One of the most difficult things for Spanish speakers to master when learning English is when to use “in” and when to use “on.” Except in obvious cases, such as “on the table” or “in the box,” mistakes are about as frequent as correct uses.
Spanish prepositions are generally less troublesome (no phrasal verbs), although there are some exceptions.
One example is the multi-purpose “a“, which means: to, at, and can even mean from or for.
When you buy something from someone, in Spanish you use “a” and not “de.”
Le compré el coche a mi vecino (with the shortened “se lo compré“), can mean I bought the car from my neighbor, or I bought the car for my neighbor.
Likewise, le compré flores a mi esposa, can mean I bought flowers for my wife, or I bought flowers from my wife.
The context is usually sufficient for an understanding, unless you’re dealing with someone with extraordinary habits in durable goods purchases, or who is married to a florist.
In the event of possible confusion, “para” can be used to stress “for.” Es para ti — it’s for you — but it would be wrong to use “de” to stress “from.”
Mexico in your inbox
Our free newsletter about Mexico brings you a monthly round-up of recently published stories and opportunities, as well as gems from our archives.