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 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.

em + a = na in the

Estou na escola I am in the school

em + o = no in the

Ela está no carro She is in the car

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

de + a = da of the

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

de + o = do of the

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
a to ao à aos às
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:

Em + uma = numa in a, on a

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 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!

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 topics we’ll cover, you can read more here:

 

Comments:

  • 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.

What did you think? Leave a Comment for Rui & Joel:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.