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Ir “para”, “a” or “em”?

A lot of students get confused as to what preposition to use with 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)

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.)

->  However, Brazilians will rarely use the preposition a in colloquial speech – it sounds too formal. Para is much more common, when saying they’re going to a city, a state, a country or a continent – it doesn’t matter for how long.

But that’s not all!

There is actually another preposition that Brazilians use to convey “going to” (for 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) notto” but as you probably know Brazilians have a very flexible approach to the grammar!

You migh 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 specially 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.).

In short, my suggestion is:

When you write:

– Use para a or para o when going to a city, country, state, or continent (or geographical places, like mountains, beach, etc). While most grammars will accept the the contractions pra and pro, I personally prefer to leave the preposition para and the articles separate when writing.

  • Eu vou para o Brasil.
  • Eu vou para a Inglaterra.
  • Eu vou para os Estados Unidos.

– When writing that you’re going to a local place (cinema, theatre, supermarket etc), use the preposition a (contracted with the article of the noun:

  • Eu vou ao cinema (I’m going to the cinema)
  • Eu vou à farmácia (I’m going to the pharmacy).

In colloquial conversation:

– Use the contraction pra, pro, pros to say you’re going to a city, country, state or continent, mountains, beach, etc).

  • Eu vou pro Brasil.
  • Eu vou pra Inglaterra.
  • Eu vou pros Estados Unidos.

– When saying you’re going to a local place like the cinema, theatre, supermarket etc, for a short time, use the preposition em (contracted with the article of the noun):

  • Eu vou no cinema.
  • Eu vou na farmácia. 

Yes, it’s grammatically wrong but extremely common in colloquial speech, If you use the preposition a you might sound a bit formal, but hey, ultimately it’s your choice!

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