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Let’s Simplify — Portuguese Prepositions of Place for Busy People

portuguese prepositions of place

You probably hate it.

Using Portuguese prepositions of place isn’t quite straightforward. Some of them change, some of them accept contractions, and some of them don’t translate well into English.

What’s more, Internet guides on Portuguese prepositions jumble all prepositions together without giving you proper categories and systematization.

And without proper structure, most people fail to grasp the point.

It’s like building a house.

You have to have a blueprint. And you must start building the house from the foundation.

If you go to Home Depot and buy the decoration before the house is made, you’re in for a lot of trouble.

And that’s what happens when you have a huge list of prepositions without a solid foundation.

And in this article, you’ll have both — a solid foundation and the decoration items for you to beautify your house.

Portuguese Prepositions of Place Explained

If you’re reading this, you speak English. Period.

And you know that prepositions are those little words that we sometimes put between other longer words and after verbs.

In Portuguese, it’s the same.

The prepositions help us clarify the relationship between words.

If I say “I live in Minnesota,” you know that Minnesota is my living place because of the preposition “in”.

If I said, “I live for Minnesota”, I would have a completely different situation.

(And person, too.)

So, the Portuguese prepositions of place help us clarify where something is.

And although the list is long, we can bear in mind that they’ll always express one of the following kinds of relationship:

1 — closeness.

2 — touching.

3 — being inside or outside.

Now, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the most useful Portuguese prepositions of place.

DISCLAIMER ALERT!

Just a quick caveat before we begin with our in-depth analysis.

Not all prepositions translate perfectly into English.

I’ll include here the most common translations. But you’re very likely to stumble upon a different use.

Remember — Brazil is very, very big.

A (At, on)

In addition to other meanings, the preposition “A” also expresses the location where something is at.

  • A entrada do escritório fica à direita. Já a porta do banheiro fica à esquerda. The entrance to the office is on the right. The door to the restroom is on the left.
  • Eu gosto de ficar sentado ao sol. Dá um bronzeado muito bom. I like sitting under the sun. It gives me a very cool tan.

As you could see in both examples, there’s either a diacritic or an outright article.

Some prepositions contract with articles.

*this is not a complete list.

prepositions below/ articles

a o as os

a

à ao às aos

em

na no nas

nos


The Multipurpose Preposition Em

In Portuguese, the preposition “em” expresses many relationships between words.

Being on Top of Something

  • Aquelas chaves na mesa são minhas? Are those keys on the table mine?
  • Tem muito copo no sofá. Quem foi que os deixou aqui? There are many cups on the sofa. Who left them here?

Place

  • Moro em Salvador, no centro. I live in Salvador, downtown.
  • Eu estou em casa a maior parte do tempo agora com essa pandemia. I am at home most of the time now with this pandemic.

Being Inside

  • Ai, meu Deus, eu pensava que meu celular estava no meu bolso. Não está. Oh my God, I thought my cell phone was in my pocket. It’s not there.
  • Não tem mais comida na panela. Quem foi que comeu tudo? There is no food anymore in the pan. Who ate it all?

Entre (Between, Among)

If you have a Brazilian friend, you might hear from him or her the following mistake:

I’m here between my friends.

But he is clearly among friends.

That kind of mistake happens because “entre” means both between (1) and among (2).

  1. Você está vendo aquela mulher entre os dois caras? Ela é a diretora. Do you see that woman between the two dudes? She is the director.
  2. Há um espião entre nós. There is a spy among us.

Prepositional Phrases… What the Heck Is That?

When you buy an egg, it’s an egg… Individually.

But when you buy a cake — which has quite a few eggs in it — the egg is not an egg anymore.

The same transformation happens with prepositions.

Individually, they are prepositions. Collectively, they become prepositional phrases. That means, the band together to form a phrase that works like a preposition.

And what you can see from now on are Portuguese prepositional phrases of place.

(If you want to speak chique Portuguese, drop that terminology in a conversation every now and then.)

Em Cima De (On top of, on)

Although this prepositional phrase is separate, it’s pronounced as if it’s only one word.

And that pronunciation is the source of a common mistake Brazilians make. They write “emcima” instead of “em cima”.

Watch out for that.

  • Vou precisar ficar em pé em cima da mesa para trocar a lâmpada. I need to stand on top of the table to change the lamp.
  • Você pode colocar as compras em cima do balcão? Vou lavá-las logo, logo. Can you put the groceries on the kitchen counter? I’m going to wash them in a moment.

And what’s the difference between “em cima de” and “em”?

Simple answer? No difference.

But in some situations, you might need to express yourself precisely with “em cima”. It’s univocal.

Dentro de (Being Inside)

Again, there is no difference between this preposition and “em”. It’s just a matter of being precise.

  • Não tenho muito dinheiro dentro da carteira. Levo minha grana dentro do sapato. I don’t have much money in my wallet. I carry my cash inside my shoes.
  • Eu passo o dia dentro de casa. Não gosto muito de sair. I spent all day inside my house. I don’t like going out very much.

Pro Tip

When speaking fast, Brazilians blend dentro + de. The “tro” part disappears, and what we say is “DENde.”

Stress the first syllable!

  • Dentro da carteira.
  • Dentro do sapato.
  • Dentro de casa.

De Baixo De, Embaixo De (Under)

The quick note here is — those two phrases express the same thing.

But because of the spelling mistake we saw above (encima*), Brazilians tend to misspell “embaixo de”.

Embaixo is always one word when it has this meaning. (But in Portugal it’s different.)

  • O que você está fazendo debaixo da mesa? What are you doing under the table?
  • Eu vou ficar embaixo do guarda-sol. Sinceramente, detesto praia. I’m going to stay under the parasol. Frankly, I hate beaches.

Ao Lado De / Do Lado De (Beside, On The Side Of)

The learned version of this phrase is: ao lado de. But Brazilians will also say “do lado de”.

And do lado de is so much more common in speaking…

  • É impressionante ver que tem um bar ao lado da igreja. It’s impressive to see that there is a bar beside the church.
  • Não gosto muito de me sentar ao lado dele no ônibus. Ele fede. I don’t like much sitting beside him on the bus. He stinks.

Atrás De (Behind)

No significant note for this one. Plow ahead.

  • Eu estou atrás de você na fila. I’m behind you on the line.
  • O menino se escondeu atrás da mãe para não falar com a professora. The boy hidden behind his mother so that he didn’t speak with the teacher.

Em Frente A, Na Frente De (In Front Of)

Just pay attention to the final preposition and the first one.

When using “na frente,” choose DE.

When using “em frente,” choose A.

But we don’t follow this rule always.

  • A escola onde estudo fica em frente à farmácia. The school where I study is in front of the pharmacy.
  • Estou aqui sentado na frente de Você quiser, pode vir conversar comigo. I’m sitting in front of my house. If you wish, you can come talk with me.

Perto De (Near, Close By)

The important note about this one is: PERTO never agrees with any noun.

It’s an adverb. Adverbs don’t change.

So, a common mistake some of my students made before was: ela está perta daqui. (She’s near here, close by).

Beware!

  • Há um ponto de ônibus perto daqui? Is there a bus stop near here?
  • Não chegue muito perto do fogo. Você pode se queimar. Don’t come too close to the fire. You can get burned.

Takeaways

The Portuguese prepositions of place don’t always translate smoothly into English.

Your best bet is to memorize some of the phrases here — the useful ones. Hopefully, the structures will sink in. And you’ll use them naturally.

Divide and conquer. Don’t waste your time with long tables are prepositions. They’re useful as a reminder, never as a primary learning tool.

Use the sentences here to do this exercise — borrowing the same structures, write variations of the sentences, and say them out loud. It will help you consolidate the knowledge you just acquired.

Now It’s Your Turn

Write a sentence or two using the prepositions you just learned. I will offer suggestions and recommendations.

And if you’ve been learning for some time and want to make sure you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing — eliminating all the frustration and guessing — take our exclusive point-by-point assessment and diagnosis. You can find it on the homepage.

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