‘De’ vs ‘del’

‘De’ is a preposition that we use in a variety of different contexts, it can *sometimes* be translated to ‘from’ in English.

For example –

Juan es de Monterrey. = Juan is from Monterrey.

Tread carefully, though, as it can also be translated in a number of other ways, including (but not limited to) ‘of’ and ‘about’.

It´s also the Spanish equivalent of “apostrophe s”!

‘Del’ is the union of de’ with the definite article ‘el’. In grammar terms it’s a contraction, which is basically a shortened form of two different words. In this instance the second ‘e’ sound is omitted so we say ‘del’ NOT ‘deel’.

For example –

Juan es del norte.

Juan is from the north.

We DON’T say, ‘de el norte’, we instead make ‘de’ and ‘el’ into one word: ‘del’.


De’ vs ‘del’ vs ‘de la


As mentioned previously, ‘del’ is nothing more than the merging of ‘de’ and ‘el’ (so don’t get your knickers in a twist)!

To get a better feel for the two, let’s look at some uses of ‘de’, ‘del’ and also ‘de la’ (which is just the preposition ‘de’ followed by the feminine article ‘la’).

There are actually many, many uses of ‘de’ and it can be translated in a whole host of different ways. I personally tell my students not to learn the translations, but instead the uses themselves.


How to use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la

We use ‘de’, and therefore ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to talk about:

Origin

De’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ are used to refer to where someone is originally from. The English translation would (obviously) be ‘from’.

Juan es de Monterrey.

Juan is from Monterrey.



Juan es del norte.

Juan is from the north.



Juan es de la ciudad.

Juan is from the city.


Ownership

We use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to indicate that something belongs to someone.

It literally translates to ‘of’, but it basically does the same job as an “apostrophe + s”.

Esta es la casa de Ana.

This is Ana’s house.



Esta es la casa del hermano de Ana.

This is Ana’s brother’s house.



Esta es la casa de la hermana de Ana.

This is Ana’s sister’s house.


Relation

We use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to say that someone is related to someone else.

It applies to family, relationships, hierarchy at work and even pets. Again, it works in the same way as an “apostrophe + s”.

Mario es hermano de David.

Mario is David’s brother.



Nadia es novia del hermano de Tomás.

Nadia is Thomas´ brother’s girlfriend.



Roberto es esposo de la hija de Rosa.

Robert is Rose’s daughter’s husband.


Material

We use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to talk about what something is made of.

Este pastel es de elote.

This is a corn cake.



Este pastel es del queso que compraste.

This cake was made with the cheese you bought.



Este pastel es de la zanahoria que cultivamos.

This cake was made with the carrots we grew.


Erika’s top tip – note that in all the above examples we use a conjugation of the verb ‘ser’ (‘es’) as we’re referring to more “permanent” characteristics (i.e., relations, origins and the materials with which something is made).

Make sure to check out our article on ser’ vs ‘estar if you wanna find out more!


Content

We also use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ when referring to the contents of something.

It normally translates to ‘of’.

Quiero un vaso de agua.

I want a glass of water.



Quiero una copa del vino que trajiste.

I want a glass of the wine you brought.



Quiero un vaso de la chela* que hizo Ricardo.

I want a glass of the beer that Ricardo brewed.


*Erika’s note chela is Mexican slang for ‘beer‘.


Subject

We use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to say what we are talking about, or to explain what a film or book is about.

This one translates to ‘about’.

Estamos hablando de Fernanda.

We are talking about Fernanda.


 
Estamos hablando del clima.

We are talking about the weather.



Estamos hablando de la fiesta.

We are talking about the party.


Starting point

We use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to say when an action (or where a trip) starts.

It normally translates to ‘from’ in this context.

Trabajan de lunes a viernes.

They work from Monday to Friday.



Trabajan del amanecer al mediodía.

They work from dawn to noon.



Trabajan de la una a las seis.

They work from one to six.



El barco va de Veracruz a Yucatán.

The ship goes from Veracruz to Yucatan.



El barco va del puerto a la isla.

The ship goes from the port to the island.


Cause

We use ‘de’, ‘del’ and ‘de la’ to say why something happens.

Bruno lloró de alegría.

Bruno cried with joy.



Bruno se caía del cansancio.

Bruno could barely stand because he was so tired.



Bruno se murió de la fiebre.

Bruno died of the fever.


Purpose

We use ‘de’ to pair nouns (i.e., noun + de + noun); this structure is used to make clear what exactly the first noun is for.

In this context ‘de’ can´t really be translated because when we put nouns together in English, one of them always becomes an adjective, so there’s never any need for a preposition (i.e., ‘work clothes’, ‘emergency exit’, etc.)!

la ropa de trabajo = the work clothes

la salida de emergencia = the emergency exit

la pila del bautismo = the baptismal font

la sala de la cirugía = the operating room


Referring to something done quickly

Here we use ‘de’ in set phrases to emphasize that an action is done quickly.

It’s a bit like when we use ‘in one sitting’ or ‘in a jiffy’ in English.

Brenda se subió al coche de un salto.

Brenda got into the car in one swift movement.



Brenda abrió la puerta de un golpe.

Brenda opened the door in one push.



Brenda se tomó el vino de un trago.

Brenda drank the wine in one gulp.


 
Brenda se comió el pastel de una sentada.

Brenda ate the cake in one sitting.


Final thoughts

Prepositions are tough, aren’t they? The good news is that ‘in’, ‘on’ and ‘at’ are basically ‘en’ in Spanish and you´re now an expert on ‘de’ and ‘del’!!

Just remember, don’t learn the translations, learn the uses! Learning songs is also a fantastic way to remember the uses of prepositions because we can learn chunks instead of individual words.

Extra points if you recognized the phrase from the second part of “Las Mañanitas” in the examples!

Oh, and if you wanna learn more about Spanish prepositions, definitely check out my article on all the different ways to say on‘ in Spanish. You’ll never look back!


De’ vs ‘del’ quiz

Complete the sentences with ‘de’, ‘del’ or ‘de la’

1. ¿Ana es __________ España?

2. La casa de Juan es __________ madera.

3. Hablamos __________ problema con los vecinos.

4. Tomé una copa __________ vino.

5. Quiero un plato __________ sopa que hicimos ayer.

6. Julio me contó __________ boda de Nuria.

7. Compré una máquina __________ coser.

8. El taxi me llevó __________ playa al hotel.

9. Los niños se dormían __________ aburrimiento.

10. Vimos toda la nueva temporada __________ un jalón.

11. Estos gatos son __________ vecina.

12. Chispas es el gato __________ novio de Regina.

13. Víctor lloró __________ risa.

14. Estuvimos en Lisboa __________ martes al viernes.

15. Este es el carro __________ hermana de Bruno.


Answers

1. de

2. de

3. del

4. de

5. de la

6. de la

7. de

8. de la

9. del

10. de

11. de la

12. del

13. de / de la

14. del

15. de la

Carlos is a Spanish and English teacher. He studied Language and Literature and has a diploma in teaching Spanish as a foreign language from the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico.

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