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The Preposition "Em"


The preposition emin, 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 SetembroWe are in September
Ela está em LisboaShe is in Lisbon
Ela divide o quarto em doisShe divides the room in two
Estar em dúvidaTo be in doubt
Ele está em boa condição física.He is in good physical condition.
Ela está em choqueShe is in shock

Other Meanings

Em can also have other meanings, such as about, on, and at.
Penso em tiI think about you
Ela aposta em mimShe bets on me
Eles ficam em casaThey stay at home


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

othe athe osthe asthe
emin no na nos nas

Eles vivem no JapãoThey live in Japan
Estou na garagemI am in the garage
O jantar está na mesaDinner is on the table
Tu pensas nas tuas amigasYou think about your friends
Os livros estão nas caixasThe books are in the boxes
Em also forms contractions when combined with the third-person personal pronouns ele, ela, eles and elas, as such:

elehe, him elashe, her elesthey, them (masc.) elasthey, them (fem.)
emin 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 neleI don't trust (in) him
O segredo está nelaThe 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: https://forum.practiceportuguese.com/t/eu-moro-em-no-na/798/6

  • I understand this in principle, however I have read examples relating to country names which sometimes do and sometimes don’t contract em + article.

    For example:
    Ele gostou da tourada que viu em Espanha

    Ele não gostou muito da tourada que viu na Espanha

    I can’t understand why these two phrases are different when it comes to this contraction. Are both correct? And if so why?

    • Normalmente “Espanha” em Portugués é um dos poucos paises que não usa artigo. Con tudo, é frequente ouvir às pessoas na rua dizer “na Espanha”, da mesma forma que diriam “na França” ou “na Itália”.
      As linguas são organismos vivos e é preciso conhecer as normas, mas também o uso real que os falantes fazem da lingua.

  • How would you write “I am in a house”, estou em uma casa? Estou na casa?
    How will you use em with an indefinite article?

  • I am getting confused when to use certain prepositions in contractions. For example, “You like to be in the sun” is “Tu gostas de estar ao sol”… if it is “in the sun”, why not “no sol”? Do you always use “ao” when describing weather (masculine)?

    There is also “Tu trabalhos aos domingos” – if it is “on Sundays” why not use “nos domingos” instead of “aos domingos”?

    Then, there is “Eles ficam em casa” – I would think this would be “Eles ficam na casa”. Would either be correct?

    Obviously, there are hosts of other examples, but would appreciate if anyone could explain these three and if I am missing some rule. How do I know when to use “em” in a contraction vs “a”?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Olá! The use of prepositions in Portuguese doesn’t directly align with English and you’ll need to rely a lot on memorization to navigate this topic, because the logic at times is just different, and other times there’s no specific logic at all to follow, it’s just what it is. Talking about your specific examples:
      – Estar ao sol -> In this context, we use “ao” to indicate “exposed to”. “Estar no sol” is sometimes heard too, but is not grammatically correct – it sounds like you’re standing on top of the sun or inside it. We do also say “estar à chuva” or “estar à sombra”.
      – Trabalhas aos domingos -> In reference to days of the week, it’s a common pattern to use “à” or “ao” to emphasize that something is regular/recurring, preferably in the plural form. “Em” tends to be used in the singular form and without directly implying any recurrence (even if it exists). So, “ao domingo/aos domingos” is interpreted as “on all Sundays”, while “no domingo” might just be “this specific Sunday”. “Nos domingos” is less typical.
      – Ficam em casa -> “Em casa” is directly understood as “at home”. “Na casa” is understood as “in the house”, and for us, begs the question “whose house?”. Just “ficam na casa” feels like an incomplete sentence, really.

      Feel free to reach out via our support channel or our forum if you have any additional questions on this subject (or others) 🙂

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