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 often implies a broader sense 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, for example. E.g. aqui ao meu lado, (here by my side).
The potential difference between cá and aqui is more obvious when you want to indicate the exact position of an object.
For example, if you wanted to communicate than an object 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 vaguely say that the chair was somewhere in the area.
Setting aside the guidelines mentioned above, it’s also important to mention that there are common expressions that specifically use one of these specific adverbs instead of 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
In this first case with aí, we’re saying that the pen is close to the listener.
By using ali, we’re implying that the pen 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.
This last option with lá, is the best way to make it clear that the pen is far away, out of sight and reach – For example, you’re at home and you forgot it at the office.
Let’s check out a couple more examples:
In the first sentence, you’re most likely referring to someone who lives in the same neighbourhood where you currently are. You might even be able to see the house from a distance.
In the second sentence, we use lá, because you’re talking about someone who lives in a different country. If it were the same country, you’d have used cá.
Spatial Relationships with Este, Esse and Aquele
- Este – Cá, Aqui
- Esse – Aí
- Aquele – Ali, Lá
…if you already happen to understand the differences between those demonstratives, then you’ll be well on your way to mastering these adverbs!