Here and There: Aqui, Ali and Lá Posted by Transparent Language on Aug 8, 2007 in Grammar
English is easy, right? We have two prepositions, here and there for describing relative location to the speaker. Portuguese isn’t so tough itself, but in this instance the language is both more involved and more specific. Brazilians use four different prepositions for a similar purpose.
Aqui, means here, just as it does in Spanish.
To say there, however, one has a few options: Ali, Aí, Lá.
In short, Lá means there in the sense of there, outside our immediate vicinity, whereas Ali means right over there.
Example: “Meu amigo está em Portugal. Ele vai ficar lá.” translates to “My friend is in Portugal. He is going to stay there.”
“Ô amigo, pode pegar meu livro: Está na mesa ali.” translates to “Hey friend, can you grab my book? It’s on the table over there.”
Aí means basically the same thing as Ali, but my sense is that ali is a little more specific, meaning something like right there and aí means more like in that area.
Many common slang (gíria) sayings use aí; “E aí” or What’s up being a particularly common phrase.
Perhaps the real difference between these terms can only be summed up in one’s own experience of their usage, but this should serve as a reasonable guide for your own usage, and a good starting point to understanding further nuance in native speech.
Thanks to Guilherme Fellet for his help drawing these distinctions