The Preposition "Em"


The preposition em in, on, at, about is usually a bit easier to understand compared to others. Although there are multiple uses, em most commonly refers to being “in” something, either physically or conceptually:

Estamos em Setembro We are in September
Ela está em Lisboa She is in Lisbon
Ela divide o quarto em dois She divides the room in two
Estar em dúvida To be in doubt
Ele está em boa condição física. He is in good physical condition.
Ela está em choque She is in shock

Other Meanings

Em can also have other meanings, such as about, on, and at.
Penso em ti I think about you
Ela aposta em mim She bets on me
Eles ficam em casa They stay at home


Let’s look at the contractions formed when em is combined with the definite articles o, a, os, or as:

o the a the os the as the
em in no na nos nas

Eles vivem no Japão They live in Japan
Estou na garagem I am in the garage
O jantar está na mesa Dinner is on the table
Tu pensas nas tuas amigas You think about your friends
Os livros estão nas caixas The books are in the boxes
Em also forms contractions when combined with the third-person personal pronouns ele, ela, eles and elas, as such:

ele he, him ela she, her eles they, them masc. elas they, them fem.
em in nele nela neles nelas

These contractions may define a position in relation to an object or subject, and as you’d expect, they also agree in gender and quantity with the noun they describe.
The word em can also be combined with demonstratives, as well as some other words, such as in the examples below:
Eu não confio nele I don't trust in him
O segredo está nela The secret is within her


  • In the quiz for this section you used the phrase “Eu estou a pensar em si”. It took a lot of research to understand the “a” between estou and pensar. I believe this is the present continuous tense of the verb pensar. Is this correct?

  • The lessons are incredible so far! muito obrigada! However could you please clear my confusion regarding the usage of definite articles when it comes to regions/cities/countries? From what i recall , we have to use definite articles for cities/ regions that are derived from a common noun , like O Porto for example. Do we have to stick to using a definite article for all country names like O Japão as mentioned in the example above?

    • Good question! So you’re right that there are some general rules, like cities deriving from a common noun, but there are some exceptions that don’t always stick to the rules. It’s another one of those things that you just have to memorize over time.

      Most of the time countries do get a definite article, but there are exceptions such as Portugal, Cuba, Israel, as well as many countries that used to be Portuguese colonies, such as Angola and Cabo Verde. Here’s a post in the forum where we discussed this topic that could be helpful:

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