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The so-called personal infinitive is unique to Portuguese, and we use it a lot. Because there is no parallel in other languages, it is no wonder that learners of Portuguese often struggle to wrap their heads around it.
Simply put, we tend to use the Portuguese personal infinitive in a few impersonal structures as well as in subordinate clauses of different kinds (concessive, final, conditional, etc). We’ll soon look into this in greater detail.
Another related question is: what’s the difference between personal and impersonal infinitive (the one we all are used to, that is, the “normal” infinitive)?
The Portuguese personal infinitive is a conjugated version of the impersonal infinitive. While the latter only represents the conceptual idea of the verb in point (thus dissociated from any tense, mood, or person), the former is conjugated and unveils the person that the verb is referring to.
Put another way, the personal infinitive makes it more personal. Let’s dive right into its usage.
- When to use it
Conjugating the personal infinitive in Portuguese
It is easy to conjugate the personal infinitive. You take the “normal” infinitive form – the impersonal infinitive – and add a few endings to some of the persons, namely the second person singular and every person plural (added endings marked in bold in the tables below).
These endings are always the same regardless of the conjugation group (-ar, -er, -ir), or if the verbs are regular or irregular. No exceptions.
Let’s look at 3 regular verbs, one for each conjugation group:
Note! For regular verbs, the verb forms of the personal infinitive happen to be the same as the future subjunctive. That doesn’t apply to irregular verbs.
And here are 3 irregular verbs with the exact same conjugation pattern of above:
When to use the personal infinitive in Portuguese
For the most part, the personal infinitive in Portuguese is used in complex sentences and is normally placed inside the dependent clause right after a linking word or expression. In this section, I will guide you through several such structures and with concrete examples.
A couple of things before we start.
As we go through the example rundown below, you will realize that we use the personal infinitive in structures where we often also use the present subjunctive*.
In that sense, they are closely related and whether we use one or the other depends on the linking expression being used. For instance, the use of the present subjunctive is strongly associated with the linking word que.
* Learn more about the present subjunctive in Portuguese: Present Subjunctive in Portuguese: How and When to Use It.
Also, since only the second person singular + all persons plural verb forms (tu, nós, vocês, eles/elas) are the ones varying between the personal and impersonal infinitive, I will, for the sake of clarity, stick to these throughout the example rundown.
We often use the personal infinitive in the following impersonal structure:
é + adjective + personal infinitive
Here’re a couple of examples:
|É importante (tu) ficares em casa a descansar.|
It is important that you stay at home and rest.
É imprudente (nós) irmos à rua com este tempo.
It is not reasonable that we go out in this weather.
É provável (eles) chegarem depois das 15h.
They are likely to arrive after 3 p.m.
Note that we use the present subjunctive* if we add que before the verb:
|É importante que (tu) fiques em casa a descansar.|
É imprudente que (nós) vamos à rua com este tempo.
É provável que (eles) cheguem depois das 15h.
*Click here for more examples.
We use the personal infinitive in concessive clauses* when they are introduced by the linking expression apesar de:
|Tu nunca engordas apesar de (tu) comeres tanto.|
You never seem to get fat despite the fact that you eat so much.
Nós vamos ao Japão apesar de (nós) termos medo de voar.
We are travelling to Japan even though we are afraid of flying.
* Concessive clauses express an idea that is in opposition to the main clause. In English, concessives clauses are often introduced with the linking words “although”, “even though”, or “despite the fact”, among others.
Note that we are likely to use the present subjunctive* when we use other linking expressions such as mesmo que, embora or ainda que:
|Tu nunca engordas embora (tu) comas tanto.|
Nós vamos ao Japão ainda que (nós) tenhamos medo de voar.
* Click here for more examples.
We use the personal infinitive in time clauses*, especially when these are introduced by linking expressions such as até, antes de, or depois de:
|Não te dou outro livro até (tu) terminares de ler esse.|
I won’t give you a new book until you are done reading that one.
Lava os dentes antes de (tu) ires para a cama.
Brush your teeth before you go to bed.
Ligue-me depois de (vocês) falarem com o Paulo.
Call me after you talk with Paulo.
* In English, time clauses are often introduced by linking expressions such as as soon as, before, or until, among others.
Note that we use the present subjunctive* when we use other linking expressions such as logo que, até que or antes que:
|Não te dou outro livro até que termines de ler esse.|
Lava os dentes antes que vás para a cama.
Liguem-me logo que falem com o Paulo.
* Click here for more examples.
We use the personal infinite in conditional clauses*, especially when they are introduced by the linking word sem:
|Não recebem prenda nenhuma sem se (vocês) portarem bem.|
You won’t get any presents if you don’t behave properly.
Não saio daqui sem me (tu) pagares o que me deves.
I won’t leave without you paying me back what you owe me.
* Conditional clauses express contingency. In English, conditional clauses are often introduced by if, in case, and unless, among others.
Note that we use the present subjunctive* in the presence of the linking expressions sem que, desde que, or a não ser que, among others:
|Não recebem prenda nenhuma sem que se portem bem.|
Não saio daqui a não ser que me pagues o que me deves.
* Click here for more examples.
We often use the personal infinitive in completive clauses*. This is definitely the case for sentences where the subject of the main clause is different to the subject of the dependent clause:
|Nós acreditamos (tu) estares a fazer o melhor que podes.|
We believe that you are doing all you can.
Eu lamento vocês pensarem dessa forma!
I am sorry that you think that way!
* Completive clauses are often the direct object of a verb such as think, believe, see, ask, among others. They complete the idea/action of the verb in the main clause. They are often introduced by the linking word that, but also by to or even a present participle (the -ing verb form).
Note that we use a present tense (either in the indicative or subjunctive mood) when we use the linking word que before the verb:
|Nós acreditamos que estás a fazer o melhor que podes.|
Lamento que pensem dessa forma.
Now, we might use the impersonal infinitive* when the subject of both the main and dependent clauses are the same:
|Vocês parecem não querer vir connosco.|
You don’t seem to want to come with us.
Eles dizem estar aborrecidos com este tempo de chuva.
They say that they are bored with this rainy weather.
* Although grammarians normally advocate for the impersonal indicative (when the subject is the same in both clauses), in practice, native speakers often use the personal and impersonal infinitives interchangeably. So, the sentence Vocês parecem não quererem vir connosco probably wouldn’t hurt anyone’ s ears.
Here’re a few more examples of completive clauses where the personal infinitive follows the linking words de, para, and em:
|Não tenho ideia de (nós) termos ido visitar o teu tio|
I had no idea that we went there to visit your uncle.
Eu pedi-te para (tu) fazeres pouco barulho.
I asked you to be quiet.
Pensei em irmos os dois ao Brasil.
I thought that we could both go to Brazil.
We use the personal infinite in causal clauses*, especially those introduced by linking expressions such as por, dado, and visto:
|Ficas em casa por (tu) te teres portado mal!|
You stay home because of your misbehavior.
As crianças não foram para a escola dado (elas) estarem doentes.
The kids didn’t go to school since they are sick.
Eu tenho medo de sair à rua visto existirem tantos roubos.
I am afraid to go out on the street because there are many robberies.
* Causal clauses offer an explanation for what’s stated in the main clause. In English, causal clauses are often introduced by linking expressions such as because, since, inasmuch as or as, among others.
Note that we use the present or past simple in the presence of the linking words porque or pois:
|Ficas em casa porque te portaste mal!|
As crianças não foram para a escola porque estão doentes.
Eu tenho medo de sair à rua pois existem tantos roubos!
And there’s nothing more suitable than final clauses to conclude this usage rundown!
We use the personal infinite in final clauses*, especially those introduced by linking expressions such as para and a fim de:
|Tens de descansar mais a fim de (tu) recuperares.|
You’ve got to rest more to fully recover.
Está aqui o texto para (tu) reveres.
Here, you have the text for proofreading.
* Final clauses express intention or purpose. In English, final clauses are often introduced by linking words such as to, in order to, or so that.
Note that we use the present subjunctive* if we add the word que to the linking expressions para and a fim de:
|Tens de descansar mais a fim de que recuperes.|
Está aqui o texto para que revejas.
* Click here for more examples
Here’re more examples of sentences where the main and dependent clauses each have their own subject:
|Explico-te várias vezes para (tu) não ficares com dúvidas.|
I will explain to you several times so that you won’t have doubts.
Deixei-os entrar para (eles) não apanharem frio.
I let them in so that they wouldn’t freeze outside.
As it is the case with with completive clauses (see above), we might use the impersonal infinitive* when both the main and dependent clauses share the same subject:
|Eles fizeram tudo para (eles) conseguir o que queriam. |
They’ve done everything they could to achieve their goal.
* Again, in these cases, native speakers seem to use the personal and impersonal indicative interchangeably. Thus, the same sentence using the personal infinitive – Eles fizeram tudo para (eles) conseguirem o que queriam – sounds fine to my ears as well.
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