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Spanish adverbs atrás / detrás and the preposition tras.

The use of these three words can be confusing for Spanish students. Today we'll learn when and how to use them.

  • Adverbs Atrás / Detrás
    First of all…What's and adverb? An adverb is a word, not variable, that can modify a verb or an adjective, but never another adverb. There are several types of adverbs, to express time, place, quantity, etc.

    In this case, atrás and detrás are both adverbs. So, is there any difference between them? Yes. detrás indicates position, situation, and atrás implies movement. To understand the difference between both adverbs, we have two sentences:

    - La silla está detrás de la mesa.
    - El niño fue atrás

    The first sentence is telling us that "The chair is behind the table" (position, situation), and the second one that "The boy went backwards" (movement).

    While Detrás can be followed by a complement (in this case "de la mesa"), the adverb Atrás is usually preceded by a preposition (excluding preposition "a", as it is already included in this word).

  • Preposition trás
    We should first review what's a preposition. A preposition is a word usually followed by a noun, pronoun or verb (Note that in this case, that verb works as a noun).

    This preposition, tras, can be translated as "after" or "behind":

    - El juguete está tras la puerta" (The toy is behind the door)

    Remember that tras is a preposition but, in a sentence, is equivalent to the use of the adverb (expression) detrás de:

    El gato está tras la mesa / El gato está detrás de la mesa.
I hope you find the explanation clear enough, but if you have a question or doubt, feel free to e-mail me or just post a message at the forum.

¡Que tenga un buen día!
Angeles F.

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I write monthly articles for "Think Spanish" ("Piensa en español") since 2002. All "Think Spanish" articles are written in Spanish, and they include a Spanish/English glossary. You'll also have the option to buy this magazine including a CD. Nice way to learn about Spanish language and customs!

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