I’m always looking for ways to make my Spanish sound more fluid, natural and native-sounding.
Luckily for me, there’s one method of doing this that’s built right into Spanish grammar: Contractions!
There are only two Spanish contractions—al and del—and learning them is an integral part of speaking correct Spanish.
By employing Spanish contractions in your daily speech, you’ll avoid tripping over awkward sentence constructions and sound more natural in the process.
The grammar rules behind Spanish contractions are simple to learn. In fact, the hardest part of learning these contractions is remembering to use them in your daily Spanish speech!
In this article, you’ll learn it all, and you’ll even find a few Spanish sayings that incorporate al and del to help you commit this new grammar rule to memory.
But first, let’s start with the basics.
What’s Up with Al and Del? Learning and Using Spanish Contractions
What Are the Spanish Contractions?
The Spanish language has two contractions: al and del.
Al is a contraction of the two Spanish words a and el, and can mean many things, such as “at the” or “to the.”
Del is a contraction of the words de and el. It can mean “from the” and “of the,” among other things.
In English, contractions are optional. For example, in English you can write “do not,” and it’s every bit as grammatically correct as “don’t.” In Spanish, this isn’t the case. If you have the words a and el or de and el next to each other, you must contract them. Saying voy a ir a el parque (I am going to the park), for example, is grammatically incorrect.
Note that contractions only happen with the article el. You’ll never see a contraction with the other articles: la, los and las.
To get a better sense of how and when to use Spanish contractions, check out FluentU.
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When Not to Form a Contraction
Remember two sentences ago when I said that contracting a+el and de+el is obligatory? Well… let’s back up a second. There are two important exceptions to keep in mind.
First off, don’t form a contraction if the el is part of a proper noun, such as a city name or book title. Many cities and towns in the Spanish-speaking world—and even some countries—start with articles. Take, for example, the Argentinian town El Chalten.
Vamos a ir al Chalten.
Vamos a ir a El Chalten.
We’re going to go to El Chalten.
The same happens with book and movie titles that start with el.
Jorge Luis Borges es el autor del “otro.”
Jorge Luis Borges es el autor de “El otro.”
Jorge Luis Borges is the author of “The Other.”
The second time that you shouldn’t form a contraction is when you’re dealing with the pronoun él rather than el.
These two little words might look similar, but that accent mark makes all the difference. To refresh, el (no accent mark) is an article, like the English word “the,” used for masculine-gendered nouns. On the other hand, él (with an accent mark) is a pronoun for masculine-gendered people or nouns, like the English words “he,” “him” or “it.”
You’ll frequently see the word él after the prepositions a and de. However, make sure to pay close attention to that accent mark and avoid contracting.
Le dí el regalo al.
Le dí el regalo a él.
I gave the gift to him.
Al le gusta el fútbol.
A él le gusta el futbol.
He likes soccer.
How to Use Al And Del
It’s all well and good to know that you need to contract a+el and de+el. But what use is that to you if you don’t actually know when to use a and de? We’ll break it down for you here.
When to Use Al
To describe motion towards a place
Like the English preposition “to,” use a to describe somebody moving towards a place. When that place happens to begin with the article el, you get al.
Ella va al cine todos los viernes.
She goes to the movie theater every Friday.
To describe location
Use a like the English “at” to describe a location.
Te espero al final de la cola.
I’ll wait for you at the end of the line.
To describe the end of a period of time
Like the English “to” or “until,” use a to describe when a period of time ends. Again, if your ending point happens to begin with el, use the contraction al.
Ella va a estar aquí del lunes que viene al viernes siguiente.
She’s going to be here from next Monday until the following Friday.
To introduce an indirect object, after certain verbs
Certain verbs in Spanish require an a after them. After the a comes the indirect object of the sentence. If the indirect object starts with el, you’ll form the contraction al. One example of such a verb is acercarse a (to approach).
Me acerco al coche.
I approach the car.
The personal a
In Spanish, you need to use a to introduce a direct or indirect object if that object happens to be a person. There’s no equivalent to this in English, so it’s a grammar rule that you’ll just have to learn and adjust to in Spanish.
Vi a Joaquín en el supermercado.
I saw Joaquín in the supermarket.
Note: There are many other usages of a—such as in time expressions and before infinitive verbs—but since those never match up with the preposition el, they’re not relevant to this article. If you want a more thorough run-down of when to use a, click here.
When to use del
To describe possession or ownership
In Spanish, there’s no equivalent to the English possessive ’s. Instead, to express possession, write the object, followed by de, followed by the owner.
La camiseta del chico
The boy’s shirt
To describe origin
When talking about where you or somebody else is from, use de. In some cases, this will require you to use the contraction del.
Soy del norte de España.
I’m from the north of Spain.
To talk about the beginning of a period of time
As stated previously, a demarcates the end of a period of time. On the flip side, de can express the beginning of a period of time.
Ella va a estar aquí del principio de junio a finales de agosto.
She’s going to be here from the beginning of June until the end of August.
To introduce an indirect object, after certain verbs.
Like with a, the preposition de is sometimes an integral part of verbs. One example is the verb acordarse de (to remember).
¿Te acuerdas del chico que conocimos en la feria?
Do you remember the boy who we met at the fair?
Again, there are many uses of de that aren’t covered here because they rarely or never turn into del. For a more thorough lesson on de, click here.
5 Useful Spanish Sayings with Al And Del
Having trouble keeping track of Spanish contractions? I always find that learning some short, snappy phrases helps me remember new grammar rules. If you memorize these phrases and repeat them to yourself often enough, the grammar aspect will soon become second nature!
Plus, in the meantime you’ll be learning new vocabulary and having a fun time trying to understand Spanish proverbs. Here are a few that use al and del.
Al hambre no hay pan duro.
Literal meaning: To hunger, there’s no stale bread.
Actual meaning: When you’re desperate, you’ll take what you can get even if it isn’t that great. Think of the English phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.”
Quien quita lo que da al infierno va.
Literal meaning: He who takes what he gives goes to hell.
Actual meaning: This one’s pretty straightforward! If you give something to somebody, you can’t change your mind later on and decide to take it back, or you’ll be considered a bad person.
Lejos de los ojos, lejos del corazón.
Literal meaning: Far from the eyes, far from the heart.
Actual meaning: This one’s similar to the English phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” It can specifically refer to a loved one who’s absent and therefore forgotten.
Del niño el beso y del viejo el consejo.
Literal meaning: From the child a kiss, and from the old man advice.
Actual meaning: One of children’s best qualities is that they’re unfailingly loving and caring. On the other hand, old people are wise. Therefore, you can get unconditional love from a young person but you should seek out somebody older and wiser if you truly need advice.
Del dicho al hecho hay un buen trecho.
Literal meaning: From what’s said to what’s done there’s a good stretch.
Actual meaning: Just because somebody says they’ll do something doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily follow through on their word. It takes a lot of effort to put what you’ve said into action.
So, the next time you ir al bar (go to the bar) with your Spanish-speaking friends, you can think to yourself:
Me acuerdo del artículo que leí en FluentU! (I remember the article I read on FluentU!)
Spanish contractions aren’t hard, and speaking them will make a great deal of difference in the fluency and correctness of your Spanish.
And why not try out one of these Spanish sayings while you’re at it?
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