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Portuguese Verb Tenses and Moods Explained: A Usage Rundown Anchored to English

With so many conjugations, Portuguese verbs are a hard-to-chew bit for anyone learning the language, especially for those not acquainted with any Romance language from before. 

Now, it is one thing to keep track of all the different verb forms and spellings (by memorizing them), it is another to develop an understanding and intuition of when to use a given verb tense.

This article focuses on the latter and should give you a decent grasp of which verb tenses, moods, or structures apply to different situations and contexts. 

In what follows, we’ll dive into the Portuguese verb system anchored to English tenses. In this way, and assuming you are familiar with English, it will be easier for you to navigate Portuguese verbs. Read on.

Keep in mind

To make it as simple as possible, I will use English terminology when referring to Portuguese verb tenses and structures. Thus, when I entitle a section with, say, Past Continuous, I only mean the Portuguese equivalent of that denomination.

As mentioned before, the focus of this article is not verb conjugation itself. 

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Portuguese Present tenses

Present tenses are normally used to denote the present time.

To give examples of the different aspects of the Present tense, I will use the verb ensinar (teach). This verb belongs to the first group of regular verbs whose infinitive form ends in -ar (patterned endings italicized):

Ensinar | Present
Past Participleensinado
Present Participle
(Portuguese gerund)

Learn more about regular conjugation patterns in the Present tense: Portuguese Regular Verbs and Conjugation Patterns in the Present Tense.

Present Simple

Like English, you’d often use this tense when referring to something done regularly (habits, repeated actions, etc). Here’s an example:

ensinar (present) 
Eu ensino Português numa escola de línguas.
I teach Portuguese in a language school.

Expressing future time

You can also use the Present Simple to express a future time (with the help of an adverb or adverbial phrase of time indicating a time ahead):

adverb of time > ensinar (present) 
No próximo mês, ensino só às tardes.
Next month, I will teach only in the afternoons.

! No auxiliary verb

In Portuguese, unlike English, you don’t need any auxiliary verb (verb do) to negate a sentence or to form a question. (This only applies to sentences with simple tenses.)

Accordingly, you can negate an affirmative sentence by simply placing the negative não in front of the verb: 

não > ensinar (present) 
Eu não ensino Português. Eu ensino Alemão.
I do not teach Portuguese. I teach German.

Neither do you need an auxiliary verb to form interrogative sentences: 

Tu ensinas Português. > Tu ensinas Português?
You teach Portuguese. > Do you teach Portuguese?

The same holds for interrogative sentences initiated with a question word: 

Que línguas é que tu ensinas?
Which languages do you teach?

Present Continuous

The Present Continuous tense denotes an ongoing action, something that is happening at the moment it is mentioned. We’ll now be using the auxiliary verb estar, the Portuguese counterpart of the verb to be:

Estar | Present
Past Participleestado

To be sure, there are two verbs to be, namely ser and estar. Read the following article to dig deeper into their differences: Portuguese Verbs ‘Ser’ and ‘Estar’- How and When to Use Either).

The Present Continuous is formed by conjugating the auxiliary estar in the Present Simple and adding the preposition a thereafter. The main verb, in the infinitive form, comes last: 

estar (present) > a > ensinar (infinitive)
A Carolina está a ensinar Português em Praga.
Carolina is teaching Portuguese in Prague.

Notice that the Present Continuous, like all progressive tenses, looks slightly different in the Brazilian standard – you’d leave out the preposition after the auxiliary verb, and the main verb comes in the Present Participle (-ing form equivalent) instead*. This verb structure is closer to English:

estar (present) > ensinar (present participle)
A Carolina está ensinando Português em Praga.
Carolina is teaching Portuguese in Prague.

* The Present Participle is called Gerúndio in Portuguese, and this verbal form is widely used beyond Progressive/Continuous tenses (in either standard). Learn more about gerúndio here: Portuguese Gerund: Progressive Tenses and Beyond.

! Word order

Unlike English, you build interrogative sentences from declarative sentences without changing the word order:

estar (present) > a > ensinar (infinitive)
A Carolina está a ensinar Português em Praga?
Is Carolina teaching Portuguese in Prague?

Still unlike English, you’d place the negative adverb in front of both verbs to negate the original sentence:

não > estar (present) > a > ensinar (infinitive)
A Carolina não está a ensinar Português em Praga.
Carolina is not teaching Portuguese in Prague.

Present Perfect

All perfect tenses use ter as the auxiliary verb (the Portuguese counterpart of have). Concerning the Present Perfect tenses, in particular,  the auxiliary verb ter comes in the Present Simple tense:

Ter | Present

In English, the Present Perfect tenses refer to either unfinished (still ongoing) or completed actions. The Portuguese Present Perfect equivalent (structure-wise only), however, concerns unfinished actions only. Let’s take a closer view of that.

Unfinished actions

We tend to use the Present Perfect Continuous to refer to actions that started in the past and continue up to the present. Here’s an example of what that can look like in Portuguese:

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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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