Learning to Conjugate Portuguese Verbs + Cheat Sheet
Learning to Conjugate Portuguese Verbs
Verb conjugation is the process of producing verb forms according to mood (indicative, subjunctive, etc.), tense (present, past, future, etc.) and person (I, you, he/she, etc.). If you are a native English speaker who has just started learning Portuguese it soon becomes painfully apparent that the number of unique words in the full conjugation of a Portuguese verb is much larger than for an English verb.
There are two basic approaches to learning conjugations, one is to simply absorb them as they come up (that's the Duolingo way) and the other is to take the time to study the subject. Luckily, the vast majority of verbs are regular and are conjugated by a common set of rules . The aim of this article is to show how the rules can be written in a way that helps you to remember them and to show how the regular rules can be used to simplify the conjugation of irregular verbs.
I know this article is longer and more technical than a typical discussion, nonetheless I hope it's not out of place here and will be a useful reference, or at the very least makes you believe that learning the regular conjugation patterns is not that hard after all.
The ideas discussed here have been used to make a PDF verb cheat sheet to download, print out and keep (I've tried to ensure the document is error-free, but before committing conjugations to memory it would be wise to confirm them with a good online conjugator like Conjuga-me first).
Conjugating Regular Verbs
Traditionally conjugations of verbs are described by tables, one per verb. For regular verbs, a single table suffices for an entire class. The basic idea is that you remove the last two letters, "-ar", "-er" or "-ir", from the infinitive form to get its stem and then add the appropriate ending taken from the table.
Attempting to remember all the entries in the regular verb table can take a bit of effort because there are nine simple Portuguese tenses, 6 in the indicative and 3 in the subjunctive:
- Indicative: present, preterite, imperfect, pluperfect, future, conditional
- Subjunctive: present, imperfect, future
Fortunately, Brazilian Portuguese only requires four conjugations per tense, one each for "Eu", "Ele/Ela/Você", "Nós" and "Eles/Elas/Vocês". (Note, the imperative mood is identical to the present subjunctive without the "Eu" entry.) So, given there are three verb classes, AR, ER and IR, that means memorising: 4 (subjects) times 9 (tenses) times 3 (classes) = 108 endings. All 108 endings are tabulated in these model conjugations of the regular verbs FALAR (to speak), COMER (to eat) and PARTIR (to depart):
I believe it takes less effort to recall conjugations using a different model where endings can be appended to different base types - the stem, the infinitive, or the infinitive without the final "r" - depending on which choice simplifies the pattern. This table illustrates the idea:
As with the stem-based approach, each quartet of endings is listed in the order ["Eu", "Ele/Ela/Você", "Nós", "Eles/Elas/Vocês], but now a single set can apply to more than one verb class. There is only a small downside to this gain in simplicity - you now need to recall which base type to use with which tense, but that's hardly a problem in practice.
Because all "Nós" conjugations end in "mos" and all "Eles/Elas/Vocês" conjugations end in "m" (with one exception noted in the text accompanying the table) these suffixes are not shown explicitly which has the benefit of revealing patterns that may not have been so obvious otherwise. In fact, once this is done, four sets of endings have identical entries for all subjects; only an acute accent added to the "Nós" versions of some sets stops that figure becoming seven, i.e. half the table! Increasing the number of base types from three to five permits an even more compact representation with only 39 entries (a saving of 69) although I resisted the temptation to include this version in the cheat sheet:
Using nothing more than the table and its associated notes, it should be possible to conjugate any regular verb. Generating a conjugation is a simple process of finding the correct ending from the table and appending it to the given base form of the verb (possibly with the addition of "mos", "m" and/or a graphic accent). I hope this very terse description is clear, but perhaps comparing the endings in the table with those shown in the verb models given earlier will dispel any doubts.
It is also interesting to note that the "Tu" endings are easy to add because for most tenses they are the "Você" form + 's'. The exceptions to this rule are: the preterite which needs "R + ste"; the future subjunctive which needs "I + es"; and the imperative which is the same as the "Você" present indicative.
Conjugating Irregular Verbs
Not all verbs follow the regular rules and these fall into two categories, those that require predictable changes to the regular patterns, and a group of truly irregular verbs. Most textbooks take several pages to tabulate the conjugations of the core set of 24 irregular verbs shown in this list:
CABER (to fit), CRER (to believe), DAR (to give), DIZER (to say), ESTAR (to be), FAZER (to do), HAVER (there to be), IR (to go), LER (to read), MEDIR (to measure), OUVIR (to hear), PEDIR (to ask for), PERDER (to lose), PODER (to be able), PÔR (to put), QUERER (to want), RIR (to laugh), SABER (to know), SER (to be), TER (to have), TRAZER (to bring), VALER (to be worth), VER (to see), VIR (to come).
As the full conjugation of a verb in all tenses requires nine lines per verb (one for each tense) writing out these verbs takes 9 (lines) times 24 (verbs) times 4 (subjects) = 864 words. That's a lot to remember!
Despite their name, even the most irregular of irregular verbs have some things in common with their entirely regular cousins and this can be exploited to reduce the memorisation task. The trick is to employ the regular rules you already know, but apply them, not to the infinitives or stems of the irregular verbs themselves, but to carefully chosen alternatives instead. In most cases the alternatives are taken from the "Eu" form of the present indicative and the "Eles/Elas/Vocês" form of the preterite.
In fact, it is only necessary to specify between one to four lines per irregular verb to have enough information to conjugate it fully. To illustrate this, here are the descriptions of four verbs of different complexity measured in terms of the number of lines needed to describe them (all 24 are described in the cheat sheet):
Provided you know how to deal with regular verbs, this notation can help you visualise or produce full conjugations of these irregular verbs with relative ease. The remainder of this article will explain this process by detailing which tenses are described by which lines.
Line 1: Present indicative and/or Present subjunctive
If this is a single word it is the "Eu" conjugation of the present indicative (and the rest of the conjugation is regular), otherwise it supplies the entire present indicative conjugation. If a stem is shown in bold type it is used to produce the present subjunctive through the regular rules for ER verbs.
Line 2: Preterite, Pluperfect, Imperfect subjunctive and Future subjunctive
This line produces nearly half the entire conjugation. It usually supplies the full preterite conjugation and the word in bold (the "Eles/Elas/Vocês" conjugation less "-am") provides an infinitive to generate the pluperfect, imperfect subjunctive and future subjunctive. If the line consists of a single word then it can also be used to generate the preterite itself. Two small flies in the ointment are: a) the graphic accents given to the "Nós" conjugations of the pluperfect and imperfect subjunctive must be acute (for a regular ER verb they are circumflex); b) in the case of IR and SER the infinitive is FOR but there are no rules for OR verbs - the solution is to treat them as ER verbs and use a circumflex accent when needed (i.e. use "fôramos" and "fôssemos").
Line 3: Present subjunctive
For a small group of verbs the present subjunctive is not based on the present indicative and this line supplies the stem (of a fictitious ER verb) to generate it. I've seen the acronym "HIS DESQ" used to describe this group because it consists of "Haver-Ir-Ser Dar-Estar-Saber-Querer". For the verbs (other than SER) that require a fourth line this entry is simply a place-holder.
Line 4: Imperfect indicative
There are only four verbs in this set that are irregular in the imperfect indicative: TER, VIR, PÔR and SER and this line supplies the conjugation. One way to remember it and the verbs involved is to sing or chant the core words of the conjugations which are "Tinha/Vinha/Punha/Era".
All unspecified conjugations are regular based on the true infinitive (or PÔR without its accent). The three verbs DIZER, FAZER and TRAZER, which I call the ZE verbs, are irregular in the future indicative and the conditional but those conjugations can be found by applying the regular rules to the infinitives with "ZE" removed, i.e. DIR, FAR and TRAR.
To sum things up, this table shows which tenses are specified by which lines:
As an example, here is the way to tackle the most complex irregular verb, SER:
- Line 1 gives the present indicative: [sou, é, somos, são]
- Line 2 supplies the infinitive FOR and gives the preterite: [fui, foi, fomos, foram]
- Use FOR to get the pluperfect: [fora, fora, fôramos, foram]
- Use FOR to get the imperfect subjunctive: [fosse, fosse, fôssemos, fossem]
- Use FOR to get the future subjunctive: [for, for, formos, forem]
- Line 3 supplies the stem SEJ to get the present subjunctive: [seja, seja, sejamos, sejam]
- Line 4 gives the imperfect indicative: [era, era, éramos, eram]
- Use SER to get the future indicative: [serei, será, seremos, serão]
- Use SER to get the conditional: [seria, seria, seríamos, seriam]
More about this topic in Part 2 which covers semi-irregular verbs.
[If you find any errors in the cheat sheet please leave a comment.]
That's a very interesting way of teaching verb conjugations - thanks a lot of all the hard work that went into compiling the info!
I'm afraid I can't unlearn the verb tenses, but hopefully others will be able to give some interesting feedback on how it has worked for them :)
Great job! I'm Brazilian, and as a native Portuguese speaker, I had never realized how much effort it takes to learn how to conjugate verbs in my language. Just a hint for informal speech though: it's very common the use of the auxiliary verb "ir" (to go) when referring to the future, and that certainly eliminates a lot of the conjugations. So, a verb like "falar", for example, conjugated in the future could be "eu vou falar", "ele/ela/você vai falar", "nós vamos falar", "eles vão falar". Ex.: "Are you going to talk to her?" becomes either "Você falará com ela?" or "Você vai falar com ela?". Only the verb "ir" is conjugated, and the main verb remains in its infinitive form. Keep up the good work!
I'm a native Portuguese speaker and I cannot imagine the effort needed for a foreigner to learn my language, mainly because of our over-complicated verb tenses and pronouns. I am really amazed how you were able to create such compact cheat sheets! This is exactly the type of tool that can really help any kind of student (from beginner to advanced), and even native speakers - many don't know how to properly conjugate the not-so-much-used tenses...
For me, the only letdown if that it is missing the "tu" form (I speak European Portuguese, we need that). You could maybe create another alternate cheat-sheet that includes it.
Excellent work, here's a lingot!
The author gave the rules for the "tu" conjugations of regular verbs in the main text. For most tenses, independent of verb class, AR, ER or IR, the "tu" forms are produced by adding a tense-specific ending ("s" or "es') to the "ele/ela/você" form. The exception is the preterite where separate class-related endings must be added to the verb stem. Though it's easy enough to explain what to do in a few words, I've tabulated the additional endings in the same order as the cheat sheet:
|Preterite||(stem + aste/este/iste)|
Maybe it could be added to the cheat sheet as a Post-It note. :)
Yeah Duolingo only has the Brazilian... It really sucks when you're learning the Portuguese variety but, take what you can get, have a lingot for listening to my troubles
Agree - that the first thing I noticed, the lack of Tu. I'm working in Angola and they speak a bit of a mixture of Portugal and Brazil Portuguese so Tu is very much needed for me. Still a very good tool and leaving out Tu does simplify it somewhat.
Ok can some explain to me why cometer is not comito in the present tense and comita in the present subjunctive. I think once there is a e in the stem of the word and there is a stress before o or a it should be comito right? but it conjugates to cometo and cometa respectively. Anyone know why?
After sifting through a large list of verbs I was only able to find 18 that end in "-eter", they are:
acometer, arremeter, cometer, comprometer, derreter, descometer, descomprometer, deter, entremeter, entreter, intermeter, intrometer, meter, prometer, remeter, reprometer, reter, submeter
Apart from the three in bold (which are conjugated in a similar way to "ter") all the others are regular and their stems keep 'e'.
You are probably thinking of some "-ir" verbs like "repetir" (stem-changing verbs are mentioned briefly in Part 2 of my article).
You're onto something here. Even though there is no change of "e" to "i" in writing, there is a change in pronunciation: eu cometo [ew komêtu], ela comete [ɛla komɛtʃi]. The closed E sound (ê) is very close (phonetically) to I sound. In spelling, however, only -IR verbs will have the complete change, both in writing and pronunciation: eu sinto, ela sente.
I always think of it like this: -IR verbs are the most irregular bunch, then -ER, then -AR in decreasing order of irregularity. I'm afraid I can't explain the why of this phenomenon, but it certainly has to do with the way language evolved from Latin, and would need someone more knowledgeable in morphology than me to answer it more precisely. :)
Thank you. I do understand your point of view. The table of regular verb endings isn't just any old word or grammar list though; learning its few dozen entries gives you the ability to inflect any regular verb in any tense which is a pretty neat trick.
don't get me wrong it's very useful when you first start you need to memorise the regular endings like you said opens up the ability to conjugate every verb in any tense
We certainly agree there. Don't worry, I understood your point of view and I'm sure many people share your dislike of endless word lists and grammar rules. Ultimately, to speak the language well, all this stuff has to be internalised and some people like to let things take their own course and others like to be a bit more proactive. Who's to say which approach is right.
Despite having studied Portuguese for quite some time, it sounds like you need to go back to basics. Here are a couple of links that may help.
The first is a fairly down-to-earth guide to some things you need to know about verbs:
The other (well two actually) discusses how to conjugate regular verbs in the present and past (preterite) tenses:
Knowing how to conjugate a verb in the present and past will take you a long way. It is also worthwhile memorizing the conjugations of the irregular verb "ir", because when combined with the infinitive of another verb these forms allow you to express more complicated ideas with relatively little effort (see the comment by Dezo... for an example).
Thanks a million! I haven’t learned verbs yet. I thought I would pick them up when I was conversing but that hasn’t happened yet. When I’m trying to read I have no idea of what 95% of the verbs mean so it’s time to learn. I’ve been reading Portuguêse without translating which is similar to how I learned how to read English. I’m hoping that helps. When reading about verbs they use the grammar terms we never learned in school that would be handy to know. It’s like they assume everyone knows them which is terrifying. So I’ll have to figure out what everything means so I can understand what they are talking about. We just learned “nouns verbs adjectives adverbs and pronouns” and that was in elementary school. Thanks again!
Great Post, you have my lingot :)
One correction: In the example for SER, the future subjunctive for third person plural should be forem (instead of foram)
Use FOR to get the future subjunctive: [for, for, formos, forem]
Use FOR to get the future subjunctive: [for, for, formos, foram]
Hi. I found your conjugation site through your comment here. It must have been a lot of hard work creating such a tool so congratulations on a job well done.
One thing I noticed was that for AR verbs the first person plural forms of the preterite are always accented. For example, your table for "falar" shows "falámos". This isn't wrong, but now you've added the European/Brazilian switch it may not always be the best choice.
Since the spelling accord of a few years back, both variants of the language have the option to use "falámos" or "falamos" but in practice the acute accent is not used in Brazilian writing.
Here is a comparison of some online conjugators:
(From Portugal and uses the European convention: "falámos")
(From Brazil and uses the Brazilian convention: "falamos")
(From Portugal and gives both options: "falámos/falamos")
(From Portugal. You can select "norma europeia" or "norma brasileira")
I believe your conjugator could be improved a little by removing the accent when in Brazilian mode if that's reasonably easy to do.
In most of Brazil the second person (you) roles are taken by "você/vocês" which, for technical reasons, are conjugated as third person (he/she/they).
That means you can eliminate the "tu" and "vós" entries from the conjugation tables and everything looks much simpler as a result.
Pat, I noticed your earlier comment about your frustration in trying to learn Portuguese. While Emeyr is absolutely correct in her analysis of the best way to learn a language, it is not the ONLY way. I was a reading and dyslexia specialist for many years, and I learned that some kids just read more naturally than others. The ones who have trouble reading NEED to know how to break down words in order to decode them. They work on learning to read long before they ever get around to reading to learn. And everybody has different ways of learning...visual, tactile, auditory, etc... Learning languages, too, is just like that. I am both auditory and visual, so while I like to listen, I also like to see charts like the verb tenses broken down. When I speak, I imagine how the words are written on the page (Not consciously, but you know what I mean.) My husband, on the other hand, is having a LOT of trouble learning and he is a smart man. In fact, he makes the same comments you do. His brain just works differently than mine. Yours must work like that too! So don't give up! Here's a lingot for encouragement!
Thanks for the kind words. In English I am an excellent reader and speller and am very visual. I can spell Portuguêse very easily because after I see a word once or twice I recognize it and know how often it’s used but have a hard time remembering the meaning. Pronunciation is easy too. So it’s like my brain is wired for English. I’ve never had problems learning before this which makes it so frustrating so now I’m asking everyone I see that is learning a language for ideas. It seems like I’m only complaining but I actually have a plan. I practice speaking and writing with a Brasilian every night for 1-3 hours and have for 16 months in addition to everything else but I have to translate so now I’m trying to learn without translating by reading without translating. It’s how I remember learning to read English when I was a kid. It’s visual and without translating which is slow but it should become easier after the lightbulb comes on. Thanks!
Well it sounds like you are doing all the right things! Speaking and writing with a Brazilian every night ...wow....that is awesome! We are learning Spanish also, which is very confusing and I wouldn't recommend it. But we have started doing little things like making grocery lists in Spanish/Portuguese and putting sticky notes on things like mirrors, kitchen stuff, bathroom stuff, etc.. I also try to watch shows on Netflix in Spanish or Portuguese with the subtitles in that language. Every little bit helps. Boa sorte!
I have bookmarked this thread so I can refer to it. Verbs give me the most trouble. OBRIGADA!
Wow forming irregular verbs will be way easier now, thank you so much!
There are other irregular verbs which do not fit, right? Like 'cair' for example
Thank you, I'm glad to hear you got something from that section. Certainly this notation helps me to remember the conjugations of "ver" and "vir" in a way that staring at tables never did.
You're right that some verbs don't seem to fit, but many of their irregularities can be dealt with by applying spelling changes to the regular conjugations. For example "-air" verbs like "cair" form a class where you add an acute accent to stressed 'i' when it is preceded by 'a'.
I've written more about verb conjugation here: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/9278944
I talk about "cair" there and, as I mention in my other reply, the only thing that makes it awkward is the need for graphic accents in many conjugations. I include a scheme for adding accents that isn't impossible to memorise.
Obrigado! Esse vai ser muito util! I really appreciate you putting the time in to do this. I'm not a huge fan of the way duolingo teaches verbs and I think this will benefit me greatly.
thanks so much! I found this to be extremely helpful to reference while going through the duolingo exercises.
This is really great, thank you so much!
One question: Why use "infinitive - r + ra" for pluperfect in your chart when you could use "infinitive + a" with some sort of note indicating the additional accents?
Good question. The answer is that this choice reduces the number of rules required. Notice that in my scheme the pluperfect and the subjunctive imperfect work the same way and therefore share the same rule. Of course, if adding another rule for the pluperfect helps you remember it more effectively then it's worth doing.
since you know so much about this stuff, i have a question about pronounciation. how do i know when to pronounce the "-te, -ti, -de and -di like with the "dj" and "tj" sounds?
Well, that is a question that will depend on the accent, as pronouncing the sounds /tʃ/ (tch) and /dʒ/ (dj) is dialectal. If you take European Portuguese, the answer is never, but if you take Brazilian Portuguese, that depends on the accent, but most of us do it (I am Brazilian, by the way).
This phonetic phenomenon, called palatalization, occurs when /t/ and /d/ are follow by the sound /i/ ("ee" as in "see").
Letter "i": Whenever the letter "i" follows the letters "t" and "d", they are going to be pronounced as /tʃ/ (tch) and /dʒ/ (dj), no matter what word we're talking about and the position the letter "i" occupies within a word, because the letter "i" always has the sound /i/ (ee). Ex.: "direito" (/dʒi'ɾej.tu), "diretor" (dʒi.ɾe'toɾ), "repetir" (he.pe'tʃiɾ), "partir" (paɾ'tʃiɾ), "atividade" (a.tʃi.vi'da.dʒi) etc.
Letter "e": "t" and "d" will have the sounds /tʃ/ (tch) and /dʒ/ (dj) if the sound of the letter "e" is reduced to /i/ (ee). Vowel reduction only happens in unstressed syllables, so if "te" and "de" are stressed, they are going to be pronounced with the true "t" and "d" sounds. If the letter "e" appears at the end of a word and is unstressed it will always be reduced to /i/ (ee), therefore, "t" and "d" will change their sounds (vowel reduction in unstressed syllables at the end of a word are mandatory in Brazilian Portuguese). Ex.: "pente" (stress on the syllable "pen", so "te" is pronounced "tchee" -> /'pẽ.tʃi/), "dente" (stress on "den" -> /'dẽ.tʃi/), "parte" (stress on "par" - /'paɾ.tʃi), "atividade" (stress on "da" -> /a.tʃi.vi'da.dʒi/) etc. Vowel "e" can be reduced when it happens before the stressed syllable, but that's never mandatory, there are just some words we do that, and the non-reduction will just sound polite, as if the person is trying to speak correctly, there isn't really a rule, we do that with some words and we don't with most of the others. One hint I can give you is that when the prefix -des appears, it might be reduced, and pronounced "djees" (like "despreparo", "desnutrido", "destemido" etc.). In a faster speech, this prefix might just be pronounced as "dz". Ex.: "destemido" (without reduction: /des.te'mi.du/; with reduction: /dʒis.te'mi.du/; faster speech: /dzte'mi.du/).
So everything is really about the sound /i/ (ee). If we have the sound /i/, "t" and "d" will change their sounds, if not, they won't.
Feel free to ask more if you have any other questions or if I didn't make myself clear.
Haven’t really started Portuguese yet (I’m still learning Spanish) but this will be handy for the future. ¡Muchas gracias y buena suerte estudiándolo!
I’ve been studying Portuguese for 4.5 years and been to Brasil 14 times but I have no idea how to learn verbs. I can’t understand spoken Portuguese yet because it seems like one long word to me and written Portuguese is like a secret code. I practice every day and have a a Brasilian friend that i try to speak and write with for 1-3 hours every day too and have for 16 months now. Do I need to know those grammar terms? We didn’t learn them in school. I see them used a lot like everyone should know them which is terrifying to me. We just learned nouns verbs adjectives adverbs and pronouns in elementary school. Thanks
You don't learn a language by memorizing rules because the brain doesn't work that way. Language is acquired by listening and speaking and then getting feedback so that you can correct your mistakes. The natural sequence for language acquisition is understanding the spoken word, then speaking, complemented by reading and writing.
Practice your listening skills first. That's how we all acquire our first language and the most effective way to learn the second.
I’ve been listening for 4.5 years. I’ve had my hearing tested and it’s ok. I wonder what the problem is. I have been practicing writing and speaking every day with a Brasilian for 16 months for 1-3 hours per day in addition to everything else I do. I returned from a 32 day trip to Brasil last month. It was my 14th trip. Im worried. I’ll keep trying and hope something magically happens. Thanks.
Hi, I cannot seem to download the cheat of irregular verbs with all 24 described?! :(the link seems to take me to a 'Box' account? and then says error?! can anyone help?
I don't know whether it will help you, but I made this table to clearly show which lines of a verb's description influence which tenses. I think it's simpler than the table given in the main text. It doesn't mention the future indicative and conditional as they are always regular provided you use the reduced infinitives "dir", "far" and "trar" to deal with "dizer", "fazer" and trazer":
|Line 2||Preterite, Pluperfect||Imperfect, Future|