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'De' Used Frequently To Form Adjectival Phrases

Lesson 2 in the 'Real Spanish Grammar' Series

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Excerpt from news article: Especialistas del Ministerio de Salud (Minsa) aconsejaron a la población evitar el exceso del consumo de bebidas alcohólicas por la llegada del Año Nuevo porque podría exponerlos a situaciones de violencia, accidentes de tránsito o relaciones sexuales de riesgo.

Source: RPP Noticias (Peru). Retrieved Dec. 29, 2012.

Suggested translation: Health Ministry (Minsa) experts advised the population to avoid excessive consumption of alcoholic drinks during the arrival of the New Year because it could expose them to violent situations, traffic accidents or risky sexual relations.

Key grammatical issue: This sentence shows how normal it is in Spanish to use the common preposition de in describing things where English typically does not use "of," its equivalent. Although each of the uses of de in this excerpt could have been translated using "of," doing so would come across as awkward.

Note how in the sentence de is repeatedly used to form a phrase that functions as an adjective. For example, de violencia — a word-for-word translation would be "of violence" — is used to mean "violent." Although it is grammatically correct to say situaciones violentas, situaciones de violencia is much more common. Similarly, although the adjective riesgoso is sometimes used to mean "risky," the phrase de riesgo (or, less frequently, con riesgo) is much more common.

De is also used to form adjectival phrases where no adjective exists. For example, there is no adjective meaning "traffic" in Spanish, and thus the use of the phrase de tránsito. In English, we can simply use a noun under such circumstances to function as an adjective, as "traffic" does in "traffic accident." Nouns used that way are known as attributive nouns, and they are extremely rare in Spanish, where they generally function as invariable adjectives. While in English you may safely use almost any noun as an adjective, that simply isn't done in Spanish — one noun that is used to affect the meaning of another must nearly always be linked to it with de or another preposition.

Other notes on vocabulary and grammar:

  • Del is a contraction or short way of saying de el, meaning "of the."
  • The preposition a frequently is used to indicate who or what is the recipient of a verb's action, and as such it is frequently translated as "to," as with its second usage in the excerpt (in the phrase exponerlos a situaciones). But it doesn't always have to be translated. In its first usage above (aconsejaron a la población), it is used to indicate who is receiving advice. As a transitive verb, aconsejar (to advise) requires an object. That object can take the form of either an object pronoun as in "Me aconsejaron" (they advise me) or as a noun following a as above.
  • The preposition por could have been translated more literally here with "through."
  • Llegada is a noun form of the verb llegar, usually meaning "to arrive."
  • Podría is a conditional form of poder.
  • Exponerlos is an example of an infinitive with an attached pronoun.
  • Porque is a common way of saying "because."
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  8. De Frequently Used in Spanish — A Lesson in the Real Spanish Grammar Series

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