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I recently came across a question in one of my self-study workbooks asking me to translate this sentence:

The smell of enchiladas circulates through the house.

I put:

El olor de las enchiladas circula por toda la casa.

However, the answer key lists the correct translation as:

El olor a enchiladas circula por toda la casa.

Why does this sentence use "a enchiladas" here instead of "de las enchiladas" (or simply "de enchiladas")? When I plug it into Google Translate, "El olor de las enchiladas," "El olor de enchiladas," and "El olor a enchiladas" all produce the same result.

The closest I could come to an answer was on this site, where it gives these uses for prepositions:

Preposition    Translation
a              to, at, from, by, on, for, upon
de             of, about, on, with, because of, by, at

The only guess I have based on that is that the general meaning of "of" in the English example corresponds more with "from."

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    I let someone else talk extensively about prepositions, but your observation is right. "El olor de las ..." means "The smell from..." and the sentence "El olor a ...." means "The smell of....". The long version of the first sentence would be "El olor que proviene/viene/sale de las....". Prepositions are hard and most of their uses you will have to learn by heart. – DGaleano Jun 16 '16 at 18:49
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    The two are grammatically correct. You should use one depending on the meaning. They have given good explanations of the different uses. I don´t know if you can deduce for a single sentence in english which one you shoud chose. With a context would be easier. – Julio Codesal Jun 17 '16 at 10:04
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    The smell of enchiladas sounds like the way enchiladas always smell, not just these ones. That's olor a enchiladas. If these particular enchiladas smelled differently than most enchiladas do, you might say olor de las enchiladas. – Walter Mitty Nov 4 '16 at 6:40
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I let someone else talk extensively about prepositions, but your observation is right.

"El olor de las ..." means "The smell from..."

and the sentence

"El olor a ...." means "The smell of....".

The long version of the first sentence would be "El olor que proviene/viene/sale de las...." that in English would be "The smell that is coming from....".

I can't think of a long version version for the second sentence. It just uses the preposition "a".

So I guess I agree with your book. :-)

Additionally, as Rodrigo pointed out in the comments, the sentence "El olor a rosas ..." as well as in English "The smell of roses ..." could mean that the smell comes from something that smells like the roses while "El olor de las enchiladas" definitely comes from enchiladas.

Prepositions are hard and most of their uses you will have to learn by heart.

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    Exacto. Y por su parte el olor a rosas evoca (o se siente como si fuera) el olor de las rosas. Por ejemplo, el olor a rosas que ahora percibo puede provenir tanto de las rosas del jardín como del aromatizante que compró mi abuela. – Rodrigo Jun 16 '16 at 21:19
  • Excelente adición @Rodrigo – DGaleano Jun 16 '16 at 21:22
  • Gracias, @Rodrigo y DGaleano. That makes sense. – valverij Jun 16 '16 at 23:35
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El olor de las enchiladas circula por toda la casa.

This means that the enchiladas are still present somewhere.

El olor a enchiladas circula por toda la casa.

In that case, the enchiladas were maybe eaten, but their smell is still in the air.

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