Simple prepositions, the most common of which are
por, are called “simple” because they consist of one word. Other than that there is nothing simple about them, because it is impossible to translate any of them to one English word. Instead, you must understand the situations in which you use each preposition. The sample sentences that follow can help you better understand when a particular preposition can be used.
The preposition a
The preposition a has several purposes. Usually, it indicates motion toward a place or thing. In these cases, the preposition a means “to,” “toward,” or “at.”
- You went to the chalkboard.
Simón llegó a su dormitorio muy tarde.
- Simón arrived at his bedroom very late.
Jimena regresó a la escuela este lunes.
- Jimena returned to school this Monday.
The preposition a is also used to label a direct object when it refers to a person. You must use the “personal a” in front of the direct object if the direct object refers to any person or persons, or a beloved animal that is treated like a person. The personal a is simply one usage of the preposition a, but because this usage does not have an English equivalent, it will not appear in the English translation of the examples below.
Necesito llamar a Manuela también.
- I need to call Manuela also.
The preposition a is also used in front of an indirect object to clarify to whom the indirect object pronoun refers. Because indirect objects are used with certain verbs like gustar, this clarification is very important. Consider the following examples:
- Alicia le dio todo su dinero al plomero.
- Alicia gave all her money to the plumber.
- A Mariana y Daniela les gusta ese museo.
- Mariana and Daniela like that museum.
When there is no indirect object pronoun in the sentence, the preposition para may be used instead of a to introduce the recipient of the direct object. Compare the examples below.
- Belita les compró un buen regalo a sus padres.
- Belita bought her parents a good gift.
- Belita compró un buen regalo para sus padres.
- Belita bought a good gift for her parents.
Several verbs are followed by the preposition a and an infinitive. The most common example of this is when a conjugated form of the verb ir (to go) is followed by a + infinitive. Notice in the examples that follow that the English version is usually stated using the present progressive (“someone is going to do something”); in Spanish, the present tense of ir is used (“someone goes to do something”). In both languages, this type of sentence can be used to indicate that something will happen in the future without using the future tense conjugation of the verb.
Vamos a asistir a un concierto de hip‐hop esta noche.
We are going to attend a hip‐hop concert tonight.
Chico y Mercedes van a casarse.
Chico and Mercedes are going to get married.
Another use of the preposition a is to indicate the manner in which something is done. Unfortunately, not all expressions indicating the manner of doing something use this preposition, so you have to learn which pronoun to use with each phrase. A few idiomatic expressions of manner that require the preposition a are included in the examples below. Unfortunately, the correct preposition for each idiomatic expression must be memorized, so focus on the specific preposition used for each expression because it may not be the same as the English equivalent.
No puedes firmar a lápiz porque es un documento oficial.
- You cannot sign in pencil because it is an official document.
Para hacer el camping allí tienes que llegar a pie.
- In order to camp there, you have to arrive on foot.
Me encanta montar a caballo en la playa.
- I love to ride on horseback along the beach.
Note: Not all expressions that describe a manner of doing something are created using the preposition a. Some use the prepositions en or de, and each must be learned individually.
The preposition a also is used to identify a specific point of time, like the English time expression “at (hour) o'clock.” To indicate what time something occurred or will occur, the preposition a is followed by the definite article la or las followed by a number.
Empezó a llover a la una.
- It began to rain at one o'clock.
¿A qué hora terminarán? Terminaremos a las cuatro.
- At what hour will you finish? We'll finish at four.
Any time the pronoun a is followed by the definite article el, the contraction al must be used. This contraction does not occur with the other definite articles, nor does it occur with the pronoun él.
- Mis primos van al centro comercial esta noche.
- My cousins are going to the mall tonight.
- Ojalá vayamos a la playa este fin de semana.
- Hopefully, we'll go to the beach this weekend.
- Vicente iba a las presentaciones cada día.
- Vicente went to the presentations every day.
- Yo le di mi entrada a él.
The preposition de
The simple English prepositions “of,” “from,” and “by,” as well as a few compound prepositions, are all translated in specific situations to the Spanish preposition de, one of the most ubiquitous prepositions in Spanish because it is used with so many expressions and has various meanings. The preposition de is appropriate in several situations, which are explained below with sample sentences and English translations.
The preposition de is used to indicate origin.
El coche de la marca Mercedes viene de Alemania.
- A Mercedes car comes from Germany.
La nueva ingeniera en mi compañía es de Colombia.
- The new engineer in my company is from Colombia.
Possession is indicated in Spanish by using de because there are no apostrophes in Spanish. In English, the owner of the item comes first, but in Spanish, the item that is possessed comes first, followed by de and the person who owns it.
Los amigos de Adela son locos.
- Adela's friends are crazy.
The preposition de also is placed in front of the question word quién to inquire about the possessor of something. This Spanish expression de quién is comparable to the English question word “whose.”
You may see the preposition de used to express a married woman's official last name. If a girl named Julia Flores marries Virgilio García, she may be called Julia Flores de García. This tradition is not quite as common as it once was, though, as many women no longer choose to use de as part of their official married name.
The preposition de also can indicate motion away from some place. A few verbs that are typically followed by de because they indicate movement away from somewhere are venir, salir, and llegar.
Cuando llegué de Los Ángeles, ya había aprendido español.
- When I arrived from Los Angeles, I already had learned Spanish.
- ¿Saliste de la reunión para asistir a un concierto?
- You left the meeting to attend a concert?
Use the preposition de to indicate the contents of something or the material of which it is made.
La bolsa de manzanas es muy cara.
- The bag of apples is very expensive.
Notice in the example below that the Spanish equivalent of the word “made” can be understood and not stated.
- The sweater is made of wool.
The preposition de is used between two nouns when one modifies the other. In English, it is common to use a noun as an adjective by simply placing it in front of what it modifies. For example, in the expression “soccer game,” the noun “soccer” modifies another noun, “game.” In Spanish, the noun that is being described comes first, followed by the preposition de and the noun that describes it. Un partido de fútbol is literally translated as “a game of soccer” but is Spanish for “a soccer game.”
Siempre escucho mi disco compacto de Shakira.
- I always listen to my Shakira CD.
Lupita asiste a sus clases de negocios después del trabajo.
- Lupita attends her business classes after work.
The preposition de contracts with the definite article el like the preposition a.
- Habla así porque viene del norte.
- He talks like that because he comes from the north.
Remember that these contractions do not occur with the other definite articles or with the pronoun él.
- La vista de la montaña es lindísima.
- The view of the mountain is very beautiful.
- No acepto ningún dinero de él.
- I do not accept any money from him.
The preposition en
There are many reasons for using the preposition en. En can, for instance, indicate “in” when referring to a location—a situation in which many English speakers use the pronoun “at.” For example, a person works in a restaurant, not at a restaurant, so the Spanish language, which is more literal, uses the preposition en to indicate this concept.
Mis amigos trabajan en Toro Bravo.
- My friends work at Toro Bravo.
Nos reunimos todos los días en el centro comercial.
- We meet every day at the mall.
You can also use en to express the time required for the completion of a task. In this case, en sounds right to an English speaker because in the English equivalent the preposition “in” sounds similar.
Debes terminar la tarea en 20 minutos.
- You should finish your homework in 20 minutes.
- I will return in five months.
In some specific expressions, en is used to indicate the means by which something is done. Focus on the fact that the necessary preposition for these expressions is en because there is no way to predict whether each expression of manner is en or a other than memorization.
Te dije que lo hicieras en broma.
- I told you to do it jokingly.
Margarita nunca habla en serio.
- Margarita never speaks seriously.
In some circumstances, Spanish requires the preposition en where English uses the preposition “on.”
Ellos pusieron los libros en la mesa.
- They put the books on the table.
Sometimes, although the preposition “on” is used in English, no preposition is used in Spanish. This occurs when you refer to days of the week. To state that something occurs “on Friday” in Spanish, you would use the definite article el as in el viernes. If you want to say that something happens on Mondays in general, the plural form of the definite article is used: Los domingos means “on Sundays” or “every Sunday.” Los fines de semanas means “on weekends.”
Patricio nunca trabaja los sábados.
- Patricio never works on Saturday.
Uds. tienen un examen el jueves.
- You guys have a test on Thursday.
The preposition con
The preposition con indicates accompaniment, as in the English use of “with.”
Su esposo llegó con su hija.
- Her husband arrived with their daughter.
Nunca saldré con un borracho.
- I will never go out with a drunk.
Me gusta el café con leche.
Con is another preposition that can indicate the means by which something is done. You must memorize which expressions of manner require the use of the preposition con. Con may be followed by a noun or by a verb in its infinitive form.
Cierra la puerta con llave.
Ella tendrá éxito con ese libro.
- She will be successful with that book.
Spanish also uses the preposition con to express surprise at what has been accomplished under certain circumstances. In this usage, you can translate con as the English expression “in spite of.”
Con todo su dinero, ella todavía está triste.
- With (in spite of) all her money, she is still sad.
Todavía no tengo dinero con todo lo que gano.
- I still have no money in spite of all I earn.
Con can be used instead of de to indicate the contents of a container.
Tenemos una bolsa con tamales.
- We have a bag of tamales.
El cesto con ropa está lleno.
- The basket of clothing is full.
Por and para
Two Spanish prepositions are always explained together because they are easily confused by English speakers. A number of English prepositions are translated as por or para, but the word that you would use in English does not determine which of the two prepositions you use in Spanish. You must consider what relationship is being expressed and use the appropriate preposition.
It is helpful to have a memory device to remember the reasons for using para. The acronym P.R.O.D.D.S. represents the first letter of each of the situations that call for the use of the preposition para.
Para is used in front of an infinitive to express the purpose of doing something. This can be expressed in English by using the phrase “in order to.” Note, in English, it is not necessary to use any preposition in such expressions, and sometimes the preposition “to” is used. Even if the English sentence does not use a preposition, the Spanish equivalent requires the preposition para to express the purpose of doing something.
Pablo estudia mucho para recibir buenas notas.
- Pablo studies a lot in order to receive good grades.
Cecilia viaja para experimentar una vida diferente.
- Cecilia travels in order to experience a different life.
Enrique no come carne para no enfermarse.
- Enrique does not eat meat for health reasons.
Sometimes, English uses the preposition “for” followed by a gerund to express the purpose “for doing” something. Remember that a verb that immediately follows a preposition in Spanish will always be in its infinitive form.
Esa agua no es para beber.
- That water is not for drinking.
The intended recipient of an object is indicated with the preposition para.
Jaime llevó la caja para su abuela.
- Jaime carried the box for his grandmother.
José compró un regalo para mí.
- José bought a gift for me.
The exception to this rule is the recipient of an emotion, which is expressed by the use of por, not para.
Tito no tiene nada salvo rencor por su enemigo.
- Tito does not have anything but hatred for his enemy.
Siento mucho amor por mi abuela.
- I feel much love for my grandmother.
Para is also used to indicate the person whose personal opinion is being expressed.
Para el líder, los derechos humanos no son importantes.
- To the leader, human rights are not important.
Las corporaciones son importantes para el presidente.
- The corporations are important to the president.
Para is used to indicate the destination of something both in a real, physical sense and in a figurative, metaphorical sense.
Las alfombras son para el comedor.
- The rugs are for the dining room.
Salimos para Jamaica mañana.
- We are leaving for Jamaica tomorrow.
Para is used to indicate a deadline or due date.
Tendrás que entregar el proyecto para el lunes que viene.
- You will have to hand in the project next Monday.
Debemos terminar nuestros ejercicios para las diez.
- We should finish our exercises by ten o'clock.
In Spanish, para also is used to express that something is contrary to the standard. The standard is what is considered “normal.” To express that something strays from the norm, the preposition “for” is used in an expression such as “She is very cool for a teacher.” In other words, she is not all that cool, it is just that she is cooler than what is considered typical for a teacher.
Su hijo sabe mucho para ser un niño.
- His son knows a lot for a child.
Para ser taxista, él conduce muy despacio.
- For a taxi driver, he drives very slowly.
The reasons for using por can easily be remembered with the acronym D.E.E.M.M.S.
Although this acronym is a great way to memorize the reasons for using the preposition por, you must first understand what the acronym means. The situations in which por is appropriate are explained below.
Por is used to express the duration of time, or the length of time something lasts. In English, this is usually done by using the preposition “for.”
Vivimos en Puerto Rico por dos años.
- We lived in Puerto Rico for two years.
- ¡Por dos horas busqué mis llaves!
- I looked for my keys for two hours!
The recipient of an emotion is expressed by using the preposition por. Remember that para is used for the recipient of anything other than emotion.
Los jóvenes casi nunca muestran su cariño por sus padres.
- Teenagers almost never show their affection for their parents.
Por is used to express when one thing is exchanged for another. This includes cash transactions as well as bartering.
Timoteo cortaría el césped por 30 dólares.
- Timoteo would cut the grass for 30 dollars.
Me cobraron demasiado dinero por las joyas.
- They charged me too much money for the jewels.
When you thank someone, you exchange words of gratitude for something that has been given to you or done for you. For this reason, por is used after gracias or the verb agradecer (to thank).
Muchas gracias por tu ayuda.
- Thanks a lot for your help.
Estoy muy agradecida por toda su amabilidad.
- I am very grateful for all your kindness.
Por is used to express the motivation behind something. If you find it difficult to differentiate between motivation (which is expressed with por) and purpose (which is expressed with para) decide whether the idea could be expressed using the compound preposition “due to.” If that is what you are trying to say, use the Spanish preposition por. Motivation is the cause rather than the goal. The preposition para is used to express the idea of “in order to.”
Tengo muchas muestras de champú por mi viaje de negocios.
- I have many samples of shampoo due to my business trip.
Tengo muchas muestras de champú para el viaje.
- I have many samples of shampoo for the trip.
Nevertheless, a few verbs are consistently followed by the preposition por to indicate motive even though you would not say “due to” in English. Andar, caminar, ir, regresar, volver, and verbs of motion similar to these are followed by por when the purpose or motive is provided.
Ellos caminan al supermercado por el agua.
- They walk to the supermarket for water.
Ricardo volvió por la ropa que olvidó.
- Ricardo returned for the clothing he forgot.
There are basically two ways in which por is used to express means: It is used to express a means of communication or means of transportation. Listed below are some typical expressions with por indicating means.
Although it is rarely a good idea to translate an English preposition to a Spanish preposition, you should use por anytime the idea expresses “through,” “by,” or “along” to indicate movement within an area.
- Viajamos por los pueblos blancos de la Costa del Sol
- We travel through the whitewashed villages of the Costa del Sol.
Paseo por las orillas del río.
- I walk along the banks of the river.
Ella continúa por la calle oscura.
- She continues along the dark street.
Another reason for using por is to express substitution. The best way to know that the preposition is indicating substitution is to determine whether the idea could be expressed with the English “in place of” or “instead of.” If these expressions sound good, the preposition is indicating a substitution, which requires the use of por. Compare the pairs of sentences below.
Irene compró el regalo por su hermana. Su hermana está enferma y no puede ir de compras.
- Irene bought the gift for (in place of) her sister. Her sister is ill and cannot go shopping.
Irene compró el regalo para su hermana. Es el cumpleaños de su hermana.
- Irene bought the gift for her sister. It is her sister's birthday.
Rebeca canta para Enriqueta. A Enriqueta le gusta escuchar sus canciones.
- Rebeca sings for Enriqueta. Enriqueta likes to listen to her songs.
Rebeca canta por Enriqueta. Enriqueta tiene laringitis y no puede cantar.
- Rebeca sings in place of Enriqueta. Enriqueta has laryngitis and cannot sing.
Because both the acronyms to help you remember por and para include reasons that start with the letter D, you need to remember which one goes with which. Because the preposition por has only one D reason, remember that por is used to express duration; then you can just remember that the other two D reasons (destination and deadline) require the use of para.