“Do you have a good resource for learning Spanish prepositions?” – Real Fast Spanish Subscriber.
If you can learn how to use Spanish prepositions accurately, your Spanish will sound fantastic.
The problem is that prepositions are the hardest words to get right because there aren’t any set rules.
But, there is a way that you can learn Spanish prepositions that will dramatically improve your ability to use them properly.
In this post, you’ll discover how to learn and use Spanish prepositions by examining them in combination with 25 common Spanish verbs.
An overview of the problem with prepositions
Prepositions are the hardest words to translate between languages. It doesn’t matter whether you are translating from French to Russian, Japanese to Italian or English to Spanish.
Prepositions rarely translate well because their use has been shaped by a history of native speakers trying to group and make sense of patterns in words. And, while this process can result in some words making more sense in certain situations, these same words will make less sense in others.
For example, I have a number of friends studying English, and they always ask me about phrases like:
I’m in the car.
I’m on the bus.
Why do we use ‘in’ with ‘car’ and ‘on’ with ‘bus’?
The short answer: that is just the way it is!
Prepositions seldom make sense. And, if we want to learn about situations such as ‘in the car’ and ‘on the bus’, we have to study them through attentive selection, review and repetition.
That said, there is a way you can focus your attention to learn Spanish prepositions effectively.
How to learn Spanish prepositions
When it comes to learning Spanish prepositions, I recommend you think about them in combination with Spanish verbs.
Just as you have to learn whether a new noun in Spanish is male or female (e.g. la ciudad, el coche), it is also important when you discover new Spanish verbs to learn the prepositions that go with them.
For example, let’s consider the Spanish verb hablar by first looking at the English equivalent ‘to speak’.
Let’s then take a close look at the following English sentence:
I have to speak to you about the wedding.
Note that in English we can say ‘speak to (someone)’ and ‘speak about (something)’.
Therefore, when we ask Spanish students in our Spanish school to translate the above sentence, initially a common guess for the translation of ‘speak to’ is ‘hablar a‘ and ‘speak about’ is ‘hablar sobre‘.
This makes sense because the Spanish preposition ‘a‘ can mean ‘to’, and ‘sobre’ can mean ‘about’.
But, in Spanish, we should never use the preposition ‘a‘ with hablar to refer to a conversation between two people.
And, while we can use ‘sobre’ and ‘acerca de’ with hablar to mean ‘talk about’, it is ten times more common to use the preposition ‘de‘.
Moreover, there are some situations where we should never use ‘sobre‘ or ‘acerca de‘ with hablar such as when asking questions in Spanish to enquire what someone is talking about.
Note as an aside: ‘hablar sobre’ and ‘hablar acerca de’ are generally used when a speaker wants to talk about a topic with great interest or great depth as opposed to talking about their plans for the afternoon.
Thus, the best translation of the above sentence is:
English: I have to speak to you about the wedding.
Español: Tengo que hablar contigo de la boda.
And, the key takeaway here is to note how hablar behaves with prepositions, which leaves us with:
Talk to, talk with→ Hablar con
Talk about → Hablar de
In the next section, we’ll extend the above review to a list of common verbs and their prepositions.
The list of common Spanish verbs and their corresponding prepositions
I created the list by reviewing the frequency of occurrence of the words in spoken Spanish and then combining that with our experience working with Spanish students and seeing where students are likely to make mistakes.
Also, please note it is possible to use other preposition combinations with the verbs in the list below. The list does not cover all possible scenarios.
The table simply provides a list of verbs and their prepositions with a focus on where the prepositions are common and not intuitive.
Here is the list:
A few notes on the list:
- The order of the list is based on a combination of frequency and recommended order for studying.
- It is possible to use other prepositions combinations than what is listed above.
- Note that buscar and pedir don’t need prepositions, but they are there because students tend to use por or para as a translation from the English verbs ‘to look for’ and ‘to ask for’.
How to use these Spanish verbs and prepositions in a sentence
This section is the most important part of this post because it’s where you put all of the above information into action.
Choose a number of these examples and work through them for yourself. Create your own sentences then try to use them in your next Spanish conversation.
1. Hablar con, hablar de – speak to, talk about
As I mentioned earlier, the two main prepositions you’ll want to use with hablar is con and de.
English: I have to speak to him today.
Español: Hoy tengo que hablar con él.
English: I want to talk about something else.
Español: Quiero hablar de otra cosa.
2. Pensar en – think about
Similar to hablar in the sense that you’ll also want to avoid sobre, but less natural for English speakers, the best preposition to use with pensar is en.
English: I didn’t think about it.
Español: No pensé en ello.
English: It’s your mothers birthday today. Have you thought about a present for her?
Español: Hoy es el cumpleaños de tu madre. ¿Has pensado en un regalo para ella?
3. Buscar – to look for (to seek)
In contrast to the other verbs on this list, you should avoid using a preposition with buscar.
A more helpful translation of buscar into English is the verb ‘to seek’ because we don’t need to use a preposition with this English verb.
English: I’m looking for work (I’m seeking work).
Español: Busco trabajo.
English: It’s important to seek new friends when you live overseas.
Español: Es importante buscar nuevos amigos cuando vives en el extranjero.
4. Pedir – to ask for (to request)
Similar to buscar, you also need to avoid using a preposition with pedir. You can remember this by thinking of the English verb ‘to request’.
English: Don’t forget to ask for help if you need it.
Español: No olvides pedir ayuda si la necesitas.
English: We are going to ask for more money in the next investment stage.
Español: Vamos a pedir más dinero en la próxima etapa de inversión.
5. Llegar a – to arrive at, to arrive in
Sometimes we say ‘arrive at’ in English and the translation to Spanish works well. But, you need to be careful when you want to say ‘arrived in’.
English: I arrived in Spain on Monday.
Español: Llegué a España el lunes.
English: The package should arrive in Lima next week.
Español: El paquete debe llegar a Lima la semana que viene.
6. Estar en – to be at, to be in, to be to
The combination of estar and en only causes issues in certain circumstances. Students tend to make mistakes with this preposition combination when referring to movement in the past or future. For example:
English: I have only been to Mexico twice.
Español: Solo he estado en México dos veces.
English: I’m going to be at the train station at 7 pm.
Español: Voy a estar en la estación a las 7.
7. Venir de, venir a – to come from, to come to
The verb venir can refer to a place that you came ‘from’ or a place that you came ‘to’. You can even combine the two prepositions in one sentence.
English: The message could have come from anywhere.
Español: El mensaje pudo venir de cualquier parte.
English: We came from the mountains to the beach on foot.
Español: Vinimos de las montañas a la playa a pie.
8. Volver de, volver a – to return from, to return (to)
Similar to venir, we can also use volver with de and a for returning ‘from’ or returning ‘to’. Note that we sometimes don’t use a preposition with return in English.
English: I returned home last night at 9 pm.
Español: Anoche volví a casa a las 9.
English: We returned from the jungle after being lost for 3 days.
Español: Volvimos de la selva después de estar perdidos durante 3 días.
9. Salir de – to leave from
We can use salir to leave ‘from’ a destination or to get out ‘of’ a situation.
English: I have to get out of this interview.
Español: Tengo que salir de esta entrevista.
English: The boat left the dock on time.
Español: El barco salió del muelle a tiempo.
10. Parecerse a – to look like
From experience, this verb and preposition combination seems to be more difficult than the rest.
When two things or people seem alike or look alike, then you’ll want to use the reflexive form of parecer with the preposition a.
English: He looks a lot like his brother.
Español: Se parece mucho a su hermano.
English: Australia rules football does not look like European football.
Español: El fútbol australiano no se parece al fútbol europeo.
11. Dejar de – to stop, to quit
When you want to refer to stopping something or quitting a job, then you can use dejar in combination with de.
English: My phone has stopped working.
Español: Mi teléfono ha dejado de funcionar.
English: I’m never going to stop playing the guitar.
Español: Nunca voy a dejar de tocar la guitarra.
12. Ayudar a – to help
While it is possible to find ayudar without a preposition, in most contexts you’ll need the preposition ‘a‘.
Moreover, if you want to help ‘to do’ something, then you’ll need to fit in the preposition ‘a‘ between ayudar and the other verb.
English: I can help you move into the new apartment.
Español: Te puedo ayudar a mudarte al nuevo apartamento.
English: The medication helped reduce my headache.
Español: El medicamento me ayudó a reducir el dolor de cabeza.
13. Aprender a – to learn
Similar to ayudar, if you just want to learn ‘something’ then you don’t need a preposition.
But, if you want to learn ‘to do’ something, then you’ll need the preposition ‘a‘ between aprender and the other verb.
English: I’m afraid of water because I never learned to swim.
Español: Me da miedo el agua porque nunca aprendí a nadar.
English: Next week we’re going to Thailand to learn how to scuba dive.
Español: La semana que viene vamos a Tailandia para aprender a bucear.
14. Terminar de – to finish
If you want to say that you have or you haven’t finished ‘doing’ something, then you’ll need to use terminar with the preposition de.
English: I haven’t finished eating yet.
Español: Todavía no he terminado de comer.
English: I will finish reading the newspaper on the train.
Español: Voy a terminar de leer el periódico en el tren.
15. Comenzar a – to start to
Similar to terminar, if you want to say you have or haven’t started ‘doing’ something, then you’ll need comenzar with the preposition a.
English: I’m sorry, I will start to clean my room soon.
Español: Lo siento, voy a comenzar a limpiar mi habitación pronto.
English: Before starting to watch television, can you please take out the rubbish?
Español: Antes de comenzar a ver la televisión, ¿por favor puedes sacar la basura?
16. Tratar de – to try to
The most important thing to remember with tratar is to not get it confused with intentar. While these two verbs are interchangeable, tratar needs a preposition and intentar does not.
English: I’m trying to run ten kilometers in under sixty minutes.
Español: Estoy tratando de correr diez kilómetros en menos de sesenta minutos.
English: He tried to leave the party without saying goodbye.
Español: Trató de salir de la fiesta sin despedirse.
17. Entrar en – to enter into
In English, we can use ‘enter’ without a preposition, but in Spanish, you will generally need the preposition en.
English: I’m not ready to enter another competition this weekend.
Español: No estoy listo para entrar en otra competencia este fin de semana.
English: When I entered the room, everyone looked at me.
Español: Cuando entré en la habitación, todos me miraron.
18. Soñar con – to dream about
One of the strangest combinations on the list is ‘soñar con‘ which means ‘to dream about’.
English: I used to dream about being an astronaut.
Español: Solía soñar con ser astronauta.
English: Last night, I dreamt about living on the moon.
Español: Anoche soñé con vivir en la luna.
19. Casarse con – to get married to
When you get married ‘to’ someone in Spanish, you need to use the reflexive verb casarse with the preposition con.
English: This week, I’m getting married to my high school sweetheart.
Español: Esta semana, me caso con mi novia del instituto.
English: My father married my mother in 1972.
Español: Mi padre se casó con mi madre en 1972.
20. Acordarse de – to remember (about)
Similar to the behaviour of tratar de and intentar, the Spanish verbs recordar and acordarse de are completely interchangeable in certain circumstances. But, again, the key is to remember that you must use de with acordarse.
English: Do you remember the time we got lost in Peru?
Español: ¿Te acuerdas de la vez que nos perdimos en Perú?
English: I don’t remember what happened.
Español: No me acuerdo de lo que pasó.
If you would like to learn more about these two verbs for remembering, you can read all the details for recordar and acordarse here. In addition, the last example had another important structure for lo, which you can read about in the 4 main uses of lo.
21. Olvidarse de – to forget about
When you want to talk about forgetting something you can choose between olvidar and olvidarse. Again, similar to remembering something, if you choose to use the reflexive form, you need to be careful with the preposition de.
English: I think he forgot to give her the keys.
Español: Creo que se olvidó de darle las llaves.
English: I forgot to speak to my boss about our vacation plan.
Español: Me olvidé de hablar con mi jefe de nuestro plan de vacaciones.
22. Alegrarse de – to be glad about
If you want to say you are glad ‘about’ something then a good option is alegrarse with de.
English: I’m really glad about that.
Español: Me alegro mucho de eso.
English: She was glad to see you.
Español: Se alegró de verte.
23. Reírse de – to laugh at
When you want to laugh ‘at’ something in Spanish, you should use reírse with the preposition de.
English: Everyone laughed at me.
Español: Todo el mundo se rió de mí.
English: We laughed at his strange costume for the party.
Español: Nos reímos de su extraño disfraz para la fiesta.
24. Oler a – to smell of, to smell like
If something smells ‘of’ or smells ‘like’ something else, then oddly you’ll need the Spanish verb oler with the preposition a.
English: My grandmother’s garden always smells of lavender.
Español: El jardín de mi abuela siempre huele a lavanda.
English: After the festival, my clothes smell like smoke.
Español: Después del festival, mi ropa huele a humo.
25. Enfadarse con – to get angry at
While you can get angry ‘with’ something in English, it is common to get angry ‘at’ something too. In Spanish, you’ll want to stick with enfadarse and con.
English: Please don’t be angry at me but I forgot the tickets to the concert.
Español: Por favor, no te enfades conmigo, pero olvidé las entradas del concierto.
English: My dad got really mad at my brother when he left the window open and the carpet got soaked from the rain.
Español: Mi padre se enfadó mucho con mi hermano cuando dejó la ventana abierta y la alfombra se mojó por la lluvia.
You now have a solid list of common verbs and their prepositions to practice and use.
Try to pick a few from the list above that you weren’t familiar with before reading this post and then test them out in your next Spanish conversation.
What sentences can you create using this list of common Spanish verbs and their prepositions?