The prepositions of the Spanish language function exclusively as such, therefore, the language does not use postposition constructions. Most derive from Latin, excepting the Arabic-derived hasta (“until”); yet the list herein includes two archaic prepositions — so (“under”) and cabe (“beside”), and excludes vía (“by way of, via”) and pro (“in favour of”), two Latinisms recently integrated to the language. Pedagogically, Spanish language education imparts command of these words via mnemonic-device recitation of: a, ante, bajo, cabe, con, contra, de, desde, durante, en, entre, hacia, hasta, mediante, para, por, según, sin, so, sobre, and tras.
The Prepositions of the Spanish language
|Look up a in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
A generally denotes to and at; it has these notable usages:
- It indicates movement to a destination:
- "Viajaron a Madrid." = "They traveled to Madrid."
- "Llegaron a Madrid." = "They arrived in Madrid."
- It indicates a point on a quantitative scale, as in telling time (but not a more general stationary location, which is normally expressed by en):
- "Llegaron a las dos." = "They arrived at two o'clock."
- "Se venden a dos dólares la libra." = "They are sold at two dollars a pound."
- It introduces indirect objects that Latin would have marked with the dative case:
- Le envié la carta a Ana. = "I sent Ana the letter", "I sent the letter to Ana."
- ¿Le/Les regalaste el coche a tus padres? = "Did you give your parents the car as a gift?", "Did you give the car to your parents (as a gift)?"
- Note that the indirect object pronoun forms le and les appear, even when the indirect object is given in full; see Spanish pronouns.
- It introduces infinitives after many verbs, although this usage is infrequent, unlike with the English preposition to:
- Voy a enfadarme. = "I am going to become angry."
- Aprende no sólo a hablar sino también a escribir el castellano. = "Do not just learn to speak Spanish, but also to write it", "Learn not just to speak, but also to write Spanish."
- It introduces a direct object referring either to a person or a personalised thing (pet, organization, vehicle):
- Veo a María. = "I see María."
- Te quieren ver a ti. = "They want to see you."
- As an elementary preposition, a is a component of many compound Spanish prepositions, detailed in section 2.
Prepositional contraction: al (“to the”, “to”) is the contraction formed with a and el (“the”), the masculine definite article, yet the contraction is waived when the article is part of a title:
- Voy al país de mis sueños = "I am going to the country of my dreams."
- Lo voy a mandar a El País = "I am going to send it to [the newspaper] El País.”
|Look up con in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
Con, derives from the Latin CVM (“with”), is an idiosyncratic preposition that combines with the personal pronouns mí, ti, and sí as the forms: conmigo (“with me”), contigo (“with you”), and consigo (“with her-, himself”). Linguistically, the denotation of the -go suffix originally was inherent to con, that is — in Latin, CVM was often placed after its pronoun, thus the MECVM, TECVM, SECVM, et cetera, usages. This popular Latin usage gave Spanish the migo, tigo, and sigo, and the nosco and vosco forms, their usages now lost; like-wise the denotations of the -go and -co suffixes, in the event, speakers redundantly prefixed con- to these words, hence this Spanish prepositional usage. (see: inflected preposition)
- Ven conmigo y con él ahora = "Come with me and him now."
- Iré a la fiesta con vosotras = "I will go to the party with you."
- Es raro llevar un billete de 200€ consigo = "It is unusual to carry a €200 note on oneself."
This syntactical reversion also occurs in the Italian language, wherein one can say con me, con te, and con sé, or, in the archaic style, meco, teco, and seco.
|Look up de in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
De, derives from the Latin DE (“of" and "from"):
- Es la más famosa de todas = "She is the most famous [one] of all [of them]."
- Soy de Madrid = "I am from Madrid."
The preposition de is equivalent to the English apostrophe-“s” ( ’s) possessive construction; for example:
- El clima frío del norte de España = "Cold North Spanish weather"
- La hermana de David = "David's sister."
- Ese libro es del professor = "That book is the teacher's."
Prepositional contractions: When de is followed by the masculine definite article el (“the”), they form the contraction del (“of the”), however, de does not contract to del when followed by the homophonous personal pronoun él (“he”) or a proper noun, thus:
- Soy pariente de él, del alcalde de El Escorial, "I am a relative of he, of the mayor of El Escorial."
Prepositional typography: the upper-case form DE was configured as the siglum Đ — a typographic ligature adopted as a concise written and printed word-character, that originated as a lapidary scribal abbreviation.
Moreover, the preposition de is part of many compound prepositions, such as dentro de (“within”, “inside of”) and en contra de (“against . . .”); see section 2, below, for fuller description.
por and para
Por is a Latinate composite of PER and PRO, whereas para is a corruption (bastardisation) of por a; each is variously translated to English with, and as, permutations of "for", thus, to Anglophone learners of Spanish as a foreign language, determining the appropriate preposition might (initially) prove confusing. In the event, Cassell's Contemporary Spanish dictionary generally indicates that por denotes “cause” and “reason” (retrospective), while para denotes “purpose” and “destination” (prospective); the following are common usages of these prepositions:
- Denotes a general sense of time and place:
- Lo perdí por ahí. = "I lost it thereabout."
- In exchange for, in place of
- Cambié mis euros por dólares. = "I exchanged my euros into dollars."
- Per (day, hour, mile, etc.)
- Pagan un euro por hora. = "They pay one euro per hour."
- By means of
- Es más rápido por la autopista. = "It is faster by the motorway."
- Cause (por = "because of", porque = "because")
- Me multaron por exceso de velocidad. = "They fined me for speeding."
- Mi jefe está enfermo y por él tengo que trabajar = "My boss is sick, and because of him, I have to work."
- For the sake, or benefit of
- Todo lo que hago, lo hago por ti. = "Everything I do, I do [it] for you."
- In favour of
- Yo voto por el partido de derecha. = "I vote for the right-wing party."
- By (passive forms)
- La nueva ley fue mal redactada por el partido gobernante = "The new law was badly written by the governing party."
- For a period of time (not in Spanish from Spain)
- Vivieron en Nueva York por tres meses. = "They lived in New York for three months."
- Purpose (intended for)
- Estas flores son para ti. = "These flowers are for you."
- Lo lavé para que lo guardaras. = "I washed it so you could keep it."
- Destination (towards) (informal, replaces a and hacia)
- Voy para el sur. = "I am going [to the] south."
- Until, by (a certain time)
- Para esta época del año siempre llueve. = "By this time of the year, it always rains."
- In order to
- Fuimos a la tienda para comprar tortillas. = "We went to the store to buy tortillas."
- To express a comparison and a contrasting
- Para una persona tan joven, se queja demasiado. = "For such a young person, he complains too much."
- In the expression estar para meaning ". . . to be about to [do something]."
- Yo estaba para salir, cuando sonó el teléfono = "I was about to leave, when the telephone rang."
In quotidian usage, the preposition para often is clipped to pa, as in the colloquial rustic usage: Amos p'alante. (“Let’s go forward.”), rather than the standard Vamos para adelante. (“Let us go forward.")
Según derives from the Latin SECVNDVM (“according to”), and, unlike the English preposition according, a verb can follow it without a qualifier such as “what” (que).
- Según (dice) él, es un buen libro. “According to him [his opinion], it is a good book.”
- Según convenga. “As required.”
Popular speech uses it alone, replacing depende (“depends”):
- Q: ¿Te gusta el cine francés? “Do you like French cinema?”
- A: Según. “It depends.”
Moreover, regional colloquial usage of the preposition según also expresses evidential mood, indicating hearsay or non-commitment (“supposedly”, “it is said”).
- Según que tiene SIDA. “They say that he has AIDS.”
Sin derives from the Latin SINE (“without”):
- Un té sin leche, por favor = "A tea without milk, please."
- Se metió en la cama sin despertarla = "He got in bed without waking her."
Combining the conjunction que to the preposition sin creates sin que (“without which”), a compound conjunction requiring the subjunctive mood:
- Se metió en la cama sin que se despertara = "He got in bed without her waking."
- No se puede poner a esos niños en la misma habitación sin que se peleen. = "You cannot place those children in the same room without their fighting."
- Los ladrones entraron sin que los notase nadie = "The thieves entered without anyone noticing [them]."
Spanish replaces simple prepositions with compound prepositions, phrases such as: de acuerdo con (“according to”, “in accordance with”) in place of según; and en dirección a (“in the direction of”, “towards”) in place of hacia, akin to the English prepositional phrases: in front of, on top of, et cetera. Moreover, the concrete sobre (“upon”) is preferred to the ambiguous en (“on”, “in”); thus, Spanish expresses concepts, formally and informally, with compound- and simple- prepositions such as: después de (“after which”) rather than tras (“afterwards”), and para rather than con la finalidad de (“for the purpose of”, “to the purpose of”). [clarification needed]
Spanish compound prepositions are composed of:
- a preposition + noun + preposition:
- por causa de / a causa de / en razón de = "because of"
- sin perjuicio de = "notwithstanding", "without prejudice to"
- con respecto a = "with respect to", "regarding"
- a favor de = "in favour of"
- en contra de = "against . . ." (e.g. en mi contra, en tu contra, en su contra, etc.)
- en lugar de / en vez de = "instead of", "in lieu of"
- or of an adverb + preposition:
- después de = "after"
- debajo de = "beneath", “underneath”
- antes de = "before" (i.e. “prior to”)
- junto a = "beside", "alongside"
- delante de = "in front of" and “[positioned] before”
In Spain, Spanish has the compound preposition a por meaning "in search of", used mainly with verbs of movement like ir and salir. This expression is not used outside Spain, and many speakers consider it to be incorrect, and prefer to replace it with por alone. According to the Real Academia Española, there is no normative reason to condemn the use of a por. In some contexts, a por expresses a clearer meaning than por:
- Subí por la escalera = "I went up the stairs" or "I went up the ladder"
- Subí a por la escalera = "I went up for the ladder"
There also exists the rare usage, para con (demeanour “towards”, “against”, “with”, “unto” someone or something):
- Es muy generoso para con los necesitados, He is very generous toward/ with the needy".
- No tengo pruritos para con ellos, "I have nothing [against] them".
Other Spanish compound prepositions are:
- tras de
- a fuerza de
- por junto a
- junto a
- encima de
- por en medio de
- detrás de
- en medio de
- en pos de
- por delante de
- con rumbo a
- con destino a
- a través de
Translating English postpositions to Spanish
The English language features three types of adpositions — prepositions (preceding), postpositions (following), and circumpositions (enclosing) — allowing constructions such as “in the box”, “on the airplane”, and “out of Africa”, as in Spanish. But the postposition: “three years ago” is as impossible in Spanish usage as: “ago three years” is in English. Thus Spanish prepositions function exclusively as such; these examples express equivalent concepts using only prepositions:
- Hace tres años = “three years ago” (“It makes three years.”)
- Dentro de tres años = “three years hence” (“Within [a period] of three years.”)
- A tres kilómetros = “three kilometres away” (“To/Some three kilometres [from here].”)
- "En realidad, no hay razones para censurar el uso de a por", Diccionario panhispánico de dudas (2005), s.v. a2
|For a list of words relating to Spanish prepositions, see the Spanish prepositions category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|