Often the equivalent of the English "of," de is one of the most frequently used Spanish prepositions. Although most cases of "of" would be translated using de, the reverse isn't always true de is often used in ways that "of" isn't. This lesson will look at one way that de is used that may be unfamiliar to English speakers, namely as a part of descriptions.
One reason de is seemingly used so often is because English is quite versatile in its use of nouns to function as adjectives (when so used, they're sometimes called attributive nouns). So while in English we can talk about a lawn chair or a lawn mower, in Spanish we can't simply used the word for "lawn," césped, to describe the chair or the mower. To use césped as a descriptive word, we need to connect it with the noun using de. The terms instead become silla de césped (literally, a chair of lawn) and cortador de césped (literally, a cutter of lawn). (One type of lawn chair is also known as a tumbona.)
Here, then, are some examples of using de in descriptions:
To tell what something is made of:
- Los tres cerditos, atemorizados, corrieron a la casa de madera. The three little pigs ran in fear to the wood house.
- La ensalada de pollo es ideal para dietas. Chicken salad is ideal for diets.
- Los ladrillos de cristal son bloques de vidrio que se utilizan para la decoración. The crystal bricks are glass blocks used for decoration.
To indicate a type or category:
- Las minas de mejor reputación de platino son las de Colombia. The platinum mines with the best reputation are those of Colombia.
- ¿Con qué frecuencia debo chequear mi nivel de azúcar en la sangre? How often should I check the sugar level in my blood?
- La nueva moneda de veinte pesos tiene la imagen de Octavio Paz. The new 20-peso coin bears the image of Octavio Paz.
- Tenemos vestidos de noche para eventos sociales. We have evening wear for social events.
To indicate what something costs: Se invita a todos a una comida de $10 dólares tipo bufete en el restaurante. Everyone is invited to a $10 buffet meal in the restaurant.
To indicate where something is from: Son situados en una privilegiada y tranquila playa de la Costa Brava. They are located on a prestigious and quiet Costa Brava beach.
Although you certainly could translate most of these sentences to English using "of" and be understood, doing so would often sound clunky at best. It's best in these cases to think of de as a way that Spanish forms descriptions.
Sources: Most of the sample sentences in this lesson and others are adapted from articles and other resources written by native speakers. Among the sources consulted for this lesson are: Arquigráfico, La Cocina Fácil, FamilyDoctor.com, Noticabos.org, Rincón del Vago, ThinkMean.blogspot.com and Vestidosdnoche.com.