Why do we say you are in your house, at your house, at home, but never ‘in home’? Blame prepositions. Prepositions are short words linking nouns within a sentence to connect people or objects to time and location. They are tricky to learn because the usage rules don’t follow logic. Directly translating from English to Spanish often comes out wrong. Spanish prepositions are super common. In fact “a” and “de” are two of the most frequently used Spanish words and they are both Spanish prepositions! Since the best way to learn Spanish is to follow how native speakers talk, we need to learn even the trickiest prepositions.
The 4 most common mistakes with Spanish prepositions.
1. En vs. a in Spanish
To learn Spanish at home, we talk a lot about where we are. Especially nowadays with mobile phones in every pocket, we give directions using prepositions. At is ‘a’ while in is ‘en’ but in Spanish the literal translation from English doesn’t work. Use the wrong preposition and you sound odd. You might even confuse somebody.
For example: Go by foot. At the stoplight, turn right. The bookstore is on the right.
Wrong: Vaya por pie. Al (a el) semáforo, gira derecha. La librería está en la derecha.
Right: Vaya a pie. En el semáforo, gira a la derecha. La librería está a la derecha.
When you take online Spanish lessons, you get the chance to talk a lot about future travel plans. Especially now during COVID restrictions, most of our travel conversations are hypothetical. In general, to visit a place, there is no need for a preposition. When you visit a person, you do need one.
For example: Why visit Berlin? I want to visit my Aunt Juany.
Wrong: ¿Por qué visitar a Berlín? Quiero visitar mi tía Juany.
Right: ¿Por qué visitar Berlín? Quiero visitar a mi tía Juany.
2. Encima vs. arriba vs. sobre in Spanish
Encima, arriba, and sobre all mean ‘on top of’, ‘above’, and ‘on’ in Spanish, respectively. In general, objects that sit directly on other objects are ‘sobre’. ‘Encima’ denotes direct contact and can be used interchangeably with ‘sobre’ but requires that tricky article ‘de’. Objects hovering above or somehow placed higher than others without direct contact are ‘arriba de’.
For example: The pillow is on the bed. The books are above the bed on a shelf.
Wrong: La almohada está arriba la cama. Los libros están sobre la cama arriba un estante.
Right: La almohada está sobre la cama. Los libros están arriba de la cama encima de un estante.
3. Entre vs. adentro in Spanish
Lots of beginner Spanish learners mix up these two prepositions: Between is ‘entre’ while inside is ‘adentro’. The tricky part is remembering to add the article ‘de’. In English the direct translation ‘I am inside of the mall’ makes sense, but we often say ‘I am inside the mall’ without any article. This doesn’t work in Spanish.
For example: I am inside the mall between the electronics store and the toy store.
Wrong: Estoy adentro el centro comercial adentro la tienda de electrónicos y la tienda de juguetes.
Right: Estoy adentro del centro comercial entre la tienda de electrónicos y la tienda de juguetes.
4. Without in Spanish
I sometimes hear beginner Spanish speakers say ‘no tiene’ to mean ‘without’. Whether you learn Spanish at home or in online Spanish classes, tener (to have) is one of the first verbs that Spanish students learn. It makes sense to reach for something familiar. In this case, the correct word in Spanish is ‘sin’.
Wrong: Quiero un cafe no tiene leche.
Right: Quiero un cafe sin leche.
As we can see, most common mistakes with Spanish prepositions happen when Spanish students reach the limit of their vocabulary. They either translate prepositional phrases directly from English or use a familiar word where it doesn’t belong. There is no need to get down on yourself for making these mistakes. As a language learner myself, I find these incorrect attempts show a decent understanding of grammatical structure. Plus, they are a product of an innovative mind! Once you fix these mistakes as we have shown above, you will sound more natural than ever before.
Do you have trouble with these prepositions in Spanish?
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