My understanding is that "arriba" = "above" and "de arriba" = "from above". For instance, I would use "de arriba" in:

Si me miras de arriba, no me doy cuenta (= If you look at me from above, I won't notice).

(example from https://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=arriba)

However, I have recently written:

Él dice la frase arriba (= He says the above sentence / sentence above).

A native Spanish speaker corrected it to "la frase de arriba". Why is "la frase arriba" incorrect?


In English, "above" can be used as an adjective as well as an adverb (also as a preposition, by the way). However, "arriba" is just an adverb. It can never be used as an adjective.

Thus, in "Él dice la frase arriba", "arriba" cannot possibly refer to "la frase", as adverbs cannot refer to nouns when they are by themselves. It can however refer to "dice", as in "Él lo dice arriba". Using the preposition "de" before the adverb allows it to refer to the noun as you intended:

Él dice la frase arriba. ¿Dónde lo dice? Arriba.

Él dice la frase de arriba. ¿La frase de dónde? De arriba.

  • Good answer. I'd say that adverbs typically don't modify nouns. However, we have the case of "así" which, being an adverb, can refer to a noun, as in: Nunca oí una frase así. – Gustavson Feb 14 '20 at 15:30
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    @Gustavson "Así" is typically an adverb, but it is used as an adjective in "una frase así". I didn't mean to say that no Spanish words could be used as both adjectives and adverbs, just that "arriba" couldn't be used in that way. – OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse Feb 14 '20 at 15:58
  • You are right. I had never seen it defined as an adjective in DRAE, but there it is. – Gustavson Feb 14 '20 at 16:17

In Spanish only adjectives can qualify a noun directly, for example "la frase anterior", "the previous (above) sentence".
Arriba is an adverb and cannot qualify a noun by itself, it must go either with a verb, e.g. "la frase que está arriba", or in some other construction such as the preposition "de": "la frase de arriba", i.e. "the sentence (which is) above". This construction applies to any other noun and adverb, as "la calle de Madrid", "la chica de ayer".
"De arriba" can be translated as "from above" with a verb indicating motion, such as "viene de arriba", "comes from above".

  • confusing with desde arriba – Iria Feb 13 '20 at 14:04

First of all, I am a native spanish speaker.

  1. Si me miras de arriba does not sound right to me, I would say 'si me miras desde arriba'. You are looking from (desde). 2.- la frase arriba does not sound very bad to me, but it can be improved. This is more how we would talk, we know which one we are referring to, from the context. 3.- la frase de arriba, we need de to complement, to link frase and arriba, that is an adverb. 4.- la frase desde arriba, desde... no, please in this case. It sounds really bad, we are not comming from, looking from, it is not from
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    "La frase arriba" is wrong as explained in other messages. No explanation other than "it sounds good to me". – Leo Feb 13 '20 at 15:44
  • one thing is how it is grammatically correct and another one is how people talk. I am pretty sure that it can be heard from some groups of native spanish speakers, low social class, low level of education...and so, it is like 'La Pepa dijo eso', La is wrong, clearly, but in some towns you can heard this article + noun construction a lot. As I said, this can be heard, but it is in speaking, – Iria Feb 13 '20 at 15:52
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    @Iria I fail to see how your comment has anything to do with what Leo said here. Anyway, I don't think a construction used by a large amount of native speakers can possibly be "wrong" just because you don't like it. – OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse Feb 13 '20 at 16:17

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