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Grammar Notes Portuguese

When compared to other Languages, many students are experiencing difficulties with the complexity of the Portuguese Grammar. Nouns, articles, verbs and adjectives are subject to flexion and conjugations, based on the gender, number and/or person.

Whereas in the English language merely one article, (the) is used to describe any noun, the Portuguese language use two (o) and (a) for the description of a particular noun (direct articles), as well as (um) and (uma) for non-particular nouns (indirect articles). Unfortunately, there is no set Grammar rule for the determination of which article to use for which noun.

a mulher / feminine - uma mulher / (the/a woman)
o homem / masculine - um homem / (the/a man)

There are some cases, where the noun or adjective are uniform. That means they use the same word for both genders but change the article. For instance, in the following example the noun 'estudante' and the adjective 'contente' don't change despite the gender:

a estudante contente / the happy student
o estudante contente / the happy student

The majority of the adjectives are biform, which means they terminate with the vowel (–o) for the masculine and (–a) for the feminine genders. In what nouns are concerned, only the nouns that designate animated beings change their termination the same way as adjectives do.

The Portuguese language is currently the only language in Western Europe that has two official orthographies - that of Brazil and Portugal. In 1990 Language Orthographic Agreement was created to unify orthography for the Portuguese language, which is to be used by all the countries that have Portuguese as their official language.

Its goals are to solve 97% of spelling differences, facilitate the movement of materials such as official documents and books, unite a language of some 230 million speakers, and defend Portuguese language and its international prestige. It was made official in 2008 with a six years adjustment period. Some if its proposals where the elimination of the letters (c) and (p) from the European/African spelling whenever they are silent (e. g. direcção -> direção; / direction), the elimination of the diaeresis mark (ü) from the Brazilian orthography, the elimination of the acute accent from the diphthongs (éi) and (ói) in paroxytone words, divergent spellings such as anónimo and anônimo / anonymous, facto and fato / that (both will be considered legitimate, according to the dialect of the author or person being transcribed), it also established some common guidelines for the use of hyphens and capitalization and added three letters (K, W, Y) to the Portuguese alphabet, making it equal to the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

Many people find that spoken European Portuguese sounds harsh. In fact there are certain dialects and accents, which sound harsh because of the pronunciation of most vowels that have different sounds or other accent peculiarities. But this should not be an issue as you will learn the Portuguese norm of pronunciation.

To better understand Pronunciation look at how a letter is pronounced by comparing it to an English corresponding letter.

C / Ç / S* / SS - (S)ound
Z / S* / X* - E(x)it
J / G* – (J)am
Ch / X* – (Sh)oe
i / e* – (i)mpar
o* / u – Yo(u)

When the (s) is between vowels it sounds like a (z).
When the (g) is before the vowels (–i) or (–e) it sounds like a (j), in other cases it sounds like (g)ame.
There is no rule for the (x), it can sound like a (z)orro or like a (sh)oe, it depends on the Portuguese word that you will have to memorize.
The (e) can sound either like an (i)mpar, either like an (e)nd, also has no rule.
The (o) can sound like yo(u), (o)cular, c(om)pany, also has no rule but it can in some cases have some accentuation marks to help, e. g. ó – (o)cular, ô – c(om)pany.

Proper nouns are always spelled with a capital letter and require a defined/undefined article. Plural nouns have different endings, not just an (s). The article also takes (–s) when the noun is in the plural form.

as mulher-es / the women
os homen-s / the men
as rapariga-s / the girls
os rapaz-es / the boys

The (–es) termination happens when the singular form of the noun ends with a consonant. There is an exception for the word 'homem', because when the end is with (–m) it becomes a (–n) and adds the (–s).

Most verbs follow the same schema of conjugation, either they are regular or irregular, and the best part is that the majority are regular verbs.

The irregular verb ser / to be:
I am : eu sou
you (intimate) are : tu és
you (formal) are: você é
he, she, it : ele, ela é
we are : nós somos
you (familiar) are : vocês são
you (formal) are : vós sois (it's very rare to use. Appears often on past literature)
they are : eles são

All verbs in the infinitive end in (–r), but the regular verbs are categorized in three conjugations: those that terminate in (–ar) 1st conjugation, (-er) 2nd conjugation and (–ir) 3rd conjugation.

Details on verb tenses together with conjugation will be discussed further in Chaprter 6.

To closely describe an object, you will use the descriptive adjective directly after the object and decline it accordingly.

A camisa azul. / The blue shirt.

If the adjective is used in combination with the verb ser / to be it will follow the verb and will be declined: A camisa azul é nova. / The blue shirt is new.

Note here, that the function of the adjective, which is placed after the object (here: blue), is to differentiate the object (here: camisa) from all the others. The adjective in combination with 'to be' is describing the state (is new) of the object (here: the blue shirt).

Therefore, placing the adjectives differently would change the meaning of the sentence. Look at the differences of the following sentences:

As calças vermelhas são curtas / The red pants are short. - not long
As calças curtas são vermelhas / The short pants are red. - not blue

Pronunciation notes:
1. In the word camisa, the (–s) is read like /z/. This happens because it is between vowels.
2. In the word calças, there is the (ç) consonant, which is read like a /s/.

Present tense

To conjugate the verbs, remove the (-r) and conjugate as shown in this example of a 1st conjugation verb, which ends with (-ar):

cantar / to sing
Eu cant-o / I sing
Tu canta-s / you sing
Ele, Ela canta / he, she sings
Nós canta-mos / we sing
Vós canta-is / you sing
Eles canta-m / they sing

To emphasize a continuous action in the present, we can use one of the auxiliary verbs (e.g. estar – to be) plus the infinite or gerund of any verb.

A rapariga está falando. / The girl is speaking. – estar a + gerund
O homem não está a ouvir / The man is not listening. – estar a + infinitive

Past Tense

Just like in a lot of other languages, Portuguese entails several different past tenses. One very basic is the Past tense / Pretérito Perfeito, which are comparable with the English tense 'Simple Past', despite having also to conjugate the forms for each person.

Saltar / to jump
Eu salte-i / I jumped
Tu salta-ste (informal)/Você saltou (formal) / You jumped
Ele/Ela saltou / He/She jumped
Nós saltá-mos / We jumped
Vós salta-stes (formal)/Vocês salta-ram (informal) / You jumped
Eles salta-ram / They jumped

Compare the examples below:
O cavalo salta / the horse jumps - Presente / present tense
O cavalo saltou / the horse jumped – Pretérito Perfeito / simple past

Future Tense

In regular verbs, future tense is also conjugated in the different persons, by adding to its infinitive form the specific terminations for each person:

Saltar / to jump
Eu saltar-ei / I will jump
Tu saltar-ás (informal)/Você saltar-á (formal) / You will jump
Ele/Ela saltar-á / He/She will jump
Nós saltar-emos / We will jump
Vós saltar-eis (formal)/Vocês saltar-ão (informal) / You will jump
Eles saltar-ão / They will jump
O cavalo saltará / The horse will jump.

We can also use the construction auxiliary verb ir / to go + infinitive of the verb to express the idea that something is going to happen in the future: O cavalo vai saltar / The horse is going to jump.

Prepositions indicate the place or position of the object. While a single preposition like (on) can have several meanings in Portuguese (em, em cima de, por, por diante, sobre, etc.), we will focus on the Portuguese meaning (em). The same goes for (in), we will concentrate on the Portuguese meaning (em) as well as (em baixo) the Portuguese word for (under).


Um bebé num carro. vs. Um bebé no carro.
Meaning: A baby in a car. and A baby in the car.

The preposition (in), in Portuguese (em), contracts with the article of the noun (don't forget that the article changes with gender):

em + um (carro) = num (carro) / in a car
em + o (carro) = no (carro) / in the car


Personal Pronouns
I : eu
you (informal) : tu
he/she/it : ele/ela/aquilo
we : nós
you : vocês/vós (formal)
they : eles

Ela tem calçados sapatos azuis / She is wearing blue shoes.
Ele tem vestida uma camisola vermelha / He is wearing a red sweatshirt.
Eu estou a usar um chapéu branco / I am wearing a white hat.

Note that when we refer to wear shoes, socks or gloves, we say calçar sapatos, meias ou luvas instead of 'vestir'. We can say 'vestir' or 'usar' for the same word 'wear'. For instance, when we refer to a hat, we say 'usar um chapéu'. In the first two examples that the main verbs (calçados and vestidas) suffer changes that agree in gender and number with the object they refer to, because they use the auxiliary verb ter / to have.

Possessive Pronouns

dele = his
dela = her
Meu (m.)/minha (f.) = my

O rapaz tem uma maçã na mão (dele). / The boy has an apple in his hand.
A mulher tem um livro na mão (dela). / The woman has a book in her hand.
Tu és a minha mãe. / You are my mother.

Please note that during a conversation there is no need of saying the pronoun because we already know to what the pronoun is referring to.

To give a sentence a negative meaning, just put the word não before verbs.

Este telefone não é vermelho, é preto.
This telephone is not red, it's black.

Besides using the word 'não' you can also sometimes use nunca to emphasize that something never happened.

O homem não está a falar. / The man is not speaking.
O homem nunca fala. / The man never speaks.

To ask questions in the Portuguese language we are using the following question words:

quem / who
como / how
o quê, o que / what
porquê, por que, por que razão / why
onde / where
quando / when
qual / which

These words are Pronomes interrogativos, which are added at the beginning of the sentence.

O que faz a mulher?
What is the woman doing?

Take note, that although the words porquê, por que and por que razão are interchangeable when used in a question, por que razão is more formal than the other two. In addition, the normal sentence structure S-V-O changes to V-S-O.

O homem está a beber cerveja / the man is drinking beer
O que está o homem a beber? /what is the man drinking?


Question word onde / where

Onde está o rapaz? / Where is the boy?

Since 'onde' is asking for a specific location, verbs like 'estar' and 'encontrar-se' (both mean to be) need to be used. Therefore you can say:

Onde estão o homem e a mulher? / Where are the men and the women?
Onde se encontra o homem? / Where is the man?


Question word Que / what

Qual é a cor do carro? / De que cor é o carro?
What color is the car?

Qual can mean 'what', but also 'which'.


When pertaining to professions, note that every profession has a masculine and feminine version, but some words only change the article according to its gender.

O médico tem vestida uma camisa branca (m). / A médica tem vestida uma camisa branca (f).
The doctor is wearing a white shirt.

O estudante está a ler (m)./ A estudante está a ler (f).
The student is reading.

For the word 'estudante' that ends with an (-e), only the preceding article takes the gender.

To formulate a questions using the question word quem / who, take a look at the following example:

Quem é o mecânico?
Who is the mechanic?

For other professions, like professor(a) / teacher, when the word ends with a consonant, we just add an (a) to say the feminine form. In other cases, like 'enfermeiro/enfermeira' / nurse, the masculine termination is with an (o) and the feminine with an (a).

Comparing two things in Portuguese, we follow in every case the same Grammar rule (with few exceptions). You can follow this formula:

Object A + form of verb ser / to be + comparative adverb + adj. + do que / than + Object B.

O cão + é + mais + feio + do que + o gato. / The dog is uglier than the cat.

The adjective also declines according to the gender.

A vaca é mais feia do que o gato.
The cow is uglier than the cat.

Superlative Comparisons (most)

O elefante é o maior animal na figura.
The elephant is the biggest animal in the picture.

For the word 'biggest' the Portuguese adjective 'maior' received an article (o).

Take a look at the progression of the sentences:

A cobra é pequena. / The snake is small = positive form
A cobra é mais pequena do que o tigre. / The snake is smaller than the tiger = comparative form
A cobra é o animal mais pequeno na figura. / The snake is the smallest animal in the picture = superlative form
A cobra é a mais pequena. / The snake is the smallest. = superlative form

Counting in Portuguese is very simple once you know the basics. When the number 0 (zero as same as in English) is determining a noun in a sentence, we use the word nenhum(a) instead.

O rapaz não tem nenhuma bola. / The boy has no ball.

When the numbers 1 (um/uma) and 2 (dois/duas) are determining a noun in a sentence, they change with gender.

Um homem / one man
uma mulher / one woman
Dois homens / two men)
duas mulheres / two women

From 11 to 15, the numbers have the termination (–ze); From 16 to 19, the numbers start with dez- / ten and terminate with the correspondent cardinal number, adding in some cases a few changes in the middle. In English, once you hit number 20 you continue counting with the cardinal number twenty-(…), naming the decimal decadal number first. The same happens in Portuguese (vinte e ….), expect for the word (e), which is added to bind the two digits together.

O rapaz tem (3) três bolas. / The boy has three balls.
O rapaz tem (23) vinte e três bolas. (Note that (e) is always a part of the number; think of it like in math 20 +/and 3)

Numbers in Portuguese:

0 – zero
1 – um
2 – dois
3 – três
4 – quarto
5 – cinco
6 – seis
7 – sete
8 – oito
9 – nove
10 – dez
11 – onze
12 – doze
13 – treze
14 – catorze
15 – quinze
16 – dezasseis
17 – dezassete
18 – dezoito
19 – dezanove
20 – vinte
21 – vinte e um
22 – vinte e dois...
30 – trinta
40 - quarenta...
41 – quarenta e um...