Hey, it’s me again! In some of my previous posts, I talked about prepositions in Portuguese in general and also about the difference between some of them and when to use them. I saw then that a lot of people have difficulties with these little grammar ‘beasts’, so I decided that today I will be speaking about when to use “a” and “para”.
If you listened to Portuguese people speaking, you might have noticed that when we want to say “I go to”, we sometimes say “Eu vou para” and sometimes “Eu vou a“. Do you know what is the difference between these two?
In fact, both combinations are right. The only difference between them is in their meaning.
Verbs like IR (to go), VIR (to come) and VOLTAR (to return) are the so-called “movement” verbs and they take both these prepositions to convey different meanings. Let’s take a look at it!
When to use IR a vs IR para
Ir + a –> We use this preposition after the verb IR to indicate that wherever we are going, it is going to be for a short period of time. Therefore, if we say “Vou a Lisboa”, then we probably mean that we will go to Lisbon for a visit, for example. The same happens when you hear someone saying “Vou a casa”. That means that the person is going home, maybe to pick up something, leaving short after.
Ir + para –> Contrarily to the preposition that we previously saw, “para” is used to express a longer period of time. If you say “Vou para Lisboa” that probably means that you live or will live in Lisbon. The same way, if someone says “Eu vou para casa” that likely means that they will go and stay there for the rest of the day.
When to use VIR a vs VIR para
Vir + a –> If I say “Ele vem a minha casa”, that means that the person will come to my house to pay me a visit, (hopefully in some cases) not staying for long.
Vir + para –> If, on the other hand, I say “Ele vem para minha casa”, then this means that the person will either live with me from now on or at least that he will stay at my house for a longer time.
When to use VOLTAR a vs VOLTAR para
Voltar + a –> Say “Eu vou voltar a Portugal em Setembro” if you are not living here (nor planning to) and you will just come here to visit this lovely country (=> short term).
Voltar + para –> If, on the other hand, you were here and now you will come back to live here (congratulations!) say “Eu vou voltar para Portugal” (=> long term).
Get the picture? a is for short stays and para is for longer stays.
All is well in theory but, in reality, at times it can be tricky to distinguish between these two prepositions, especially if you are a foreigner. But even Portuguese people (or Brazilian, etc) will sometimes mix them up. The rule is as you just read, but the prepositions are used interchangeably. What can I say? Native speakers do weird things.
The only thing that you must bear in mind is that “ir + em”, while acceptable in Brazilian Portuguese, it is totally unacceptable in European Portuguese. Many times I hear my students saying “Eu vou em casa“. That is totally wrong, so please do not say that. The same applies to “Eu vou no supermercado” or “Eu vou no Porto” or “Eu vou na padaria“. Please, please, PLEASE do not say that. I have no idea why, but this is really a super common mistake. So, don’t 😉
To summarise (in case you still did not get it from all my pleadings) the verbs IR, VIR and VOLTAR are only used with the prepositions “a” and “para” to indicate movement, but NEVER with “em”.
The preposition “em” is used to speak about the location of something, not the movement. So, if you want to say that you ARE IN Porto, then you can totally use “em”, like in “Eu estou no Porto”.
If you want to see why I use “no”, and not just “em” in the previous sentence, you should take a look at my previous blog post about Portuguese verbs with prepositions, where I speak about the contraction that each preposition suffers in certain cases.
Below you can find some exercises to help you tackle this. Want to try it?
When to use a or para – exercises
- a or para?
a) I want to live in Paris.
Eu vou ________ Paris.
b) I will visit my friend in Porto.
Eu vou _________ Porto.
c) I will go/come back to Estonia to visit it.
Eu volto ________ Estonia em Setembro.
d) He comes to Portugal to stay for a couple of weeks.
Ele vem ________ Portugal.
e) He goes home to sleep.
Ele vai _________ casa.
f) They come to Lisbon to study four years.
Eles vêm ________ Lisboa.
g) We go to Brussels for some days.
Nós vamos _______ Bruxelas.
And that’s it!
What did you think of the exercises? Do you find them easy or difficult? Find the solutions in the materials section.
Let me know in the comments below if you use these prepositions correctly or if you still struggle. I would love to hear from you!
Ok, I hope to see you around!