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 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 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
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 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 contrações 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.Estou na escola I am in the school Ela está no carro She is in the car
Now let’s see how the Portuguese preposition de contracts with o and a:Está em cima da televisão It's on top of the TV Ele está em cima do banco 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 the||a the||os the||as the|
|de of, by, from||do||da||dos||das|
|em in, on, at||no||na||nos||nas|
|por for, by, through||pelo||pela||pelos||pelas|
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:
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 a, an||uma a, an||uns some||umas some|
|em in, on, at||num||numa||nuns||numas|
|de of, by, from||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 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!
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 topics we’ll cover, you can read more here:
- Por vs Para
- Using Tonic Pronouns with Prepositions
- Simple Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases
- Using Prepositions in European Portuguese Questions
- Combining Em With Demonstratives
- Combining De With Demonstratives
- Combining A With Demonstratives