ‘over’

Man with drink and popcorn in a movie theater
La película es sobre la vida de la leyenda de música. (The movie is about the life of a music legend.).

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Like many Spanish 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 the English prepositions "on," "about," or "over," among others.

In some cases, it can help to know that sobre comes from the Latin super-, which, among other things, functioned as a preposition meaning "above" or "beyond." But while a few of the uses of sobre have clearly related meanings, not all do.

Be aware that sobre also can function as a masculine noun meaning "envelope," "packet," or, in informal usage, "bed.")

Most Common Ways in Which Sobre Is Used

Nearly all the time, sobre is used in one of the following ways:

Sobre as a Preposition of Location

Sobre is often used to indicate that something is on top or or above something. In some such situations, sobre can be used more or less interchangeably with the preposition 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." Other times, "over" is a more suitable translation, such as when sobre means "above."

  • 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 onto the car.)
  • Si pudieras volar sobre el ojo del huracán, al mirar hacia abajo verías claramente la superficie del mar o la tierra. (If you could fly over the eye of the hurricane, upon looking down you would clearly see the surface of the sea or Earth.)

Sobre Meaning ‘About,’ ‘Concerning,’ or ‘On the Subject Of’

When sobre is used to describe that something concerns or is about a subject, it functions in the same way that de can. In these situations, sobre is usually more formal than de. "About" is nearly always a good translation, although others such as "of" are possible.

  • Ésta es la primera edición sobre 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?)

Using Sobre To Indicate Superiority or Influence

Sobre often can translate "over" when it is used to indicate superiority in matters of influence or control.

  • 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.)

Sobre in Time Approximations

Sobre is frequently used in time expressions to indicate that the time given is approximate. The English translations "about" or "around" are often used. Sobre is less commonly used in other types of approximations, such as for physical measurements.

  • 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. (Around 1940 the market for science fiction began to grow again.)
  • La tormenta pasará sobre el mediodía de este sábado. (The storm will pass through around noon on this Saturday.)
  • Esperamos olas de sobre cuatro metros de altura. (We are hoping for waves about four meters high.)

Sobre for Motion Around

Sobre can be used to indicate rotation around an axis. "About" and "around" are the most common translations.

  • El planeta gira sobre su eje una vez cada 58,7 días. (The planet rotates around its axis once each 58.7 days.)
  • La Tierra rota sobre un eje imaginario que pasa a través de sus polos. (The Earth rotates about an imaginary axis which passes between its two poles.)

Key Takeaways

  • The Spanish preposition sobre is common, but it can't be translated by any single English preposition.
  • One common meaning of sobre is to indicate that something is on top or above something else.
  • Another common use of sobre is to indicate the subject that something else, such as a book, is about.