Portuguese Preposition with Verbs of Movement

Knowing which Portuguese prepositions to use with verbs of movement can be a difficult grammar subject for learners.

A lot of students get confused, for example, as to which Portuguese prepositions they should use with verbs of movement, to indicate a destination, like the verb ir (to go). According to the grammar, there are two prepositions that convey the idea of "movement to", a and para.

para implies a relatively long or permanent stay

  • Eu vou para o Brasil em julho. (I'm going to Brazil in July).
  • Eu vou para a Inglaterra no Natal. (I'm going to England at Christmas).
  • Eu vou para os Estados unidos em junho. (I'm going to the United States in June.)

In colloquial speech most people will contract the preposition with the article and say:

  • Eu vou pro Brasil em julho. (para + o = pro)
  • Eu vou pra Inglaterra no Natal. (para + a = pra)
  • Eu vou pros Estados Unidos em junho. (para + os = pros)

Most cities don't take the definite article. In this case, you can still shorten the preposition para to pra:

  • Eu vou pra São Paulo. (I'm going to São Paulo).

para on its own = pra
para + a(s) = pra(s)
para + o(s) = pro(s)

a implies a relatively short stay:

  • Eu vou ao Brasil de férias. (a + o = ao) (I'm going to Brazil on holiday)
  • Eu vou à Inglaterra de férias. (a + a = à) (I'm going to England on holiday).
  • Eu vou aos Estados Unidos de férias. (a + os = aos) (I'm going to the United States on holiday.)

a + a(s) = à(s)
a + o(s) = ao(s)

But that's not all!

There is actually another Portuguese preposition that Brazilians use that also implies a short stay: the preposition em.

Technically the preposition em shouldn't be used with verbs that express movement, because it means on/in/at (depending on the context) not to, but as you probably know Brazilians have a very flexible approach to the grammar in general, including Portuguese prepositions!

You might hear people saying:

  • Eu vou no cinema hoje de noite. (It literally means I'm going in/on/at the cinema tonight, but people use em as "to", I'm going to the cinema tonight.). Here the preposition em is contracted with the definite article o, forming no.

Grammatically this sentence is wrong, you shouldn't use em with verbs of movement, but in reality, it's extremely common especially when referring to local places like cinema, theatre, a party, restaurant, pharmacy, shops, etc. Another example:

  • Eu vou na farmácia comprar aspirina. (I'm going to the pharmacy to buy aspirin). Here, em is contracted with the definite article a, forming na.

The use of em with a verb of movement really gives the idea of "going for a short period of time and then coming back", the same as a that we saw before. 

When you say Eu vou no cinema (I'm going to the cinema.) - you're implying that you're going and then coming back.
At the cinema, though, after the film, you can say: Eu vou pra casa. - ("I'm going home") (You're using para here because you're going home and staying there, at least for a while.).

em + a(s) = na(s)
em + o(s) = no(s)

Categories: : Grammar