Surprise surprise!

Do you know what constipado means in Portuguese? Probably not what you are thinking...

Get a list of 50+ Must-Know English-Portuguese False Friends and be surprised.

Are you struggling with your pronunciation?

That's because you have yet to learn the Sounds of Portuguese.

Learn more

This article is brought to you by StoryLift

Let the Power of Stories Lift Your Portuguese.

Learn more

Portuguese Grammar for Beginners

Are you at the start of your Portuguese language learning journey? If that’s the case, well, spot on! This article was written for beginners just like you.

In what follows, I will give an overview of Portuguese grammar’s basic features so that you know what to expect, grammar-wise, as you start tackling the language. 

So, let’s get our feet wet in Portuguese grammar.

Is it Portuguese grammar difficult?

As you start off on your Portuguese learning journey, some questions might pop into your mind: Is Portuguese grammar hard to learn? How different is it from that of my own tongue?  

As to whether or not Portuguese grammar is challenging to learn, there isn’t an absolute answer – it certainly hinges on what your first language is. For instance, if your mother tongue is another Romance language, or even if you’ve learned one before as a second language, then you are likely to feel relatively at ease with it. 

On the other hand, if your first language is, say, a Scandinavian language, you are likely to struggle a little more to come to grips with Portuguese grammar than you would with English.

One thing is for sure, the fact that you are familiarised with English (and I am assuming that you are since you are reading this post) will help you to make sense of Portuguese grammar, as these two languages share more in common than you might think. 

Learn more about English-Portuguese commonalities in this article: Portuguese Grammar Compared to English.

Word order in Portuguese

To understand word order, there are a few basic concepts you need to become acquainted with, that is subject (S), verb (V), and object (O). 

So, in a basic sentence, the subject performs an action, the verb is the action itself, and the object is what the action falls upon.

Portuguese is an SVO language

Portuguese, like English, is a Subject-Verb-Object language (SVO henceforth): 

S > V > O
O Ricardo comeu uma maçã.
Ricardo ate an apple.

Now, this was a very basic sentence and languages do get more intricate than this, which in turn implies possible shifts in the word order. We can nonetheless assume that Portuguese defaults to SVO. 

Adjectives After Nouns

Adjectives are words that describe or modify nouns. For instance, in the phrase The yellow house, the adjective yellow is describing the house

In Portuguese, unlike English, adjectives normally come after the noun they refer to:

O Ricardo comeu uma maçã verde.
Ricardo ate a green apple.

As you see in the sentence above, the adjective verde (green) comes after the noun it refers to, which is maçã (apple).

Negation

Let’s now look at how to negate the previous sentence:

O Ricardo não comeu uma maçã verde. 
Ricardo didn’t eat a green apple.

Notice how the negating adverb não occurs in front of the verb comer (eat). Notice also that in Portuguese, and unlike in English, you don’t need the auxiliary verb to negate an affirmative sentence.

Another common feature of Portuguese and Romance languages is the double negation:

O Ricardo não comeu nehuma uma maçã verde. 
x Ricardo didn’t eat none green apples. (literal translation)

Interrogative and Declarative Sentences

In the absence of a question word (e.g. what, why, etc.), the word order is kept unchanged regardless of whether we are dealing with declarative or interrogative sentences:

Declarative sentence
Tu estás no Porto. 
You are in Porto.

Interrogative sentence
Tu estás no Porto?
Are you in Porto?

The fact that interrogative and declarative sentences look alike, makes intonation all the more important to avoid misunderstandings.

For instance, when asking Tu estás no Porto?  you want to finish your utterance in a rising tone so that it clearly comes across as a question.

More on Portuguese question words below.

Gender in Portuguese

Portuguese, like other Romance languages, has the so-called grammatic gender. Accordingly, most nouns are either masculine or feminine, just as if penises and vaginas grew out of doors and tables.

And following that, gender permeates the whole language – articles, pronouns, and adjectives will change endings to conform to the gender of the noun they refer to: 

A minha casa é espaçosa.
My house is spacious.

O meu apartamento é espaçoso.
My apartment is spacious.

In the first sentence above, the article a, the possessive pronoun minha, and the adjective espaçosa, all decline their endings to conform to casa, which happens to be a feminine noun. 

Conversely, in the second sentence, the same words conform to the masculine noun apartamento.

Does it sound too intricate to you? Fortunately, there are declension patterns that will help you to feel more at home with gender.

“A” for Feminine, “O” for Masculine

The vowels o and a at the end of nouns often give way the gender:

casa; mesa; cortina; faca
(house; table; curtain; knife)

carro; banco; copo; garfo
(car; bank; glass; fork)

In the examples above, all the words ending with an a are feminine, whereas those ending with an o are masculine. Helpful.

However, there are also those nouns ending in letters other than a or o, like the words pente (comb) or telemóvel (mobile).

Although there are other spelling patterns to help you out with these, you’ll often have to learn them by heart. Nothing impossible, really, only you are patient enough and committed for the long haul*. 

Even words ending with the vowels a or o can diverge from the abovementioned pattern. As the old saying goes: there’s no rule without exception. Consider, for instance, the masculine nouns cinema (cinema) or dia (day). 

But let me tell you about a trick to know for sure if a noun is “girly” or “boyish” – trust determiners.

* Speaking of commitment and long haul. Here’s a learning-strategy read for you: Mindsets and Strategies to Learn Portuguese the Best (or any other language).

Trust determiners

Determiners are those little words coming in front of nouns such as articles, demonstrative pronouns, or possessive pronouns. As it happens, most determiners decline to match gender: 

Conforming to feminine
a zebra; uma zebra; a minha zebra; essa zebra 
(the zebra; a zebra; my zebra; that zebra)

Conforming to masculine
o cavalo; um cavalo; o meu cavalo; esse cavalo
(the horse; a horse; my horse; that horse)

You can then be 100% sure that cavalo is masculine, not because it ends with an o, but because the preceding words – determiners – clearly indicate that for you.

Here a few examples of determiners’ masculine and feminine forms:

masculinefeminine
definite articles
the
o
indefinite articles
a
umuma
possessives
my, your
meu, teuminha, tua
demonstratives
this, that
este, esseesta, essa
numerals
one, two
um, doisuma, duas

Further reading!

Disentangling Gender with Portuguese Masculine-to-Feminine Spelling Patterns
Portuguese Definite and Indefinite Articles – When to Use Either
Portuguese Possessive Pronouns and Adjectives
Portuguese Demonstrative Pronouns and Determiners

Forming Plurals in Portuguese 

S-Plural

In Portuguese,  like in English, the most common way to form plurals is by adding an s at the end of words – the so-called s-plural. Let’s us compare the same sentence in its singular and plural variants:

singular
O meu carro é escuro.
My car is dark.

plural
Os meus carros são escuros
My cars are dark.

As we’ve seen before with gender, here too, the articles, pronouns, and adjectives change endings to agree in number with to the noun they refer to.

ES-Plural

To avoid consonant clusters at the end of words (that’s exceptional in Portuguese), words ending in a consonant other than –m or -l will form plural with an -es rather than the solitary -s:

Um Português, dois Portugueses.
One Portuguese, two Portuguese.

Um aluguer, dois alugueres.
One rental, two rentals.

Further reading! Though the (e)s-plural is the dominant one, there are other plural declensions. Here’s a read for you in case you want to go deeper: Forming the Plural in Portuguese: Singular-to-Plural Conversion Patterns You Need to Care About.

Portuguese verbs

What follows is a quick tour through the key features of Portuguese verbs and their usage. If you feel like delving into Portuguese verb usage, don’t miss this one: Portuguese Verb Usage and Tenses: A Practical Guide Anchored to English

Tenses and conjugations

Romance languages are infamously known for having an insurmountable number of verb forms compared to, say, English. With an abundance of verb tenses and conjugations, Portuguese is no exception.

Let’s take a peek at a few tenses of the verb ter (to have):

Ter
(Have)
presentepretérito
perfeito
pretérito
imperfeito
eutenho (have)tive (had)tinha (had)
tutens (have)tiveste (had)tinhas (had)
ele, elatem (has)teve (had)tinha (had)
nóstemos (have)tivemos (had)tinhamos (had)
vocêstêm (have)tivestes (had)tinham (had)
eles, elastêm (have)tiveram (had)tinham (had)

In the examples above, you can count 14 different verb conjugations on the Portuguese side, against 3 on the English! That can hardly go unnoticed. 

Also, Portuguese has two variations on the past tense, namely pretérito perfeito and pretérito imperfeito, which is not the case for English. So, why does Portuguese have these two?

Complete vs. incomplete past actions

While the pretérito perfeito is used to denote complete actions, the pretérito imperfeito implies continuity:

Perfeito
Ontem tive dores de dentes.
Yesterday I had a toothache.

Imperfeito
Antigamente tinha dores dentes quase todos os dias.
(1) Before, I had a toothache nearly every day
or, (2) Before, I used to have a toothache nearly every day.

Further reading! Learn more about this topic: Portuguese Perfect vs. Imperfect Tense: Know When to Use Which.

Compound Verb Tenses

The verb ter, like have in English, is used as an auxiliary verb to form compound conjugations (perfect tenses):

Eu tinha aprendido Português antes de vir para Portugal.
I had learned Portuguese before I moved to Portugal.

As you see above, the verb structure is similar to that of English: the auxiliary tinha (had) is followed by the Portuguese equivalent to the past participle of the main verb, that is, aprendido (learned).

Two “To Be” Verbs

There are, in Portuguese, two verbs corresponding to the English verb to be, namely verb ser and estar:

SerEstar
eu sou (am)estou (am)
tu és (are)estás (are) 
ele, elaé (is)está (is)
nóssomos (are)estamos (are)
vocêssão (are)estão (are)
eles, elassão (are)estão (are)

So, what’s the difference between ser and estar?

Overall, you can see it this way: ser is used in conjunction with permanent states, whereas estar with temporary:

Ser
O clima do Pólo Norte é muito frio.
The North Pole’s climate is very cold.

Estar
Hoje está um dia bonito.
It is a fine day today.

You’ll probably agree that the first sentence above implies a permanent state, whereas the second relates more to the circumstantial. 

Note, however, that the use of ser and estar is not always straightforward as in the examples above – you might come across contextual nuances that make things less obvious. 

Further reading! Do you want to learn more about ser vs. estar? Here’s a read for you: Portuguese Verbs ‘Ser’ and ‘Estar’- How and When to Use Either.

Present and past continuous

How Portuguese progressive tenses are formed is slightly different in European Portuguese compared to the Brazilian standard.

European standard

The Portuguese equivalents of the English present and past continuous uses the verb estar as an auxiliary:

Ele está a viajar no Sudeste Asiático.
He is traveling in Southeast Asia.

Ele estava a viajar no Sudeste Asiático quando eu fiz anos.
He was traveling in Southeast Asia when I had my birthday.

Note that we conjugate the auxiliary estar either in the present or past tense (pretérito imperfeito) to match the English present or past continuous respectively. 

Also, note that the main verb comes in the infinitive form and is always preceded by the preposition a

Brazilian standard

Here’s what the above sentences look like in the Brazilian standard:

Ele está viajando no Sudeste Asiático.
He is traveling in Southeast Asia.

Ele estava viajando no Sudeste Asiático.
He was traveling in Southeast Asia.

So, now the main verb comes in the gerund with no preposition preceding it (the Portuguese gerund is equivalent to the English present participle, that is, the -ing verb form).

Reading tips!

1. Learn more about how the European and Brazilian standards compare: European vs. Brazilian Portuguese – How Different Are They, Really?
2. Learn how to use the Portuguese gerund beyond progressive tenses: Portuguese Gerund: Progressive Tenses and Beyond.

There Is

We also can use the verb estar as in there is, namely its 3-person singular of the present tense:

Está alguém no quarto.
There is someone in the room.

Note that in the sentence above there is a spatial dimension – the expression there is is being used for locating something or someone.

In non-spatial contexts, however, you’d use another verb:

uma coisa que eu gostava de saber.
There is something that I would like to know.

is the 3-person singular of the verb haver (present tense) and, as a matter of fact, it can be used in spatial contexts as well, and thus, replace estar in the previous example:

Está alguém no quarto = alguém no quarto

But there’s more to this seemingly innocuous, little word. Read on.

Expressing Time Duration

is commonly used to express time duration. Here are some examples:

Eu vivo na China cinco anos.
I’ve been living in China for five years.

quanto tempo estás à espera?
How long have you been waiting?

muito tempo não te via.
Long time no see.

! Btw, we don’t pronounce the letter h in . In fact, the letter is always silent in Portuguese. Portuguese pronunciation is outside the scope of this article, but if you want to get to grips with it I recommend this article: Portuguese Pronunciation: A Helpful Guide to Portuguese Basic Sounds and Spelling Patterns.

Further reading! There is even more to and the verb haver: The Portuguese Verb “Haver” and All the Things You Say with It.

Portuguese Regular Verbs

Yes, Portuguese verbs can put you at pains – there are so many conjugations and verb forms! Luckily, there is a painkiller to such a headache.

There are three groups of regular verbs – namely those whose infinitives end in -ar, -er, and -ir – that follow regular conjugation patterns:

andar 
(walk)
beber 
(drink)
partir
(break;
departure)
eu andobeboparto
tu andasbebespartes
ele, elaandabebeparte
nósandamosbebemospartimos
vocêsandambebempartem
eles, elasandambebempartem

Notice that in each example above all verb forms have a stem – and, beb, and part respectively – followed by conjugated endings (marked in bold). 

Any regular verb belonging to one of these three groups follows exactly the same conjugation pattern of that group.

For instance, the verbs casar (marry), falar (talk) and acabar (finish) follow the same conjugation pattern of andar.

As a matter of fact, most verbs are regular, and the first group, -ar, is by far the most numerous. However, it is also true that some of the most commonly used verbs are irregular!

Further reading!

• Learn more about regular verbs: Portuguese Regular Verbs and Conjugation Patterns in the Present Tense.
• Keep an eye out for high-frequency irregular verbs: Portuguese Must-Know Irregular Verbs.

The Portuguese “Be Going to” 

When it comes to expressing future time, you’ll often hear the Portuguese equivalent to be going to – you’ll then need the auxiliary verb ir:

Ir
(go)
eu vou
tu vais 
ele, elavai 
nósvamos
vocêsvão
eles, elasvão

Here’s an example:

Eu vou fazer compras.
I am going to do some shopping.

As you see above, the auxiliary verb ir is followed by the main verb, fazer (do), in the infinitive form.

Portuguese Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is used to express desire and uncertainty.

In Portuguese (as in other Romance languages), the subjunctive mood has its own set of tenses and verb forms. Yes, you’ll have to mind other verb conjugations in addition to those of the indicative mood.

Let’s look at an example contrasting the use of the indicative and subjunctive moods:

Indicative
Hoje sinto-me bem.
Today I feel good.

Subjunctive
Espero que te sintas bem.
I hope that you feel good.

Further reading! Learn more about the uses of the subjunctive mood → Present, Past, and Future subjunctives.

Omission of the subject/pronoun

In Portuguese, we often leave out personal pronouns and jump straight to the verb form.

This is hardly surprising if your first language is, say, Spanish. Yet, it can be disconcerting for native speakers of other tongues other than Romance languages.  

Redundant pronouns

In general, it is optional to write out personal pronouns. The reason for this is that the verb form already implies the person it refers to, thus making the use of the pronoun redundant. 

Tu (you)
Vais ao supermercado? (Tu vais ao …)
Are you going to the supermarket?

Nós (we)
Vamos começar um novo curso. (Nós vamos começar  …)
We are starting a new course. 

Generic subject

Also, we often leave out the subject when it doesn’t comprise someone in specific:

Dizem que vai estar bom tempo amanhã. (As pessoas dizem que …) 
People are saying that fair weather is coming tomorrow.

The subject in point – as pessoas (people) –  is generic and, thus, can be left out. 

It is …

Finally, there isn’t any third-person neutral pronoun equivalent to the English it. Accordingly, those sentences that in English start with it is will, in Portuguese, start straight away with either the verb estar or ser:

Está a sol!
It is sunny!

É mau comer em demasia.
It is unwise to eat too much.

Portuguese prepositions and their contracted forms

Prepositions are words used to express a relationship between different elements of a sentence. 

For example, in the sentence Miguel is going to the grocery store, the English preposition of movement to is indicating that someone (Miguel) is moving towards somewhere (the grocery store).

Portuguese prepositions in particular tend to merge with other words, namely articles and pronouns. Let’s start by getting acquainted with some plain prepositions first.

Plain prepositions

Here’s a usage-summary of the five most common Portuguese prepositions:

em Often used as a preposition of place, em corresponds to either on, in, or at:

Estou no restaurante > I am at the restaurant
Ela vive em Portugal > She lives in Portugal
de De can be used as a preposition of origin:

Venho dos Estados Unidos > I come from the United States 

It is also used to indicate possession:

O carro da Isabel > Isabel´s car
a
Mainly used as a preposition of movement, the preposition a indicates motion:

A Sofia foi ao cinema > Sofia went to the cinema.
para Para, like the previous, indicates motion, though with a directional emphasis:

Este comboio vai para Lisboa > This train goes to Lisboa

What’s more, compared to the preposition a, para implies a longer-term. Let’s compare these two sentences:

Vou ao Brasil > I am going to Brazil (implies a short stay)
Vou para o Brasil > I am going to Brazil (implies a longer stay)
porPor often denotes itinerary and passage::

Vou passar pelo supermercado (a caminho de casa) > I will pass by the supermarket (on my way home)

Further reading! Preposition usage is always tricky for language learners. The following article may help you to come to better grips with it: Top-5 Basic Portuguese Prepositions: An Inclusive Usage Rundown.

Contractions

Portuguese prepositions often contract with determiners, namely articles and pronouns.

The tables below illustrate some of the contractions between prepositions and those other word classes:

With articles (the, a)

oaosas
emnonanosnas
dedodadosdas
aaoàaosàs
porpelopelapelospelas
umumaunsumas
emnumnumanunsnumas
dedumdumadunsdumas

Contractions with demonstratives 

isto, este, esta (this)isso, esse, essa (that)
emnisto, neste, nestanisso, nesse, nessa
dedisto, deste, destadisso, desse, dessa

Reading tips! Learn more about Portuguese demonstratives: Portuguese Demonstrative Pronouns and Determiners.

Asking Questions in Portuguese

When it comes to Portuguese interrogative sentences, there are a few things that you want to be aware of.  

Let’s start by looking at question words:

Portuguese Interrogatives

Question words Usage examples
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?
Como  
how
Como estás?
How are you?
Quando  
when
Quando voltas da Argentina?
When are you coming back from Argentina?
Porque 
why
Porque não aprender Português?
Why not learn Portuguese?


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

Porquê?
Why? 
Quanto 
how much
Quanto é?
How much is it?
Quantos/quantas
how many
This question word conforms to the gender of the noun it refers to:

Quantos queques comeste?
How many cupcakes did you eat?


Quantas laranjas compraste ontem?
How many oranges 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 yellow?


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

No need for an auxiliary verb

In Portuguese, contrary to English, you don’t need any auxiliary verb to ask questions:

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

In the example above, only one verb is used, that is pôr (put). Yet, the corresponding question in English, calls to the auxiliary to do.

The same applies to questions formulated without any interrogative word: 

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

The Redundant “é que” 

You will notice, if you haven’t already, that there are often two variants of the same question, namely with or without the “intruding” little phrase é que

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

Onde vais?
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?)

. . .

While both variants mean exactly the same thing, the longer version feels somehow more colloquial (though the difference is subtle). 

Portuguese question tags

In Portuguese, there is the equivalent of English question tags. Let’s start with affirmative sentences:

Ele gosta de tocar guitarra, não gosta?
He likes playing guitar, doesn’t he?

Tu trabalhas muito, não trabalhas?
You work a lot, don’t you?

As you can see, you form question tags with declarative sentences by piecing together the negative não with the same verb form used in the main sentence.

Alternatively, you can use a universal formula that applies to any declarative sentence, regardless of its verb –  that is não é:

Ele gosta de tocar guitarra, não é?
Tu trabalhas muito, não é?

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

Ele gosta de tocar guitarra, pois não?
He doesn’t like playing the guitar, does he?

Tu não trabalhas muito, pois não?
You don’t work that much, do you?

In negative sentences, the question tag will always look the same (pois não? ), regardless of which verb is being used in the main sentence. 

Further reading! Learn more here: Asking Questions in Portuguese: Question Words and Beyond.

Counting in Portuguese

Portuguese numerals are similar to English. You learn the basic blocks – the units, the tens and the teens, the hundreds, and so on and so forth – and  everything else build on that:

1. um/uma12. doze[…]
2. dois/duas13. treze30. trinta
3. três14. catorze40. quarenta
4. quatro15. quinze50. cinquenta
5. cinco16. dezasseis60. sessenta
6. seis17. dezassete70. setenta
7. sete18. dezoito80. oitenta
8. oito19. dezanove90. noventa
9. nove20. vinte100. cem
10. dez21. vinte e um/uma103. mil
11. onze22. vinte e dois/duas106. milhão

Keep in mind that the first two numbers – um and dois – agree with gender: um clarinete but uma guitarra; dois clarinetes but duas guitarras.

Further reading! Learn Portuguese numbers in more detail, including their pronunciation,  in this article: Numbers in Portuguese: Counting from One to Infinity

Final Thoughts: Do I Need to Study Portuguese Grammar?

While developing a general understanding of Portuguese grammar can be beneficial to your language learning, you don’t necessarily need to bother too much about it to become fluent in Portuguese (or any other language for that matter).

See, each student has their own learning style and preferences. Maybe you are keen on coming to grips with the sets of rules and patterns governing Portuguese. Others, however, might prefer to learn it more organically, namely through listening, reading, and drilling their talking.

So, don’t feel obliged to study grammar if you don’t resonate with it. As a matter of fact, grammar can be quite intimidating and discouraging, and in that way, it can easily put you off. 

If that applies to you, it is probably more productive to start approaching the language by means of a more natural, organic approach. Only then, when you can already make some sense of it, should you consider peeking at grammar more systematically in order to solidify your language skills

You may get the impression that I am not keen on grammar. Not necessarily. I do think that grammar has its place in language learning (second language). However, I also know that, too often, too much of it can make you more ill than good.

Here’s the thing, those learning a second language with too much emphasis on grammar are more likely to become self-conscious and insecure when speaking the language. In this way, grammar actually gets in the way. 

Above all, you don’t need to look at it as an either-or choice. Just find your own balance and the right grammar dosage that works for you.

For instance, if you get a kick out of grammar drills, and if that keeps you motivated and on track, then keep at it. 

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way, there’s only your way.

Reading tips! Looking for inspiration and ideas to improve your language learning results? Here’s something that may be helpful: Mindsets and Strategies to Learn Portuguese the Best.

Portuguese Language Retreats

Lift your Portuguese to a new level in a peaceful, language-immersive environment. 

Learn more

Intensive Courses in Portugal

Get right on track towards fluency 

Learn more

Stay tuned for upcoming online courses and other learning materials.

Your opinion matters

Olá! Is there any topic you'd like me to cover in future posts? Feel free to suggest. I'm all ears.

Thank you for using Portuguesepedia. Até já, p

Share me