Translation:My friend and I touched an elephant.
I am not sure in português but in Spanish if you say "Mi amigo y yo tocamos EN un elefante" is kind of weird: Were we both playing the elephant as an instrument? or maybe we were riding an elephant while playing some musical instrument.
If it refers to touch, the phrase would be "Mi amigo y yo tocamos un elefante" without EN (EM português).
But I have found that Duolingo gives you some weird phrases to translate, that on real life don´t make much sense.
In Brazilian Portuguese, the present and the past tense (preterit) are the same: "tocamos." However, in Portugal, the preterit must be spelled with the accent mark, "tocámos," while the present remains "tocamos." This is because there is a change of vowel quality in português europeo; the vowel quality in português brasileiro, in contrast, does not change.
You'll find that in portuguese, the nós form of a verb in the present and preterite are spelled the same (for regular verbs). You have to decipher the tense from context. However, from what I've seen, in PtE, it seems in the preterite solely for AR verbs, an accent is placed on the second to last syllable. (eg.Tocámos) I think it's a great tool to decipher the tense when it's written. Too bad they don't do that in spanish! haha
The role of "em" here is to described that you touched "on" an elephant, or that you touched an elephant.
In Portuguese, we use the same word for "touch" and "play" (as in "play an instrument"). I know! Pretty confusing. Like making a different word for two different actions is that hard. But, I just thought about it... and "play" can mean many different things too. Play a sport, video game or board game (jogar), play an instrument--or a record! (tocar), play with a toy/general playing for kids (brincar). So I am not letting English off the hook!
But here is what I'm talking about: Eu toco flauta = I play (the) flute ----- Eu toco na flauta (I touch the flute) Eu toquei piano = I played (the) piano ----- Eu toquei num piano (I touched a piano)
So maybe all that is going on at duolingo is that they didn't want you to accidentally say I played the elephant like a drum! Although, I bet that would be fun. And the elephant would probably not even notice. :)
Just to be sure for "eu toco meu prato" (an earlier sentence) as I thought it meant "I touch my plate"... now it could have meant I make sound/music with it or perhaps play with it? Or because prato is not ordinarily an instrument, "tocar" or "tocar em" in this case would both be "touch"?
Sorry if it wasn't clear, but we would usually say "eu toco no meu prato", but it is possible to omit it in speech, and we'd have to go by context. It may, however, be helpful to point out that you can indeed play pratos as instruments, since that's what we call cymbals. =]
Thank you for the detailed explanation. Appreciate the research too! I would not have learnt that "pratos" are cymbals apart from being more than one plate! Now I get it, and the sentence would be even more fun if they used plural instead of singular prato, and there would be more discussion on what I am supposedly doing here... Thanks again.