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On the Duolingo app for learning Spanish, there is a test question that prompts the user to translate The train station is close to the university. to Spanish. I entered...

La estación de tren está cerca a la universidad.

...which was marked as incorrect by the app. The correction made by the app was...

La estación de tren está cerca de la universidad.

However, page 249 of the book "Spanish for Dummies" states the following...

  • a can mean to or at
  • de can mean of, from, or about

So, there seems to be a discrepancy between the Duolingo app and the "Spanish for Dummies" book.

Why is cerca a la universidad incorrect?

Why is cerca de la universidad correct?

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    I don't think prepositions have explanations. They don't have a lot of rhyme or reason. There are certain phrases that use one preposition or another. You just have to get used to them. // I can think of a rationalization: cerca a is hard to pronounce in a way that shows clearly that there is a second word (a). – aparente001 Jul 11 '19 at 4:09
  • For me both are correct and Duolingo is wrong on excluding one. – DGaleano Jul 11 '19 at 15:12
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    Well Fundeau explains that Duolingo is correct, however in Colombia is very common the "incorrect" form. I just learned this. See Fundeau explanation here fundeu.es/recomendacion/cerca-de – DGaleano Jul 11 '19 at 15:17
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There is no discrepancy:

  • Spanish for Dummies is teaching you what the prepositions mean in English;
  • Duolingo is teaching you how to use them in Spanish.

Actually, the only reason you think the prepositions do not fit is because you are translating "close" (an adjective) as cerca (an adverb).

In English, "close" is an adjective. Its literal translation to Spanish would be the adjective cercano. And indeed, if you pick this translation, the expression "close to" should be translated as "cercano a":

The train station is close to the university.
La estación de tren está cercana a la universidad.

And so, the prepositions fit.
The problem is — nobody says that in Spanish! We don't use adjectives to talk about relative distances; we use adverbs.

In Spanish, cerca is an adverb. Its literal translation to English would be the adverb "near", which is most commonly used without a preposition, so we cannot use it as an example -- but we can make one with its antonym "far" and the Spanish lejos:

The train station is far from the university.
La estación de tren está lejos de la universidad.

As you see, the prepositions match once again.

This was just an attempt at rationalizing this particular use of prepositions, but rules are kind of blurry in Spanish and English as well (why do you say "far from" but "near to"? 🤷‍♂️). So as a general rule the best you can do is learn their uses by heart.

| improve this answer | |
  • Sorry to disagree with the part where you say that no body says "cercano a" in Spanish. That is the common way in Colombia. Even more, the public announcements on the Medellin metro all say "Proxima estación: xxxx. Estación cercana a xxxxx y a yyyyy". So for me both "cerca a" and "cerca de" are correct – DGaleano Jul 11 '19 at 12:51
  • Charlie's approach is a better tack to take. This answer doesn't work because in OP's example, "close" is being used with its adverb meaning (number 5 in the dictionary link you provided), not with its adjective meaning (number 4 which you linked to). Where is the station? If we say it is close, "close" tells us where, so it is an adverb. – aparente001 Jul 11 '19 at 14:27
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    It looks like "cercana a" is correct but not "cerca a" according to fundeau. I learned something new today. The "incorrect" form is very common in Colombia. So +1 :-) __ See fundeu.es/recomendacion/cerca-de – DGaleano Jul 11 '19 at 15:19
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    Check this map trends.google.com/trends/… We Colombians and many in Peru are using it wrong. – DGaleano Jul 11 '19 at 15:24
  • @walen - I can see why the way the definition is given in Merriam-Webster might lead you to that understanding. They did indeed write, "near in space." But if you look at the Oxford entry for close, the adjective referring to "near in space," you will not see any examples of "close to [something]." You will see "in close proximity to [something]" and just plain "close." No example sentences of the type "The station is close to campus." – aparente001 Jul 14 '19 at 3:15
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Apart from what walen said, you need to consider also that cerca de is an indivisible group, a prepositional phrase, two words that together act like a preposition. You cannot separate those two words if you want the meaning to hold, much like what happens to phrasal verbs in English.

So cerca de is, as a whole, a preposition meaning "in a nearby position", much like the old, now unused preposition cabe. There's another prepositional phrase with the same meaning that indeed uses the a preposition: junto a. So you can say:

La estación de tren está cerca de la universidad.
La estación de tren está junto a la universidad.

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  • I think the "junto a" example is a nice addition to the answer because it shows a similar example of an indivisible unit. But the stuff about "cabe" is pretty tangential and I think you could strengthen your answer by removing it. – aparente001 Jul 11 '19 at 14:29
  • @aparente001 I just wanted to show that there is (was) a preposition consisting of a single word with the same meaning as "cerca de". – Charlie Jul 11 '19 at 14:40
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    @walen reconozco que yo pienso igual que tú, que "cerca de" y "junto a" no son exactamente sinónimos, la sensación que me da es que "junto a" indica aun más cercanía, como indicando "pegado a", pero he querido redactar la respuesta en base a lo que pone el diccionario exclusivamente. – Charlie Jul 11 '19 at 15:24

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