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Portuguese Question Words

Intrepid language learners start using Portuguese nearly from day one. I love the attitude and hope you are one of them. Besides bravery, to keep conversations going you need to ask questions.

Put another way, you need to know well the question words and how interrogative sentences work in Portuguese and that’s what this post is all about. We start with open-ended questions – those initiated with a question word – and then we go over to the “yes-or-no” type. Read on.

Lesson #2 Question Words in Reversed Order - Portuguesepedia
Lesson #9 The redundant é que - Portuguesepedia
Lesson #22 Question words - Portuguesepedia
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Open-ended questions 

Open-ended questions are usually initiated with question words (how, why, what, etc.). Let’s take a closer look at them.

Question words

Below, there’s a summary of Portuguese and English question words paired up according to a literal translation. This is, of course, a generalization. Either language has its idiomatic ways of asking questions and such a one-to-one translation scheme won’t always hold. So, keep that that in mind.

Question WordUsage Example
o que 
what
O que fizeste hoje?
What did you do today?

When standing alone, this question word is pronounced with a more open e-sound, and thus spelled with a circumflex accent on it:

O quê?
What?

When que is followed by a noun, you drop the o:

Que dia é hoje?
What day is it today?
como 
how
Como te correu o dia?
How was your day?
quando 
when
Quando voltas do Brasil?
When are you coming back from Brazil?
onde
where
Onde estás?
Where are you?

Aonde vais?
Where are you going?
quem
who
Quem ganhou o jogo?
Who won the match?
porque  
why
Porque não casas comigo?
Why don’t you marry me?

Like o quê, when standing alone, this question word is pronounced with a more open e-sound, and thus the circumflex accent:

Porquê?
Why? 

Also, the word porque means “because”:

Porque não casas comigo?
Porque não estou apaixonada por ti.
– Why don’t you marry me?
– Because I am not in love with you.
quanto
how much
Quanto é?
How much is it?

Quanto custa?
How much does it cost?
quantos/quantas
how many
This question word conforms to the gender of the noun it refers to:

Quantos pães comeste?
How many bread rolls did you eat?

Quantas maçãs compraste ontem?
How many apples did you buy yesterday?
qual/quais
which
This question word conforms to the number of the noun it refers to:

Qual preferes, a saia verde ou a amarela?
Which one do you prefer, the green skirt or the yellow?

Quais preferes, as camisas de lã ou de algodão?
Which ones do you prefer, the cotton or the wool shirts?

Now, let’s look at some aspects of asking questions in Portuguese that you want to be aware of.

Reversed word order

By default, question words initiate the interrogative sentence. However, the reverse is not uncommon. Here are a few reversed sentences from the examples above:

Voltas do Brazil quando?
Estás onde?
Não casas comigo porquê?

No auxiliary

Unlike in English, we don’t need any auxiliary verb to ask open-ended questions:

Onde puseste as chaves?
Where did you put the keys?

As you see in the example above, only one verb is used, namely Pôr (in the Past tense). 

The redundant “é que” 

Portuguese open-ended questions can be asked with or without the redundant little phrase é que:  

(1) Como te chamas?
(2) Como é que te chamas?
What’s your name?

(1) Onde vais?
(2) Onde é que vais?

Where are you going?

Qual é o teu prato favorito?
Qual é que é o teu prato favorito?

What’s your favorite dish?

Both variants mean the same thing. However, the version with é que sounds more casual and you’ll hear it more in everyday life.

Yes-or-no questions

These questions call for a yes-or-no type of answer. Importantly, there are no question words in them. 

In Portuguese, yes-or-no interrogative sentences look the same as declarative sentences, that is, the word order is kept unchanged. A few examples: 

Declarative
Tu estás no Porto. 
You are in Porto.

Interrogative
Tu estás no Porto?
Are you in Porto?

Because interrogative and declarative sentences look the same, it is important to intonate interrogative sentences properly so that they come across as intended. 

For instance, when asking, Tu estás no Porto?  you want to finish off in a rising tone so that it clearly sounds like a question.

No auxiliary

Like in open-ended questions, yes-or-no questions do perfectly well without any auxiliary verb: 

O carro tem gasolina suficiente?
Does the car have enough gas? 

Ele já chegou de Inglaterra?
Did he already arrive from England?

Further reading! Learn more about Portuguese verb usage compared to English: Portuguese Verb Usage and Tenses: A Practical Guide Anchored to English.

Answering a yes-or-no question

Usually, we don’t answer these questions with only a bare ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Instead, we tend to repeat the verb being used in the question: 

– Estás na Suécia?
– Sim, estou. / Não, não estou

– Are you in Sweden?
– Yes, I am. / No, I am not.

– Já viste este filme? 
– Sim, já vi. / Não, ainda não vi.

– Have you already seen this movie?
– Yes, I have. / No, I haven’t.

Question tags

Affirmative sentences

Like English question tags, we also utter those reassuring little add-ons at the end of sentences. Let’s look at a few affirmative cases:

Ele gosta de cinema, não gosta?
He likes cinema, doesn’t he?

Tu dormes muito, não dormes?
You sleep a lot, don’t you?

As you see above, you form question tags to affirmative sentences by putting together the negative não with the verb form of the main sentence.

Otherwise, you can always use the universal question tag: não é? By using the latter, you won’t even need to mind the verb in the main sentence: 

Ele gosta de cinema, não é?
He likes cinema, doesn’t he?

Tu dormes muito, não é?
You sleep a lot, don’t you?

Negative sentences

Let’s now look at how it works with negative sentences:

Ele não gosta de pintar, pois não?
He doesn’t enjoy painting, does he?

Tu não fumas muito, pois não?
You don’t smoke that much, do you?

As you can see above, concerning negative sentences, the question tags always look the same – pois não? – regardless of the verb in the main sentence. 

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Olá! This is Pedro and I'm the founder of Portuguesepedia, a platform created to support and accelerate your Portuguese learning journey. Até já, p

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