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Spanish tip – Prepositions

Both a and en are prepositions.
The English equivalents for the Spanish preposition a are: to, at.

On the other hand, the preposition en has these equivalents: in, on, inside, at.

It is quite common, among Spanish language students, to use a instead of en and viceversa. This is due to the use of the equivalent prepositions in English. For example, imagine we say in English:

The boy is at the store.

Here, we have used the English preposition at. So, automatically, we'll translate this preposition at as a, due to their similarity:

El chico está a la tienda.

But this is wrong! The right translation is “El chico está en la tienda”.

There is an easy way to understand when we should either use a or en:

The preposition a is used with verbs of movement (“verbos de movimiento”). That is, verbs that imply movement, like “to go” (“ir”), “to run” (“correr”), “to travel” (“viajar”), etc.

On the other hand, the preposition en is used with verbs not implying the idea of movement, that is, verbs indicating location. For example: “to be” (“estar”) or “to live” (“vivir”).

Let's see some examples, using the above mentioned verbs:

Verbs of movement:
Voy a la universidad. (I go to the university.)
Juan corrió a la tienda, para comprar pan. (John run to the store, to buy some bread.)
Ellos viajan a Perú mañana. (They're travelling to Peru tomorrow.)

Verbs of location – not movement-:
Estoy en la universdad. (I am at the university.)
Vivimos en París. (We live in Paris.)

As you can see, Spanish verbs of movement in these sentences are followed by preposition a, and verbs not impling movement, are followed by preposition en.

So, clear ideas:
Preposition a --- With verbs of movement.
Preposition en --- No movement! Verbs indicating location.

If you want to know more about Spanish prepositions, the book Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions, Second Edition includes two parts: The first one is about Spanish pronouns (which are also important!) and the second is about Spanish prepositions (with a section about por and para).

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