How and when to use the impersonal SE

In Portuguese, you can use an impersonal sentence with se when you want to express a thought about an action without associating it with a specific person, or in a general statement or question that in English would be expressed with you, they, one or a verb in the gerund form.

Portuguese English
No Reino Unido, às vezes se come feijão cozido no café da manhã. In the UK, they sometimes eat baked beans for breakfast.
Não se permite falar na biblioteca. - You are not allowed to talk in the library.
- Talking in the library is not allowed.
Se come boa carne no Brasil. - They eat good meat in Brazil.
- In Brazil, one eats good meat.

Although there is no definitive rule for which English sentences should use the impersonal se in Portuguese, in general we use impersonal statements with se to talk about customs, rules, and generalizations.

Note that there are two ways to use se:

Table 02

Portuguese Meaning
- Se come bem nesse lugar.

- Come-se bem nesse lugar.
Food is good in this place.
- Se proíbe fumar aqui.

- Proíbe-se fumar aqui.
Smoking is prohibited here.
- Se trabalha muito nesse escritório.

- Trabalha-se muito nesse escritório.
They work a lot in this office.
- Nos Estados Unidos se usa muito a internet.

- Nos Estados Unidos usa-se muito a internet.
In the United States they use the internet a lot.
- Se aprende português rapidamente no Duolingo.

- Aprende-se português rapidamente no Duolingo.
You learn Portuguese quickly on Duolingo.

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November 5, 2017


Just for the record, whenever a verb is the first word in a phrase, the pronoun se always goes after it, according to the official grammar. Thus, saying "Se come bem nesse lugar" is officialy wrong.

Although wrong, this form is the standard for informal settings. However, this distinction should be noticed, knowing that in any context that isn't informal, putting the pronoun in the beggining of the phrase will inevitably show some lack of knowledge regarding proper language use.

November 6, 2017

You're correct, but this so-called official grammar only applies to European/Most dialects of African Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese is a different language with a different grammar. Literally, no one in Brazil follows those grammar conventions when speaking... only in highly formal writings. Linguists often label Brazilians as diglossic (i.e when you speak in one language and write in another).

November 6, 2017

I believe the same is true of E and African Portuguese as well, at least to some extent. However, I don't think it's right to say our language is different from E Portuguese. Yes, there are a few grammatical differences, but most major ones are inherently linked to differences in usage, meaning there is hardly any fundamental difference most of the time.

November 22, 2017

Being a Brazilian myself, I am well aware of our diglotic atmosphere. However, our language is still Portuguese and so follows its rules. That's why I put "officialy" in italic: I meant to say that if we take it all by the official rules, we are actually wrong, even though life isn't just like in the official rules (ironic italics). Don't take me wrong, I am all against normative grammar applied in daily speech, but considering the learning experience in Duolingo, I believe it is fundamental for learners to recognise the nuances of formal and informal facets of our language, and this is one of them. The same dimension of tu/vous, ты/вы or du/ihr, just manifested in a reflexive pronoun.

Also, I find a bit self-glorifying to say that we have a different language with a different grammar; It's a dialect that operates under a single grammar.

November 7, 2017

It is interesting that you would be against "applying normative grammar in daily speech." Why is that? Wasn't Lula da Silva ridiculed for his grammar mistakes?

Of course, this dichotomy is between the normative/written grammar and the spoken language explains why BrP falls into the category of diglossic languages.

November 8, 2017

Normative grammar states a specific set of rules about how a language should be used correctly. Analytical grammar simply observes the language how it actually is.

That being said, I am against normative grammar in daily speech because I see language as an organic phenomenon, rather than a man-built tool for communication. In my conception, the phonetic changes your dialect has do not characterize it as "better" or "worse", "right" or "wrong", only different.

I don't understand why people making fun of our ex-president's grammar mistakes contradicts my position here. I don't make fun of people's mistakes specifically because of the paragraph above, and if I were alive at the time when Lula was still in presidency, I surely wouldn't have mocked him about it.

Even though we Brazilians love to glorify ourselves about the way we speak, the differences between our Portuguese dialect and the others is not yet big to call it a different language in its own. My point is: that diglossic nature shouldn't be used as an excuse to overrule the rules.

P.S.: Political speeches are not daily speech. Oposed to the latter one, they tipically use formal language.

November 9, 2017

I totally agree. Even in the formal settings in which people used to ridicule Lula, however, I do believe their behavior was ethnocentric and classist. Although formal usage is recommendable in politics, it's completely natural for someone coming from a different region or from a different social class to have their speech affected by their background. Expecting our ex-president's speech to conform to formal Portuguese was unreasonable, and ridiculing him for not conforming was just mean.

November 22, 2017

More useful tips to pin on the notice board. Thank you :))

November 5, 2017

Muito obrigado<3

November 13, 2017
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