Spanish Prepositions / Using Simple and Compound Prepositions

Spanish Prepositions Featured

These itty bitty words are hard to manage! The translations are unreliable since they show up in different places than the English version. There are only a few, but that’s what makes it so difficult. Find out what prepositions are all about and how to use them correctly…

Spanish Prepositions and the Parts of Speech

A preposition is one of the eight parts of speech. Every word fits into one of the following grammar categories. When doing a grammar analysis, these are the labels for each word in a phrase or sentence.

Overall, prepositions add a lot of detail to sentences. Their strength is in establishing relationships between words. The single prepositions are few and limited. But, when combined with other words a whole world of richness opens up.

— detrás de la puerta número uno. behind door number one.

Without a doubt, Spanish prepositions function differently than in English. That means they don’t translate word for word in many situations. Since there are so few single prepositions in Spanish, they have double duty. Often, they combine with other words to form the English equivalent.

Below, you’ll find the most common pitfalls of prepositions and strategies to accomplish your language learning goals.

What is a preposition in Spanish?

A preposition is a word that relates a noun or pronoun to another word expressing:

  • place
  • time
  • manner
  • reason

The English word “preposition” is translated as “preposición” in Spanish. These words bring more detail into a sentence. They can tell us more about time, places, and relationships between words. Here are more grammar words useful for Spanish prepositions:

— preposición — preposition
— simple — simple
— compuesta — compound
— frase preposicional — prepositional phrase
— objeto de la preposición — object of the preposition

These are a few of the labels used in grammar analysis. Basically, from example sentences found in reading and listening sources, you can discover the patterns of words, phrases, and sentences and practice them.

List of Simple Prepositions in Spanish

Above all, you need to know the simple prepositions. They are the keywords to label and identify prepositions, simple and compound, prepositional phrases and other types of phrases in sentences. Their job is to make connections with other words.

These patterns are important to understand a variety of Spanish sentence structures. Prepositions can be labeled individually or as a part of a phrase. In this section, the focus is on the understanding the simple prepositions. Later, sections cover compound prepositions and phrases.

How many prepositions are there in Spanish?

There is a small group of simple prepositions in Spanish. Currently, the Real Academia Española recognizes a total of 23 Spanish prepositions. All the prepositions are part of a closed list that will stay the same over time.

All Prepositions in Spanish list

The current official preposition list is: a, ante, bajo, cabe, con, contra, de, desde, durante, en, entre, hacia, hasta, mediante, para, por, según, sin, so, sobre, tras, versus, vía.

That’s it. Compared to English it is a short list. So, the simple Spanish prepositions are used in more places and differently than English, as you will see below.

simple Spanish Prepositions chart

Proof of this is in the translation. One Spanish preposition has many words as potential options in English and in reverse too. Their use differs greatly and do not equate exactly. The most frequent meaning is in bold letters. Translation is only good for a general understanding of meaning and use.

Spanish PrepositionEnglish Translation
ato, on, at, from, by, in
bajounder, beneath
cabe— out of use —
conwith, at, by, in
contraagainst, versus
deof, from, about, in, on, for, at, as
desdefrom, since
duranteduring, for, over
enin, for, on, at, by, at, into, among, within, upon, inside, along, amongst
entrebetween, among, amongst, amidst, amid
haciatoward, towards, for, around
hastato, up to, until, till
parafor, by, in order to, to, towards
porof, for, by, through, along, after, about, to, around
segúnaccording to, depending on, under, by
so— out of use —
sobreon, on to, about, over, regarding, upon, concerning
trasafter, following, behind, beneath
víavia, by
often used in bold, overlap in uses highlighted

Above, the chart compares the similarities and differences between Spanish and English prepositions. The highlights show all the overlap of meaning across Spanish prepositions. There are no clear cut definitions. For this reason, the best practice is finding examples from print and audio sources, analyzing them, and then practice using them.

Common Spanish Prepositions

Clearly, knowing each preposition’s use is important. Next, the focus shifts to the most frequently used prepositions and how they are used in some common phrases. Out of the 23 official prepositions, 2 are not used anymore. That leaves only a handful of simple prepositions.

What are some common prepositions in Spanish?

After memorizing the entire simple prepositions list, the next task is to cover the most common prepositions and how they are used. These examples show how to correctly use the prepositions with other connected words. Here are the six Spanish prepositions you will run into most frequently:

Most Common SPanish Prepositions List

— a — to
— con — with
— de — of, from
— en — in, at, on
— para — for
— por — for

These little words are extremely important. You will come across them often and will need to know them well enough to express yourself clearly. They each have specific uses that are different from English, so pay close attention.

an alarm clock on bedside near a sleeping woman

Using Preposition a in Spanish

The Spanish preposition “a” can be translated “to, at, in” in English. This preposition marks an indirect object in sentences with transitive verbs. Also, it expresses time and motion. At times there is a Spanish preposition “a” where there is none at all in English.

Preposition “a” after a transitive verb

To indicate action or motion to an object, such as a person, place or thing.

  • a mi amigo – (action to) my friend
  • Voy al parque – (I) am going to the park
  • a Selena – (action to) Selena
Preposition “a” before an infinitive verb

To indicate the start of an action.

  • Va a caminar. – (He/She) is going to walk.
  • Comenzó a leer en voz alta – (He/She) started to read aloud.
  • Voy a trabajar – (I) am going to work.
Preposition “a” before a measure

To indicate a measure, such as time, price, age, weight… (¡Ojo! other prepositions can be used too)

  • a noche – at night
  • a diez dólares – for ten dollars
  • Estamos a domingo. – It’s Sunday.
Preposition “a” describing manner or method
  • a tiempo – on time
  • a pluma – with pen
  • a pie – on foot
  • al sol – in the sun
  • a la luz de – in view of

In many of these, we don’t use a preposition in English. So, it’s important to know Spanish uses the preposition “a” in these instances. Namely, it marks direct objects.

women in floral dress enjoying their trip

using Preposition cON in Spanish

In general “con” is mostly used to express “with” or at times “at, by, in” in English. This preposition tells us about the manner, the accompaniment and instrument used for an action. Some general concepts are as follows:

Preposition “con” means someone or something as company
  • con la familia – with the family
  • con tarjeta de crédito – by credit card
  • con todo – despite everything
Preposition “con” before a subject pronoun

Some subject pronouns have irregular forms (or not), as listed:

  • conmigo – with me
  • contigo – with you
  • con él – to him
  • con nosotros – with us
  • con ellos – with them
Preposition “con” meaning how something is done
  • con tristeza – with sadness
  • con cuidado – with care
Preposition “con” for description
  • con pelo corto – with short hair
  • con doce años – at age of twelve
  • con el tiempo – in time
tourist walking towards historical architectural monument

using Preposition DE in Spanish

The Spanish preposition “de” is frequently used to express “of, from” or at times “in, with, about, as, at, about” in English. It expresses possession, origins and subject.

Preposition “de” for origin, nationality distance, time
  • Es de Cuba – (He/She) is from Cuba
  • Llegamos de la ciudad – We arrived from the city.
  • Es de aquí. – (He/She) is from here.
  • Es de buena familia. – (He/She) is from a good family.
  • del 15 a 30 – from the 15th to the 30th
  • cuatro de cinco estrellas – four out of five stars
  • en el día de hoy – today
  • de pequeño – as a child
  • de noche – at night
  • de mis hijos – from my children
Preposition “de” for contents, description, subject
  • una cadena de oro – gold chain
  • una billete de primera clase – first-class ticket
  • de fácil manejo – user friendly
  • la señora de rojo – lady in red
  • ropa de deporte – sportswear
  • pintado de azul – painted blue
  • un libro de consulta – a reference book
  • de mi vida personal – about my personal life
  • una saca de nervios – a bundle of nerves
Preposition “de” for possession
  • la casa de mi abuela – abuela’s house
  • Es de ella. – (It) is hers.
  • de el hombre, del hombre – man’s

When preposition “de” is before the article “el” it becomes the contraction “del”.

woman in black long sleeve shirt sitting on couch

using Preposition EN in Spanish

The Spanish preposition “en” is frequently used to express “in” and at times “on, at, by, about” in English. It expresses both location and time.

Preposition “en” for time
  • en 2022 – in 2022
  • en el siglo XX – in the twentieth century
  • en ese momento – at that moment
  • en diez minutos – in ten minutes
  • en el invierno – in the winter
Preposition “en” for place
  • en casa – at home
  • en el camino – along the way
  • Está en el campo. – (He/She) is in the country.
  • en la línea de meta – at the finish line
  • – en un apartamento grande – in a big apartment
  • en la impresora – into the printer
  • en la caja – inside the box
  • en la mesa antigua – on the antique table
Preposition “en” for transport and movement
  • ir en avión – go by airplane
  • ir en tren – go by train
  • ir en coche – go by car
  • ir de puerta en puerta – to go door to door
Preposition “en” for method or description
  • en voz alta – aloud
  • en español – in Spanish
  • en ancianos – among elderly
  • en la entrega – upon delivery

The last two prepositions cause the most trouble for language learners. These definitely need specific attention to the nuances in meaning. In some cases, they can be used interchangeably, nevertheless this causes a big difference in meaning.

couple travelling in car together

using Preposition POR in Spanish

In general “por” is mostly used to express “of” or at times “for, by, through, along, after, about, to, per, around” in English. This preposition tells us about the time, cause, agency, location and mathematics. Some general concepts are as follows:

Preposition “por” for cause
  • por casualidad – by chance
  • por necesidad – for necessity
  • por temor a – for fear of
Preposition “por” for objective, exchange
  • por el dinero – for money
  • por nuestro futuro – for our future
Preposition “por” for agent, representative
  • dirigido por – directed by
  • por ellos – done by them
Preposition “por” for location
  • ¿Por dónde? – Which way?
  • por la calle – by the street
  • por todas partes – everywhere
  • por aquí cerca – near here
  • por detrás – on the back, at the back
Preposition “por” for mathematics, distribution, time
  • dos por uno – two for one
  • siete días por semana – seven days per week
  • veinte millas por hora – twenty miles per hour
  • por la noche – at night
  • por unos días – for a few days

Using Preposition PARA in Spanish

In general “para” is mostly used to express “for” or at times “by, to, in order, towards” in English. This preposition tells us about deadlines, intention, purpose, time and destination. Some general concepts are as follows:

Preposition “para” for finality
  • ¿Para qué? – What for?
  • Es para ti. – (It) is for you.
Preposition “para” for intention
  • para el patio – for the patio
  • ir para las montañas – head to the mountains
Preposition “para” before an infinitive or gerund

To express purpose

  • para salvarse – to save himself
  • para descansar – in order to rest
  • para vivir – to live on
  • para aprender a escribir – to learn to write
Preposition “para” for time
  • para el año que viene – for the year to come
  • para fin de semana – by the weekend
  • para mañana – by tomorrow, for tomorrow

Prepositions and Articles Contract

It should be noted, that this is a couple of prepositions contract with articles in the masculine. That means, “a” and “el” becomes “al”. Similarly “de” and “el” become “del”. These are the only ones.

photo of people doing handshakes

How to Use Prepositions in Spanish

Without a doubt, prepositions are handy words to introduce more detail into a sentence. Labeling the simple prepositions is an important tool to learn phrase and sentence patterns. Often, prepositions mark the beginning of a phrase, but not always.

Where a preposition is used in Spanish?

Overall, prepositions are found everywhere in a sentence, beginning, middle, or end. As a general rule, they are the first word in a prepositional phrase. Whereas, in compound prepositions, they can be in every position too.

How do you use prepositions correctly?

Unquestionably, the best examples of correct use of prepositions in Spanish are in print and audio sources. Finding a wide variety of samples of each preposition in use will give you correct patterns. In your skills practice, imitate and create your own variations following the same patterns.

spanish prepositions exercises

For instance, from a book I find a sentence that has one of those simple prepositions. Then I analyze the word, phrase, and sentence patterns. This possibly includes labeling parts of speech, defining words, marking phrases, and gender, number, person concepts. All of these are tools that help to understand how the words connect and the patterns.

  1. Memorize the list of all simple Spanish prepositions.
  2. Label prepositions in sentences.
  3. Mark any prepositional phrases.
  4. Find any compound Spanish prepositions.

As a general rule, a prepositions marks the beginning of a prepositional phrase. They can tell us about location, time, manner and relationships between words. Unfortunately they don’t line up with our English usage. This means we need to discover the patterns of each preposition individually, both simple and compound.

Spanish Prepositional Phrases

Above all, the prepositions are the main part of a prepositional phrase. The preposition comes before a noun phrase, which contains a noun or pronoun. It’s a complete unit that tells us about location, time, measure or a relationship between words in the sentence.

Prepositional Phrase Parts

The prepositional phrase pattern, two versions of the same thing:

  • preposition + noun phrase
  • preposition + article + noun or pronoun (object)

Occassionally, there may be another part of speech in front of the prepositional phrase.

Spanish Prepositional Phrases Examples

— camino de la tienda — way to the store
a mis hijos — (action to) my kids
— con tarjeta de crédito — by credit card
— contra incendios — against fires
— durante el verano — during the summer
— durante años  — for years
— de Eva — (belongs to) Eva
— en esta calle — on this street
— tras la tormenta— after the storm
— con gusto — with pleasure
— frente a — face to, in front of
— gracias a mi madre— thanks to my mother
— para ti — for you
— respeto a, respeto de el incidente— with respect to the incident
— ante el tribunal — before the judge
— bajo coerción — under coersion

photo of people near wooden table

Spanish Compound Prepositions

Alternatively, many prepositional phrases begin with compound prepositions. The simple preposition joins with other parts of speech and acts as a single preposition. The technical term is “locución preposicional”.

How to Use Compound Prepositions in Spanish

Differing from prepositional phrases, the preposition connects to a different part of speech in Spanish compound prepositions. The preposition comes after or in the middle of these different kinds of phrases, or word groups.

How do you use compound prepositions in Spanish?

Mainly, a different part of speech attaches to a simple preposition. It becomes one unit and is treated as a preposition. The entire word group is labeled preposition. They come in a variety of combinations:

  • preposition + noun + preposition
  • adverb + preposition
  • preposition + noun
  • noun + preposition
  • adjective + preposition
  • preposition + infinitive + preposition

Typically, they follow these patterns, as you can see in the following lists of examples:

Compound noun and preposition

— camino de — way to
— frente a — face to, in front of
— gracias a — thanks to
— respeto a, respeto de — with respect to
— tres tazas de leche — three cups of milk
— escritura de compreventa — purchase deed

Compound adjective and preposition

— conforme a — in accordance with
— debido a — because of, due to
— junta a, junta con — together
— referente a — referring to

Compound verb and preposition

There are a lot of verbs that require a preposition after it. These are called phrasal verbs. Whole books have lists of verbs with their connected prepositions. The verbs typically have the prepositions a, de and por following them. Here are some common examples:

— acabar con — finish off
— acabar de + infinitive — to have just done (something)
— contar con — to rely on, to count on
— dar con — to come upon, to find
— echar a — to start to, to begin to
— dejar de + infinitive — to stop, to fail to
— enterarse — to find out
— estar por — to be in favor of
— estar para — to be about to, to be in the mood for
— pensar de — to think about, to have an opinion about
— salir de — to leave from
— salir con — go out with
— soñar con — to dream about
— contar con — have in place
— tratar de + infinitive — to try to
— volver a  — to return to (doing something)

Compound adverb and preposition

— abajo de — below
— acerca de — about
— antes de — before
— cerca de — near
— después de — after
— detrás de — behind
— encima de — above
— lejos de — far

Compound preposition, noun, and preposition

— a costa de, a expensas de — at the expense of
— a falta de — in the absence of
— a pesar de — in spite of
— a través de — through
— a lado de — next to
— con motivo de — on the grounds of
— de parte de — on part of
— en lugar de — instead of
— en medio de — in midst of
— en orden a — in order to
— por causa de — on account of
— por culpa de — next to

Compound preposition, infinitive and preposition

— a juzgar por — judging by
— a partir de — as of
— a pesar de — despite, in spite of, notwithstanding

Double Prepositions

— a lo largo de  — throughout, along
— durante más de  — for more than
— durante menos de  — for less than
— para con — with respect to
— tras de — in addition, moreover
— de entre  — from among
— a por — (move to)

Altogether, there are lots of ways prepositions combine for a specific use. For practical purposes, it is better to group them according to their purpose, rather than their structure. Next, you’ll find the same examples listed by their broad categories.

two old men sitting on bench in park in autumn

Common Spanish Compound Prepositions List

Besides the simple prepositions, the compound prepositions offer more options to precisely express oneself. After you learn the simple prepositions scale up into analyzing the compound prepositions. For convenience, I have also listed the simple prepositions along with the compound prepositions.

Spanish Compound Prepositions for Location

These prepositions tell us about the location of someone or something. Commonly, they are used the verb — estar — to be. And they answer the question — ¿Dónde? — Where?

— a — to, on, at, from, by, in
— abajo de — below, underneath
— adentro de — in, inside
al lado de — next to
— a la derecha de — to the right of
— a la izquierda de — to the left of
alrededor de — around
— arriba de — above
a través de — through
— cerca de — close to, near
— debajo de — underneath
— delante de — in front of, opposite
— por delante de — in front of, opposite
— dentro de — in, inside
— detrás de — behind
— debajo de — underneath
— por debajo de — underneath
— desde — since, from
— en — in, on, at
— encima de — on top of
— por encima de — on top of
— enfrente de — in front of, opposite
— en medio de — in between
— entre — between
— frente a — in front of, opposite
— fuera de — apart from, outside
— hacia — towards, about
— afuera de — apart from, outside
— junto a — next to
— lejos de — far from
— por — for, through, along, via
— sobre — on, over
— tras — behind

Spanish compound Prepositions for time

These prepositions tell us about when something happened. They answer the question — ¿Cuándo? — When?

— a — to, on, at, from, by, in
 antes de — before
principios de — at the beginning of
— a finales de — at the end of
— antes de — before
— a la hora de — at the time
— de — of, about, from
— desde — since, from
— dentro de — in, within, inside
— a eso de — at around
— después de — for
— durante — during, for
— en — in, into, by, inside, within, at, on, around
— hasta — up to, until
— luego de — after
— a punto de — about to
— a partir de — from, as of
— a lo largo de — throughout, over the course of, along
— para — for, by
por — for, per, at
— sobre — about, around, approximately
— tras — after

Spanish Prepositions for cause

These prepositions tell us about why something happened. They answer the question — ¿Porqué? — Why?

— a causa de — because of, due to
— a consequencia de — as a result of
— por causa de — because of, due to
— por culpa de — for reason of
— debido a — because of, due to
— con motivo de — on the grounds of

more Spanish compound Prepositions

These prepositions tell us more about the relationships between words. They answer a variety of questions, however the general question — ¿Cómo? — How? is best.

— de acuerdo con — in accordance with
— a favor de — in favor of
— en contra de — against
— con — with
— con respeto a — regarding, with respect to
— contra — against
— en cuanto a — with regard to, as for
— en busca de — in search of
— en bien de — for the sake of
— bajo la condición de que — on the condition that (subjunctive mood)
— además de — in addition to
— a falta de — in the absence of
— a excepción de — with the exception of
— en lugar de — instead of
— en vez de — instead of
— no obstante — however
— a través de — through
— según — according to
— sin — without
— sobre — about, on, upon, above, over, around
— versus — versus
— vía — through

Ultimately, having a study plan in place where you find examples and practice using the simple and compound prepositions is essential. That is the only way to get a good grasp of their proper use, due to the big differences between languages. The best way is to start memorizing and following example of simple prepositions, then move up into the compound lists.

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