Portuguese grammar

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Portuguese grammar, the morphology and syntax of the Portuguese language, is similar to the grammar of most other Romance languages—especially that of Spanish, and even more so to that of Galician. It is a relatively synthetic, fusional language.

Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and articles are moderately inflected: there are two genders (masculine and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural). The case system of the ancestor language, Latin, has been lost, but personal pronouns are still declined with three main types of forms: subject, object of verb, and object of preposition. Most nouns and many adjectives can take diminutive or augmentative derivational suffixes, and most adjectives can take a so-called "superlative" derivational suffix. Adjectives usually follow the noun.

Verbs are highly inflected: there are three tenses (past, present, future), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative), three aspects (perfective, imperfective, and progressive), three voices (active, passive, reflexive), and an inflected infinitive. Most perfect and imperfect tenses are synthetic, totaling 11 conjugational paradigms, while all progressive tenses and passive constructions are periphrastic. As in other Romance languages, there is also an impersonal passive construction, with the agent replaced by an indefinite pronoun. Portuguese is basically an SVO language, although SOV syntax may occur with a few object pronouns, and word order is generally not as rigid as in English. It is a null subject language, with a tendency to drop object pronouns as well, in colloquial varieties. It has two copular verbs.

It has a number of grammatical features that distinguish it from most other Romance languages, such as a synthetic pluperfect, a future subjunctive tense, the inflected infinitive, and a present perfect with an iterative sense. A rare feature of Portuguese is mesoclisis, the infixing of clitic pronouns in some verbal forms.

Sentence structure[edit]

Word classes[edit]

Like most Indo-European languages, including English, Portuguese classifies most of its lexicon into four word classes: verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. These are "open" classes, in the sense that they readily accept new members, by coinage, borrowing, or compounding. Interjections form a smaller open class.

There are also several small closed classes, such as pronouns, prepositions, articles, demonstratives, numerals, conjunctions, and a few grammatically peculiar words such as eis ("here is"; cf. Latin ecce and French voilà), cadê ("where is"), tomara ("let's hope"), and oxalá ("let's hope that").

Within the four main classes there are many semi-regular mechanisms that can be used to derive new words from existing words, sometimes with change of class; for example, veloz ("fast") → velocíssimo ("very fast"), medir ("to measure") → medição ("measurement"), piloto ("pilot") → pilotar ("to pilot"). Finally, there are several phrase embedding mechanisms that allow arbitrarily complex phrases to behave like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

Subject, object, and complement[edit]

Following the general Indo-European pattern, the central element of almost any Portuguese clause is a verb, which may directly connect to one, two, or (rarely) three nouns (or noun-like phrases), called the subject, the object (more specifically, the direct object), and the complement (more specifically, the object complement or objective complement). The most frequent order of these elements in Portuguese is subject–verb–object (SVO, as in examples (1) and (2) below), or, when a complement is present, subject–verb–object-complement (SVOC — examples (3) and (4)):

(1) {A Maria}S {ama}V {o Paulo}O, "Maria loves Paulo."
(2) {O pedreiro}S {construiu}V {a casa}O, "The mason has constructed the house."
(3) {O presidente}S {nomeou}V {Pedro}O {ministro}C, "The president appointed Pedro (as) minister."
(4) {Ela}S {achou}V {o livro}O {uma chatice}C, "She found the book a bore."

Any of the three noun elements may be omitted if it can be inferred from the context or from other syntactic clues; but many grammatical rules will still apply as if the omitted part were there.

A clause will often contain a number of adverbs (or adverbial phrases) that modify the meaning of the verb; they may be inserted between the major components of the clause. Additional nouns can be connected to the verb by means of prepositions; the resulting prepositional phrases have an adverbial function. For example:

Ele carregou {sem demora} a mala {para ela} {do carro} {até a porta}, "He carried {without delay} the bag {for her} {from the car} {to the door}."

Null subject language[edit]

As with several modern Romance languages, Portuguese is a null subject language, i.e., a language whose grammar permits and sometimes mandates the omission of an explicit subject.

In Portuguese, the grammatical person of the subject is generally reflected by the inflection of the verb. Sometimes, though an explicit subject is not necessary to form a grammatically correct sentence, one may be stated in order to emphasize its importance. Some sentences, however, do not allow a subject at all and in some other cases an explicit subject would sound awkward or unnatural:

  • "I'm going home" can be translated either as Vou para casa or as Eu vou para casa, where eu means "I".
  • "It's raining" can be translated as Está a chover but not as Ele está a chover, where ele would correspond to English "it".[1]
  • "I'm going home. I'm going to watch TV." only in exceptional circumstances would be translated as Eu vou para casa. Eu vou ver televisão. At least the second eu ("I") should be omitted.[2]

As in other null subject SVO languages, the subject is often postponed, mostly in existential sentences, answers to partial questions and contrast structures:

  • Existem muitos ratos aqui! ("There are many mice here")
  • Quem é que foi? Fui eu. ("Who was it? It was me.")
  • Ela não comeu o bolo, mas comi eu. ("She didn't eat the cake, but I did.")[3]

Types of sentences[edit]

Portuguese declarative sentences, as in many languages, are the least marked ones.

Imperative sentences use the imperative mood for the second person. For other grammatical persons and for every negative imperative sentence, the subjunctive is used.

Yes/no questions have the same structure as declarative sentences, and are marked only by a different tonal pattern (mostly a raised tone near the end of the sentence), represented by a question mark in writing. Wh-questions often start with quem ("who"), o que ("what"), qual ("which"), onde ("where"), aonde ("where... to"), quando ("when"), porquê ("why"), etc. Quem, o que and qual can be preceded by any preposition, but in this case o que will most times be replaced by que. In oral language, but often also in writing, these words are followed by the interrogative device é que (literally, "is [it] that"; compare French est-ce que).
Wh-questions sometimes occur without wh-movement, that is, wh-words remain in situ. In this case, o que and porque are to be replaced by their stressed counterparts o quê and porquê'.' (There are also four types of "porquês". When it is the first word in a sentence, comes as "porque"; if it be the last word, "porquê"; if meaning "because", porque; and when it's a noun i.e. meaning "the reason of / in this / about this", hence it comes as "porquê"). For example:

O que/Que é que ela fez? or O que/que fez ela?
"What did she do?"
Ela fez o quê?
"What did she do?" or, if emphatic, "She did what?"
Por quê?
Em que dia é que isso aconteceu?
"On what day did that happen?"
Isso aconteceu em que dia?
"On what day did that happen?"

In Brazilian Portuguese, the phrase é que is more often omitted.


Não ("no") is the natural negative answer to yes/no questions. As in Latin, positive answers are usually made with the inflected verb of the question in the appropriate person and number. Portuguese is one of the few Romance languages keeping this Latin peculiarity. The adverbs ("already"), ainda ("yet"), and também ("too", "also") are used when one of them appears in the question.

Q: Gostaste do filme? A: Gostei. / Não.
Q: "Did you like the movie?" A: "Yes.", literally, "I liked." / "No."
Q: Eu não tinha deixado aqui uma chave? A: Tinhas!
Q: "Didn't I leave here a key?" A: "Yes, you did!"
Q: Já leste este livro? A: Já. / Ainda não.
Q: "Have you already read this book?" A: "Yes", literally, "Already." / "Not yet."

The word sim ("yes") may be used for a positive answer, but, if used alone, it may in certain cases sound unnatural or impolite. In Brazilian Portuguese, sim can be used after the verb for emphasis. In European Portuguese, emphasis in answers is added with the duplication of the verb. In both versions of Portuguese, emphasis can also result from syntactical processes that are not restricted to answers, such as the addition of adverbs like muito ("much") or muitíssimo ("very much").

It is also acceptable, though sometimes formal, to use yes before the verb of the question, separated by a pause or, in writing, a comma. The use of sim before the verb does not add emphasis, and may on the contrary be less assertive.

Q: Gostou do filme? A: Gostei, sim!
Q: "Did you like the movie?" A:"Yes, I did!" (Brazilian Portuguese)
Q: Gostaste do filme? A: Gostei, gostei!
Q: "Did you like the movie?" A:"Yes, I did!"; literally, "I Liked, I liked!" (European Portuguese)
Q: Há comboios a esta hora? A: Há, há!
Q: "Are there any trains at this time?" A:"Yes, there are!" (European Portuguese)
Q: Ele gostou do filme? A: Sim, gostou...
Q:"Did he like the movie?" A:"Yes..." (Both Brazilian and European Portuguese)


Portuguese has a definite article and an indefinite one, with different forms according to the gender and number of the noun to which they refer:

singular plural meaning
masculine feminine masculine feminine
definite article o a os as the
indefinite article um uma uns umas a, an; some

Unlike some other Romance languages or English, the written form of the Portuguese articles is the same, independently of the next word. The noun after the indefinite article may be elided, in which case the article is equivalent to English "one" (if singular) or "a few ones" (if plural): quero um também ("I want one too"), quero uns maduros ("I want a few ripe ones").

The definite article may appear before a noun in certain contexts where it is not used in English, for example before certain proper nouns, such as country, and organization names:

Ele visitou o Brasil, a China e a Itália, "He visited Brazil, China, and Italy"
Ele visitou o Rio, "He visited Rio de Janeiro".
A IBM patrocinou o MoMA, "IBM sponsored MoMA"
Ele foi para o São Paulo, "He went to the São Paulo (soccer team)".


Ele visitou Portugal e Moçambique, "He visited Portugal and Mozambique"
Ele foi para São Paulo, "He went to São Paulo (city or state)".

The article is never used with Portugal, Angola, Cabo Verde, Moçambique and Timor. In general, article usage for proper nouns is largely determined by tradition, and it may vary with dialect.

Article before personal names[edit]

In many varieties of the language, including all European varieties, personal names are normally preceded by a definite article, a trait which Portuguese shares with Catalan. This is a relatively recent development, which some Brazilian dialects (e.g. those of the Northeast) have not adopted. In those dialects of Portuguese that do regularly use definite articles before proper nouns, the article may be omitted for extra formality, or to show distance in a literary narrative.

A Maria saiu, "Maria left" (informal)
A Sr.ª Maria saiu, "Ms. Maria left" (formal)


Maria Teixeira saiu, "Maria Teixeira left" (formal and mostly written)


Like all western Romance languages, Portuguese does not inflect nouns to indicate their grammatical function, relying instead on the use of more prepositions (including an accusative preposition), phrasal prepositions, pleonastic objects, or on the context or word order. It has fairly regular noun inflection rules to indicate number (singular or plural), and many semi-regular ones to express biological sex or social gender, size, endearment, deprecation, etc. Nouns are classified into two grammatical genders, and adjectives, articles and demonstratives must be inflected to agree with the noun in gender and number.

There are two genders, masculine and feminine, and two numbers, singular and plural. Articles and adjectives are usually inflected to agree in gender and number with the nouns or pronouns they refer to. There are no cases; only personal pronouns are still declined. Diminutive and augmentative forms exist for nouns.

Gender and number[edit]

Most adjectives and demonstratives, and all articles must be inflected according to the gender and number of the noun they reference:

esta linda casa branca ("this nice white house")
este lindo carro branco ("this nice white car")
estas lindas aves brancas ("these nice white birds")
estes lindos gatos brancos ("these nice white cats")

The agreement rules apply also to adjectives used with copulas, e.g. o carro é branco ("the car is white") vs. a casa é branca ("the house is white").

Gender determination[edit]

As in all Romance languages, the grammatical gender of inanimate entities is quite arbitrary, and often different from that used in sister languages: thus, for example, Portuguese árvore ("tree") and flor ("flower") are feminine, while Spanish árbol and Italian fiore are masculine; Portuguese mar ("sea") and mapa ("map") are masculine, while French mer and mappe are feminine; and so on.

The gender and number of many nouns can be deduced from its ending: the basic pattern is "-o" / "-os" for masculine singular and plural, "-a" / "-as" for feminine. And, indeed, casa ("house"), mala ("suitcase"), pedra ("stone"), and inteligência ("intelligence") are all feminine, while carro ("car"), saco ("bag"), tijolo ("brick"), and aborrecimento ("annoyance") are all masculine. However, the complete rules are quite complex: for instance, nouns ending in -ção are usually feminine, except for augmentatives like bração ("big arm"). And there are many irregular exceptions. For words ending in other letters, there are few rules: flor ("flower"), gente ("folk"), nau ("ship"), maré ("tide") are feminine, amor ("love"), pente ("comb"), pau ("stick"), café ("coffee") are masculine.

The gender of animate beings often matches the biological sex, but there are many exceptions: autoridade ("authority"), testemunha ("witness"), and girafa ("giraffe"), for example, are always feminine regardless of their sex, and so are all respectful treatments such as Vossa Excelência ("Your Excellency"); whereas peixe fêmea ("female fish") is strictly masculine.

On the other hand, the gender of some nouns, as well as of 1st and 2nd person pronouns, is determined semantically by the biological sex of the referent: aquela estudante é nova, mas aquele estudante é velho ("this (female) student is new, but that (male) student is old"; or eu sou brasileiro ("I am Brazilian", said by a man) and eu sou brasileira (the same, said by a woman).

Also, many animate masculine nouns have specific feminine derivative forms to indicate female biological sex: lobo ("wolf" or "male wolf", masculine gender) → loba ("she-wolf", feminine), conde ("count", m.) → condessa ("countess", f.), doutor ("doctor" or "male doctor", m.) → doutora ("female doctor", f.), ator ("actor", m.) → atriz ("actress", f.), etc.. The feminine noun derivations should not be confused with the adjectival gender inflections, which use different (and more regular) rules.

Diminutives and augmentatives[edit]

The Portuguese language makes abundant use of diminutives, which connote small size, endearment or insignificance. Diminutives are very commonly used in informal language. On the other hand, most uses of diminutives are avoided in written and otherwise formal language.

The most common diminutive endings are -inho and -inha, replacing -o and -a, respectively. Words with the stress on the last syllable generally have -zinho or -zinha added, such as café "coffee" and cafezinho "coffee served as a show of hospitality". In writing, a c (but not a ç) becomes qu in some words, like pouco ("few") and pouquinho ("very few"), in order to preserve the [k] pronunciation.

Possible endings other than -inho(a) are:

-ito(a), e.g. copo/copito ("glass")
-ico(a), e.g. burro/burrico ("donkey")
-(z)ete, e.g. palácio/palacete ("palace")

-ote, e.g. saia/saiote ("skirt")
-oto, e.g. lebre/lebroto ("hare/leveret")
-ejo, e.g. lugar/lugarejo ("place")

-acho, e.g. rio/riacho ("river")
-ola, e.g. aldeia/aldeola ("village")
-el, e.g. corda/cordel ("rope")

It is also possible to form a diminutive of a diminutive, e.g. "burriquito" (burro + -ico + -ito).

Portuguese diminutive endings are often used not only with nouns but also with adjectives, e.g. tonto/tontinho ("silly" / "a bit silly"), or verde/verdinho ("green" / "nicely green") and occasionally with adverbs, e.g. depressa/depressinha ("quickly") and some other word classes, e.g. obrigadinho– diminutive for the interjection obrigado "thanks". Even the numeral um (one) can informally become unzinho.

The most common augmentatives are the masculine -ão and the feminine -ona, although there are others, like -aço(a) e.g. mulher/mulheraça ("woman"); or -eirão, e.g. voz/vozeirão ("voice"), less frequently used. Sometimes the masculine augmentative can be applied to a feminine noun, which then becomes grammatically masculine, but with a feminine meaning, e.g. a mulher / o mulherão ("the woman" / "the big woman").


Adjectives normally follow the nouns which they modify. Thus "white house" is casa branca but the reverse order branca casa is possible. Some adjectives like bom ("good"), belo ("nice"), and grande ("great", "big") are often prefixed. Indeed, some of these have rather different meanings depending on position: um grande homem means "a great man", um homem grande means "a big man".

They are inflected for gender and number, and have also a "superlative" inflection, which actually enhances the meaning of the adjective without explicitly comparing it ("lindo", beautiful; "lindíssimo", very beautiful). The actual degrees of comparison are expressed analytically, mostly with the adverb mais "more": mais alto (do) que = "higher than", o mais alto "the highest". However, a few other adjectives (besides mais itself) have suppletive comparative/superlative forms:

Adjective Comparative Superlative (absolute) Superlative (relative)
bom (good) melhor (better) o melhor (the best) ótimo (very good)
mau (bad) pior (worse) o pior (the worst) péssimo (very bad)
pequeno (small) menor (smaller) o menor (the smallest) mínimo (very small)
grande (big) maior (bigger) o maior (the biggest) máximo (very big)

The others adjectives follow this example:

Adjective Comparative Superlative (absolut) Superlative (relative)
belo (pretty) mais belo (prettier) o mais belo (the prettiest) belíssimo (very pretty)
caro (expensive) mais caro (more expensive) o mais caro (the most expensive) caríssimo (very expensive)

The rules for inflecting adjectives for gender and number are the same as those for nouns. There are a few basic patterns, including:

(masc.singl., fem.singl., masc.pl., fem.pl.):
branco, branca, brancos, brancas ("white")
francês, francesa, franceses, francesas ("French")
verde, verde, verdes, verdes ("green")
feliz, feliz, felizes, felizes ("happy")
superior, superior, superiores, superiores ("superior")
motor, motriz, motores, motrizes ("motorised")
azul, azul, azuis, azuis ("blue")
grandão, grandona, grandões, grandonas ("rather big")

However, there are a few exceptions, such as:

bom, boa, bons, boas ("good")
lilás, lilás, lilás, lilás ("lilac")


Portuguese prepositions are somewhat similar to those of neighboring Romance languages; but there are some conspicuous differences.

There is no simple correspondence between English and Portuguese prepositions; the following table is a rough approximation:

a = used before indirect object, it can also mean "to", "at", "in", "on", etc, or used before direct object (accusative preposition) for topicalization.
até = "until"
com = "with"
de = "of", "from", "about", etc.
debaixo de = "under", "below"
desde = "from", "since"
em = "in", "on", "at"a
entre = "between", "among"
por = "by", "for", "through"
para = "for", "to", "in order to"
sem = "without"
sobre = "on", "above", "on top of", "about"
sob = "under" (mostly literary)

a partir de = "from"
acerca de = "about"
através de = "through"
dentro de = "inside"
em baixo de = "under"
em cima de = "above", "on"
junto com = "along with"
para com = "to"
vindo de = "from ,since"

The English possessive case has no systematic counterpart in Portuguese (or, for that matter, in any other Romance language except Romanian and Latin). Portuguese generally uses de ("of") to indicate possession or, indeed, any relation (which must be deciphered from the context).

Several prepositions contract with the definite article.

preposition article
o a os as
de do da dos das
em no na nos nas
por pelo pela pelos pelas
a ao à aos às
para prò1, pro1 prà1, pra1 pròs1, pros1 pràs1, pras1

1 colloquial

The contractions in the first four rows (with de, em, por, a) are mandatory in all registers. The grave accent in à / às has phonetic value in Portugal and African countries, but not in Brazil (see Portuguese phonology). In Brazil, the grave accent serves only to indicate the crasis in written text. The contractions in the last row are common in speech, but not used in formal writing. They may, however, appear when transcribing colloquial speech, for example in comic books. In the latter case, the grave accent is often omitted in Brazil, and it is also often mistakenly replaced with an acute accent elsewhere.

The prepositions de and em may also contract with the indefinite article, and with some pronouns that begin with a vowel:

de + um/uma/uns/umas = dum/duma/duns/dumas ("of a", "from a")
em + um/uma/uns/umas = num/numa/nuns/numas ("in a", "on a", "at a")

The contractions above are very common in the spoken language, formal or informal, and are also acceptable in formal writing in Portugal. In Brazil, they are avoided in writing, especially those of the preposition de with the indefinite article.

Across clause boundaries, contractions may occur in colloquial speech, but they are not done in writing, for clarity sake:

Fui, apesar da loja estar fechada. (informal only)
Fui, apesar de a loja estar fechada. (formal or informal)
"I went, even though the shop was closed."

The English concept of phrasal verb (like "set up", "get by", "pick out", etc.) does not exist in Portuguese: as a rule, prepositions are attached to the noun more strongly than to the verb.

For a list of contracted prepositions in Portuguese, see Wikipedia in Portuguese: Contração gramatical.

Personal pronouns and possessives[edit]

Pronouns are often inflected for gender and number, although many have irregular inflections.

Personal pronouns are inflected according to their syntactic role. They have three main types of forms: for the subject, for the object of a verb, and for the object of a preposition. In the third person, a distinction is also made between simple direct objects, simple indirect objects, and reflexive objects.

Possessive pronouns are identical to possessive adjectives. As in other Romance languages, they are inflected to agree with the gender of the possessed being or object.

There are drastic differences in personal pronoun usage and forms between EP and BP, especially in spoken BP. Some of the more notable differences:

  • Spoken BP tends to reduce or eliminate the use of the familiar second-singular tu in favor of você; even when forms of tu are used, they generally co-occur with third-singular verbs.
  • Correspondingly, original third-person possessive forms seu/sua shift to mean "your", while postposed dele/dela (literally "of him/her") are co-opted as third-person possessives.
  • Colloquially, first-plural verb forms are often substituted by the pseudo-pronominal a gente (originally "the people"), along with third-singular verbs.
  • These above changes tend to trigger a much stronger use of subject pronouns in non-emphatic contexts (i.e. BP is moving away from being a null-subject language).
  • Unstressed object pronouns are always placed before the verb in BP, while in EP they often come after the verb (or even in the middle of a verb), with various associated phonological adjustments.
  • Unstressed third-person object pronouns (o/a/os/as) hardly occur in BP (eu tenho "I have it"; eu vi or eu vi ela "I saw her").


Place adverbs[edit]

Adverbs of place show a three-way distinction between close to the speaker, close to the listener, and far from both:

aqui, = "here"
= "there" (near you)
ali, (also acolá and além) = "over there" (far from both of us)

There seem to be differences in usage between aqui and , with the latter being used more often after prepositions: e.g. estamos aqui ("we are here") and vem para cá (lit., "come to here"). Differences also happen in the meaning of ali, and acolá ( is mostly used about places or objects, that are out of range of visibility, or to point out a general direction, and seems to be farther than ali, which is mostly used about places or objects visible or near to one), but they are not quite distinct degrees of separation.


Demonstratives have the same three-way distinction as place adverbs:

este lápis - "this pencil" (near me)
esse lápis - "that pencil" (near you)
aquele lápis - "that pencil" (over there, away from both of us)

In colloquial Brazilian Portuguese, esse is often used interchangeably with este when there is no need to make a distinction. This distinction is usually only made in formal writing or by people with more formal education, or simply to emphasize the fact it is near, like in "esta sexta!" ("next Friday!").

The noun after a demonstrative can be elided: quero esse também ("I want that one too"), vendi aqueles ontem ("I sold those yesterday").

Note that the vowel in the demonstrative differs between masculine (este/esse/aquele with /e/), feminine (esta/essa/aquela with /ɛ/) and neuter (isto/isso/aquilo with /i/). A similar variation occurs in the personal pronouns between masculine ele and feminine ela.

Demonstratives form contractions with some prepositions, like the articles: de + este = deste ("of this"), de + esse = desse ("of that"), em + aquilo = naquilo ("in that thing"), a + aquela = àquela ("to that").

Demonstrative adjectives are identical to demonstrative pronouns: cf. Aquele carro "That car" with Aquele "That one."

Indefinite pronouns[edit]

The indefinite pronouns todo, toda, todos, todas are followed by the definite article in European Portuguese, and also elsewhere when they mean "whole". Otherwise, articles and indefinite pronouns are mutually exclusive.

In the demonstratives and in some indefinite pronouns, there is a trace of the neuter gender of Latin. For example, todo and esse are used with masculine referents, toda and essa are used with feminine referents, and tudo and isso are used when there is no definite referent e.g. todo livro or todo o livro, "every book"; toda salada or toda a salada, "every salad"; tudo "everything", and so on:

este, esta, estes, estas ("this", "these"); isto ("this thing")
esse, essa, esses, essas ("that", "those"); isso ("that thing")
aquele, aquela, aqueles, aquelas ("that", "those"); aquilo ("that thing")
algum, alguma, alguns, algumas ("some"); algo ("something")
nenhum, nenhuma, nenhuns, nenhumas ("no"); nada ("nothing")
todo, toda, todos, todas ("every", "all"); tudo ("everything")

In terms of agreement, however, these "neuter" words function as masculine: both todo and tudo take masculine adjective pronouns.


As in most Romance languages, the Portuguese verb is usually inflected to agree with the subject's grammatical person (with three values, 1=I/we, 2=you, 3=he/she/it/they) and grammatical number (singular or plural), and to express various attributes of the action, such as time (past, present, future); completed, frustrated, or continuing; subordination and conditionality; command; and more. As a consequence, a regular Portuguese verb stem can take over 50 distinct suffixes. (For comparison, regular French and Italian verbs have about 40 distinct forms.)


Related article: Romance copula

Two verbs are used as main copulae, as in some other Romance languages, the verbs ser and estar ("to be"). They developed from Latin SUM and STO, although the infinitive form ser actually comes from SEDERE. Most forms of ser come from SUM (infinitive ESSE), the only exceptions being the indicative future, the subjunctive present and the imperative. Ficar is also used as secondary copula, sometimes being translatable as "to become (to be)" or "to get (to be)" (e.g., Fiquei rico. = "I got rich"), some other times as "to stay" (e.g., Fica aí! = "Stay there!"), some other times even as "to be" (e.g., Coimbra fica na Beira = "Coimbra is in Beira" and Fica quieto! = "Be still!").

The distinction between ser and estar is perhaps a little more of a concept of permanent versus temporary, rather than essence versus state. This makes Portuguese closer to Catalan than to Spanish.

  • A cadeira é [feita] de madeira = "The chair is made of wood"

The word meaning "made" is in square brackets here, as it is usually omitted.

  • Sou casado. = "I'm married."
  • Estou casado. = "I'm married now."

The same applies in sentences such as the following, which use ser for the passive voice, with no special exceptions for prohibitions and the like:

  • É proibido fumar neste voo = "No smoking on this flight" (lit. "it is forbidden to...")

Portuguese counts location either as fundamental or not, and accordingly uses ser or ficar and estar:

  • Onde é/fica a casa dela? = "Where is her house?"
  • Onde está o carro dela? = "Where is her car?"

Note: Questions often include the interrogative structure é que (literally "is that"). The two last examples would probably be uttered as Onde é que é/está/fica...


  • Estou tonta = "I'm dizzy"
  • Sou tonta = "I'm silly"
  • É sujo = "It's dirty" (i.e. "It's a dirty place" — characteristic)
  • Está sujo = "It's dirty" (i.e. "(right now) The place is dirty" — state)
  • É aberta = "She's open" (i.e. "She's an open sort of person" — characteristic)
  • Está aberta = "It's open" (probably referring to a door or window — state)
  • Ele é triste = "He is sad" (i.e. gloomy — characteristic)
  • (Ele) Está triste = "He is sad" (i.e. feeling down — state)
  • Como és? = "What are you like?" (i.e. "describe yourself" — characteristics)
  • Como estás? = "How are you?" (i.e. "how are you doing?" — state)

With adjectives referring to beauty and the like, ser means "to be", and estar means "to look".

  • Que linda ela é! = "Wow, she's so beautiful" (characteristic)
  • Que linda ela está! = "Wow, she's looking so beautiful" (state)

As in Spanish, the differentiation between "nature" and "state" makes sense when talking about the states of life and death: Está vivo (He is alive). Está morto (He is dead).

Ser is used with adjectives of fundamental belief (Não sou católico, "I'm not Catholic"), nationality (És português, "You are Portuguese"), sex (É homem, "He's a man"), intelligence (Somos espertos, "We are smart"), etc.

Due to Catholicism being the main religion in most Lusophone countries the use of católico ("Catholic") with estar has a figurative meaning:

  • Eu não estou muito católico = "I'm not feeling very dependable/trustworthy." (possibly ill or drunk)
  • O tempo hoje não está muito católico = "The weather's not very nice today."

With this exception, estar is not used for fundamental belief, nationality, sex, or intelligence. One can nevertheless say Estou abrasileirado. ("I'm Brazilian-influenced." — state) or Estás americanizado. (You are Americanised — state).

Infinitive form[edit]

The infinitive is used, as in English, to make subordinate noun clauses that express an action at an indefinite time, and possibly with an indefinite or implicit subject, e.g. queremos cantar ("we would like to sing"), cantar é agradável (lit. "to sing is pleasant"). Many of its uses would be translated into English by the "-ing" nominal form, e.g. mesa para cortar ("cutting table"), cantar é bom ("singing is good"), trabalhe sem parar ("work without pausing")

European Portuguese has the distinct feature of preferentially using the infinitive preceded by the preposition "a" in place of the gerund as the typical method of describing continuing action:

Estou lendo.
"I am reading." (Brazilian Portuguese)
Estou a ler.
"I am reading." (European Portuguese)
Estavam dormindo.
"They were sleeping." (Brazilian Portuguese)
Estavam a dormir.
"They were sleeping." (European Portuguese)

The gerund "-ndo" form is still correct in European Portuguese and it is used colloquially in the Alentejo region, but relatively rare (although its adverbial uses and the other participle forms are not uncommon). On the other hand, the "a + infinitive" form is virtually nonexistent in Brazil, and considered an improper use in Brazilian Portuguese.

A distinctive trait of Portuguese grammar (shared with Galician and Sardinian) is the existence of infinitive verb forms inflected according to the person and number of the subject:

É melhor voltar, "It is better to go back" (impersonal)
É melhor voltares, "It is better that you go back"
É melhor voltarmos, "It is better that we go back"

Depending on the context and intended sense, the personal infinitive may be forbidden, required, or optional.

Personal infinitive sentences may often be used interchangeably with finite subordinate clauses. In these cases, finite clauses are usually associated with the more formal registers of the language.

Conjugation classes[edit]

Verbs are divided into three main conjugation classes according to the ending of their infinitive form, which may be either -ar, -er, or -ir. There is also the irregular verb pôr ("to put") and its prefixed derivatives, which for historical reasons many grammarians still place in the -er conjugation class (it used to be poer). Most stems belong to the -ar conjugation class, which is the only one open to neologisms such as clicar ("to click" with a mouse).

Each conjugation class has its own distinctive set of 50 or so inflection suffixes: cant/arcant/ou ("he sang"), vend/ervend/eu ("he sold"), part/irpart/iu ("he left"), rep/orrep/ôs ("he put back") . Some suffixes undergo various regular adjustments depending on the final consonant of the stem, either in pronunciation, in the spelling, or in both. Some verbal inflections also entail a shift in syllable stress: 'canto ("I sing"), can'tamos ("we sing"), canta'rei ("I will sing"). See Portuguese verb conjugation.

There are a couple hundred verbs with some irregular inflections, and about a dozen or so that are very irregular, including the auxiliaries ser ("to be"), haver ("there to be" or "to have"), ter ("to possess", "to have", "there to be" - in Brazilian Portuguese), ir ("to go"), and a few others.

Gerund and participle forms[edit]

The gerund form of a verb always ends with -ndo. It is used to make compound tenses expressing continuing action, e.g. ele está cantando ("he is singing"), ele estava cantando ("he was singing"); or as an adverb, e.g. ele trabalha cantando ("he works while singing"). It is never inflected for person or number.

In European Portuguese, the gerund is often replaced by the infinitive (preceded by "a") when used to express continuing action.

The participle of regular verbs is used in compound verb tenses, as in ele tinha cantado ("he had sung"). It can also be used as an adjective:, and in this case it is inflected to agree with the noun's gender and number: um hino cantado ("a sung anthem", masculine singular), três árias cantadas ("three sung arias", feminine plural). Some verbs have two distinct forms (one regular, one irregular), for these two uses. Additionally, a few verbs have two different verbal participles, a regular one for the active voice, and an irregular one for the passive voice. An example is the verb matar (to kill): Bruto tinha matado César ("Brutus had killed Cesar"), César foi morto por Bruto ("Cesar was killed by Brutus").

Synthetic moods and tenses[edit]

Grammarians usually classify the verbal inflections (i.e. the synthetic verb forms) into the following moods, tenses, and non-finite forms:

  • indicative mood, used in the main clauses of declarative sentences:
    • present tense: cantamos, "we sing"
    • past tenses:
      • perfect past tense: cantámos (EP), cantamos (BP) "we sang"
      • imperfect past tense: cantávamos, "we were singing"
      • pluperfect past tense: cantáramos, "we had sung"
    • future tense: cantaremos, "we will sing"
    • conditional tense: cantaríamos, "we would sing"
  • subjunctive mood used in certain subordinate clauses:
    • subjunctive present tense: que cantemos, "that we sing"
    • subjunctive past tense: se cantássemos, "if we sang/would sing"
    • subjunctive future tense: se cantarmos, "if we sing/should sing"
  • imperative mood: used to express a command, advice, encouragement, etc.:
  • infinitive form:
    • impersonal: cantar, "to sing"
    • personal: cantarmos, "us to sing", "that we sing" or "our singing"
  • gerund form: cantando, "singing"
  • past (or passive) participle form: cantado, "sung"

The conditional tense is usually called "future of the past" in Brazilian grammars, whereas in Portugal it is usually classified as a separate "conditional mood". Portuguese grammarians call subjunctive "conjuntivo"; Brazilians call it "subjuntivo".

Note that the synthetic future and conditional have largely disappeared from Brazilian speech. The synthetic future is generally replaced by ir + infinitive (e.g. vou cantar "I will sing"), while the conditional is replaced either by the imperfect (especially in its modal use; se você me desse dinheiro, eu cantava "if you gave me money, I would sing") or by the imperfect of ir + infinitive (in its non-modal, "future of the past" usage; ele disse que ia cantar "he said that he would sing"). However, the synthetic future subjunctive is still in common use. The synthetic future and conditional of verbs with one-syllable infinitives also sometimes occur (e.g. será/seria "it will/would be" or in the compound tenses terá/teria sido "it will/would have been").

In regular verbs, the personal infinitive is identical to the subjunctive future tense; but they are different in irregular verbs: quando formos ("when we go", subjunctive) versus é melhor irmos ("it is better that we go").

There are also are many compound tenses expressed with inflected forms of the auxiliary verbs ser and estar (variants of "to be"), haver and ter (variants of "to have").

Compound forms[edit]

Like all Romance languages, Portuguese has many compound verb tenses, consisting of an auxiliary verb (inflected in any of the above forms) combined with the gerund, participle or infinitive of the principal verb.

The basic auxiliary verbs of Portuguese are ter (originally "to hold", from Latin tenere, but nowadays meaning "to have"), haver ("to have", from Latin habere; tends to be replaced with ter in most constructions), ser ("to be", from Latin esse), estar ("to be", from Latin stare "to stand"), and ir ("to go", Latin ire), which have analogues in most other Romance languages. Thus, for example, "he had spoken" can be translated as ele havia falado or ele tinha falado. Other auxiliary verbs are ser (also "to be", from Latin esse), ficar ("to remain", "to become"), and ir ("to go").

Compound perfect[edit]

In other Romance languages, compound perfect are constructed with a verb derived from Latin habere. This used to be the case in Portuguese, too, but in recent centuries the verb ter, from Latin tenere, has been steadily overtaking haver, although the latter is still used with some frequency in writing and in formal spoken registers. While ter is used as auxiliary by other Iberian languages, it is much more pervasive in Portuguese. In fact, there has been a general shift from haver, which in Old Portuguese literally meant "to have", towards ter, which used to mean "to hold", but has now taken the meaning of "to have". In colloquial European Portuguese, haver is only used impersonally (with the sense of "there to be") and in the construction haver-de (hei-de voltar "I will return"; with stronger emphasis in Brazil). In spoken Brazilian Portuguese even the impersonal haver is replaced with ter, as in Tem muito peixe no mar "There are plenty of fish in the sea" (although the latter use is not endorsed by official grammar[citation needed]).

Tenses with ter/haver + past participle (composed tenses):

  • Indicative preterit perfect - temos falado ("we have spoken" as in "we have spoken quite a lot lately" - there is an iterative notion. Haver is not used nowadays. This tense may also be equivalent to the simple preterit for some fixed expressions, such as Tenho dito/concluído)
  • Indicative pluperfect - tínhamos/havíamos falado ("we had spoken")
  • Indicative anterior pluperfect - tivéramos/houvéramos falado ("we had spoken", literary use only)
  • Indicative future perfect teremos/haveremos falado ("we will have spoken")
  • Conditional perfect - teríamos/haveríamos falado ("we would have spoken")
  • Subjunctive preterit perfect - desde que tenhamos/hajamos falado ("provided that we have spoken")
  • Subjunctive pluperfect - se/que tivéssemos/houvéssemos falado ("if/that we had spoken")
  • Subjunctive future perfect - se/quando tivermos/houvermos falado ("if/when we have spoken")
  • Personal infinitive perfect - termos/havermos falado ("to have spoken")

With no inflexion:

  • Impersonal infinitive perfect - ter/haver falado ("to have spoken")
  • Gerund perfect - tendo/havendo falado ("having spoken")

Compound vs. simple pluperfect[edit]

In addition to the compound forms for completed past actions, Portuguese also retains a synthetic pluperfect: so ele tinha falado and ele havia falado ("he had spoken") can also be expressed as ele falara. However, the pluperfect is losing ground to the compound forms. While pluperfect forms like falara are generally understood, they are generally limited to regional use (in some regions of Portugal) or written speech. In BP, its use is even less frequent.

Preterite vs. present perfect[edit]

The simple past (or pretérito perfeito simples in Portuguese) is widely used, sometimes corresponding to the present perfect of English (this happens in many dialects of American Spanish, too).

A present perfect also exists (normally called pretérito perfeito composto), but it has a very restricted use, denoting an action or a series of actions which began in the past and are expected to continue into the future, but will stop soon. For instance, the meaning of "Tenho tentado falar com ela" may be closer to "I have been trying to talk to her" than to "I have tried to talk to her", in some contexts. This iterative sense of the present perfect is quite exceptional among Romance languages. It seems to be a recent construction, since it only allows the verb ter as auxiliary, never haver, and is absent from Galician.

Progressive tenses[edit]

Portuguese originally constructed progressive tenses with a conjugated form of the verb "to be", followed by the gerund of the main verb, like English: e.g. Eu estou trabalhando "I am working" (cf. also the corresponding Italian phrase: (Io) sto lavorando). However, in European Portuguese an alternative construction has appeared, formed with the preposition a followed by the infinitive of the main verb: e.g. Eu estou a trabalhar. This has replaced the ancient syntax in central and northern Portugal. The gerund may also be replaced with a followed by the infinitive in less common verb phrases, such as Ele ficou lá, trabalhando / Ele ficou lá, a trabalhar "He stayed there, working". However, the construction with the gerund is still found in southern and insular Portugal and in Portuguese literature, and it is the rule in Brazil.

estou falando or estou a falar ("I am speaking")
estava falando/ a falar (imperfective: "I was speaking" [at the moment])
estive falando/ a falar (perfective: "I was speaking [for a while]" / "I have been speaking" [for a while])
estivera falando/ a falar ("I had been speaking")
estarei falando/ a falar ("I will be speaking")
esteja falando/ a falar ("be speaking"; or "am" or "is speaking")
se estivesse falando/ a falar ("if I were speaking")
quando estiver falando/ a falar ("when you are speaking" [in the future])
estar falando/ a falar ("to be speaking")

Periphrastic construction with haver[edit]

As in most romance languages, the simple future of the indicative and the conditional are formed by appending the present and the preterit imperfect of the verb haver to the infinitive, respectively. In Portuguese, it can also be used before the verb, together with the proposition de. This is usually limited to spoken language.


  • Eu disse que havia de voltar for Eu disse que voltaria ("I said I should return")
  • Vós haveis de (or "heis-de") vencer for Vós vencereis ("You shall win")

Sometimes, other tenses of haver are used, though it is infrequent. Example: Quem houver de ficar com a casa, há-de vir para aqui.

The only other tenses commonly used are the conditional/future and their meaning is approximately the same of the present/preterit imperfect described herein.

In EP, a hyphen is put between the monosyllabic forms of haver and de (hei, hás, há, heis and hão).

There are, however, differences of meaning between this construction and the future of the indicative/conditional. The former usually conveys a sense of obligation/necessity (be it logic, circumstantial, of convenience, natural or moral law, ...), duty, certainty or resolution, rather than simple futurity, although that would depend on the context. This is somewhat comparable to the emphatic use of shall (ignoring the first-person use of shall in British English).

Examples in EP:

  • Hei-de lá ir amanhã (promise, "I will go there tomorrow") versus Irei lá amanhã (less emphatic, almost an expectation, "I'm going there tomorrow")
  • Havemos de cá voltar (promise, but in an uncertain future, "We will return here") versus Voltaremos cá (prediction or statement of an arrangement). Depending on the context, it can also be an invitation: Gostei de te ter aqui, hás-de cá voltar ("I've enjoyed having you here, you should return").
  • Havias de ter visto a reacção dela ("You should have seen her reaction") versus Terias visto a reacção dela ("You would have seen her reaction"). The meaning is here quite different.
  • Que havia eu de fazer? ("What should I (was I to) do?") versus Que faria eu? ("What would I do?"). The latter is merely an hypothetical question, the former could be asking for an advice or opinion about what ought to have been done.

It has also acquired other meanings - for instance, O que está cá dentro? Dinheiro! O que havia de ser?! could be translated into What is in here? Money! What else?!.

In Brazil, the meaning is stronger, e.g. hei de ir lá amanhã implies strong determination ("I will go there tomorrow!").

Other compound tenses[edit]

Tenses with ir + infinitive

vamos falar ("we will speak", "we are going to speak")
íamos falar ("we were going to speak")
iríamos falar ("we would speak", "we would be going to speak")

In spoken BP, the construction ir + infinitive almost completely replaces the use of the synthetic future (e.g. vamos falar rather than falaremos).

Tenses with multiple auxiliaries:

teríamos estado falando/a falar ("we would have been speaking")
tenho estado falando/a falar ("I have been speaking (until now)")

Passive voice[edit]

It is possible to construct passive variants of clauses with transitive verb and object. The rules for it are basically as in English; namely, the original object becomes the subject; the original subject becomes an adverbial complement with preposition por ("by"); and the verb is replaced by its past participle, preceded by the copular verb ser ("to be") inflected in the original mood and tense:

O rato comeu o queijo ("The mouse ate the cheese")
O queijo foi comido pelo rato ("The cheese was eaten by the mouse")
Aquela senhora cantará a ária ("That lady will sing the aria")
A ária será cantada por aquela senhora ("The aria will be sung by that lady")
Se você cantasse a aria, ele ficaria ("If you were to sing the aria, he would stay")
Se a ária fosse cantada por você, ele ficaria ("If the aria were to be sung by you, he would stay")

As in Spanish, there is also a synthetic passive voice, in which the agent is replaced with the pronoun se, when its identity is not relevant:

Fizeram-se planos e criaram-se esperanças. ("Plans were made and hopes were created.")

The same construction extends to some intransitive verbs, in which case the pronoun se denotes the subject (impersonal passive voice):

Comeu-se, bebeu-se e bailou-se. ("There was eating, drinking, and dancing.")

Subjunctive mood[edit]

Related article: Subjunctive.

Portuguese subjunctive mood is used mainly in certain kinds of subordinate clauses. There are three synthetic subjunctive inflections, conventionally called "present", "past" and "future". The rules of usage are rather complex, but on a first approximation:

  • The present subjunctive tense is used in clauses, often introduced with que ("that"), which express wishes, orders, possibilities, etc.:
quero que cante, "I want her/him to sing"
supondo que cante, "assuming that he/she will sing"
ele será pago, cante ou não, "he will be paid, whether he sings or not"
  • The past subjunctive tense is used for adverbial subordinate clauses, introduced with se ("if") or equivalent, that are conditions for main cause in the conditional tense. It is also used for nominal clauses, introduced with que, that were the object of frustrated past wishes or commands:
se cantasse, seria famoso ("if he would sing, he would be famous") OR ("if he might have sung, he would be famous")
se cantasse, teríamos aplaudido ("if she had sung, we would have applauded")
esperávamos que cantasse ("we had hoped that he would sing")
não esperávamos que cantasse ("we didn't think that he would sing")
  • The future subjunctive tense is an uncommon feature among Indo-European languages. It is used in adverbial subordinate clauses, usually introduced by se ("if") or quando ("when"), or in adjectival subordinate clauses, that express a neutral or expected condition for a present- or future-tense main clause:
se cantarmos, seremos pagos ("If we (should) sing, we will be paid")
se cantarmos, ele fica ("If we (should) sing, he stays")
quando cantarmos, ele escutará ("When we (should) sing, he will listen")
  • Often, the option between indicative and subjunctive depends on whether the speaker does or does not endorse the proposition expressed by the subordinate clause:
Admito que ele roubou a bicicleta. ("I admit that he stole the bicycle.")
Admito que ele possa ter roubado a bicicleta. ("I admit that he could have stolen the bicycle.")
  • In relative sentences, the option between indicative and subjunctive depends on whether the speaker does or does not identify a single object with the property expressed by the subordinate clause:
Ando à procura de um cão que fala! ("I'm looking for a certain dog which can speak!")
Ando à procura de um cão que fale! ("I'm looking for any dog that speaks!")

More on the subjunctive mood in Portuguese can be found at Wikibooks: Variation of the Portuguese Verbs.

Verbal derivatives[edit]

Portuguese has also many adjectives which consist of a verbal stem plus an ending in -nte, which are applied to nouns that perform that action; e.g. dançar ("to dance") ~ areia dançante ("dancing sand"), ferver ("to boil") ~ água fervente ("boiling water"), and many others.

However, those adjectives were not always derived from the corresponding Portuguese verbs. Most of them were directly derived from the accusatives of the present participles of Latin verbs, a form which was not retained by Portuguese. Thus, for example, Portuguese mutante ("changing", "varying") does not derive from the Portuguese verb mudar ("to change"), but directly from the Latin accusative present participle mutantem ("changing"). On the other hand, those pairs of words were eventually generalized by Portuguese speakers into a derivation rule, that is somewhat irregular and defective but still productive. So, for example, within the last 500 years we had the derivation pï'poka (Tupi for "to pop the skin") → pipoca (Portuguese for "popcorn") → pipocar ("to pop up all over") → pipocante ("popping up all over").

Similar processes resulted in many other semi-regular derivation rules that turn verbs into words of other classes. For example,

clicar ("to click") → clicável ("clickable")
vender ("to sell") → vendedor ("seller")
encantar ("to enchant") → encantamento ("enchantment")
destilar ("to distill") → destilação ("distillation")

The latter rule is quite productive, to the point that the pervasive -ção ending (derived from Latin -tione) is the most visually striking feature of written Portuguese.


Another specific feature of Portuguese is mesoclisis, or infixing, of clitic pronouns in future and conditional verb forms. In Brazilian Portuguese it is limited to extremely formal and mostly written style, but European Portuguese still allows clitic object pronouns to surface as mesoclitics in colloquial language:[4]

  • Ela levá-lo-ia ("She take-it-would" – "She would take it").
  • Eles dar-no-lo-ão ("They give-us-it-will" – "They will give it to us").


The verb fazer is used to express the causative, as in Eu fiz José comer os bolos. Note that this is different than other Western Romance in that, like English, the causee can come between the causative verb fazer and in the infinitive lexical verb. Other languages, such as French, do not permit such a construction (compare Je ferai manger les gâteaux à Jean, I make.FUT eat the cakes PREP Jean, "I will make Jean eat the cakes".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This example is typical for European Portuguese. The most common Brazilian equivalents are Está chovendo and *Ele está chovendo.
  2. ^ In Brazilian Portuguese the most common spoken is not to omit the "eu" ("I"), therefore Eu vou para casa. Eu vou ver televisão. sounds more natural
  3. ^ In Brazilian Portuguese the subject would not be postponed in this case as well as in other contrasting structures, therefore one would say mas eu comi instead of "mas comi eu
  4. ^ Gadelii, Karl Erland (2002). "Pronominal Syntax in Maputo Portuguese (Mozambique) from a Comparative Creole and Bantu Perspective" (PDF). Africa & Asia 2: 27–41. ISSN 1650-2019. Retrieved 2006-09-20. 
  5. ^ Dixon, R.M.W. (2000). "A Typology of Causatives: Form, Syntax, and Meaning". In Dixon, R.M.W. & Aikhenvald, Alexendra Y. Changing Valency: Case Studies in Transitivity. Cambridge University Press. p 35


  • Cook, Manuela (2013) Portuguese Pronouns and Other Forms of Address, from the Past into the Future - Structural, Semantic and Pragmatic Reflections, Ellipsis, vol. 11, www.portuguese-apsa.com/ellipsis
  • Hutchinson, Amelia P. (2003). Portuguese: An Essential Grammar. Routledge. ISBN 0415308178. 
  • Squartini, Mario (1998). Verbal Periphrases in Romance—Aspect, Actionality, and Grammaticalization. ISBN 3-11-016160-5. 
  • Whitlam, John (2010). Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar: A Practical Guide. Routledge. ISBN 0415566444. 

External links[edit]