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Prepositions are tricky to get right.

According to the on-line Oxford Dictionary: “A preposition is a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause, as in ‘the man on the platform’, ‘she arrived after dinner’, ‘what did you do it for?’.” On, after and for are the prepositions in these phrases and fairly straight forward for the average English speaker; however, for a Spanish speaker, when going from Spanish to English it is a mine field.The origin of the word itself gives a strong clue to what it does in a sentence.From the same source: “Late Middle English: from Latin praepositio(n-), from the verb praeponere, from prae ‘before’ + ponere ‘to place’. So it places something or someone in a space or in a moment in time.”In English if you are waiting for someone outside a museum, you are at the museum, not in the museum; but if you are inside the same, you can be both in or at the museum.Spanish Prepositions just as in English, define relationships between different objects within a sentence, establishing movement, time and position. Unfortunately they do not have a precise translation from Spanish to English or vice versa and there are fewer choices in Spanish. See the chart below.For the Spanish translator when going into English subtle changes in meaning can be affected by using the incorrect preposition. For example: “It’s OK by me to go to the movie.” Is quite different from “It’s OK for me to go to the movie.” The first may be related to objection and the second might have to do with restriction.As a slightly amusing side note, according to the same source above mentioned: “There is a traditional view, first set forth by the 17th-century poet and dramatist John Dryden, that it is incorrect to put a preposition at the end of a sentence, as in where do you come from? or she’s not a writer I’ve ever come across. The rule was formulated on the basis that, since in Latin a preposition cannot come after the word it governs or is linked with, the same should be true of English.The problem is that English is not like Latin in this respect, and in many cases (particularly in questions and with phrasal verbs) the attempt to move the preposition produces awkward, unnatural-sounding results.Winston Churchill famously objected to the rule, saying, ‘This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.’ In standard English the placing of a preposition at the end of a sentence is widely accepted, provided the use sounds natural and the meaning is clear.”This chart below demonstrates the many options a native Spanish translator has when trying to find the correct preposition when going into English.

Preposition in Spanish

Translation to English


to, at, from, by, on, for, upon


with, to


of, about, on, with, because of, by, at


in, on, at


towards, to, at about or around

These are bewildering choices for the non-native translator going into English and should not be taken lightly as a misuse can lead to misunderstanding, miscommunication or possible embarrassment.In a recent email submission to be included in our data base of translators, I spotted a clear example of a prepositional trip up. The prospective translator wrote: “My experience can give you the guarantee of a well-done job to satisfy a customer, for its accomplishment with accuracy as well as for the delivery in time for any last minute necessary changes.”I will leave a discussion of definite and indefinite articles and idiomatic expressions to another time and only dwell on the preposition “in” between the words delivery and time. It is almost right but not quite. Usually deliveries are made “on” time unless it is preceded with a word like “just” as in “I got there just in time to see the train vanish…” The preposition “in” can also be used when referring to an extended period as “In time you will learn the needed skills to do your job.”In the case cited above the writer sounds tone deaf and should not be trusted to translate from Spanish (in this case) to English; however, that is not to say they could not go the other way around.


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