I have been asked many times to teach people the ‘little words’ in Spanish. However, tackling ‘little words” as a subject in itself this is much easier said than done for several reasons. Firstly, many ‘little words’ have multiple meanings depending on the context which means that secondly,
it is not possible to find a single translation for them out of context and thirdly, even if we do manage to explain and translate them, they rarely stick in our minds – you’ve guessed it – unless we learn them in a context.
Having said all of that, I now propose to write a summary of just one group of ‘little words’, namely single-word ‘prepositions’ and give at least some examples in context to give us a basic idea of each one. I will leave the translations up to you – I have tried to keep them simple.
Let’s start with one of the most common words in the language, that single letter ‘a’ (at). This has multiple meanings which include ideas related to place, time, manner, distance and price etc.
Here are a few examples:
Mañana iré a Zaragoza.
Tengo mi clase a las seis y media.
Lo hago a mi manera.
Está a cien metros.
Los vendo a cinco euros cada uno.
Equally, if not more common is the preposition ‘de’ (of). This can refer to possession, origin and material amongst other things:
El coche de Juan.
Nuria es de Alicante.
Las sábanas son de algodón.
Another two-letter preposition is ‘en’ (in). Again this is mainly, but not exclusively, used to refer to place and time.
Here are two examples:
Mi marido está en la casa.
Lo leí en dos minutos.
Then we have a pair of opposites; ‘con’ and ‘sin’ (with and without) which refer to company, instrument and manner.
If you have no idea what that means, here are some examples:
Trabajo con Pedro.
Corto la tarta con un cuchillo.
Me lo dijo con mucha alegría.
‘Sin’ on the other hand merely refers to ‘lack’:
Una camiseta sin mangas.
Un rebelde sin causa.
Two words that are sometimes confused, although they are fundamentally different are ‘hasta’ and ‘hacia’. ‘Hasta’ refers to a specific limit of space, time and quantity; for example:
Caminé hasta el centro del pueblo.
Hasta ahora no le he visto.
Tengo hasta diez camisas distintas.
‘Hasta’ is often used with ‘desde’ as in:
París hasta Dakar, desde mañana hasta el viernes que viene.
‘Hacia’ however means a little more vaguely ‘towards’ or ‘in the direction of’ so ‘Caminé hacia el centro del pueblo.” means ‘I walked in that direction’, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I actually arrived.
A word already referred to is ‘desde’ usually translated as ‘since’ or ‘from’. It can refer to both time and place, as in ‘Desde Alicante hasta Madrid’ or ‘Desde las 7 hasta las 9 de la tarde’.
A word which refers only to concepts of time is ‘durante’. This is directly connected to the idea of ‘duration’.
‘He estado enferma durante toda la semana.’
‘Entre’ is a word that we usually translate as ‘between’ in terms of either time or place, but we shouldn’t forget can also mean ‘among’ or ‘amongst’. ‘Albacete está entre Alicante y Madrid; estás entre amigos.’
Another tricky pair of prepositions is ‘por’ and ‘para’. I have actually produced a video tutorial on my website www.janecronin.eu about the use of these two words. However, here are some brief indicators. Both have multiple meanings with ‘para’ expressing objectives, destination, direction and use; for example:
Voy a Murcia para comprar un sofá.
El cuchillo es para cortar.
El tren va para Barcelona.
El regalo es para mi madre.
‘Por’ expresses duration, cause or motive, price, exchange and means. Here is a simple example of each one:
Estuve en Londres por dos semanas.
Llegué tarde por el tráfico (because of)
lo compré por diez euros.
Contéstame por email.
There are quite a few more of these prepositions, but we’ll look at just one more – ‘sobre’. Just like all the others, ‘sobre’ can mean a number of things, although as a preposition mainly ‘about’, ‘around’, ‘on’ or ‘over’.
Nos vemos sobre las dos (about two o’clock).
Estamos hablando sobre el problema.
El florero está sobre la mesa.
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.