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


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


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


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


cerrar con llave- to lock

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

16.2 Compound Adverbs

Some adverbs in Spanish take compound forms, whether or not they are formed by one or two words in English. While you may be able to deduce the meaning of these in context, some are less obvious than others. Among the most common ones are:

al revés upside-down
al revés (de dentro para fuera) inside out
allá abajo way down below
allá arriba way up above
allí arriba up there
aquí abajo down here
aquí arriba up here
calle abajo down the street
calle arriba up the street
cuesta abajo down (the) hill
cuesta arriba up (the) hill
hacia aquí this way (toward here)
hacia atrás backward
hacia delante forward
para adelante forward
poco a poco little by little

Other adverbial phrases may be formed by plus the feminine plural form of an adjective, present participle or past participle. Among the most common are:

a ciegas blindly
a escondidas secretly, on the sly
a gatas on all fours
a hurtadillas stealthily
a oscuras in the dark
a sabiendas knowingly, wittingly, consciously
a solas alone

Vocabulario básico 


agradecer- to thank, to be thankful/grateful for
demostrar (ue)- to demonstrate, to show, to prove
grabar- to tape


el resultado- result


distinto- different, distinct

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

16.3 Adjectives and Nouns Ending in -ante, -ente, and -iente

Spanish uses the suffixes –ante (from –ar verbs) and –ente or –iente (from –er and –ir verbs) to form a number of adjectives and some nouns. This is unlike English, in which present participles may be used as adjectives (e.g., “running water,” “sparkling wine”).*

Es un libro muy edificante sobre Antonio Machado.** It’s a very edifying book about Antonio Machado.
A la casa le falta agua corriente todavía. The house still lacks running water.

Some forms in –ante, -ente and -iente may serve both as nouns and adjectives:

Chema es el amante de Victoria. Chema is Victoria’s lover.
Volvió a su amante esposa. He returned to his loving wife.
Los habitantes de Belice no son hispanohablantes. The inhabitants of Belize are not Spanish speakers. (noun)

The inhabitants of Belize are not Spanish-speaking. (adjective)

As you have seen, many common and easily recognizable nouns have these same endings: el/la estudiante, el habitante, el residente, el presidente, etc.

*These are two exceptions to this rule: hirviendo (“boiling”) and ardiendo (“burning”). When used as adjectives, they appear only after the noun and are invariable in form. If you recognize the infinitive from which they come, there should be no comprehension problem.

**Spanish poet, 1875-1939.

Vocabulario básico 


el/la dramaturgo/a- playwright
el/la natural- native (false friend)


ardiente- burning
corriente- running; standard, regular, commonplace; current, present

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

16.4 More about the Impersonal se

When the object of an active sentence is a person and the impersonal se construction is used, the personal precedes what is the subject in English:

Se despidió a Blanca. Blanca was fired.
Se robó a los turistas. The tourists were robbed.
Se mató al asesino. The murderer was killed.

Note that in the above construction the verbs are always in the singular, as opposed to those with non-human subjects, in which the verb is singular or plural, according to the subject and in which the verb usually precedes the subject:

Se vendieron las llantas. The tires were sold.
Se habla albanés allí. Albanian is spoken there.
Varios dialectos se oyen. Various dialects are heard.

In the first group of examples, the a -always grammatically necessary- helps avoid ambiguity. Without the a, the first example could mean “Blanca said good-bye” (despedir = to fire, to dismiss, despedirse de = to say good-bye to).

In a passive sentence in Spanish, the indirect object of the active sentences cannot be the subject. See the examples below:

Active sentence in English: Active sentence in Spanish: Passive sentence in English: Equivalent of Passive Sentence in Spanish:
They gave me a gift. Me dieron un regalo. I was given a gift* Se me dio un regalo.

As you never see the literal translation of the English in correct Spanish [the me of the active sentence cannot be the subject –yo– of the passive sentence], Spanish inserts an indirect object pronoun after the se to come up with the equivalent of the passive sentence in English.

*The other passive sentence in English, “A gift was given to me,” could be expressed by the passive voice with an indirect object pronoun: Un regalo me fue dado. 

Study these further examples and their translations:

Se le dijo la verdad por fin. She was finally told the truth.
Se nos contará lo que pasó. We will be told what happened.
Se les preguntó si querían ir. They were asked if they wanted to go.

The same construction is also used when the direct object of the active sentence in English is the subject of the passive sentence.

Active sentence in English: Active sentence in Spanish: Passive sentence in English: Equivalent of Passive Sentence in Spanish:
They will punish him. Lo castigarán. He will be punished. Se le castigará.

See these similar examples and their translations:

Se le verá brevemente en la película. He will be seen briefly in the film.
Se la oirá cantar. She will be heard singing.
Se les recompensará. They will be remunerated.
Se las llevará al baile en limusina. They (female group) will be taken to the dance in a limousine.

With this particular construction, the combination se lo or se los does not occur.

Vocabulario básico 


elogiar- to praise


la impresora- printer
la informática- computer science
el mensaje- message
la pantalla- screen
el teclado- keyboard


fronterizo- border, frontier


navegar la red- to surf the net
trabajar en red- to work online

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

16.5 Compound Participles, Compound Infinitives and Absolute Constructions

Compound (or perfect) participles are composed of the present participle of the auxiliary verb haber + past participle. Note that the object pronoun is attached to the form of haber. 

habiendo cantado having sung
habiéndolo dicho having said it

Compound (or perfect) infinitives are composed of the infinitive of the auxiliary verb haber + the past participle:

haber puesto having put
haber marchado having left

The use of the compound past participle corresponds well to English:

Habiendo terminado el examen, sintió gran alivio. Having finished the exam, he/she felt great relief.
Habiéndolo rechazado, me puse a pensarlo otra vez. Having rejected it, I began to think it over again.

In context, the compound infinitive is most often seen after a preposition or, occasionally, after a conjugated verb. Again, both uses function as in English.

Se fue sin habernos explicado nada. He left without having explained anything to us.
Nos mudamos después de habernos graduado. We moved away after having graduated.
Creo haberlo comprendido. I believe I have understood it.

The past participle also functions as an adjective in what are called “absolute” constructions. Note the various translation possibilities in English.

Concluida la reunión, todos se levantaron. When the meeting was over (concluded), everyone got up.
Terminada la guerra, gozaron de paz de nuevo. Once the war ended, they enjoyed peace again.
Hechas las conclusiones, las escribieron en su reportaje. The conclusions having been made, they wrote them into their report.

Vocabulario básico 


aniquilar- to annihilate
arriesgar(se)- to risk


el esbozo- sketch, outline, rough draft
el/la feligrés/-esa- parishioner
el hidalgo- nobleman
el personaje- character (lit.), personage
los pésames- condolences
el sobre- envelope


harto- tired, fed up


ponerse a- to begin to
sano y salvo- safe and sound

Last revised on June 28, 2021.

16.6 The Preterite Perfect Tense

The preterite perfect tense is formed by the preterite of the auxiliary verb haber + past participle:

salir traducción
yo hube salido I had left
hubiste salido you (fam. s.) had left
él, Ella, Ud. hubo salido he/she/you (form. s.) had left
Nosotros hubimos salido we had left
Vosotros hubisteis salido you (fam.pl.) had left
ellos, ellas, Uds. hubieron salido they/ you (form. pl. [fam. pl. in L.A.]) had left

The preterite perfect tense is an “alternate” form of the past perfect tense (e.g., había salido) and translates the same (“had left”). It was routinely used in Old Spanish and is still seen today, almost exclusively in literature (and almost never heard in speech). It is only used after conjunctions of time: después (deque, luego que, apenas (“hardly,” “barely”), así que, en cuanto, no bien (all three translating as “as soon as”), cuando, tan pronto como, when one action takes place immediately after another, the latter almost always in the preterite tense:

Así que le hubimos hablado, nos fuimos. As soon as we had spoken to him, we left.
Apenas me hube graduado, se murió mi padre. had barely graduated and (when) my father died.
No sooner had I graduated, my father died.

Vocabulario básico


apenas- as soon as, barely, no sooner than
así que- as soon as
no bien- as soon as

Last revised on June 28, 2021.