O que é que foi o que tinha tido sido? (various "que" expressions in Portuguese)

Yet another interesting subject. Are these constructions with formal subject or object a peculiarity of just colloquial Portuguese? What if I don't use them in my everyday speech, and ask "Como você conseguiu..." instead of "Como é que você conseguiu..."? Will it sound unnatural? What makes people use phrases of the kind? I mean "como é que...", "o que é que..." first of all.

August 27, 2017


Yes, at least as far as I can remember, these constructions only appear in colloquial situations (when talking with friends or writing something on Facebook, for example).

At least to me, "Como você conseguiu?" doesn't sound unnatural, just a little more formal and polite - not only because of the lack of the "é que" part, but especially because it's far more usual to say instead of você in daily speech (at least here in Brazil). "Como cê conseguiu?" is as natural as "Como é que cê conseguiu?". "Como é que você conseguiu?" will sound a bit unnatural if you speak it slow and clearly, since we would all say something like "Comék você conseguiu?" (dropping the final "o" in "como" and the "ee" sound in "que").

While it's not unnatural to say "Como você conseguiu?", sentences like "O que você comprou?" or "O que você fez?" do sound a bit unnatural. I would probably rather say "O quê que você comprou?" or "O que é que você..." (this last one pronounces roughly like "ook-yeah-k' você...").

Honestly, I have no idea why we do this :) To me it doesn't even sound emphatic, it's just how I speak all the time.

August 28, 2017

Thank you for a very useful comment! Frankly, I even do not always distinguish between "você" e "cê", given that there can be lost more vowels and therefore on the word boundaries, and up to 3 syllables. This short and weak "vo-" em "você" is almost totally hidden.

What is very important for me in this respect is that I do not see any popular sources that could probably put all this stuff into some system. Literally, I never see anything on the subject! But in the real life it is the very real language of real people! As long as my major problem is to understand what people say (while to speak, read and write is waaaay easier), these QUE-constructions make quite a difficulty if not taught.

As far as I see here in Brazil, Portuguese is built on these small short-word phrases no less than English :) So I find this subject much more important than just idiomatic expressions like proverbs, sayings and so on.

These short "technical" phrases, like "dar certo", are actually the main thing I have to google, often to no effect. A good example is "vem que dá tempo", I am still not certain about what it means ;)

August 28, 2017

Daniel's response was great, but I have some observations. "Cê" and "ocê" are very common in Minas Gerais and some other regions (like parts of Goiás), but not in all of Brazil. In my region, for instance (DF), they are very uncommon. The other phenomenons he mentioned regarding pronunciation are also more common in Minas Gerais, though they do happen in other regions to some extent. This does raise an interesting question, though: which local accent influenced the most our young accent? I'm not entirely sure, and I think the notion of our accent being "neutral" is problematic. However, I'm sure the slow pronunciation of that sentence sounds entirely natural to me. I also differ from him regarding the other sentences, they all sound natural to me. Perhaps the cause lies in differences between our local varieties of the language, or perhaps also in the degree of formality common to our personal backgrounds.

Strictly speaking, the expression "é que" is colloquial. It's usually classified as expletive or emphatic. Here (in Brasília) its colloquial usage could be discarded without any risk, but you would certainly sound more formal by not using it. Here it usually sounds emphatic, and I think it may have come into being as an emphatic expression, but I'm not sure. Either way, Portuguese is full of expletive particles and expressions xD Probably not a good prospect for foreign students, but one gets used to them with practice. In some cases their use is idiomatic and its deletion unnatural, but it's not the case of any of the examples mentioned here that I remember right now.

The verb "dar" has many meanings and forms tons of idiomatic expressions, so it may seem at first as an "anything goes" verb. "Dar certo" translates to "To work", according to the following meaning: "to function correctly; to act as intended; to achieve the goal designed for." "Dar tempo", on the other hand, means "there is [still] time". Thus, that sentence could be translated as "Come, for there is [still] time." Part of this versatility comes from the variety of meanings it can take in different contexts (for further detail, you can read this section:, but it's also a very common building block in several different expressions. This may look challenging at first, but with practice it becomes natural; just look at English, where this kind of phenomenon is perhaps even more common, given its simple verbal and nominal systems. Some of these expressions, especially those that are more formal, common or well-established, can be found at comprehensive dictionaries, like the "Grande Aurélio" or "Grande Houaiss", though others are harder to find. A systematic approach to common patterns in the general logic of colloquial Portuguese intended either for language students or a general public would certainly be of great use, but I unfortunately don't know of any, and this topic is sometimes neglected in most of the grammars we use in Brazil, which tend to focus on formal usage. I will look for some of these topics in Celso Cunha's grammar later, as it is known both for being comprehensive and for tending towards a descriptive approach. In any case, I will let you know if I find any good material on that regard =]

August 29, 2017

Oh, it's not easy to distinguish between regional and uiversal in Brazil indeed! Sometimes I hope that being a foreigner somehow excuses my "wooden" language, in which I avoid using what I am not sure to master. From the other hand, it is very often that I use seemingly correct construction, but a person finds it difficult to understand what I say :)

I think it would be of a great help for foreign students to make a big table of these "overproductive" words, including "dar"... For a native English speaker the very practice of such short Chinese-like phrases is very familiar, while in Russian we almost don't have such a thing, but we have another little hell in the form of perfective and imperfective verbs :)

In general, most official grammars for any language are intended mostly for inner use, eventually, to make the already aquired language better and not to help those learning the very core of the language to speak it and understand it. Maybe, English is the only exception, but even English sources, IMHO, offer a somewhat wrong concept of phonology, but it's just my vision, though.

August 29, 2017

I love this aspect of Brazilian Portuguese. This is a great video to acquaint yourself with some of the commonly heard phrases of this kind:


I think it is all about listening comprehension practice (lots of contact with native speakers or listening comprehension drill of some kind) when it comes to this kind of stuff. (Great topic, BTW)

August 29, 2017

Woow, thank you! A great video indeed. And I always feel some deficit of materials that would explain those things, turn them into some theory. You know, listening practice works well for the majority, but there is still some minority who needs theory and explanation. I can listen and listen and listen, but not understand anything untill someone explains me what is said, or I find the explanation myself :)
Even when I see the "como é que..." in subtitles, I still have no idea about how often it is used and to what extent it is preferable. Also, I'd like to know in every situation like this, whether I can keep it in my passive, using actively something more simple, and not to seem too unnatural or too formal...

August 29, 2017

"Como você conseguiu" will sound very natural, I assure you!

September 5, 2017

Thanxx Eliane! Another task is to be aware of what it also natural, but is put in a different way. "Como você conseguiu" is how I say it and what I expect to hear from people, until I realize that people actually say it mostly differently in their everyday speech. So, when learning Portuguese, my objective is to be effective in communication, hence I should begin with "como é que é", and so on, just to understand what people say :) In Brazil, it is very common to address the way it is NORMALLY said as being "incorrect", "local", "too colloquial", etc., but Brazilians nevertheless understand each other, while a foreigner should make an effort to study these constructions deliberately. Maybe, for a native English speaker this stuff is natural and he feels more comfortable with it, but for us Slavic-speakers, it's quite a subject of research ;)

September 5, 2017

it's true, I'm Brazilian, I'm learning English, I also have difficulty with some expressions in English, the phrase you quoted will sound very natural to a native Brazilian bjos

September 5, 2017

Agradeço ;)

September 5, 2017

Disponha :)

September 5, 2017
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