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Prepositions of Place (Preposiciones de Lugar): How and When to Use Them

Written by tutor Dorothy P.

Question: What's a preposition, anyway?

Answer: Prepositions are words that effect (without describing as an adjective does) a noun or pronoun, normally preceding it. In other words, prepositions describe the relationship of people, places and things to the world. There are prepositions that express relationship to purpose (What is a screwdriver for?), prepositions that express relationship to time (“I'll get there around 6 o'clock.”), and prepositions that express relationship to location in space or place (“This lesson is on the WyzAnt website.”). Here will will examine some common Prepositions of Place.

Prepositions of Place tell us where things are, often though not always relative to other people, places and things. You will notice that the verb estar is often used (rather than ser) in these examples because it pertains to being and location. Of course, many other verbs are used with prepositions of place including colocar (to place), ubicar (to position), poner (to put), situar (to place), to name just a few.

Here is a table of the most commonly used (though certainly not all of the) prepositions of place. Notice that some of the smaller prepositions have multiple meanings!

Preposition in Spanish English Translation* Example
A To, into Voy a la tienda de móviles. / I am going to the cell phone store.
¡A la batalla! / ¡Into battle!
Abajo (de) Below, underneath El sótano está abajo de mi casa. / The basement is underneath my house.
Adentro (de) Inside (of), inward La caja fuerte está adentro del clóset. / The strong-box is inside of the closet.
Afuera (de) Outside (of) El perro vive afuera de la casa. / The dog lives outside of the house.
Al lado (de) Next (to) El viejo roble está al lado de mi casa. / The old oak is next to my house.
Arriba (de) Above El cielo está arriba de mí. / The sky is above me.
Cerca (de) Near (to) La tienda de móviles está cerca de mi casa. / The cell phone store is near my house.
Delante (de) In front of El jardín está delante de mi casa. / The garden's in front of my house.
Detrás (de) Behind, in back of El gallinero está detrás de mi casa. / The chicken coop is in back of my house.
En In, on, at Hay leche en la sopa / There's milk in the soup.
La sopera está en la mesa. / The soup bowl's on the table.
Estoy en la mesa. / I'm at the table.
Encima (de) On top (of) La gata ahora está encima de la mesa. / Now the cat's on top of the table.
Enfrente (de) Facing, across from, opposite El hospital está enfrente de la farmacia. / The hospital is across from the pharmacy.
Entre Between La tienda está entre dos edificios más grandes. / The store is between two bigger buildings.
Sobre Over, on top (of), on Hay una espada colgada sobre mi cabeza. / There's a sword hanging over my head.

* Some of these prepositions have additional meanings that are not related to location. I have not included those meanings here.

Did you notice that the preposition “de” is often added to other prepositions? Did you notice that sometimes it translated as “of ”, sometimes as “to” and that it is sometimes is not audible at all in the English translation? Whether “de” is used or not with some prepositions of place depends upon whether you are placing someone or something relatively or not. Take a look at these examples:

Non-relative use: El perro está afuera. The dog is outside.
Relative use: Ell perro está afuera de la casa. The dog is outside of the house.

In the first sentence, the dog is just outside. In the second sentence, the “de” is used to show the dog's relative relationship in space to the house.

Preposiciones de Lugar Practice Quiz

Let's see what you have learned! Answer the following questions, choosing the best answer according to the accompanying picture.

El pájaro está...
A. ...arriba de la rama.
B. ...en la rama.
C. ...detrás de la rama.
The correct answer here would be B.
Las pastillas están...
A. ...adentro del frasco.
B. ...encima del frasco.
C. ...afuera del frasco.
The correct answer here would be C.
El hombre y la mujer están...
A. ...sobre la mesa.
B. ...en la mesa.
C. ...enfrente.
The correct answer here would be B.
El gato está...
A. ...al lado de la olla.
B. ...detrás de la olla.
C. ...adentro de la olla.
The correct answer here would be C.
Las copas y la botella están...
A. ...arriba de la mesa.
B. ...abajo de la mesa.
C. ...encima de la mesa.
The correct answer here would be C.
La mesa está...
A. ...arriba de las sillas.
B. ...detrás de las sillas.
C. ...entre las sillas.
The correct answer here would be C.
La muchacha está sentada...
A. ...adentro de la silla de ruedas.
B. ...delante de la silla de ruedas.
C. ...en la silla de ruedas.
The correct answer here would be C.
La fábrica está...
A. ...delante del humo.
B. ...abajo del humo.
C. ..al lado del humo.
The correct answer here would be B.
La comida está...
A. ...encima de la canasta.
B. ...entre la canasta.
C. ...en la canasta.
The correct answer here would be C.
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