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Here and There: Aqui, Ali and Lá Posted by 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, 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.”

means basically the same thing as Ali, but my sense is that ali is a little more specific, meaning something like right there and means more like in that area.

Many common slang (gíria) sayings use ; “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

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  1. belsha:

    I find this explanation bizarre, or at least imprecise.

    I have always thought things were quite clear:

    “Aqui” is where “I” am.
    “Ai” is where “You” are
    “Ali” is where “He” is.

    This mirrors the distinction between “esse” (near me), “este” (near you), and “aquele” (over there) , although here the usage isn’t as clear cut.

    It’s basically the distinction between the speaker, the listener and the object of discourse. I find this precision remarkable, quite lacking in english/german/french etc.

  2. Chris R:

    Belsha, don’t you have those around the wrong way? I thought este was “here” and esse was “there (by you)”

  3. Adriana:

    The article is not imprecise. The translation for “ali”, “aqui” and “lá” is brilliant.
    I suggest to complement the discussion with the word “acolá”… 🙂

    “Este” is used for things that are near to the speaker, and “esse” is something that might be not so handy. It still can be close to the speaker, but not as close as “este”, not being necessarily by the listener. In Brazilian Portuguese the usage is not clear cut because we tend to avoid hard pronunciation (it is easier to say “esse” than “este”). In Portugal they have a much more marked “t” and so they use it in a more precise way.

  4. Marina Gomes:

    I teach my students:

    Este livro aqui – This book here (close to me)
    Esse livro aí – That book there (close to you)
    Aquele livro ali – That book there (far away from both of us but we can see it clearly)
    Aquele livro lá – That book over there (we can’t see it very clearly)