If you can confidently combine Spanish prepositions with nouns, you’ll be one step closer to thinking in Spanish.
Prepositions rarely translate well between languages which means the only way to master them is by thinking about them in phrases the way a native would.
Then, when you can think in phrases, you’ll be able to quickly produce more natural-sounding Spanish.
In this post, you’ll learn how to use Spanish prepositions with nouns, you’ll look at how they work in phrases including how to connect nouns to other nouns and nouns to verbs.
An overview of prepositions and nouns
Prepositions are a massive topic.
So, rather than create a definite guide on prepositions, like our guides on Spanish adjectives, Spanish articles, or Spanish direct and indirect pronouns, I decided to break the topic down into separate articles each with a focus on a particular aspect of prepositions.
Last week, I wrote about Spanish prepositions and verbs.
In this article, we’re going to talk about prepositions and nouns.
But, I’m going to avoid prepositions of positions (e.g. above, below, besides etc.), and instead focus on prepositions of ownership and material, detail and how to connect nouns and verbs.
This means we are going to take a closer look at sentences like these:
English: I prefer action movies.
Español: Prefiero las películas de acción.
English: We have an opportunity to do something unique.
Español: Tenemos la oportunidad para hacer algo único.
In terms of order, we are going to move from least difficult to most difficult, starting with prepositions of ownership.
1. Prepositions of ownership and material: Algo de – Something of / someone’s
This first group of prepositions and nouns tends to be the easiest to understand.
There are two options for this group.
The first option: whenever you use an apostrophe in English for ownership (e.g. Ana’s car, Diego’s pen etc.), in Spanish you will need to start with the noun, follow it with the preposition de, and then finish with the person that owns the object.
English: This is Pedro’s house.
Español: Esta es la casa de Pedro.
English: Marina’s glasses are on the table.
Español: Las gafas de Marina están en la mesa.
English: The band’s first song was recorded overseas.
Español: La primera canción de la banda fue grabada en el extranjero.
Note, ironically, that as a reverse of English, when we want to say ‘something of mine’ or ‘something of ours’ with a possessive pronoun in Spanish, you’ll need to avoid a preposition.
English: She is a friend of ours.
Español: Es una amiga nuestra.
The second option: whenever there isn’t a Spanish adjective to describe the category of something or what something is made from, then you’ll also need to follow the noun with the preposition de and then the material or category.
English: She plays better on grass courts.
Español: Juega mejor en las canchas de césped.
English: There are two designs, a wooden chair or a metal chair.
Español: Hay dos diseños, una silla de madera o una silla de metal.
English: I love horror movies.
Español: Me encantan las películas de terror.
2. Prepositions of detail: Algo sobre – Something about
Last week I wrote about prepositions and verbs and I recommended that you avoid using sobre because this Spanish preposition rarely works well with verbs.
But, with nouns, sobre is one of your best options.
Specifically, this works really well when you want to follow a noun with another noun to talk about the details and specifics of a given topic.
English: I have a question about prepositions.
Español: Tengo una pregunta sobre las preposiciones.
English: Do you have any information about the wine cellars in the region?
Español: ¿Tiene alguna información sobre las bodegas de la zona?
English: All about my mother.
Español: Todo sobre mi madre.
This last example comes from the title of a popular Spanish movie which may help you remember this construction if you’ve seen the movie (or plan to).
3. How to connect nouns and infinitive verbs: Algo de, algo que, algo para – Something to
Based on working with the students in our Spanish school, this third group seems the hardest to understand and get right.
This is because the phrases of this group don’t line up well with English. And, when students ask us why these sentences are the way they are, we can only say that this is just how Spanish treats this combination of prepositions and nouns.
To see this group in action, let’s take this simple question in English:
Is there anything to eat?
When you translate this sentence into Spanish, it is tempting to put algo (something) and the infinitive verb comer (to eat) directly next to each other.
But, in Spanish, you need something in between a noun and an infinitive verb.
And, you have three possible options as follows:
¿Hay algo de comer?
¿Hay algo que comer?
¿Hay algo para comer?
If you asked me which option is best, I would say they are generally interchangeable.
‘Algo de comer‘ is probably the most common in this group but the others are still common. And, if we swapped algo and comer for a different verb and noun then this order of frequency use could reverse.
Here are some more examples:
English: We don’t have any time to waste.
Español: No tenemos tiempo que perder.
English: There is plenty of food to share.
Español: Hay mucha comida para compartir.
English: I know a lot of places to explore.
Español: Conozco muchos lugares para explorar.
English: I have a lot of work to do.
Español: Tengo mucho trabajo que hacer.
English: Their instructions highlight the need to put things in order before moving on.
Español: Sus instrucciones destacan la necesidad de poner en orden las cosas antes de seguir adelante.
Before moving on, I need to highlight that the above applies to infinitive verbs after nouns.
In contrast, conjugated verbs after nouns are more obvious because they look more like English. In these sentences, we need to use que. For example:
English: There is a project that we need to finish before tonight.
Español: Hay un proyecto que necesitamos terminar antes de esta noche.
Bonus tip: how to connect question words and verbs
Slightly off the topic of prepositions, but very closely related in terms of sentence structure is the idea of connecting question words to infinitive verbs.
These are more obvious and translate better than the sentences in the previous section.
Here are some examples:
English: I don’t know what to do.
Español: No sé qué hacer.
English: Do you remember where to go?
Español: ¿Recuerdas adónde ir?
English: I don’t know what to eat, there are so many options.
Español: No sé qué comer, hay muchas opciones.
English: We aren’t sure what to say.
Español: No estamos seguros de qué decir.
Note that for the phrase ‘estar seguro de‘, we need a de after the adjective seguro. Also, prepositions and adjectives are a topic for another post.
But, the problem with this section is when you change the verb after the question word from an infinitive verb to a conjugated verb. For example:
I don’t know what to say.
I don’t know what you are saying.
Then in the second case instead of a qué we should go for lo que. E.g.
English: I don’t know what you are saying.
Español: No sé lo que dices.
If you would like to read more about lo que, you can check out the article on the uses of lo.
Spanish prepositions and nouns aren’t like English, that’s why they need a little practice to get right.
Pick a few structures from this article and formulate a plan to use them in your next Spanish conversation.
When you are done with this article, you can go and try to put together some sentences using Spanish prepositions with verbs.
How else can you use Spanish prepositions with nouns?