Saying “To” in Portuguese (Ao, Para o, Pro, No)?

Going ToLanguages become complicated when you want to say something, but there are too many options to say it. In Brazilian Portuguese, when you want to say “to”, such as in “I’m going to the bank”, you  basically have 4 options! Let’s try to understand these differences.

The following examples are in order of formality:

I’m going to the bank:

1. Eu vou ao banco.
2. Eu vou para o banco.
3. Eu vou pro banco.
4. Eu vou no banco.

I’m going to the pharmacy:
1. Eu vou à farmácia.
2. Eu vou para a farmácia.
3. Eu vou pra farmácia.
4. Eu vou na farmácia.

Note: To simplify this discussion I will not be using examples of the neutral (non-gender – para / a).

Traditional Use (Options 1 and 2)

Concerning option 1 (ao/à) and option 2 (para o / para a), traditionally, we consider “how long the person will stay at the place”. “Ao/à” for a quick stop, and “para o/para a” for a long stop, such as when you travel to somewhere to stay a few days or more. This traditional use is still used in Portugal in colloquial language, but in Brazil this is no longer relevant. In Brazil the only difference is based on formality.

  • Example of the traditional use (still used in Portugal):
    Eu vou ao banco. = I’m going to the bank (for a few minutes).
    Eu vou para a Alemanha. = I’m going to Germany (for a few days).

Contraction of Para (Options 2 and 3)

It seems that “para o/para a” is no longer common in colloquial language. People always say “pro“, “pra“, because this makes the phrase faster and easier to pronounce. This is never used in formal writing, however, some literature may use it, especially for first person speech or dialogues. For a more detailed discussion on contractions, see my post 10 Portuguese Colloquial Contractions.

Ir no / na (Option 4)

In contemporary Brazil this case is extremely common in colloquial language. It’s very informal, so most literature don’t use it (I do use it in my new book – to be published in 2016 – since I think it’s important to Portuguese students learn the “real” colloquial language). “No” or “na” usually mean “in/on/at“, such as “I’m at the park = Eu estou no parque”, but you can also use these prepositions for “to“, therefore “I’m going to the park = Eu vou no parque”.

English speakers may say”I’m going in the cinema”, instead “I’m going to the cinema”…That’s because if you are just at the cinema’s door you are outside and you are about to get inside. But in colloquial Portuguese, this doesn’t really matter; you don’t need to actually “go inside a place” to use “no” or “na”.

  • Examples:
    Eu vou no cinema. = I’m going to the cinema.
    Eu vou na farmácia. = I’m going to the pharmacy.

The only exceptions are for countries and cities, then the other options are always preferred.

Advice for Portuguese Students:

Most textbooks will teach you only “ao” and “à” (option 1). You should learn this for when you read texts, but it’s very important to learn the other options if you want to understand natives. I suggest to create the habit of using only “pro” and “pra” when you want to say “to”. You will sound more natural and don’t need to worry about all this information.

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