When to use a and para

When to use “a” and “para”

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 a or para

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 a or para

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).

When to use a or para

Get the picture? a is for short stays and para is for longer stays.

The reality

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.

When to use a or para exercises

Below you can find some exercises to help you tackle this. Want to try it?

When to use a or para – exercises

  1. 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.

when to use a or para

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!



Categories: Grammar

8 thoughts on “When to use “a” and “para”

  1. Hi Mia and thank you for this page , it is quite helpful!
    Based on your explanation of the differences between “Ir a” & “Ir para”, I am surprised that people would use “para” in the following context, at least according to Duo Lingo:
    Vamos para qual andar? (Which floor are we going to?).
    It would feel to me that “Ir a” would be more suitable here without more context of duration, as asking what floor to go to suggests a temporary stay / a visit (e.g., going to a meeting, visiting somebody in a building). Any way you could rationalize this?

    Thanks & regards,

    1. Olá Ben!

      Thank you for your question!

      Well, I can see what you mean. It would make more sense to say “vamos a qual andar” instead and, in fact, in European Portuguese you can also ask it this way (be aware that Duolingo offers only Brazilian Portuguese and there are some differences between the two variations of the language..sometimes quite important ones, although this example is not one of them!). However, even in European Portuguese, we tend to ask “vamos para qual andar” more than the other version (with “a”).

      I do not have a concrete explanation to this, but I guess in this case we opt to assume that a person is inside the building already and will stay a while in there, so we do not assume that it will be a super quick visit (although it can be). In fact if we are to say “Vamos a qual andar?” we already have to have the knowledge that it is going to be a super short stay, which in many cases we do not.

      Again, I understand where you are coming from and it would make sense this way, but I guess this is one of those exception cases.

      I hope that I made it a little bit more clearer.

      Thank you for your question!

      PS – Again, be aware that Duolingo is teaching you Brazilian Portuguese. IF you want to check a completely European Portuguese course, I invite you to visit my course page and check all the levels I offer:


  2. Mia,
    I lived in Portugal 30 years ago, loved the language, and have tried to keep up my language skills. I have asked many people to explain the difference between when to use “a” and “para” and I have never received a satisfactory (or simple) explanation until reading your page. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. My gratitude is 30 years in the making.

    1. Oh, thank YOU Jason!
      I am happy that you found this article useful and that you understood my explanations!
      It is not so easy to explain things sometimes, especially if you are a native speaker and never had to think about it before =) Maybe therefore the people you asked could not do it so well.
      Do read my other articles and hopefully you will find them handy too !
      Kind regards,

  3. Hi Mia,
    I obviously forgot to tell you I hate grammar. This is pure torture for me, yes it was easy to understand nevertheless I hate grammar! By the way, have I mentioned that I hate grammar.
    Thanks for the tips:)
    I did not do the exercises because…you guessed it I hate grammar!

    1. ahah! So, do I understand right from your text that you are a grammar lover? ahha, kidding!
      Yes, some people are like this. Check my very first post where I give some tips for people who are not very “traditional” learners. You can check it here:

      Hope this helps! Come back here often, cause I am also always updating the website with new things.
      Nice to meet you !


  4. This was a very easy to understand article ! I myself have been trying to learn some portuguese since I will be going over there in the near future. Communication is big even if I can’t fluently communicate . I really enjoyed the exercises on the bottom.

    I see myself coming back to your website (:

    1. Hi Yunier! 

      Thank you very much for your comment. 

      I am happy that you like the article. Were you able to solve the exercises correctly? =)

      See you around here.


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