Common Prepositions

A preposition is a word used to establish relationships between nouns, between nouns and verbs, and between different parts of a sentence. Prepositions usually have spatial or temporal meanings (e.g. beneath, between, in front of, before, after, during, etc). Prepositions are invariable, that is, they have one form with the exception of a and de which contract with the definite article el forming al and del.

When prepositions have literal, spatial meanings, using them is straightforward: con with, sin without, debajo de under. There are, in addition, many idiomatic uses of prepositions. Dictionaries include listings of idiomatic meanings.

A 

This is a very common preposition that can mean to, at, by, or for depending on the manner it is used. It can be used to:

Indicate Motion (to)

Fuimos a Veracruz una vez.
We went to Veracruz once.

Connect One Verb to an Infinitive

Yo empecé a trabajar por primera vez aquí.
I began to work here for the first time.

Indicate Manner, How Something Is Done (on, by, with)

Ella se cruzaba a pie.
She crossed on foot.

Introduce a Person as a Direct Object – Personal a

Entonces conocí a mi abuela.
So I met my grandmother.

Introduce an Indirect Object (to, for)

Le decía a mi mamá
He used to tell to my mom

Express Time (at, is)

El sol sale a las tres de la mañana.
The sun rises at three in the morning.

Remember that the preposition a contracts with the definite article el forming al.

Ya no fueron al colegio.
They did not go to college anymore.

A Causa De

This preposition indicates cause (because of, due to) and it is followed by a noun, whereas the conjunction porque (because) is followed by a subordinate clause.

A causa de un accidente cancelaron el evento. Due to an accident they cancelled the event.

A La Derecha De

This preposition can be translated as to the right of, on the right of.

El banco está a la derecha de la iglesia. The bank is on the right of the church.

A La Izquierda De

This preposition can be translated as to the left of, on the left of.

El banco está a la izquierda de la iglesia. The bank is on the left of the church.

Al Fondo De

This preposition can be translated as at the end of, at the bottom of.

El banco está al fondo de la calle. The bank is at the end of the street.

Al Lado De

This preposition can be translated as beside, next to.

Es un pueblo al lado de otra base militar.
It is a village next to another military base.

Alrededor De

This preposition can be translated as surrounding, around, approximately.

Alrededor de un mes aproximadamente.
Around a month approximately.

Antes De

This preposition can be translated as before (temporal).

Un día antes de la graduación todavía estábamos allí con ellos.
One day before graduation we were still there with them.

A Través De

This preposition can be translated as through, across.

Todos ellos fueron a través de Boston.
All of them went through Boston.

Bajo

This preposition can be translated as under, but always in a figurative sense, more metaphorical or idiomatic than debajo de.

Yo me sentía más segura bajo una familia.
I felt safer under (the protection of) a family.

El perro está durmiendo debajo de la mesa.The dog is sleeping under the table.

Cerca De

This preposition can be translated as close to, near to.

Para uno que vive cerca de la frontera es totalmente diferente.
For someone living close to the border it is completely different.

Con

This preposition can be translated as with.

Trabajo con los estudiantes.
I work with the students.

Contra

This preposition can be translated as against.

No tengo nada contra México.
I have nothing against Mexico.

De 

This preposition can mean of or from,  depending on the use. It can be used to:

Indicate Possession (of, ‘s)

La familia de mi mamá casi toda vive aquí en Brownsville.
My mom‘s family, almost of all them live here in Brownsville.

Indicate Cause (from, with)

Estoy cansada de correr. I am tired from running.

Indicate Origin (from, of)

Mi papá es de Chihuahua, mi mamá es de Durango.
My dad is from Chihuahua, my mom is from Durango.

Describe a Noun with Another Noun or Infinitive (of)

Botellas de agua ardiente.
Bottles of moonshine.

Compare (than)

Como más de dos años que no he visitado.
Approximately more than two years since I have last visited them.

As Part of Common Idioms

  • De ahora en adelante From now on
  • De pie Standing
Unos a pie, unos de rodillas.
Some walking, some others on their knees.

Remember that the preposition de contracts with the definite article el forming del.

Hablamos del idioma, hablamos de las diferencias de un país a otro.
We talk about the language, we talk about the differences between countries.

Debajo De

This preposition can be translated as under.

El perro está durmiendo debajo de la mesa. The dog is sleeping under the table.

Dentro De

This preposition can be translated as in, inside, or within.

Los nueve ahí dentro de la cabina.
The nine of us in the cabin.

Después De

This preposition can be translated as after (temporal).

Después de estar allí como un año o dos le empezó a gustar.
After living there for one year or two she started to like it.

Detrás De

This preposition can be translated as behind.

El sol se escondió detrás de las montañas.
The sun hid behind the mountains.

Durante

This preposition can be translated as during.

Durante su infancia, ¿qué lenguas se hablaban en su casa?
During your childhood, which languages did you speak at home?

En

This common preposition can mean in, on, at, about, or by depending on the context. It can be used to:

Indicate Location (in, on, at)

Yo estaba en El Salvador y él en Nueva York.
I was in El Salvador and he was in New York.

Indicate Time (in)

En el verano, a medianoche todavía es de día.
In the summer, at midnight it is still daytime.

Indicate Manner, How Something Is Done (by)

Y claro nos fuimos en barco.
And of course we went by boat.

Idioms

  • En broma As a joke
  • En serio Seriously
  • En vivo Live
¿En serio? Yo nunca tuve eso.
Seriously? I have never experienced that.

Encima De

This preposition can be translated as on, on top of.

El libro está encima de la mesa. The book is on the table.

Enfrente De

This preposition can be translated as in front of, across from.

En un carro enfrente de la escuela.
In a car in front of the school.

Entre

This preposition can be translated as between.

¿Y cuál es la diferencia entre los mexicanos y la gente de Sudamérica?
And what is the difference between Mexicans and people from South America?

En Vez De

This preposition can be translated as instead of.

En vez de estacionamiento dicen parqueadero.
Instead of estacionamiento they say parqueadero (for parking lot).

Excepto

This preposition can be translated as outside of, excluding.

En este momento estamos todos aquí en este país excepto los que viven en Colombia.
In this moment we are all here in this country excluding the ones that live in Colombia.

Fuera De

This preposition can be translated as outside of.

Pasé nueve meses de la universidad fuera de Estados Unidos.
I spent nine university months outside of the United States.

Gracias A

This preposition can be translated as thanks to.

Gracias a la tecnología sí conservo amistades de la infancia.
Thanks to technology I do keep childhood friendships.

Hacia

This preposition can be translated as toward.

¿Qué tipo de actitud tienes tú hacia ese tipo de choque cultural?
Which kind of attitude do you have toward this type of culture shock?

Hasta

This preposition can be translated as until.

Viví en México hasta el quinto grado.
I have been living in Mexico until fifth grade.

Lejos De

This preposition can be translated as far from.

Y es una escuela de liberal arts y le encanta, pero muy, muy chiquita y muy, muy lejos de Texas.
And it is a liberal arts school and he loves it, but it is very, very small and very, very far from Texas.

Para

This preposition has many different uses. It can be used to:

Indicate Destination

Estudié mis primeros dos años en el TEC de Monterrey en Chihuahua y luego vine para acá, me transferí para acá.
I studied during my first two years at the TEC of Monterrey, Chihuahua and then I came here, I moved here.

Show the Use or Purpose of a Thing

Había otra escuela que se llamaba C. S. Winn que tenía clases para los estudiantes que no sabían inglés.
There was another school called C. S. Winn that offered classes for students who did not speak English.

Express Purpose, Objective, Aim, or Goal

Caminaba una hora para llegar a la escuela y para regresar, era otra hora.
I used to walk one hour to get to school and to go back, another hour.

Indicate a Recipient

El abuelo mío me daba cada ocho días cinco centavos, para mi hermana y para mí.
My grandfather used to give me five cents every eight days, for my sister and for me.

Express a Deadline or Specific Time

Necesito el vestido para el lunes. I need the dress by Monday.

Express a Contrast from What is Expected

Para un niño lee muy bien. For a child, he reads very well. 

For more information about this preposition and comparisons between por and para see also the page titled Por vs. Para

Por

This preposition can be a little bit problematic for a learner because it has many different uses. It can be used to:

Express Gratitude or Apology

Muchas gracias por la entrevista.
Thanks a lot for the interview.

Talk about Multiplication and Division

Dos por dos son cuatro.Two times two equals four.

Express Velocity, Frequency and Proportion

Antes íbamos como dos veces por semana.
Before we used to go approximately twice per week.

Indicate Location or Movement Meaning “Through,” “Along,” “By” or “In the Area of”

Sus máquinas están por todo el mundo.
His machines are used across the world.

Talk about Exchange, Including Sales

Mi papá por ochocientos dólares se compró ese terrenito.
My dad bought that land for 800 dollars.

Mean “On Behalf of,” or “In Favor of,”

Trabajó por su papá que tenía la ferretería.
She worked for her father that owned the hardware store.

Express a Length of Time, Duration

Yo me quedé con mi suegra por cinco años.
I have been living with my mother in law for five years.

Express an Undetermined, or General Time, Meaning “During”

Tuve que caminar como tres kilómetros por la mañana para llegar allá.
I had to walk for approximately three kilometers during the morning to get there.

Talk about Means of Communication or Transportation

Mi esposa es de Montevideo, entonces seguíamos hablando por teléfono.
My wife is from Montevideo, so we kept talking by phone.

Show the Reason for an Errand (with ir, venir, pasar, mandar, volver, and preguntar)

Paso por ti a las ocho. I will come by for you at eight o’clock.

Express Cause or Reason

Por el frío no se mantuvo abierta la ventana ese día.
Because of the cold they did not keep the window open that day.

Introduce the Agent in Passive Constructions

El libro fue escrito por Octavio Paz. The book was written by Octavio Paz.

Por also appears in many idiomatic expressions:

por adelantado in advance

por ahora for now

por allí around there; that way

por amor de Dios for the love of God

por aquí around here; this way

por casualidad by chance

por ciento percent

por cierto certainly, talking of

por completo completely

por dentro inside

por desgracia unfortunately

por ejemplo for example

por eso therefore

por favor please

por fin finally

por lo general generally

por lo visto apparently

por medio de by means of

por lo menos at least

por lo tanto consequently

por mi parte as for me

por ningún lado nowhere

por otra parte on the other hand

palabra por palabra word for word

por primera vez for the first time

por separado separately

por supuesto of course

por suerte fortunately

por todas partes everywhere

por todos lados on all sides

por último finally

Me considero mexicano al cien por ciento.
I consider myself as 100 percent Mexican.

For more information about this preposition and comparisons between por and para see also the page titled Por vs. Para

Según

This preposition can be translated as according to.

Un joven muy activo, muy divertido según yo.
A very dynamic, very fun guy according to me.

Sin

This preposition can be translated as without.

Me pasé un año sin estudiar.
I skipped one year without studying.

Sobre

This preposition has many different functions and meanings, among them:

  • About, on the subject of
  • Above, on
  • Around, approximately
¿Nos puedes contar historias sobre las tradiciones culturales que celebras en tu familia?
Can you tell us some stories about the cultural traditions you celebrate in your family?