In Spanish how do I know when to use de, del, a and al?

¡Ay! It's no wonder that you're finding these Spanish prepositions confusing — de and a can have different meanings depending on how they're used. So instead of memorizing every possible translation of these words, it may be more helpful to remember how each is used.

The preposition de is translated as "of," "from," or "about," but de also can mean "by," "in," or other prepositions in some cases. Del is simply the contraction of de and the definite article el (not él), so we use del in place of de el.

Let's take a look at some common ways de is used:

• Possession:
  El padre de Jorge es abogado. Jorge's father is a lawyer.
• Origin:
  Somos de los Estados Unidos. We are from the United States.
• Time:
  Isabela trabaja de noche. Isabela works at night.
• Cause:
  Sufro del frío. I suffer from the cold.
• Material, characteristics, or contents:
  Tiene un collar de diamantes. She has a diamond necklace.
  Compré un billete de primera clase. I bought a first-class ticket.
• Relationship:
  Es el primero de mayo. It is the first of May.
• Means:
  Se puso de mi lado en un salto. He jumped to my side.

The preposition a is translated as "to" or "at" and also can mean "in," "on," "by," or "from." Like del, al is a contraction and should be used instead of a el. Here's how a is commonly used:

• Time:
  Te veré a las cinco. I'll see you at five o'clock.
• Movement:
  Voy al cine. I'm going to the movies.
• Location:
  Juan espera a la salida. Juan is waiting at the exit.
• Means or manner:
  Va a pie. She's going on foot.
  Es una camisa a cuadros. It's a checked shirt.
• Quantity, price, or speed:
  Lo compré a 300 pesos I bought it for 300 pesos.
  Iba a 120 kilómetros por hora. He was going 120 kilometers per hour.
• When the subject is referring to a direct object that is a person:
  No veo a Ana. I don't see Ana.