Prepositions in Portuguese

What is a Preposition?

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 like 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 To go by car
Sou de Lisboa I am from Lisbon
Eu espero por ti I wait for you
Eu vou para Portugal I go to Portugal
You may have noticed that the first two examples use the same word in different ways: de by ~ from
There are many situations like this, in which a Portuguese preposition corresponds to multiple possibilities in English, or vice-versa.
Sometimes you’ll even see that a Portuguese phrase uses a preposition, while the corresponding English translation uses nothing:
Eu vou para casa I go home
Eu gosto de bacalhau 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 contractions (contrações).

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 in the

Example: Estou na escola I am in the school

em + o = no in the

Example: Ela está no carro She is in the car

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

de + a = da of the

Example: Está em cima da televisão It's on top of the TV

de + o = do of the

Example: Ele está em cima do bancoHe 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 preposições on the left column, the artigos definidos they combine with on the top line, and their respective contractions:

o a os as
a ao à aos às
de do da dos das
em no na nos nas
por pelo pela pelos pelas

Prepositions + Indefinite Articles

Contractions can also be formed with indefinite articles (artigos indefinidos)um, uns, uma, and umas.
Let’s see an example with the preposition “em” and the artigo indefinido “uma”:

Em + uma = numa in a, on a

Example: Deve estar numa prateleira It must be on a shelf

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

um uma uns umas
em num numa nums numas
de dum duma duns dumas

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 the 2 languages, most of the time you have to really step back and focus on the construction and meaning of the entire phrase. Don’t get too caught up in the exact translation of each preposition, 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!

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