Conjugating Portuguese Regular Verbs
This article is written for English speaking Duolingo users who are new to language learning.
Conjugating Portuguese Regular Verbs
Verbs form the backbone of any language. Without verbs you literally couldn't do anything (or at least you couldn't tell anyone if you did). Verbs are usually listed in a dictionary in their infinitive form like "chorar" (to cry) but they can appear in many other forms. Just as in English there are versions of a verb which are tailored to a given combination of tense and subject, for example, in English you can say "He cries", "I cried", "You cry", and so on. The same is true in Portuguese, but there are many more variations than are seen in English. The process of producing different forms of a verb is called conjugation. Of course, the main problem is being able to recall or recognize all the different conjugated forms.
Again, just as in English, it is possible to distinguish between two broad types of verbs: regular verbs which can be conjugated by fixed rules; and irregular verbs where the rules don't work and you have to memorize the quirks of those verbs on an individual basis. An individual conjugated form clearly depends on the subject and tense and in the case of regular verbs it also depends on the verb class.
All regular Portuguese verbs belong to one of three classes depending on the last two letters of the infinitive: the first (1st) conjugation class includes AR verbs like "falar" (to speak); the second (2nd) conjugation, ER verbs like "beber" (to drink); and the third (3rd) conjugation, IR verbs like "partir" (to depart). The subject of a verb can take on one of six grammatical roles: 1st person singular and plural (I and we); 2nd person singular and plural (you and plural you); and 3rd person singular and plural (he/she/it and they). The Portuguese subject pronouns associated with these roles are:
- 1st person singular (1PS) Eu (I)
- 2nd person singular (2PS) Tu/Você (you)
- 3rd person singular (3PS) Ele/Ela (he/she/it)
- 1st person plural (1PP) Nós/A gente (we)
- 2nd person plural (2PP) Vós/Vocês (you)
- 3rd person plural (3PP) Eles/Elas (they).
Standard Brazilian Portuguese requires only four conjugated forms per tense to cover all six grammatical roles. That's because the true 2nd person subjects Tu and Vós have been replaced by Você and Vocês which, for technical reasons, take 3rd person conjugations. In Brazil it is even possible to get by with just three forms because the true 1st person plural Nós can be substituted by the more informal A gente and it too takes 3rd person conjugations. In Portugal and elsewhere Vocês has replaced Vós but Tu is still actively used alongside Você meaning five forms per tense are usually required in these places.
The six grammatical roles, their personal pronouns and the required conjugations for standard Brazilian Portuguese can be written like this (note the complete absence of 2nd person conjugations):
- 1PS (I) Eu conjugate as 1PS
- 2PS (you) Você conjugate as 3PS
- 3PS (he/she/it) Ele/Ela conjugate as 3PS
- 1PP (we) Nós/A gente conjugate as 1PP/3PS
- 2PP (you) Vocês conjugate as 3PP
- 3PP (they) Eles/Elas conjugate as 3PP
The conjugation mechanism for regular verbs is easy to describe. Each form is produced by removing the last two letters of the infinitive and replacing them with a new ending made up of some other letters. For example, replacing the "-ar" of "falar" with the ending "-amos" gives the word "falamos" which is the Nós form of the present tense, and "Nós falamos" means "We speak". That's all there is to it!
The Wikipedia page on Portuguese verb conjugation describes the various tenses (see too Danmoller's discussion) and tabulates all the endings needed to conjugate regular verbs. For quick reference I am including the table of endings here as well:
This looks complicated because it provides the endings for all the important tenses for each of the three verb classes and all six subjects including the infrequently used "Vós". It may seem a daunting task to learn all those endings at once, but there is no need to do that. Start with the present tense and introduce the other tenses as you meet them.
Although complicated to look at, the table is not complicated to use. For example, to conjugate the verb "abrir" in the simple past (corresponding to the "Preterite" column in the table) you start by stripping the final "-ir" from "abrir" to get "abr-" and then add the ending shown in the 3rd subrow (3rd because "abrir" is a 3rd conjugation verb) of the row associated with a given person/subject. Doing this for all six rows gives:
- Eu abri
- (Tu abriste)
- Ele abriu also Ela abriu, Você abriu and A gente abriu
- Nós abrimos
- (Vós abristes)
- Eles abriram also Elas abriram and Vocês abriram
In this tense you can say either "Eu abri" or simply "Abri" because the conjugation is uniquely associated with "Eu", similarly you can drop "Tu", "Nós" and "Vós". Dropping 3rd person pronouns is problematic because they can't be recovered from the conjugations without contextual clues.
One oddity that is worth pointing out is that the Nós endings for the simple present and the simple past (preterite) are identical in Brazilian Portuguese. Earlier we saw "Nós falamos" means "We speak", but it also means "We spoke". This feature makes several of Duolingo's sentences ambiguous.
The past tense has the most diverse set of endings, followed by the present tense and something that sounds complicated like the pluperfect actually is the easiest to conjugate (it is ironic that this tense is seldom used in everyday conversation in this form).
Some verbs are basically regular but need some post-conjugation spelling changes. I'll give just two examples, "ficar" (to stay/become) and "conhecer" (to know/meet). The table shows that conjugations such as "ficei" and "conheco" are produced for these verbs, but to preserve the hard 'c' of "ficar", "ficei" is changed to "fiquei" and to preserve the soft 'c' of "conhecer", "conheco" is changed to "conheço" and so on.
Unfortunately, many of the most important verbs are irregular and the rules don't apply. The usual suspects are: "ser" (to be), "estar" (to be), "ter" (to have), "haver" (there to be/to have/to exist), "ir" (to go), "vir" (to come), "ver" (to see), "poder" (to be able), "fazer" (to do/make), "trazer" (to bring), "dizer" (to say), "dar" (to give), "saber" (to know), "caber" (to fit) and the really odd "pôr" (to put) which seems to be classless because it doesn't end in AR, ER or IR.
Also classed as irregular are verbs that really only have a non-standard simple present (and entirely predictable changes to the present subjunctive), they include: "crer" (to believe), "ler" (to read), "medir" (to measure), "ouvir" (to hear), "perder" (to lose), "rir" (to laugh) and "valer" (to be worth).
Some practical suggestions are given in the article Learning to Conjugate Portuguese Verbs.
This comment was expanded into this article: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/9189497
Here is an attempt to write the conjugation table shown in the main article as a set of compact rules (to simplify things I've ignored the "vós" conjugations). To be truthful it is probably more accessible to Perl programmers than linguists. :-).
S + [o,a,a,a]/[o,e,e,e]/[o,e,i,e] (present)
S + [ei,ou,a,ara]/[i,eu,e,era]/[i,iu,i,ira] (past)
S + *ava/*ia (imperfect)
R + *ra (pluperfect)
I + [ei,á,e,ão] (future)
I + *ia (conditional)
S + e/a (present)
R + *sse (imperfect)
I + [-,-,-,e] (future/personal infinitive)
Each rule/specification has two parts, a letter and an ending rule. The ending is appended to the part of the verb indicated by the letter:
- I The infinitive itself (e.g. "falar", "comer", "partir")
- R The infinitive without "r" (e.g. "fala", "come", "parti")
- S The stem, that is the infinitive less the final two letters (e.g. "fal", "com", "part")
The rule is either a simple string applied to all subjects or it uses a square bracket notation to define an ending for each of ["Eu","Ele/Ela/Você","Nós","Eles/Elas/Vocês"] ("-" is a null ending). Append an extra "mos" to the endings for "Nós" and an extra "m" to the endings for "Eles/Elas/Vocês" (Note there is no need to add "m" for the future because in a way "ão" is the stressed version of "am" and so already includes it).
If there is a single rule it applies to all verb classes (i.e., regardless of the verb ending, AR, ER or IR), otherwise rules are separated according to AR/ER+IR or AR/ER/IR (where ER+IR means the rule applies to both ER and IR verbs).
The "Nós" form sometimes needs a graphic accent. To deal with this, the rule is decorated with a '*' which for "S" and "I" versions of the verb means add an acute accent to the first letter of the ending. For conjugations based on the "R" version of the verb, the "Nós" forms take an accent on the characteristic letter, acute for "a" and "i" and circumflex for "e".
Generally, the "Tu" ending is found by appending 's' to the "Ele/Ela/Você" ending. There are two exceptions: the simple past where you add "ste" to the infinitive without "r"; and the future subjunctive/personal infinitive where you add "es" to the infinitive (later, in the imperative example, a third exception is mentioned).
If you include the "Tu" rule, the specifications generate the 45 forms of a conjugated regular verb from any class (and because there are three classes, that is 135 forms in all).
The future subjunctive specification "I + [-,-,-,e]" applies to all classes because there is a single rule and the endings are added to the infinitive itself. So the future subjunctive of "falar" is "Eu falar", "Ele/Elas/Você falar", "Nós falarmos" and "Eles/Elas/Vocês falarem". The future indicative is specified by a similar rule.
The imperfect indicative specification "S + *ava/*ia" has a separate rule for AR and ER/IR verbs. When applied to falar it gives "Eu falava", Ele/Ela/Você falava", "Nós falávamos" and "Eles/Elas/Vocês falavam; and when applied to "comer" it gives "Eu comia", "Ele/Ela/Você comia", "Nós comíamos" and "Eles/Elas/Vocês comiam".
The subjunctive imperfect specification "R + sse" applied to "beber" gives "Eu bebesse", "Ele/Ela/Você bebesse", "Nós bebêssemos" and "Eles/Elas/Vocês bebessem".
The particularly compact specification "S + a/e" (which is the present subjunctive specification with the AR and ER+IR rules swapped) almost works for the simple present provided you remember the "Eu" ending should be "o" and the IR ending for "Nós" should be "imos".
The Imperative mood is used to give commands and is based on the present subjunctive ("S + e/a") without the "Eu" form. In affirmative commands the "Tu" ending comes from the "Você" ending of the simple present. In negative commands the "Tu" ending is the "Você" ending of the imperative with 's' appended. For example, to command someone to open ("abrir") or not to open something you can say "(Você) Abra!"/"(Tu) Abre!" or "(Você) Não Abra!"/"(Tu) Não Abras!".
Try to generate all the conjugations of the verb "acender" and check your effort using the table found here: http://www.conjuga-me.net/verbo-acender.
Thanks to everybody who made comments on the first version of my discussion. I have removed all my thoughts on how to memorize conjugations. The current version is still wordy, but I hope it will help people who are unfamiliar with Portuguese verb inflections to get the big picture.
Excellent! Now, this is a very good summary that I could read completely. The tables really help, but (as usual) I have a little advice. Perhaps it would be nice to give a few examples (maybe in a line or two) of irregular verbs so it is easier for novices to make the distinction. Aside from that, I think this is a excellent guide.
Edit: probably this is only personal preference, but I liked the organization of the conjugation list you had there yesterday better because it was so incredibly compact and allowed for a nice comparison of the three verb types. It was somewhere like this:
fal [-o, -a, -amos, -am]
beb [-o, -e, -emos, -em]
part [-o, -e, -imos, -em]
I don't know why, but I liked this compact form very much. Apart from that, thanks a lot for taking the effort to provide this help for us!
Oh, right. That version is a bit more long winded, but here it is:
Nominal forms (Formas nominais)
- Infinitive (Infinitivo)
- falar, beber, partir
- Present participle (Gerúndio)
- fala, bebe, parti + [ndo]
- Past participle (Particípio passado)
- fal + [ado]
- beb, part + [ido]
- Personal Infinitive (Infinitivo pessoal)
- falar, beber, partir + [-, -, mos, em] (es)
Indicative mood (Indicativo)
- Present (Presente)
- fal + [o, a, amos, am]
- beb + [o, e, emos, em]
- part + [o, e, imos, em]
- Preterite (Pretérito perfeito)
- fal + [ei, ou, amos, aram] (aste)
- beb + [i, eu, emos, eram] (este)
- part + [i, iu, imos, iram] (iste)
- Imperfect (Pretérito imperfeito)
- fal + [ava, ava, ávamos, avam]
- beb, part + [ia, ia, íamos, iam]
- Pluperfect (Pretérito mais-que-perfeito)
- falar, beber, partir + [a, a, ^amos, am]
- Future: (Futuro do presente)
- falar, beber, partir + [ei, á, emos, ão]
- Conditional (Futuro do pretérito)
- falar, beber, partir + [ia, ia, íamos, iam]
Subjunctive mood (Subjuntivo)
- Present (Presente)
- fal + [e, e, emos, em]
- beb, part + [a, a, amos, am]
- Imperfect (Imperfeito)
- fala, bebe, parti + [sse, sse, ^ssemos, ssem]
- Future (Futuro)
- falar, beber, partir + [-, -, mos, em] (es)
Imperative mood (Imperativo)
- Positive (Afirmativo)
- fal + [#, e, emos, em] (a)
- beb, part + [#, a, amos, am] (e)
- Negative (Negativo)
- Não fal + [#, e, emos, em]
- Não beb, Não part + [#, a, amos, am]
KEY: - = Add nothing; ^ = Add an accent to the characteristic letter, á, ê, í; # = Form does not exist. For "Tu" add 's' to the "Você" forms unless the ending is supplied in round brackets.
Before committing conjugations to memory, always check with two or more sources.
Man!! what does it mean!?! I think I'll start learning Portuguese with you!!
I know that is a rhetorical question, but I would like to try to answer it, particularly now I have deleted everything.
What I was trying to do was to provide enough background information to write a very compact representation of the table which is displayed in the new version of the article. By analyzing the patterns and writing them as a simple code I thought my method could aid memorization.
Most people learning Brazilian Portuguese tend to learn conjugations for 1st/3rd person singular and plural. So one observation that could still be useful is how to get 2nd person singular "tu" conjugations for not much effort.
The common thought is that you add "s" to the "você" form. That doesn't quite work, but you can make a bandaid for regular verbs by knowing the exceptions, which are: the simple past (add "ste" after removing the "r" of the infinitive); the future subjunctive/personal infinitive (add "es" to the infinitive); and the (affirmative) imperative (use the "você" form of the simple present). It sounds more complicated than it actually is. In fact, that was the trouble with my original article. :-)
Yes, that is a common problem, I think most people don't really understand all these pluperfect, infinitive and affirmative stuff (personally I only make the distinction between, present, past, and future). I think someone made a guide about tenses for the Portuguese section, maybe you could link to it for those confused by the terms in that table.
Well done. This is great work and helps a lot.
It would be helpful if the rules would be explain before you start with a new tense in duolingo. When you start with presens the rules for the present tense are quickly explained.
In my learning process I tried to figure out the rules by myself. My learning process had been a lot faster if i had had this help when I started with each tense.
Again Thank you
Well done, I admit I didn't read it all, but probably half of it. My suggestion is that maybe you should either summarize this post further or divide it into two or more parts. In my experience people are too lazy to read one long thread.
Perhaps, if it is briefly summarized in one thread and a second thread contains all the heavy stuff.
Thanks for reading as much as you did. :-) I just finished writing it and generating another revision so soon doesn't sound like much fun at the moment.
You're welcome. L1 speakers are hardly knowledgeable about the exact rules for grammar in the language they are proficient in, unless they are linguists or teachers. So I couldn't really tell you which cases are wrong in your description even though I've learnt PT since birth.
I know it can be tiresome to redo a lengthy piece of writing, but sometimes it makes more sense when you do. So I believe you should really take your time, maybe a week or more from now. Also, I believe revdolphin's idea is rather good too, when reading one big piece of text some colour or pictures can make it more interesting, and easier to understand.
I didn't read any of it (because I'm not learning Portuguese), but one suggestion to make it easier to read would be to include screenshots of some conjugation tables from the Vocabulary tab.
Thanks for the suggestion, I already have links to full conjugation tables. Reading between the lines though, you are probably echoing what Dessamator said, that is nobody likes a wall or words. Anyway, I'll give it some thought.