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The Ultimate Guide to PREPOSITIONS OF TIME in Spanish

The Ultimate Guide to PREPOSITIONS OF TIME in Spanish

In this article, you will learn algunas preposiciones temporales (a couple of temporal prepositions in Spanish) and how to use them correctly. If you are not sure about what prepositions are or how they work, estás leyendo el artículo correcto (you’re watching the right video!). I’ll teach you chunks that will allow you to fully grasp which prepositions are used in Spanish, así que ¡vamos a darle!

What are prepositions?

In a nutshell, las preposiciones son palabras o frases (prepositions are words or phrases) that provide us with information about place, time, manner, or reason. In this article, we will focus on those that express time.

For example, let’s say I am to meet with a friend at a restaurant, pero se me hizo tarde (but I’m running late). My friend calls me and complains, “Quedamos de vernos a la 1” (Literally, we agreed on seeing one another at 1, but in a more idiomatic way, this means “We were supposed to meet at 1”). 

The preposition in this sentence is “a“. This preposition has different meanings, but in this case it is the equivalent of “at”: “a la una” (at one). 

You should bear in mind that prepositions cannot be translated literally and there’s really no point in learning them in isolation like you would with vocabulary lists. So, it’s important that you learn and understand how prepositions work in actual context. To do that, I recommend that you learn the following chunks by heart. 

Chunks, as we call them at Spring Spanish, will allow you to automatically know which preposition you should use without worrying too much about grammar rules.

Temporal prepositions in Spanish

Let’s go over temporal prepositions, that is, prepositions that provide us with time-related information. 

To set the time of a meet-up, for instance, you could ask, “¿A qué hora nos vemos?” (At what time should we meet? —Literally, at what time should we see each other?) The preposition in this case is “a” (again) and, in this context, it could be translated as “at”.

Your friend or friends will respond, “Nos vemos por la tarde, a las siete” (Let’s meet in the afternoon, at 7. —Literally, we'll see each other in the afternoon, at 7), or if they are morning birds, they could say, “Nos vemos en la mañana, a las 8” (Let's meet in the morning, at 8). 

There are two prepositions in each of these examples: “por” in “por la mañana” and “a” in “a las 7“. Notice how “por” is used to refer to a non-specific time of day, while “a” specifies the time. The same happens in the other example: “en la mañana” (in the morning) is general, while “a las 8” is specific.  

Now, you might have noticed something and might be asking: wait a minute, she just said “por la tarde” and now she’s saying “en la mañana”! Why?! The reason is that Spanish is a very diverse language. Therefore, there are countries, like Cuba, where people say “por la tarde” or “por la mañana”, while there are countries, like Mexico, where people prefer to say “en la tarde” or “en la mañana”, but they mean exactly the same thing!

Prepositions may be combined

So, as shown in these sentences, prepositions may be combined. Let's go over another set of examples.

Think of how shops, restaurants, and bars usually have a sign indicating their opening hours. In Latin America, la vida nocturna suele durar mucho (nightlife is usually very long), so don’t be surprised when finding out that most bars are open de 10 de la noche a 7 de la mañana (from 10 pm to 7 am). Woo! ¡Party loca! 🥳 Which are the prepositions in this case? “De” tells us the start time and “a” tells us the end time: “de 10 a 7“. 

Now, be careful! Some prepositions are very nosy and want to take part in pretty much all conversations. So, in this phrase (de 10 de la noche a 7 de la mañana) “de” is telling us the start time, but it is also specifying the time of day: “de la noche” and “de la mañana“. If translated literally, this would be something like “10 of the night” and “7 of the morning”. It definitely sounds awkward, but you should learn the difference because Spanish speakers don't say “10 en la mañana“, as you do in English. 

So, as you can see, bars in Latin America operate durante la noche (throughout the night). “Durante” is a preposition that allows us to express duration, which could also be expressed by combining the prepositions “desde” and “hasta”.

For example, “La fiesta duró desde las 9 hasta las 5” (The party lasted from 9 to 5). This idea could also be expressed by saying: “La fiesta empezó a las 9 y terminó a las 5″ (The party started at 9 and ended at 5). Pff! What a party! 

Now, “desde” may mean “since” in sentences like: “Me gusta el chocolate desde niña” (I love chocolate since I was a little girl) or “No he viajado desde 2018” (I haven't travelled since 2018).

Talking about past events

If you want to talk about events further in the past, the prepositions you should use are “hace” and “desde hace“. “Hace” is the equivalent of “ago”, while “desde hace” is the equivalent of “for”. 

Look at these examples: 

  • El muro de Berlín cayó hace 31 años. (The Berlin Wall fell 31 years ago.) 

Do you notice something funny? In English, the preposition goes after the time: 31 years ago, but in Spanish the preposition goes before the time: hace 31 años

  • El muro de Berlín no existe desde hace 31 años” (Literally, The Berlin Wall has not existed for 31 years). So, again, “desde hace” is the equivalent of “for”. 

Should we take it a step further? 

  • El muro de Berlín cayó en octubre de 1989, hace 31 años.

Tell me in the comments below which are the prepositions in this sentence.

If you've been paying attention, you already know that “de” is a preposition. But in the phrase “de Berlin“, this preposition expresses location, not time. Remember that this preposition is among those that are very nosy. 

Ya sé, estás por tirar la toalla (I know! You might be thinking about giving up.) Well, don't! I have a whole video about locative prepositions, that is, those that express location. So, check it out to fully understand this topic! 

Let's add another preposition, but we'll still talk about the Berlin Wall just because Berlin is my favorite city in the world: 

  • El muro de Berlín existía antes de 1989. (The Berlin Wall existed prior to or until 1989).

Now, why don't you try to fill in the blanks in the following sentences?

  1. Me gusta el chocolate ___ niña. 
  2. Abrimos ___ 7 de la noche ___ 1 de la mañana.
  3. Nos vemos ___ la tarde, ___ las 6. 
  4. El muro de Berlín cayó ___ 31 años. 

Remember, try to write your answers in the comments below!

FREE Spanish Training

¡Muy bien! Now you know the most common temporal prepositions in Spanish! Ya puedes fijar horas (You may now set the time) y hablar de fechas y acontecimientos (and talk about dates and events). 

The easiest way to start using prepositions correctly in conversations is to just learn the prepositions by heart with whole phrases (or chunks, like we call them), so take some time to memorize “por la tarde”, “a las 7”, “desde hace 31 años”, etc, by heart. 

Now, if you want to take it a step further and get serious about learning Spanish, you should know that we have a whole series of Spanish beginner videos. So, feel free to check them all out on our channel. You may also want to have a look at our Spring Spanish Academy Courses, where we teach you Spanish with the chunks mentioned above! 

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