Prepositions in Portuguese

What is a Preposition?

In this Learning Note, we’ll learn about Portuguese prepositions, but first let’s review: what exactly is a preposition? Preposições paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Prepositions are short words that usually occur before a noun (or pronoun). They show how the noun relates to another element in the sentence in terms of time, location, movement, or other parameters.

For example, the English prepositions in, at, on, and through could be used to create prepositional phrases such as in the morning, at the park, on the table, and through the rain.

To get us started, here are a few examples of Portuguese prepositions that translate somewhat easily into English:

Ir de carro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio To go by car
Sou de Lisboa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I am from Lisbon
Eu espero por ti paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I wait for you
Eu vou para Portugal paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I go to Portugal
You may have noticed that the first two examples use the same word in different ways: de paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio by, from
Translating a preposition is often not very straightforward. There are many situations like this, in which a Portuguese preposition corresponds to multiple possibilities in English, or vice-versa.
Sometimes you’ll even come across Portuguese phrases that use a preposition, while the corresponding English translation does not. For example:
Eu vou para casa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I go home
Eu gosto de bacalhau paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I like codfish

Contractions Between Prepositions and Articles

In both English and Portuguese, prepositions are usually followed by an article (in the, at a, for the, etc.) Unlike English, however, in Portuguese you often combine the preposition with the article in order to form a new word. These are referred to as contrações paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio contractions

Prepositions + Definite Articles

The most common translation for “in” is em (one of the Portuguese prepositions). The word “the” corresponds to a for feminine nouns or o for masculine nouns. As a result, there are 2 different ways to say “in the“, depending on the gender of the noun that follows it.

em + a = na paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio in the

Estou na escola paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I am in the school

em + o = no paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio in the

Ela está no carro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio She is in the car

Now let’s see how the Portuguese preposition de contracts with o and a:

de + a = da paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of the

Está em cima da televisão paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio It's on top of the TV

de + o = do paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of the

Ele está em cima do banco paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio He is on top of the stool

There are many other contractions that are formed by combining different prepositions with the definite articles o, a, os, or as. Below is a useful table showing some prepositions on the left column, the definite articles they combine with along the top row, and their respective contractions in the body of the table:

o paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the os paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the as paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the
a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to ao paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio à paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio aos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio às paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
de paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of, by, from do paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio da paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio dos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio das Play normal audio
em paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio in, on, at no paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio na paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
por paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio for, by, through pelo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio pela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio pelos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio pelas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio

Prepositions + Indefinite Articles

Contractions can also be formed with indefinite articles: um, uns, uma, and umas.
Let’s see an example with the preposition em and the indefinite article uma:

Em + uma = numa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio in a, on a

Deve estar numa prateleira paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio It must be on a shelf

For the contractions between prepositions and the indefinite articles, the table is simpler. Again, you’ll see the prepositions in the left column, indefinite articles along the top row, and their respective contractions.

um paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a, an uma paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a, an uns paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio some umas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio some
em paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio in, on, at num paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio numa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nuns paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio numas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
de paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of, by, from dum paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio duma paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio duns paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio dumas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio

We’ll go over more examples of prepositions and contractions throughout this and future units.
For now, you should keep in mind that, while some of these prepositions can translate smoothly between Portuguese and English, most of the time you have to step back and focus on the construction and meaning of the entire phrase. Don’t get too caught up in the exact word-to-word translation, as you’ll discover that they are wildly inconsistent.
While you’ll learn some of the general rules about when to use each preposition, you’ll have to rely on experience and repetition over time. Even advanced Portuguese learners will commonly have doubts and make mistakes, so do your best to maintain a curious and patient mindset!

Learning More

We’ll let you practice using Portuguese prepositions in the following lessons of this unit (Prepositions 1), as well as in these future units: Prepositions 2 and Prepositions 3. If you’d like a preview of some of the other topics we’ll cover, you can read more here:

 

  • Thank you for your clear explanation but also for helping me to understand that it’s not just me – Portuguese prepositions really are tricky and that the mistakes I regularly make are not me being ‘stupid’.
    I’m now going to start a list of useful phrases which should (in time) help me to make fewer mistakes.
    Wish me luck!

    • That’s a good idea, Barbara! You’re right, these are really tough. Maybe think of a couple common phrases using each preposition. Once you have those down, it should make it easier to decide which preposition to use within other contexts. Also, just listening to the language being spoken more should help. Over time, with more listening practice, you’ll start to notice that a certain preposition just “sounds right” without having to think too much about it. Best of luck!

  • Excellent summary. I have been scratching my head over these for months. Now I can see the logic and pattern.

    • Olá, Jill. The table shows you how different prepositions (on the first column) can combine with different articles (on the first row) to form several contractions, which fill up the respective cells.
      Em (in/on/at) is one of those base prepositions on the first column, and you can read more about it here: The Preposition “Em”
      À (to the) is a contraction between the base preposition a (to) (The Preposition “A”) and the feminine singular definite article a (the) (Definite Articles in Portuguese)

      Apart from the Learning Notes I linked to above, you can also check this recent forum topic where we’ve been talking about precisely about how to use these words: How to Use Ao and No in Sentences

    • Olá, Ken. Some contractions are felt as essential, while others are optional. With indefinite articles, it often happens that contractions are not mandatory, such as in your example. With definite articles, save for some exceptions where the sentence structure requires it, not using contractions would sound very strange. For example, people don’t say “Estou em a escola”, instead of “Estou na escola” (I’m at school). It’s not easy to map out all of these variations, but we try to expose you to them throughout the units, etc.

  • I’m thoroughly enjoying the course but I have just been doing Smart Review and have a question. Why do you say “o cao nao quer sair da cama” but you do say “tu tens de sair de cama?” Should it not be same “de” or “da” for both? Apologies for lack of accents!
    .

    • Olá, Patrícia! With the noun cama, we always use da.
      – “O cão não quer sair da cama”
      – “Tu tens de sair da cama”

      The only exception is when we want to say that someone is bedridden: “Ela está de cama com uma gripe” (She’s bedridden with the flu).

      But maybe you meant “Tu tens de sair de casa?” -> We do use both “de casa” and “da casa”. Usually, the difference is that “de casa” (and “em casa”) refers to our home, while “da casa” (and “na casa”) refers to a house in general, and probably not our own.

  • Thanks for that. In the two sentences in Smart Review, they both used the verb “sair” and that is why I wondered why one used “da cama” in one sentence and the other “de casa” rather than using “da” in both. The sentence was translated by you must leave the house (rather than your home) which is why I was confused. Thanks for pointing out the difference between “de casa” and “da casa”.

  • Hi there a question pls : In Portuguese Num and No both mean : On.
    How do we differentiate between the two ? Thx

    • Hi! These words are both contractions of the preposition “em” combined with either a definite article (o/a – the) or indefinite article (um/uma – a). In most cases “num” will mean “in a” and “no” will mean “in the“. (However, there are some situations in which Portuguese requires a definite or indefinite article where we do not require one in English. In those cases, it will come down to getting more exposure to the language to know whether to use just “em”, “no”, or “num”.) 🙂

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