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What my Neighbors Taught Me about Portuguese Preposition Contractions

portuguese preposition contractions and the law of least effort

When I lived in my hometown, Maracanaú, I had many curious neighbors.

And I learned some about the Portuguese preposition contractions — in fact, a lot about life, too.

Dona A would bring her stool to the sidewalk, put it down, and sit on it. Then she would look at the passers-by. The problem is, she would do that at 10:00 PM after the soap opera and would stay there until 01:00 or 02:00 AM.

Senhor B was an attention-craving man who became a loan shark so people were forced to be his friends.

And Dona C deserves a special place in this story.

There was a big jambu tree (pé de jambo) in front of her house. Leaves would fall and gather around the tree. Naturally, someone would have to broom them away into a trash can or something.

And because it was in front of her house, we assumed she would do it.

And she did.

She would stuff carton boxes (caixas “sh” de papelão) with the leaves and put it in front of her house for the garbagemen (lixeiros, “sh” sound) to pick them up.

After a few months, the boxes started to travel their way from her part of the sidewalk to our part of the sidewalk.

That was okay. The garbagemen never cared – they would pick up the boxes just the same.

Then she started putting the boxes in front of our house on days there was no waste collection.

That was not a big of a deal. I remember my mother made a remark but that was that.

Then other stuff started showing up inside the boxes. Rotten food, smelly grime, dog poop. And that would smell and then stink.

When my mom confronted her, Dona C explained that she put the box on that spot because after cleaning the front of her house she would go to the bakery and our house was on the way.

It was a matter of convenience.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say” of course”, but of course my mom said something and Dona C yelled back and my mother said not so nice things to her and she retorted and I got involved and Dona A observed everything from her house.

I could have told you that story in fewer words, sure, but then I wouldn’t be able to illustrate a concept we call “lei do menor esforço”.

It translates as “the law of least effort” but it has nothing to do with Deepak Chopra. It says that human beings tend to choose the path of least effort whenever they do something.

And that’s true for language, too.

Mainly with contractions.

The Preposition Contractions in Portuguese

In Portuguese, we have so many preposition contractions… I included in the tables below the main ones with pronunciation.

*Reading columns first, left to right.

combinação a de em por
o ao do no pelo
a à da na pela
os aos dos nos pelos
as às das nas pelas
combinação de em
um dum num
uma duma numa
uns duns nuns
umas dumas numas
combinação de em
esse / essa desse nesse
este / esta deste neste
aquele / aquela daquele naquele
ele dele nele
spoken only para
o pro
a pra
os pros
as pras
spoken only para
um prum
uma pruma
uns pruns
umas prumas

Special combinations

A (preposition) + aquele/aquela = àquele, àquela

Eu me refiro àquele livro que você leu. I’m referring to that book you read.

De + aqui / ali  = daqui, dali.

Eu gosto daqui, mas não gosto dali. I like it here, but I don’t like it over there.

This combination only works with de. The other combinations you’ve seen in the tables above won’t work with “aqui, ali”.

An Important Note

The pronunciation of the prepositions in isolation is always different from their combinations.

De sounds like “djee” when in isolation. Dele sounds like “day-lee” (very short pronunciation with “day”, though).

The best way for you to practice both recognizing and using those combinations is by practicing. and that’s what we’re going to do now 🙂

  • Nós moramos nesta cidade. We live in this town.
  • Trabalho naquela empresa faz três anos. I’ve worked in that company three years.
  • Daqui para o restaurante é perto. From here to the restaurant is not far.
  • Gosto daquela casa. Acho que vou comprá-la. I like that house. I think I’m going to buy it.
  • Não, não é desse filme que estou falando! No, it’s not this movie that I’m talking about!
  • Vou andar pela rua e ver a vizinhança. I’m going to walk along the street and take a look at the neighborhood.

Now it’s your turn

Is there any Portuguese preposition contraction that you didn’t see here? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

And if you want to go deep into the Portuguese preposition system, I suggest this in-depth guide (it deals with place, a common problem you’ll have).


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