Table of Contents
For a review of grammar terms used in this post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end of the post.
The most common Spanish prepositions
The most common prepositions in Spanish are “a,” “de,” and “en.” Let’s go over their uses!
The preposition “a” is one of the most common prepositions in Spanish. This is great because you can use it for many things, but it can also cause some confusion. Does it mean “at”? “to”? “by”? We have already covered when to use it to introduce time or place, but let’s see what other uses this preposition has.
To indicate the way or means to do something
Use the preposition “a” to introduce the manner or instrument used to do something:
A mi abuela le gusta cocinar a la antigua.
My grandmother likes cooking the old-fashioned way.
Mi prima Laura hace bolsos a mano.
My cousin Laura makes handmade bags.
To indicate purpose with verbs of movement
I want you to stop for a second and think about verbs that express movement in Spanish… Did you think about ir (to go), irse (to leave), llegar (to arrive), and salir (to go out)? Great job! These verbs can join the preposition “a” to indicate purpose:
Voy a comprar comida al supermercado.
I’m going to buy food at the supermarket.
Mis amigos vinieron a ayudarme.
My friends came to help me.
Here’s a list of verbs of movement in Spanish we’ve prepared for you.
This one is important: when introducing a direct object that is a person or pet that is specified, you need to use the preposition “a:”
¿Viste a la profesora esta mañana?
Did you see the teacher this morning?
Tengo que llevar a Thor al veterinario.
I have to take Thor to the vet.
Busco ala señora Martínez.
I’m looking for Mrs. Martínez.
Also, use the personal a with the words alguien (someone, anyone), nadie (no one), alguno (some), ninguno (none), and cualquiera (any) if they refer to people:
No veo a nadie en el parque.
I don’t see anyone at the park.
Remember, we don’t need a preposition to introduce a direct object that is not a person:
¿Viste la película que te recomendé?
Did you see the movie I recommended?
Or to introduce a person/pet direct object that is not specific:
Busco profesora de español.
I’m looking for a Spanish teacher.
For more on this, check out our post on the Spanish personal a!
To introduce the indirect object
We always introduce the indirect object with a:
Le escribí una carta a Lucía.
I wrote a letter to Lucía.
Lleva estas flores a tu madre.
Take these flowers to your mother.
To indicate simultaneous actions with an infinitive
You can use al (a + el) along with a verb in the infinitive to indicate that two actions happened at the same time:
Al salir, sonó el teléfono.
As I left, the phone rang.
To indicate distribution
Finally, use the preposition “a” to indicate distribution of an amount:
Estas empanadas están a 1000 pesos.
These empanadas are 1000 pesos each.
Viajo dos veces al año.
I travel twice per year.
De is also a very useful preposition in Spanish. Previously, we learned that we can use it to indicate the starting point of a movement or a period of time, but it can be used to indicate many other things.
To indicate possession or ownership
De is the Spanish equivalent to the English possessive ’s:
El carro azul es de Pilar.
The blue car is Pilar’s.
If you combine it with the word quién (who) to ask questions, then you’ll get the equivalent of “whose”:
¿De quién es el carro azul? –De Pilar.
Whose is the blue car? -Pilar’s.
To learn more about possession in Spanish using preposition de, click the link!
To indicate origin
If you’re telling where someone or something is from, use de (from) to introduce their origin:
Este chocolate es de Ecuador.
This chocolate is from Ecuador.
Nancy es de Uruguay.
Nancy is from Uruguay.
To indicate material
When speaking about the material something is made of, use de:
Me gusta la ropa de algodón.
I like cotton clothes.
¿Te gusta la salsa de tomate?
Do you like tomato sauce?
To indicate topic
Use de to indicate the topic of a book, conference, movie, etc. Think of it as a synonym of sobre (about):
La película es de una familia en Venezuela.
The movie is about a family in Venezuela.
Esta conferencia es de lenguas modernas.
This conference is about modern languages.
To indicate characteristics
If you want to describe a person or an animal and mention a characteristic, de could be a useful preposition:
La niña de verde es la hija de mi vecina.
The girl in green is my neighbor’s daughter.
Mi hermano tiene un hijo de tres años.
My brother has a three-year-old son.
To describe a condition or state with a noun
Finally, you can use de + noun to describe a condition or state:
De joven, mi padre trabajaba mucho.
As a young man, my father worked a lot.
María está de mesera en un restaurante.
María is working as a waitress in a restaurant.
We’ve also learned that “en” is a useful preposition to indicate time and place, but did you know that you can also use it to indicate manner or with means of transportation?
To indicate manner
You can use en (in) to indicate the way or manner something is done:
En la biblioteca puedo estudiar en silencio.
At the library, I can study in silence.
To introduce means of transportation
It’s possible to use en to introduce means of transportation. In this context, it means “by”:
¿Tú vas a la universidad en metro?
Do you go to the university by metro?
You can say en taxi (by taxi), en autobús (by bus), en avión (by plane), en barco (by ship), en tren (by train), en bicicleta (by bicycle), or en moto (by motorcycle), but you have to use a for the phrases a caballo (on a horse) and a pie (on foot).
With infinitives in expressions that indicate order, like el primero en… or la primera en… (the first one to…), el segundo en… or la segunda en… (the second one to…), el último en… or la última en… (the last one to…), etc.
Sara fue la primera en llegar a la fiesta.
Sara was the first one to arrive at the party.
Other useful Spanish prepositions
As you know, Spanish prepositions are more than just a, de, or en. We have already covered these plus other prepositions that indicate time or place, but there are more useful prepositions that you might want to learn, such as con (with), contra (against), mediante (by, by means of), según (according to), sin (without), versus (against, opposite) and vía (via, by). Interested? Keep reading!
to indicate relationship
Tengo una buena relación con mi hermano.
I have a good relationship with my brother.
to indicate the instrument used to do something
La bebé come con la mano.
The baby eats with her hand.
to indicate manner
Los deportistas jugaron con entusiasmo.
The sportsmen played with enthusiasm.
to indicate company, collaboration, or mix
Viajo con María esta tarde.
I’m traveling with María this afternoon.
Trabajo con un equipo de 10 personas.
I work with a team of 10 people.
con azúcar, por favor.
One coffee with sugar, please.
¿Quieres ir a tomar un café conmigo?
Do you want to have a coffee with me?
Lo siento, no puedo hablar contigo ahora.
I’m sorry, I can’t speak with you now.
Con can also be used in the following contexts:
to indicate content
Tengo una caja con muchas fotos.
I have a box full of pictures.
to indicate concession
When you take into account a condition or context, you can use the preposition con as “despite”:
Con todo lo que estudié y perdí la prueba.
Despite all that I studied, I failed the test.
Literal: With everything that I studied, I failed the test.
We had already learned that we can use contra (against) to indicate contact, but it can also indicate opposition, fight, or battle:
Mañana mi equipo juega contra tu equipo.
My team plays against your team tomorrow.
Los jóvenes marchan contra las medidas del gobierno.
The young people are marching against the measures of the government.
Use mediante (by, by means of) to indicate the means to do something:
El pago se hace mediante transferencia electrónica.
The payment is made by electronic transfer.
If you want to indicate a point of view, use según (according to) to do it:
Según este libro, tomar leche no es muy bueno.
According to this book, drinking milk is not so good.
If you’re indicating the point of view of a person, use subject pronouns after the preposition:
Según yo, el idioma más interesante es el español.
In my opinion, the most interesting language is Spanish.
Según can also mean “depending on”:
Haremos la fiesta según quien pueda venir.
We’ll make the party depending on who can come.
As the opposite of con (with), sin (without) is used to indicate that something or someone is missing:
Ahora es imposible trabajar sin internet.
Now it’s impossible to work without the internet.
Juan está muy enamorado. Dice que no puede vivir sin Emma.
Juan is so in love. He says he can’t live without Emma.
If you need to use the pronouns yo (I) or tú (you) after sin, then you need to change them to mí (me) and ti (you) respectively:
Empieza la fiesta sin mí.
Start the party without me.
Pedro no quiere ir a la reunión sin ti.
Pedro doesn’t want to go to the meeting without you.
This little rule applies to most prepositions — to find out more, check out this post on Spanish prepositional object pronouns!
Depending on the context, this preposition can mean “against” or “opposite”:
El libro es sobre la batalla del bien versus el mal.
The book is about the battle of good against evil.
Finally, use vía (via, by) to introduce a place you go through or a means of doing something:
Viajamos a Buenos Aires vía Bogotá.
We’re traveling to Buenos Aires via Bogotá.
Te enviaré los detalles vía correo electrónico.
I’ll send you the details by email.
To sum up
Direct object: It’s the person, animal, or thing that directly receives the action of the verb in a sentence. You can identify it by asking ¿qué? (what?) or ¿a quién? (who?).
Ana writes letters. What does Ana write? → letters (direct object).
Ana escribe cartas. ¿Qué escribe Ana? → cartas
Indirect object: It’s the person, animal, or thing that indirectly receives the action of the verb in a sentence. You can identify it by asking ¿a quién? (to/for whom)
Ana writes letters to her friend. To whom does Ana write letters? → to her friend (indirect object).
Ana escribe cartas a su amigo. ¿A quién escribe cartas Ana? → a su amigo.
An infinitive is a verb in its basic form, for example to run, to eat, to be. In Spanish, infinitives have one of three endings: –ar, –er, –ir (cantar, comer, vivir).