Collage of photos showing images of people going somewhere to illustrate the blog post Which Portuguese Prepositions to use with the verb ir (to go)

Ir “para”, “a” or “em” – which Portuguese prepositions to use?

Knowing which Portuguese prepositions to use with certain verbs 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 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 Portuguese 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) 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.).
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 contractions pra and pro, I personally prefer to leave the preposition para and the articles separate when writing.

  • Ele vai para o Brasil. (He is going to Brazil)
  • Ela vai para a Inglaterra. (She is going to England)
  • Eu vou para os Estados Unidos. (I’m going to the United States)

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).

  • Ele vai pro Brasil. (He is going to Brazil)
  • Ela vai pra Inglaterra. (She is going to England)
  • Eu vou pros Estados Unidos. (I’m going to the United States)

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, according to Brazilian Portuguese grammar it’s 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!

I hope you will find it a bit easier now to know which Portuguese prepositions to use with the verb ir. Let me know in the comments if there are any other verbs that you find difficult to know which Portuguese preposition to use with.

If you want to read other posts on Brazilian Portuguese Grammar try these posts:

A Note on Grammar

Gente!  Que complicado!

The difference between ‘mau’ and ‘mal’

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