How to use ao and no in sentences

I am struggling within the review cards, much as I find them the best learning tool to date. I keep mistaking when to use ao vs no . eg he has a drink at the bar. The card says ele toma uma bebida no bar. I got it wrong, saying ele toma uma bebida ao bar. Google translates both as he is having a drink at the bar.
I am making this mistake constantly. I know there are learning notes on this but nothing is gelling. As soon as I am faced with a conversation or translating a sentence, I get it wrong.
Any ideas please.
Many thanks, Roberta


Yes I find that Roberta and I can also add “em” to the mix!!
So far I have convinced myself that there is an element of interchangeability but I will wait to hear from PP HQ!
PS Who isnt still getting estar and ser wrong too?


Olá, It’s hard to help you make sense of these prepositions because they’re not always used in consistent ways.

Regarding the example you gave, first, you should know that for us, bar usually refers to the whole place, while balcão is the word we use for the counter where you can order drinks or sit/stand by. Then, you also need to keep in mind that in these contexts, ao is usually used either for movement or to say that you’re next to/by something, while no usually means that you’re in/on a place.

So, we can say things like:

  • Ele toma uma bebida no bar -> He has a drink in the bar
  • Ele toma uma bebida ao balcão -> He has a drink by the counter/next to the counter
  • Ele vai ao bar -> He goes to the bar (movement)
  • Ele está no bar -> He’s in the bar

But we can’t say:

  • Ele toma uma bebida ao bar
  • Ele vai no bar
  • Ele está ao bar

Other examples with a/ao:

  • Ela senta-se à mesa. -> She sits at the table (by the table)
  • Nós estamos à janela. -> We’re at the window (by the window)
  • Eu irei ao teu jantar. -> I’ll go to your dinner.

And with no:

  • A comida está na mesa. -> The food is on the table.
  • Há trânsito na estrada. -> There’s traffic on the road.
  • O objeto está no saco. -> The object is in the bag.

@mac.cummings, anytime you see no/na/nos/nas, em is there. I suppose your question is more about when to add the articles that contract with it (e.g., em + o = no) and when to leave em by itself.

  • When indicating locations or positions:
    – With any common nouns, you’ll generally use the contracted forms. One usual exception: the noun casa. We often say “em casa” for “at home” (our house), and “na casa” for “in the house” (any house).
    – With proper nouns, you’ll generally use the contracted forms when referring to people (i.e. their names) or specific places (e.g. the Museum of Fine Arts). For towns/cities/regions/countries, it will vary, as discussed here: Eu moro em, no, na?

Eles estão na escola. (They’re at school)
O dinheiro está no bolso. (The money is in the pocket)
Estou em casa. (I’m home)
O implante está no João. (The implant is in John)
Nós estamos no Santuário de Fátima. (We’re at the Sanctuary of Fátima)
Ela vive em Cardiff, no País de Gales. (She lives in Cardiff, in Wales)

  • When describing emotions or states: you’ll generally use em on its own, without any articles.

Tu estás em choque. (You’re in shock)
Eu estou em stress. (I’m stressed)
Nós estamos em pulgas. (We’re very excited -> literally, like jumpy fleas)

  • When indicating positions: you’ll use em for on top and down/under, but à (preposition a + definite article a) for left and right.

O livro está em cima da mesa. (The book is on top of the table)
O vizinho vive lá em baixo, no rés-do-chão. (The neighbour lives down there, on the ground floor)
A televisão está à esquerda da lareira. (The TV is to the left of the fireplace)
O teu carro está à direita. (Your car is to the right)

  • Other cases? Good luck! (can’t think of any other specific cases now)

That reply was a lesson in itself and really helped me. The reminder that em +o = no is now fixed in my memory’s bank. I had overlooked that simple grammatical rule.
Thanks Joseph.


@Joseph this is an excellent note- clear and helpful. You may have done it already but may be worth inserting a link to this note in the appropriate unit?

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This is so helpful! Thanks so much for this. You are brilliant at answering all our questions.

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Thank you so much Joseph and fellow students. These explanations do help, now it’s a matter of ongoing practice

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So incredibly helpful. You people are the best!

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@Joseph thank you so much for this interesting lesson

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You’re very welcome, @giuspr75. Thanks for posting, by the way!

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Joseph, you’ve been so helpful. I’ll need to reread this several times as it’s a lesson in itself.


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Glad to help, @Maggie! De nada :pray:

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How do you say ‘I sat on a bench in the bank’?
Sento-me no banco no banco?
Sento-me ao banco no banco?
Sento-me no banco ao banco?
Very confusing!

@davidcowling949, “I sat on a bench in the bank” = “Eu sentei-me num banco no banco” :slight_smile:

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Haha Joseph. Muito bom

Há muito tempo que tento incluir os dois bancos numa sentença uniqua.

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thank you so much this has helped me alot

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Glad to read that, @sangeeta. You’re welcome!