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I am only a beginner in Portuguese. I have seen some different expressions for "they are going to fall down to the ground" in the Portuguese language. Which ones of these mentioned below are OK and which are wrong? Could you also explain if there are any differences in the meanings themselves between those different prepositions used and phrases?

  1. Cairão ao chão
  2. Cairão no chão
  3. Cairão sobre chão
  4. Cairão até chão
  5. Cairão por chão
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    This is a good question! Theres an edit suggestion to turn down the volume though. Hope you don't mind. – Jacinto Feb 1 '17 at 9:37
  • @Jacinto It was a markdown bug: when he applied a horizontal rule without using a paragraph first, it assumed "heading" formatting (generally instantiated by the # sign). – Ramon Melo Feb 1 '17 at 11:06
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    Jari, this is your second question so far about chão; is it a special interest :) ? – Jacinto Feb 1 '17 at 11:27
  • Jary, let me know if you'd like English translations of the examples in my answer. – Jacinto Feb 2 '17 at 20:56
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The verb cair is a quite versatile one, having different meanings for each context:

  1. "Cairão ao chão" is correct and means they will fall to the ground. The usage of "ao", although correct, is unusual among Brazilian Portuguese speakers. It might be unusual among European Portuguese speakers, as well. You can definitely use it, though.

  2. "Cairão no chão" is also correct, and also means they will fall to the ground. This is the preferred form in spoken language, and also in informal contexts.

  3. "Cairão sobre o chão" is correct, but it doesn't mean they will fall to the ground. Instead, it is a very specific use that means from where they will stand, you will see the ground. For instance, an architect might use it to tell his clients that, once built, their apartments will have a view to the ground, instead of the beautiful ocean nearby. Note that I emphasized the article "o", it is always required when "o chão" is supposed to mean "the ground". It might be unusual in Europe (not sure).

  4. "Cairão até o chão" is not recognized by grammarists and dictionaries, but is somewhat common in Brazilian Portuguese informal contexts. It means "they will fall all the way to the ground", implying that the fall itself will be a rather long or painful process. In some regions (namely Brazilian southeast), it can also mean they will party hard among the younger speakers.

  5. "Cairão por chão" is grammatically wrong. However, there's a very similar, idiomatic expression: "cairão por terra" (terra also conveys "ground"), which means they will fail, they will not succeed. Note there's no article used in this expression.

It was not included in the question, but using future tense like this is unusual in spoken language. Native speakers prefer "vão cair no chão", implying future tense with the help of the verb "ir" ("to go"), especially when the fall is imminent or certain. This would be the most accurate translation for "they are going to fall to the ground", instead of "they will fall to the ground". That being said, there is nothing wrong with "cairão", and it is the preferred form in written language.

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    Concordo com praticamente tudo. Mas não compreendo o 3: podias incluir um exemplo (o que é que cai?). E "cair até o chão" é gramaticalmente errado?! Acho que nunca disse ou ouvi isso, mas consigo imaginar situações em que pudesse dizer, na linha do que sugeres. E sim, acho que só vi cair ao chão num livro dum autor brasileiro. – Jacinto Feb 1 '17 at 10:49
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    @Jacinto Posso usar um exemplo ligeiramente diferente? A sacada da cobertura cai sobre o salão de festas para dizer "olhando para baixo da sacada da cobertura, você verá o salão de festas". O Aulete (sig. 34) também admite cai para o salão de festas. – Ramon Melo Feb 1 '17 at 10:58
  • @Jacinto Sobre "cair até o chão": não encontrei esta regência em dicionário ou gramática, o que até me espantou, visto que, como morador do Rio de Janeiro, ouço-a praticamente todos os dias. – Ramon Melo Feb 1 '17 at 11:00
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    Não conhecia esse uso de cair; eu diria dar para, mas não implica que seja olhando só para baixo. As folhas estão caindo lentamente; cairão até o chão (até ao chão em Portugal). – Jacinto Feb 1 '17 at 11:25
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    @Luciano Os únicos usos que já vi desta variação eram de coisas que não "caem" de fato. Se você me dissesse que a planta no vaso cai sobre o chão, eu iria imaginar algo como esta samambaia, "escorrendo" para fora do vaso mas sem realmente tocar o chão. – Ramon Melo Feb 3 '17 at 16:55
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In a nutshell:

  • cairão ao chão is grammatically correct and is sometimes used in the spoken language. It sounds somewhat bookish, though.

  • cairão no chão is also correct and would be perfect if you substituted "vão cair" which is much more idiomatic. Thus, "vão cair no chão" is current usage and that's how I would phrase it.

  • cairão sobre o chão, without further context, sounds clumsy to my ears. What is it that "cairão sobre o chão"? I think "sobre o chão" asks for a different verb such as "derramar" or "espalhar".

  • cairão até o chão is also grammatically correct but is restricted to very specific contexts: "vamos deixar as cortinas cairem (descerem) até o chão", "ao invés de deixarmos o lustre (em O Fantasma da Ópera, por exemplo) cair quatro metros, vamos deixar que caia até o chão"

  • cairão por chão is grammatically correct but sounds like someone meant "cairão por terra" which means "vão desmoronar" por exemplo, "teus projetos vão cair por terra"

As I said before, in Brazilian Portuguese all these phrases would sound more idiomatic if one used "verbo ir no presente do indicativo + cair".

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Cair no chão or, a lot less frequently nowadays, cair ao chão are the straightforward equivalents to fall down to the ground: they simply mean that something falls and hits the ground. The other phrases―with the definite article o, sobre o chão, pelo chão, até o/até ao chão―are grammatical but a lot rarer and usually have a more specialised or figurative meaning. In writing the the simple future (cairão) is common, but in spoken, informal language it tends to be replaced by vão cair in most uses. Let’s see each phrase one by one.

Cair no Chão and Cair ao Chão

The two phrases are equivalent. But cair ao chão is not common at all these days; it is still used though. I had a look at this Corpus do Português, and it used to be a lot more common in the past. In the following examples no and ao are interchangeable (no link means it is my own example; my emphasis in all quotes):

(a) As maçãs estão maduras. Se não as colhermos, com a ventania que se prevê, cairão no chão.

(b) os botões não se abrirão mais e as flores precocemente murchas cairão no chão
(João C. A. Neves, O Homem do Futuro, 1949.)

(c) Subi a uma árvore, desequilibrei-me e caí no chão

(d) Desequilibrei-me, dei um encontrão à estante, e vários livros caíram no chão.

(e) […] os letreiros que ostentavam conteriam aviso importante. Hoje elas são apenas lembranças do passado, como um dia seremos todos. Um dia cairão ao chão, a madeira apodrecerá, e se misturará à terra, (Gustavo B. Mello, Além da Curva da Estrada, 1982.)

(f) duas pontas de cigarros desequilibraram-se da mesa e caíram ao chão
(Caio Fernando Abreu, Onde Andará Dulce Veiga, 1990.)

Cair sobre o chão

Sobre can mean ‘on, over’, or ‘above’. Now if an apple falls to the ground, it will also have fallen on the ground and it is strictly correct to say that a maçã caíu sobre o chão. But… that’s not the way we generally speak, and if you say, a maçã caíu sobre o chão, don’t be surprised if someone mockingly replies, extraordinário, não caíu sob o chão? In the previous examples, with the possible exception of (b), it would look positively weird if we substituted sobre o for no or ao. That said we can find examples with sobre o chão in Google Books. In quite a few of them I can’t see the point of using sobre o instead of no; maybe the writer was trying too hard to be different. But a few other examples sound quite good; it is perhaps no coincidence that they are from writers with some reputation:

(g) Poucos dias [as flores] durarão, umas e outras; desprendendo-se dos ramos de onde brotaram, cairão sobre o chão calcinado e se misturarão à terra solta que o vento levanta. (Gustavo B. Mello, Além da Curva da Estrada, 1982.)

(h) Antigamente, o Largo era o centro do mundo. Hoje, é apenas um cruzamento de estradas, com casas em volta e uma rua que sobe para a Vila. O vento dá nas faias e a ramaria farfalha num suave gemido, o pó redemoinha e cai sobre o chão deserto.
(Manuel da Fonseca, O Largo, 1951.)

I’m not sure I can fully explain why sobre o sounds good in these examples, but I’ll try. In examples (a) to (f) chão is just a nondescript entity, just whatever the falling body hits. But in these two examples we have a particular piece of ground (“chão calcinado”, “chão deserto” do Largo), and we get an idea, especially in the second example, that the ground gets covered with flowers or dust. So I’d say sobre o chão is appropriate if we want to shift some attention to the ground itself or give an idea that it gets covered with the falling stuff. Similarly, o avião caíu sobre a serra sounds silly (why not just say na serra?), but a neve caíu sobre a serra e cobriu-a de um manto branco sounds good. So unsurprisingly, cair sobre o chão corresponds more closely to fall on the ground than to fall to the ground.

Cair pelo Chão

If something cai pelo chão it falls and gets scattered or strewn on the ground, as in the following examples:

(i) É um clima outonal interior, que amarela as nossas ideias, como amarela as folhas das árvores. Como elas também, cairão pelo chão, serão varridas pelo vento.
(Ruth Caldas, Da Minha Janela: Crônicas, 1978.)

(j) […] roupa pendurada em cabides fixos na parede mal caiada e salitrosa, ou caída pelo chão (Júlio Diniz, Os Fidalgos da Casa Mourisca, 1871.)

Cair até o Chão or Cair até ao Chão

In Portugal it is always cair até ao chão, but you’ll find cair até o chão in 19th century writers; in Brazil it is more commonly cair até o chão. This is an unusual phrase when talking of falling bodies. I tried to think of a half sensible example, and came up with this:

(k) Milhares de folhas esvoaçam ao sabor do vento, caindo lentamente; cairão até ao chão.

Até means ‘all the way up to, as far as’. So it works in the previous example because you can imagine the leaves falling slowly all the way down to the ground. Also saying that they will fall as far as the ground is relevant because in principle they might not reach the ground; their fall might be arrested by an upward gust of wind. So whereas cair no chão focus on the body hitting the ground, cair até ao chão focus on the descent and tells you the body will fall as far as the ground. I looked for actual examples, and these are the best I found:

(l) Isso significa que se você soltar uma caneta ou uma bola de boliche da janela, elas cairão até o chão exatamente juntas!
(Como os objetos caem, Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais.)

Even though this fall would be quick, até a chão focus on the descent, letting us know that the two bodies, while falling, will keep side by side. The following example is metaphoric. Again the focus is on the ‘descent’, not on hitting the ground; and it says that the prices fall as far as they possibly could:

(m) […] pequeno lavrador, que não tem resistência económica, colhe o produto do seu suor e do seu esforço, os preços caem até o chão
(Vidal dos Santos e Luis Monteiro, Diário de uma Campanha, 1961.)

Now, a caveat. Examples (j) and (k) are from Brazilian authors, and this is my interpretation. I’m not 100% sure this interpretation was the authors’ intention, as I’m told that in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese cair até o is often simply substituted for cair no. The last example is from a book over fifty years old, so I would have thought that is not the case.

Now, cair (Aulete 5) can also mean (of hair, capes, curtains) ‘to hang down’. And you can often find cair até in this sense, as in the following example, where the ribbons hang down all the way to the ground or floor:

(n) Estava toda vestida de branco, mas trazia cingindo-lhe a cintura uma fita negra, cujas pontas caíam até o chão. (Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, Os Dois Amores, 1848.)

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