16.1 Distinctions among Similar Prepositions and Compound Prepositions

You have likely noticed that various Spanish prepositions may translate into the same English preposition, though you should be aware that there are subtle distinctions in meaning. Often one preposition has a literal meaning, while a shortened form of the same preposition takes on a figurative one.

This is the case of antes de versus ante. Antes de means “before” in the temporal sense, while ante does in the figurative sense and translates as “before,” as in “facing,” or “in the face of”:

Antes de salir, cierra todas las puertas con llave. Before leaving, lock all the doors.
Tuvo que comparecer ante el tribunal. He had to appear before the court.
Ante tal dilema, no sabía qué hacer. In the face of such a dilemma, I/he/she didn’t know what to do.

The same is true of debajo de versus bajo. The meaning of the former refers to physical position, while the latter has figurative meaning:

Encontrará el testamento debajo de estos papeles. You will find the will under (underneath) these papers.
Vivió muchos años bajo la tiranía. She lived under the tyranny for many years.

An occasional synonym of después de is tras (derived from detrás de, “behind”), though tras usually translates more smoothly as “after” than it does as “behind”:

Después del accidente, salió ileso. Tras el accidente, salió ileso.
After the accident, he left unhurt.

Tras, however, is usually slightly more figurative and is often used in expressions such as días tras día, año tras año, etc.

Siguen siguiendo su rutina, año tras año. They keep on following their routine, year after year.

When used with the verb irtras usually means “to go after” (“to follow”):

Van tras los que han ocasionado el daño. They’re going after those who have caused the damage.

Remember the various meanings of hasta: “until,” “up to,” “as far as,” and “even” (an adverb). Context should clarify the meaning.

No se fue hasta las tres. She didn’t leave until 3:00.
Fui hasta la calle. I went up to (as far as) the street.
Hasta la psiquiatra no la sabía. Even the psychiatrist didn’t know it.

Also remember to distinguish cerca de from acerca de:

Se sentaron cerca de ti. They sat down near you.
¿Qué sabes acerca de la pintura española? What do you know about Spanish painting?

Some prepositions, such as por and de, combine with other prepositions. The meaning is not changed significantly, if at all. As you will see below, some combinations of prepositions often occur to describe a more precise physical placement (first example); at times not all the prepositions can be translated (second example); or are used with verbs of motion (last example). Notice in the first example the multiple prepositions used in English.

Lo saqué por debajo del asiento. I took it out from underneath the seat.
Lo vimos por entre los pinos. We saw him among the pine trees.
Pasan por encima del puente. They’re passing over the bridge.

The particular combination of para con refers to an attitude toward or treatment of a person:

Su comportamiento para con sus padres nos asombró. Their behavior toward their parents astonished us.

Vocabulario básico

Verbos:

extrañarse (de)- to be surprised (by), to be in wonder (of), to be puzzled (by)
fugarse- to flee, to escape
ocasionar- to cause
sembrar (ie)- to sow, to seed, to plant
suscitar- to provoke

Sustantivos:

el bastón- cane
la finca- farm
el prado- meadow, field
el proceso- trial, process
la servidumbre- servitude
el testamento- will
el tribunal- court, tribunal
el trozo- fragment, part

Adjetivos:

antipático- unpleasant, disagreeable
decimonónico- nineteenth-century
ileso- unhurt
vetusto- very old
por aquí- through, around here

Expresión:

cerrar con llave- to lock

Last revised on June 28, 2021.