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The Preposition "A"

A is a very important and versatile Portuguese preposition. It can correspond to many different English words, depending on the context. For example:
Vou a Espanha no próximo ano paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I will go to Spain in the next year
Ela foi para lá a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio She went there on foot
Isto sabe a morango paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio This tastes like strawberry
daqui a uma semana paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio in a week – i.e. “From here to a week” – Within the time frame from now until a week from now
More often than not, it means “to”, but it’s important not to get tied to an exact translation, especially when it comes to words that serve a grammatical function, like prepositions.

A… or A?

It’s easy to mistake the preposition a with the definite article a. They both look the same, but they serve different functions in the sentence. As you hear or read a Portuguese sentence, think about whether “a” would make more sense as:

  • the word the (in which case it’s serving as a definite article for a feminine noun), or
  • something else! (in which case it is likely working as a preposition).

Contractions

Let’s see how we combine the preposition a with definite articles (o, a, os, as) to form contractions:

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

Here are a couple examples of these contractions in context:

Vou a + a cidade = Vou à cidade paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I'm going to the city

Nós vamos a + a frente de = Nós vamos à frente de... paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio We are ahead of...

Eles vão a + os Jogos Olímpicos = Eles vão aos Jogos Olímpicos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio They're going to the Olympic Games

Eles vão a + as 14h20 = Eles vão às 14h20 Play normal audio They are going at 14:20 (2:20p.m.)
 

Comments

  • It seems to me there’s a whole lot to “a” that could be covered here… In the grammar text I’m using, “Gramática Ativa”, there’s a lot about using “preposiçoes de tempo” that distinguishes between the use of “a”, “de”, and “em”. I would love it if you could provide more (information and quizzes) about using “a” as a preposition, since I’m finding it rather tricky! Thank you!

    • Thanks, that’s a good idea! We focused on just providing an overview of the prepositions in this unit, but we could work on creating more resources to help distinguish between when each is used. Ultimately, mastering these relies heavily on getting lots of exposure to different examples. So in the meantime, try to pay special attention to some of the different contexts where “a” is used as you work through the Units and also the Shorties.

  • I thought ‘sabe’ meant ‘he knows’ and to taste is ‘provar’. Have I missed something?

    • Olá, Brian. Yes, provar can refer to the action of tasting something, but when you want to describe what something tastes like, then we use the verb saber. So, saber not only means to know, but also to taste [like]. Here are some examples:
      – Eu sei o teu nome (I know your name).
      – Isto sabe bem, sabe a morango! Queres provar? (This tastes good, tastes like strawberry! Do you want to taste it?)

  • Could you explain when to use “para” and when to use “a” when you’re talking about going somewhere?
    In the first example, above, you’ve got “vou a Espanha no próximo ano” — but on the previous page there’s “eu vou para Portugal”.
    Thanks

    • Olá, Tim! Both prepositions describe a movement to a place. The difference between them is in the duration that they express. Usually, we say “vou a” for temporary/short-term movements and “vou para” for permanent/long-term movements. This is not as clear-cut as it may seem, though. Here’s a relevant forum topic where we’ve discussed this in more detail: “A” or “para” with verbs of motion?

  • Nós vamos à frente de…
    We are in front of…

    Doesn’t Nós vamos à frente de…
    translate as: We GO to the front?

    • Olá, Whit. “Vamos à frente” can mean “We go to the front”, but also “We’re ahead”. For example:
      – Vamos à frente da competição. (We’re ahead of the competition)
      – Vamos à frente na liga. (We’re ahead in the league)

      “We are in front of” is not an ideal translation, I’d say. Thanks for bringing our attention to it!

  • Not only are the individual lessons set up very well, but then the dialogues following the lesson provide further guidance/refinement which really adds to the learning process. It makes the whole experience feel personalized.

  • Olá –
    Realmente estou divertir-me os lições de “Practice Portuguese” mas tenho algumas perguntas. After learning more about prepositions, I find myself wondering about some of the phrases which appeared in earlier units, in particular:
    (1) Eu vou à praia aos sábados – why is it “aos sábados” and not “nos sábados” ?
    (2) Apareces no almoço amanhã? – why is it “no almoço” and not “para almoço” (as in “apareço para jantar” ) or “a almoço” ?
    Muito obrigado pela ajuda !

    • Olá, Peter. Ainda bem que estás a gostar das lições!

      Answering your questions:
      (1) We use the preposition “a” (aos) because we’re referring to an habitual/repeated action. It’s also why the day of the week is pluralized.
      (2) “Almoço” is a noun here, so we say “no almoço”. If we used the infinitive form of the verb almoçar, we would then say “para almoçar”. Similarly, in “para jantar”, “jantar” is not a noun (dinner), but the infinitive form of the verb jantar (to dine/to have dinner). It just so happens that the infinitive and the noun look the same, which doesn’t happen with “almoço”/”almoçar” 🙂

      • Obrigado Joseph

        (1) Makes sense – so for habitual actions – “a” is used rather than “em’ (as in “on Saturdays”)
        (2) Are you saying that one only uses “para” for as a “traditional adverb” (struggling to name something which only modifies a verb) ? So it is “at lunch” rather than “for lunch” in Portuguese ?

        • De nada, Peter. For (2), I actually gave you an incomplete answer before, so let me complete it now. If we want to use “para” with the noun “almoço” in this context, although we shouldn’t do it directly (e.g. “para almoço”), we can do it if we add the definite article in between as a connecting element: “para o almoço”. That’s pretty much what happens with “no almoço”, since “no” = em + o. So yeah, you can still think of it as “for lunch” (or literally “for the lunch”).

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