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I have come across two translations: acerca de and sobre.

Which one is the most accurate translation for a construct such as “This book is about a cat” or “They are talking about you”?

If they both mean exactly the same thing, are there any preferences around using one over the other in your region?

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Personally, I'd use "Este libro se trata de..." and "Estan hablando de..." in these contexts. – Paul Oct 23 '13 at 2:27
up vote 3 down vote accepted

acerca de is more literally related to the English concept of about, both convey the concept of "near or around", in a figurative (and sometimes literal) sense.

sobre usually translates to the English word on.

Therefore, as with many phrases and words, you must translate the concept more than the word.

The book is about cats.

He was running about.

I'm about to leave.

And each of these have multiple possible synonymous expressions in English.

The book is on [the topic of] cats.

He was running all over the place.

I'm nearly ready to leave.

In Spanish, you see these translations follow more my second set of English phrases:

El libro es sobre los gatos.

Él estuvo corriendo en todos lados.

Estoy a punto de salir.

So in your specific example, sobre is the proper translation of the concept, and in English it's more like saying "on":

El libro es sobre la historia de America. (The book is on the history of America)

El gato está sobre la mesa. (The cat is on the table)

¡No camines sobre el pasto! (Don't walk on the grass!)

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Thanks for the detailed lowdown on the prepositions, Flimsy. Really appreciate the time you took to help me out. As for translating the concept instead of the word, well, that exactly was my idea throughout. I was intending to translate the idea of “about” in the sense of “concerning” or “relevant to”. For example, “This book is about a cat”. Would it be more colloquial to say, “Este libro es sobre un gato” vs. “Este libro es acerca de un gato”? I am asking this because I was listening to a podcast where they did use “acerca de” while I was expecting a “sobre” in that context. – TheLearner Oct 21 '13 at 12:30
"sobre" is more common for this context, although "acerca de" is neither unheard of nor incorrect. – Flimzy Oct 21 '13 at 12:35
It should be a punto instead of apunto. I am not allowed to do such a small correction myself, sorry. – Gorpik Oct 22 '13 at 11:57
@Gorpik: Thanks, corrected. – Flimzy Oct 22 '13 at 12:00

And you forgot that acerca de can be reduced to just de. Here in Spain I think we would translate those sentences this way:

  • This book is about a cat --> Este libro trata sobre un gato
  • They are talking about you --> Están hablando de ti

But other variations are possible and would not be unusual.

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Thanks for your response, Gorpik. Is there any grammatical or colloquial necessity to use tratar in your example? How about “Este libro es sobre un gato”? – TheLearner Oct 21 '13 at 12:28
@AmitSchandillia The verb ser cannot be used in that sense. In Spain we might use the verb ir: Este libro va sobre un gato or Este libro va de un gato, but never Este libro va acerca de un gato. – Gorpik Oct 22 '13 at 11:54
And what about tratar in this context? – TheLearner Oct 22 '13 at 13:45
Also, you say ser is not appropriate in this context. Then what about the following construct in one of the examples provided by Flimsy above: El libro es sobre la historia de America? – TheLearner Oct 22 '13 at 13:55
It is the same idea behind the word tratado, which is a book on a certain subject. The verb tratar can be translated as to deal. Not only in this context; if you have a deal with someone, you have a trato. And an agreement between several countries is a tratado. – Gorpik Oct 23 '13 at 6:27

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