Portuguese Verbs. Help!. I don’t understand Portuguese verbs.

I have never been able to understand Portuguese verbs even after studying Portuguese for 4.5 years. When reading about the different moods and tenses I have no idea what they are talking about. We never learned about verbs in school. I know how to use English verbs but don’t know any of the grammar terminology. So when I hear anything about the verb “To be” I have to translate it to “is” “are” or “am”. Any ideas on how to understand how Portuguese verbs work? Do I need to take an English class? I can’t converse or read yet so maybe this is part of the problem. I study several hours a day usually and practice with a Brasilian daily. I also watch movies, videos and have teachers. I use apps and other teaching methods. I’ve been to Brasil 14 times. Thanks

February 19, 2019


well, i dont think you need to study english grammar to understand or facilitate anyhow to understand portuguese grammar. as a native portuguese speaker, portuguese grammar didnt help me learning english because it has nothing similar. the verb tenses are different, i had to understand "thinking in english" what each tense was meant for in english to fully learn them properly. What i sugest is, read a lot, if possible, novels since they tell a story they will use lots of verbs! lol

February 20, 2019

Read in Portuguese? I cant read yet. I’ve been trying to read some basic books without translating. I had a Brasilian Portuguese teacher tell me she couldn’t teach me until I learned English grammar because she would try to teach something and use words like “preposition, article, subjunctive verb tense”, and I had never heard of those before. Thanks a lot!

March 4, 2019

Any ideas on how to understand how Portuguese verbs work?

When you asked that question in a different discussion I suggested this link:

I'm sorry the summary didn't help you much. It may still be useful as a means of getting to the bottom of exactly what you don't understand about Portuguese verbs. Please read it through again and if there is anything in the article that you find unclear, just ask about that particular aspect in this discussion and I'm sure someone will be able to shed more light on the subject. It is a lot easier to answer a question such as "What is the imperfect past tense?" than trying to give a meaningful response to your original question.

Really, the biggest difference between English and Portuguese verbs comes down to the sheer number of different forms a verb can take. Consider the present and past (preterite) tenses of "comer" ("to eat"), for example:

Present Past
Eu (I) Como (Eat) Comi (Ate)
Tu (You) Comes (Eat) Comeste (Ate)
Você (You) Come (Eat) Comeu (Ate)
Ele/Ela (He/She) Come (Eats) Comeu (Ate)
Nós (We) Comemos (Eat) Comemos (Ate)
Vocês (You) Comem (Eat) Comeram (Ate)
Eles/Elas (They) Comem (Eat) Comeram (Ate)

Nine different words in Portuguese but just three in English. This is even more problematic with irregular verbs where many forms don't look anything like the base form.

February 20, 2019

I’ve been reading the link you sent. I don’t understand the past, present and future. They all sound the same. “Maybe I’m happy” “If I were happy” and “When I am happy” Present, past and future supposedly. If it said “I was happy yesterday, I am happy now, I will be happy tomorrow. I’d understand that. I’ve never analyzed language before. I’ll keep reading to see if I can begin to understand. Thanks.

March 4, 2019

To fully understand those translations you have to learn a bit more jargon. Verbs are not only conjugated according to tense but also according to "mood". There are three important moods: the indicative mood is the straightforward one where we can say things such as "I drink", "He drank" and "You will drink"; another is the imperative mood where you give orders - imagine saying "Sit!" to your dog. The third is called the subjunctive mood and it is used to talk about hypothetical or uncertain things.

English has a subjunctive mood but its conjugations are mostly indistinguishable from the indicative (actually, "If I were happy" is an example of the English subjunctive where that's not true). That means it's sometimes difficult to translate the Portuguese subjunctive directly. The examples you found are attempts to convey the uncertainty implied by the present, past and future subjunctive. That's why they don't agree with what you expected because "I am happy", "I was happy" and "I will be happy" are in the indicative mood. This table compares the conjugations for "I was/am/will be":

Indicative Subjunctive
Past estava estivesse
Present estou esteja
Future estarei estiver
March 4, 2019

I appreciate the help! Thanks. So do people actually think about the moods and tenses before they say something? I usually think of what I want to say and translate it with a translator. I’d like to learn verbs so I can learn to converse and read. I see so many words that I don’t understand that are actually a form of a verb I don’t know yet. I’ll keep reading.

March 5, 2019

Yes, language learners absolutely think through moods, tenses, and even the "formulas" for conjugating. This is how you escape the tyranny of the translator app (seriously, please delete that)! I'll give you an example of how one of the English Language Learners I have taught might think this through: "Now (ahh, now=present tense) she (verb: to talk, she, present tense: - to, + s) talks--Now she talks."

Similarly, in Portuguese I might do the same: "Agora (aah, agora=presente) ela (verbo: falar, ela, tempo presente: - ar, + a) fala--Agora ela fala." (Notice how the thought process is in Portuguese? This is a good habit to get into from the very beginning.)

With time and practice (and lots of listening practice, too), it will become more automatic.

As for seeing words that are verb conjugations you don't recognize: the better you know the rules or "formulas" for conjugating verbs, the more you will be able to guess at what infinitive those "mystery words" come from!

March 5, 2019

Thanks a lot! I think that’s exactly what I needed to see. One thing that I think I’m doing wrong is when I see an infinitive I automatically translate it into English as “to swim” or whatever the verb is and I see that many times the correct translation uses “swim” without the “to” which confuses me. When I translate things in my head to English when reading or listening I never know which meanings to use and maybe translating word for word doesn’t work well enough and I need to discover another way.

March 6, 2019

Exactly! Languages are not one-to-one relationships, but they do have rules and structures that help you find your way if you are aware of them. If you have access to a Portuguese class (a structured class that follows a specific order and builds grammar from the beginning, not self-paced tutoring or casual conversation partners), a good teacher should be able to help you think about grammar in Portuguese as well as coach you in the kind of thought process I gave examples of above.

[As for your implied question about infinitives and the word "to," one way to understand this is more as a quirk of English (the infinitive in English has 2 forms, with and without "to") than Portuguese:

I'm grateful I learned English as my first language--it's my understanding that it's FULL of quirks/irregularities compared to most languages because of how many languages it borrows from.]

March 6, 2019

Don't get caught up in the terminology of grammar. Taking a class in English/grammar isn't going to help you a bit. Coming from a native Portuguese speaker, there's a mindnumbing amount of conjugations for each verb, but there is also a pattern until you hit irregular verbs.

Lacyowl posted a great example and link you should definitely have a look at.

In school as a kid, I learned verb conjugation by simply memorizing each verb and it's multiple tenses. Eventually the pattern sticks, but the real key is to stop associating so closely to the English translation because (any) language is more complex than that.

February 20, 2019

do you have any tips how to learn to be more able to talk more fluent in portugise?

February 21, 2019

I feel like immersion is the best way to really become fluent. I'd been studying English for a solid 3 years, and was constantly exposed to English-speaking TV shows but even once I moved to the US, it wasn't until I moved out of a heavily Portuguese school setting that I became truly fluent in English.

If immersion isn't possible, all I can suggest is to surround yourself and consume as much Portuguese media as you can - music, movies, TV shows, news, etc.

February 21, 2019

thank you for very good tips:)

February 21, 2019

Hi. I'm Brazilian and I can help you learn Portuguese. I'm learning English and we can help ourselves. Do you have Skype, Whatsapp or other social media?

February 21, 2019

Thats great:) i will give you my whats app.

February 21, 2019

Thanks, memorizing and being able to remember the idea the verb represents it the difficult thing for me. I know “Eu como, voce come and nos comemos” but I have to translate in my head. I only know a few verbs that well. No past or future so I'll try to find a way to remember the verbs now with their meanings and see if it’s possible to learn Portuguese words without translating in my head because it’s too slow.

March 4, 2019

I personally think knowing grammar helps immensely; and I thought I knew grammar... until I started trying to learn another language and really started learning.

Without the grammar aspects in both languages I do not think I would be able to make sense of it. I would have been constantly wondering and asking why this or that. =]

This site helped a lot, but there are many other sites available at the drop of a google search:

Check it out before taking an English class (and don't expect it to all come overnight either as we did not learn our first language that quickly either).

After that get really comfortable with "Grammatical Person" which is a concept in many languages including English and especially Portuguese in regards to verbs:

Also, I might suggest taking a small break (or shift to a different focus for a little while). Maybe a couple weeks to let what you have learned settle in. Continue with light stuff like PT Word of the Day emails but stop pushing for a little while. I really think the stress of it keeps us from getting it at times. Well, I know it helped me so I was actually grateful when I lost my 555 day streak recently.

Do go back to it though. :)

February 23, 2019

We never learned the grammatical person, I still have to think about that too. I’m sure it’s no fun to speak Portuguese with me! I have to think about 20 different things before I say something and then when I hear the reply I usually can’t understand it. Maybe I need to get drunk while studying. Thanks!

March 4, 2019

[deactivated user]

    Hi! Maybe I can help you. I am not a teacher, but I'm from Brazil and speak Portuguese all the time. If you need some help, you can count on me.

    February 19, 2019

    try to search "conjugação verbal". If you need, I can help you.

    February 20, 2019

    This is such a complex verb that it is included in the classification of anomalous verbs.

    February 20, 2019

    I am = Eu sou

    You are = Tu és

    He is = She is = Ele é It is = Ele é, For living things It is = Isso é, For non-living beings That is = Aquilo é For non-living beings

    We are = Nós somos.

    You are = Você é

    They are = Eles são Those are = Aqueles são For non-living beings and For living things

    February 20, 2019

    I will try to help, but try to be more specific about what part makes you struggle.

    Present tense of "to eat" (com - er = radical + ending)

    Eu com - o

    Você/ele(a) com - e

    Nós com - emos

    Vocês/eles(as) com - em

    Past tense

    Eu com - i

    Você com - eu

    Nós com - emos

    Vocês com - eram

    Simple future

    Eu com - erei

    Você com - erá

    Nós com - eremos

    Vocês com - erão

    Regular verbs follow the same pattern. Tu and vós are not used by most of the brazilians anymore, so don't worry about them now, just use você(s), that has the same conjugation of ele(s).

    February 21, 2019

    Almost every adult needs to understand the structures of a language, or grammar, to learn a second language (this makes it different from learning your first language, which happens more organically). You don't necessarily need to take an English class, but you may find it helpful to at least take a grammar-focused Portuguese class. If that is too overwhelming, then yes, you could start with an English grammar class and then move on to a Portuguese grammar class. (Note: Duolingo and other programs like it are NOT grammar classes.)

    If you do begin with English, you might want to STOP studying Portuguese while you get comfortable with English grammar. Give yourself a chance to fully understand how English grammar builds the language and become familiar with the terminology of grammar (for example, this explanation of the basics of verb conjugation in English: without the pressure of constant comparison to Portuguese. When you return to Portuguese, do not expect the grammar to be identical to English--different languages function differently!--rather, rely on your newfound knowledge of the terminology to explore how Portuguese grammar works.

    February 27, 2019

    My older brother told me he discovered that we didn’t learn English grammar in school when he was learning German so he took an English class to learn the grammar. So many of my Portuguese books refer to English grammar and I thought “These books act like I’m supposed to know this!” And it happened over and over so I called him to ask if we missed something. I’ve always scored very high on English tests because I know how to use it but not the grammar. Thanks a lot!

    March 4, 2019

    "to be" (or not "to be") :)

    You speak English, so you know, what "to be" means. You know what "being" means. The act of "being something" or "being from somewhere" or "being yellow". You don't have to translate it to “is” “are” or “am” because it only complicates things.

    Remember, that the language conveys meaning. It does not create meaning. The sentences in Portuguese have meaning, whether they translate into English or not. Imagine it like this:

    English - - - - - - - -> MEANING <----------- Portuguese (the lines are different, to illustrate the differences in language structures) not like this:

    MEANING<- - - - - - - - - - - English <------------------------Portuguese

    February 20, 2019

    We never learned “To be” or other verbs in school. If I see “be” used in a sentence I know what it means. So when I see “To go” or “to have” I have to translate to the corresponding Portuguese verb. I have no idea how to learn verbs so I can understand them as ideas or meanings instead of translating them to English so I can read the sentence in English to understand. I need to find a way to learn because I’m stuck at a beginner level. You say that language conveys meanings but I can’t understand the meanings yet. Many words have multiple meanings too. I don’t know hiw to choose which meaning to use. Thanks a lot for helping! Pat

    March 4, 2019

    When I mentioned “to be” its because they refer to verbs like that in my classes. A “to” in front of whatever verb they are referring to. So “To be” instead of “está” or “é” or “sao” or “estou”. I’m trying to learn more than just a few present tense verbs so understanding how they work would be nice and understanding how to remember the ideas behind the Portuguese words would be great but so far I have to translate almost everything. It’s frustrating

    March 4, 2019

    A quick grammar lesson: in English, the base form of the verb, or "infinitive," begins with "to" (to speak, to sing, to eat). To conjugate it, remove the "to" and add the appropriate ending (he speaks, he sings, he eats). In Portuguese, the infinitive ends in -r (almost always -ar/-er/-ir): falar, cantar, comer. To conjugate it, remove the -ar/-er/-ir and add the appropriate ending (ele fala, ele canta, ele come). You can see here that regular verbs follow a predictable pattern:

    Some verbs are irregular, meaning that they don't exactly follow this pattern. As you've discovered, this includes some very common verbs, like ser and estar. While you are trying to understand basic rules of conjugation, it might be best to put aside irregular verbs and focus on some common, regular verbs.

    As @BartekBomDia is getting at, it's very important to practice relating your new language to meaning, rather than translations. Often in beginning language learning, this means PICTURES! Delete any translation apps, un-bookmark translation sites, take a break from DuoLingo (which is very translation focused). Get some 3X5 index cards. On one, paste a picture of yourself. On the back, write "Eu." On the next, paste a picture of you pointing at someone else. On the back, "Você." Continue illustrating ele, ela, nós, vocês, eles, elas. Now make a set of verb cards. On the front, a picture of someone speaking. On the back, at the top and in large letters: "Falar." Underneath, make a chart of the present tense conjugation: Eu falo Nós falamos Você/ele/ela fala Vocês/eles/elas falam

    Perhaps begin with 5 regular verbs that are fairly common: falar, comer, comprar, cantar, beber. Begin by quizzing yourself on the cards separately: look at the picture of yourself and say "eu," look at the picture of a person speaking and say "falar." Then the reverse: Read the words and try to imagine in your mind what the picture is (NOT the translation). Then, put them together: take one card from each set and conjugate the verb appropriately, ie "Nós falamos." The correct answer is always on the back, so you shouldn't ever have to resort to a translation app or website. Doing this over and over seems boring, but over time you are creating pathways in your brain. This is most effective if you can study for several short periods throughout the day: perhaps 5-10 minutes each in the morning, midday, evening, and before bed.

    March 4, 2019

    Thanks! When I see infinitives in sentences they sometimes translate into “to” and then the verb, and other times they lose the “to” so I never know which meaning to use when I see an infinitive. That goes for many Portuguêse words I see, they have many different meanings it seems so I don’t understand how to decide which meaning to use when I see or hear them. I’m stuck at the beginning level in Portuguêse because I am thinking of it in the wrong way. I’ve been studying long enough to where I should be able to understand more. I still have to translate everything word for word but it doesn’t work very well. That’s why I’m trying to ask for advice. Thanks a lot!

    March 4, 2019

    Just one more thought: reading your response, I see almost every sentence is a negative thought about your current ability, rather than focusing on your opportunity to learn, the things you CAN do, or even engaging with what assistance my (or other's) response offers. It's hard to learn (and to feel good about yourself) if you are stuck in negative thought loops. Check out this article:

    I have a friend who taught Portuguese for many years and the first sentence he would teach is "Eu sou (bootfall) e eu falo português maravilhosamente bem!"

    March 4, 2019

    Thanks for following me on this tangent, Pat! I think it's really interesting how the way we think influences the way we learn.

    Certainly, empty positive statements or untruths ("it's easy!") do not hold much value--and can actually be damaging: language learning is difficult! On the other hand, reframing your position and desires may help you progress.

    Take your second and third sentences: what if instead, you said, "I wanted to progress, so I decided to try new and different techniques, like asking questions and being honest with myself. I'm going to persevere until I succeed!" Same content, more positivity. In any one statement, it may feel minor, but there's evidence to show that over time, this practice actually changes how we feel and how we perform. Amazing, right?

    March 5, 2019

    I had hearing positive things for 4 years like “Don’t worry, you will get it, it’s easy.” But I wasn’t learning so I didn’t want to continue to do the same things that weren’t working so I’ve been asking questions and not lying to myself. I’m not going to quit. Thanks a lot for the help!

    March 4, 2019
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