Portuguese has several advérbios de lugar adverbs of place to indicate the relative position of a person or object. Five of them are particularly useful to learn: cá, aqui, aí, ali and lá.
In short, cá and aqui both mean here. Aí, lá, and ali mean there. Below we’ll explore the finer differences between each of these words.
Using Cá vs. Aqui
For the most part, cá and aqui can be considered synonyms. They both indicate a position close to the speaker. While aqui is commonly used in both Portugal and Brazil, cá is, for the most part, specific to European Portuguese. Some people will use them interchangeably, but in theory, cá is less specific than aqui. Let’s see some examples:
In this case, when you use cá, you might simply be saying that your family is in the same country or town as you are (e.g. cá em Portugal – here in Portugal).
On the other hand, if you use aqui, it can imply that your family is much closer to you — in the same room or building, or even right next to you (e.g. aqui ao meu lado – here by my side).
The difference between cá and aqui is more obvious when you want to indicate the exact position of an object. If you wanted to communicate that the chair was right next to, you would use aqui to express that, because that’s the adverb that really pinpoints an exact location. You would only use cá if you just wanted to say that the chair was somewhere in the general area.
Setting aside the guidelines mentioned above, it’s also important to mention some common expressions that use one of these specific adverbs over the other:
Anda cá Come here.
Chega aqui Come here; come closer.
Cá estamos nós! Here we are!
Aqui vou ser feliz I'm going to be happy here.
Using Aí, Ali and Lá
These are the adverbs we use when something is farther away from us.
When it’s a location far from you, but close to your listener, you use aí.
When it’s far from both of you, but still relatively close (and often still visible to both of you), you use ali.
When it’s very far from both of you, you use lá.
Let’s see some examples:
In this first example with aí, we’re saying that the pen is close to the listener.
By using ali, we’re implying that the pen is not close to either of us, but it’s still somewhere where we can see it or that it’s more or less within reach.
Here, using ali, you’re most likely referring to someone who lives in the same neighbourhood as where you currently are. You might even be able to see the house from a distance.
Using lá is the best way to make it clear that the pen is far away, out of sight and reach (for example, if you’re at home and you forgot it at the office).
Here we use lá because we’re talking about someone who lives in a different country. If it were the same country, we would have used cá.
Spatial Relationships with Este, Esse and Aquele
- Este – Cá, Aqui
- Esse – Aí
- Aquele – Ali, Lá
…if you happen to already understand the differences between those demonstratives, then you’ll be well on your way to mastering these adverbs!