Geared toward Absolute Beginners, this course gives you a solid start and foundation to build upon.
This is an introductory course to the Portuguese language as spoken in Portugal. Throughout the course, we will focus on the Portuguese sound system and basic Portuguese grammar.
You will also learn how to introduce yourself and day-to-day, useful phrases. Finally, we will discuss learning resources and strategies to support your learning journey.
After the course, you will have a basic understanding of European Portuguese pronunciation and grammar. You will also be capable of engaging in simple, short oral interactions. Last but not least, you will be aware of a variety of learning resources and strategies to help you succeed at learning the language.
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This intensive course is for language learners striving toward the A2 level.
In Portuguese, there are two past tenses* that often map onto the English past simple, that is the preterite (pretérito perfeito) and the imperfect (pretérito imperfeito).
This often causes confusion in learners whose native tongue doesn’t have this tense nuance (English included). Let’s then try to wrap our heads around it.
* Linguists and grammarians use the term “verb aspects” to distinguish between these two variants of the past tense (there is only one past tense).
Preterite – completed actions
We use the preterite to talk about past actions that are completed and well delimited in time:
A Raquel dormiu até às 10 da manhã. Raquel slept until 10 in the morning.
As you can see above, the preterite (dormiu) translates to the past simple (slept) in English.
Note that we also use the preterite in situations where, in English, we use the present perfect:
A Raquel dormiu bem. Raquel has slept well.
Imperfect – repetitive actions, continuity, and context
Let’s now take a look at a sentence denoting a past repetitive action:
Antigamente, a Raquel dormia 10 horas todas as noites. Back in time, Raquel slept 10 hours every night.
Note that the sentence above doesn’t imply a complete action. Instead, it illustrates something that used to happen repetitively in the past.
In other words, it gives us a picture of how things were before, day after day, or night after night in the case at hand – there’s a sense of continuity to it.
Here’s something that can be helpful. As a rule of thumb, if you can replace the past simple with the structure used to + infinitive (while keeping the sentence’s spirit), it is then the Portuguese imperfect tense that applies:
Antigamente, a Raquel dormia 10 horas todas as noites. Back in time, Raquel used to sleep 10 hours every night.
What’s more, we use the imperfect to contextualize and introduce a situation or scenario. In other words, we use it descriptively and, again, there’s an implied sense of continuity:
Havia um silêncio absoluto e a Raquel dormia profundamente. There was complete silence and Raquel slept ondeeply.
Preterite and imperfect interwoven
Often, the preterite and imperfect tenses co-exist in the same sentence. In that case, there’s a strong sense of punctuality associated with the preterite, and one of continuity associated with the imperfect:
A Raquel dormia quando o seu telemóvel tocou. Raquel was sleeping when her mobile rang.
Note the sense of continuity in dormia – something that went on … – and the sense of punctuality in tocou – something that happened all of a sudden.
Note also that the English sentence translates dormia with the past continuous (not the past simple).
As a matter of fact, in this context of a continued action followed by a punctual one, we often use the Portuguese equivalent of the past continuous (instead of one single verb in the imperfect tense). That’s where we are heading next.
So, the auxiliary verb estar comes in the imperfect tense and will be followed by the preposition a and the main verb (dormir) in the infinitive form.
estar (imperfect) → a → dormir (infinitive) A Raquel estava a dormir quando o seu telemóvel tocou. Raquel was sleeping when her mobile rang.
Note that in Brazilian Portuguese, the Portuguese equivalent of past continuous looks slightly different:
estar (imperfect) → dormir (present participle) A Raquel estava dormindo quando o seu telemóvel tocou. Raquel was sleeping when her mobile rang.
Now, there are situations where this past continuous link between English and Portuguese is lost. Take the following example:
– What have you been doing, Raquel? – I was sleeping.
In this situation, I was sleeping is not so much denoting a continuous action as it is stating something that Raquel had done before – an action that had been completed by the time she answers the question.
In this context, we would conjugate the auxiliary verb in the preterite instead:
– O que estiveste a fazer? – Estive a dormir.
The Portuguese equivalent of the past perfect uses the auxiliary verb ter conjugated in the imperfect tense:
Ter | Imperfect Pretérito imperfeito
Vocês Eles, elas
As you know, the past perfect refers to actions completed before a point in the past. Notice how similar the Portuguese and English verb structures are:
ter (imperfect) → dormir (past participle) A Raquel tinha dormido bem na noite anterior. Raquel had slept well the previous night.
Note that in Portuguese there’s also a non-compound version of the present perfect, that is, the pluperfect tense (pretérito mais-que-perfeito). Here’s our main verb in the pluperfect tense:
Dormir | Pluperfect Pretérito mais-que-perfeito
Vocês Eles, elas
Accordingly, the past perfect used in the sentence above can be replaced with the pluperfect without any change in the time-flow quality:
dormir (pluperfect) A Raquel dormira bem na noite anterior. Raquel had slept well the night before.
Now, I must conclude by saying that there is a difference in style between the two – the pluperfect is far more formal and mostly used in written language.