These little words cause a lot of trouble to language learners. Em, No, Na are prepositions. In this lesson you will understand what they mean and when to use each one.
The meaning of Em
Em = in, on, at
- Eu estou em casa. = I’m at home.
- Em que estado você mora? = In what state do you live?
- Os preços subiram em média 6% em 2016. = Prices increased on average 6% in 2016.
Unfortunately things are not always that simple, as I’m sure you know. There are two things that add a little complexity to this picture:
- In Portuguese, prepositions agree in gender and number with the word that they refer to.
- In Portuguese, we contract the preposition Em with definite articles.
Before you panic, let me show you examples to make this clear:
The book is on the table.
In this sentence, you have:
- The preposition On, which in Portuguese is: Em
- The definite article The, which is Portuguese is: A (because table is a feminine noun)
As I said before, in Portuguese you need to contract the preposition Em with the article A. So you have:
- em + a = na
Therefore, we have:
- The book is on the table. = O livro está na mesa.
It seems like a lot to think about, but this is all going to be in autopilot in your brain soon enough.
Then what is Na?
Na = em + a = at the, in the, on the, used for feminine words
Here are examples, including one with the plural version Nas:
- Maria está na praia. = Maria is at the beach.
- O gato está na cama. = The cat in on the bed.
- O leite está na geladeira. = The milk is in the fridge.
- Ela está sempre com a cabeça nas nuvens. = She is always with her head in the clouds.
How about No?
No = em + o = at the, in the, on the, used for masculine words
Here are examples, including one with the plural version Nos:
- Tinha muita gente no show. = There were a lot of people at the concert.
- Meu casaco está no guarda-roupa. = My coat is in the wardrobe.
- Eu moro no terceiro andar. = I live on the third floor.
- Não sei o que fazer nos últimos dias das minhas férias. = I don’t know what to do on the last days of my vacation.
What you should use with the months of the year
I often hear Portuguese speakers using No with the months of the year. This is incorrect. We use Em instead. Here are examples:
- Meu aniversário é em setembro. = My birthday is in September.
- Vou fazer uma viagem em março. = I’m going on a trip in March.
What you should use with cities and countries
This one is a little tricky since countries in Portuguese have a gender. I have a whole lesson on this topic. Visit the lesson here.
Is that all?
Well, not really. There are different situations that may raise questions.
For example, sometimes you wouldn’t use the definite article in English, but we use it in Portuguese. In these cases, you may tend to go with Em when the correct option would be No or Na. For example:
- As pessoas dão presentes no Natal. = People give gifts at Christmas.
There are also cases in which we use the prepositions Em, Na, No meaning different things in English other than in, on, at.
Today I wanted to help you understand the basic reasoning behind the use of em, no, na in Portuguese because having a solid foundation will make it easier to add complexity as you advance your Portuguese. I hope today’s lesson will help you speak Portuguese with more confidence.
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