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Parts of Speech: Prepositions in Spanish

By Eric W. Vogt

There aren't many prepositions in English or Spanish -- a couple dozen, plus compounds. But their usage is tough to master. This primer defines prepositions and provides enough material for even advanced learners of Spanish.

What are Prepositions?

Prepositions are relator words; that is, they indicate the relationship between other words. The simplest relationships are those between nouns, in regard to time and space. Relationships that are more complex involve verbs and adjectives as well as verbs and their objects. These usually must be learned one at a time. The explanation for their usage extends beyond the scope of even advanced language classes and belongs to the field known as historical linguistics, since prepositional usage results from the evolution of Latin into Spanish.

Memorizing Prepositions

The first step is to memorize the simple prepositions. Keep in mind that prepositional usage in Spanish is difficult to master for three reasons. First, because several have more than one solution in English, such as en, which can mean on, inside or even at. It is also difficult because two prepositions, namely por and para, translate into one English preposition, and (c), the usage for a given pronoun in English may not correspond to its dictionary counterpart in Spanish.

Note: When a pronoun is the object of a preposition, it assumes the prepositional case, which is the same as the nominative (subject) form, except for the first and second persons singular ( and ) and the reflexive object pronoun of the third person, singular and plural (si). Also with con, the forms are conmigo and contigo. Notice the contrast between con él, con ella, etc.(mere accompaniment) and consigo (with himself, herself, etc.).

List of Simple Prepositions

Simple Prepositions:

a: at, to

ante: before

bajo*: under

con: with

contra: against

de: of, from

desde: from, since

durante*: during

en: in, into, at, on

entre: among, between

excepto*: except

hacia: towards

hasta: until, to, up to

mediante*: be means of

para: for

por: for, by, through, along

salvo*: except, save

según: according to

sin: without

so: under (obsolete, archaic; therefore found in legal documents -- so pena de muerte -- on pain of death)

sobre: on, about

tras: after

Bajo is an adjective serving as a preposition; the others are of verbal origin: durar, exceptuar, medir, salvar.

Compound Prepositions

There are also compound prepositions, synonymous with some of the simple forms. The difference is that the compound forms tend to be locative (that is, they refer to place) whereas the simple ones tend to be figurative:

ante: before

delante de: in front of

tras: after

detrás de: after (behind)

bajo: under, beneath

debajo de: under, below

sobre: on, upon, over

encima de: on top of, over

In order to master the usage of the following compound prepositions, it is best to note them when encountered in reading articles or when heard in speech in order to distinguish the various situations in which one is more appropriate than another whose dictionary meaning may be identical.

adversamente a: adversely to

conforme a: according to

junto a: close to

relativamente a: in relation to

congruamente a: consistent with

contrario a: contrary to

tocante a: in (or with) regard to

correspondiente a: corresponding to

concerniente a: concerning

frente a: opposite to

respecto a: with respect to

acerca de: about, concerning

dentro de: within

además de: besides, in addition to

después de: after (time, order)

alrededor de: around

detrás de: behind, after (place)

antes de: before (time, order)

encima de: over, on top of

debajo de: under

lejos de: far from

delante de: before (place)

en cuanto a: as for

con tal de: provided that

a causa de: on account of

en frente de: in front of

a excepción de: with the exception of

en vez de: instead of

a fuerza de: by dint of

en virtud de: by virtue of

a través: across

por causa de: on account of

a menos de: unless

por razón de: by reason of

a pesar de: in spite of

sin embargo de: notwithstanding