Prepositions are those little words that often follow a verb and describe how the verb relates to whatever it is acting upon – words like de, em, a, com, para, por, sobre.
One of the trickier things about romance languages is remembering what prepositions to use with each verb. Sometimes they make sense to us English speakers (falar de/sobre), sometimes they don’t (pensar em??), and sometimes you have multiple options to express different nuances in meaning and language registers.
Here’s a fascinating example of that latter point. As explained by John Whitlam in Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar, the various prepositions used with the verb ir (“to go”) mark the level of formality of the discourse:
- ir a (formal, writing only)
- ir para (neutral, writing and speech)
- ir em (informal, speech only)
The choice of preposition with ir may also express nuances such as whether the speaker is talking about a short- versus a long-distance trip, and whether it will be a brief stopover versus a longer-term relocation. Finally, the choice of preposition varies across dialects: a European speaker would be more likely to say ir a, while a Brazilian speaker would prefer ir para or ir em.
As another example, notice how opposing verb pairs can require different prepositions:
- concordar com alguém (to agree with someone)
- discordar de alguém (to disagree with someone)
- acabar de fazer algo (to have just finished doing something)
- começar a fazer algo (to start doing something)
With all this complexity, it’s amazing how many textbooks and dictionaries barely say anything at all about verb-governed prepositions, or just teach you to say ir a with no further comment (and this is one reason why having a good, up-to-date grammar reference is essential).
If you have a good dictionary, usually it will have some example sentences to help you figure out what preposition to use with a verb in each context. But often you need more detail. There are two great online resources for this: the Corpus do Português, and Linguee.com
Corpus do Português
The screencast below shows how to use the Corpus do Português to find out what preposition to use with an example verb, deparar-se.
And here’s a screencast of how to answer the same question using Linguee.