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Clarice Lispector – Quotes to Help You Speak Portuguese Elegantly Right Now

Clarice Lispector Quotes
Bisilliat, Maureen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you don’t know Clarice Lispector yet, I guess this testimonial by a reviewer of one of her books will give you a very solid introduction:

I am moving my way through all of Lispector’s collections and books. She is a philosopher that takes her being to the edge through her writing and allows the reader to move with her, through her, but absolutely find out something more about their being through her work! Unparalleled! LOVE!

So, it surprises nobody that hundreds and hundreds of her quotes are around the Internet…

People share them on WhatsApp groups, Facebook, Instagram… It gives them the veneer of sophistication.

No problem with that. People want to be recognized.

But there are two problems:

1) Most of her “quotes” aren’t actually hers.

2) The sources are in Portuguese, and not many people understand it.

Wouldn’t it be much better if you could quote that in Portuguese and still learn some lessons from it?

And that’s exactly what you’re going to do today.

You’ll see seven profound quotes by Clarice Lispector that you can share right now, discuss with your friends in Portuguese, and still improve your speaking skills.

Pages are courtesy of Folha. And some translations have been revised by our excellent reader and student Glen. If you read a translation and think, “hm, it’s nice!” It was Glen who did it. If you read a translation and think “what?”, that was me, Eli 🙂

Experimento viver sem passado sem presente e sem futuro e eis-me aqui livre. É de manhã. O mundo tão alegre como um circo desvalido.

Um Sopro de Vida” (p. 90)

“I try to live without a past without a present and without a future and here I am free. It’s morning. The world is so happy as an abandoned circus.”

You’ve probably noticed that little word “eis”.

Few people use “eis” in speaking, but when they do we know instantly we’re talking with someone who knows a thing or two about Portuguese.

And what does this word mean? “Here it is.”

But it’s only used when you want to say “here [it] is what I was looking for” or some variation of it.

Take a look at the examples.

  • Eis o relatório que você me pediu. Here’s the report you asked me for.
  • Ah, eis o culpado por toda a destruição na casa. Foi o cachorro! Oh, here’s the culprit for destruction of the house. It was the dog!
  • Perguntaste cadê as chaves? Ei-las You asked me where the keys are? Here are they.

The last example, I used the right conjugation for “tu”. That’s not common in Brazil. But you’ll definitely find that in some parts in the South of the country.

Tu and Você in Portuguese — When Should You Use Them?

And whenever you’re placing an object pronoun after the “eis”, drop the S, put a hyphen and add “L” 🙂

“A esperança é um filho ainda não nascido, só prometido, e isso machuca.”

“A Paixão Segundo G.H.” (p. 157)

“Hope is an unborn child, only promised, and it hurts.”

In Portuguese, verbs that have similar meanings convey a different degree of intensity.

And this is a very important thing if you want to express yourself correctly.

Take the general concept of “hurt”.

  • O Pedro caiu da bicicleta e se machucou Peter fell off the bike and hurt himself badly.
  • A Carla caiu da moto e se feriu no corpo todo. Carla fell off the motorcycle and injured her entire body.
  • Eu lesionei o tendão da perna por correio demais. I had a lesion in the tendon of my leg because I ran too much.

And, you might think those verbs are not actively used in daily Portuguese. Don’t fall into that trap.

Pro Tip

Whenever you have the chance, learn a verb in groups. Look for those synonyms that vary in intensity or mode of action.

A good occasion to do that is when you talk to your teacher (a quick quiz for you) 🙂

“Gostar de estar vivo dói.”

“Felicidade Clandestina” (p. 52)

“To like being alive hurts.”

This quote by Clarice Lispector is but a reminder of an important feature of Portuguese.

Some verbs require specific prepositions. And the most common Portuguese preposition to follow verbs is “de”.

  • Eu gosto de música brasileira. I like Brazilian music.
  • Eu preciso de sua ajuda. I need your help.

“Temos disfarçado com o pequeno medo o grande medo maior e por isso nunca falamos no que realmente importa.”

“Uma Aprendizagem ou o Livro dos Prazeres” (p. 48)

“We’ve disguised with small fears the biggest fears; and therefore, we never talk about what is really important.”

That’s a very profound quote. I like thinking of it and of the time I was deciding to start teaching online.

The two first words — temos disfarçado — is a special tense in Portuguese.

Although I’ve translated it as “we have disguised”, the structure “to have” + participle conveys a slightly different shade of meaning.

It’s used to express a repetitive action. Or reiterations of the same action.

An important note — the action started in the past, but the verb is referring to the present. Do not use this structure if whatever you’re talking about is already over.

  • Eu não tenho feito nada recentemente. I haven’t done anything recently.
  • Você tem comido muitos hambúrgueres no MacDonalds. É melhor cortar um pouco, senão vai ter problemas de saúde. You’ve been eaten many hamburgers on McDonald’s. You had better cut down on it a bit. Otherwise you’re going to have health problems.
  • Ela não tem feito nada além de dormir. She hasn’t done anything but sleep.

“Pegue para você o que lhe pertence, e o que lhe pertence é tudo aquilo que a sua vida exige. Parece uma moral amoral. Mas o que é verdadeiramente imoral é ter desistido de si mesma.”

(In a letter to Lúcio Cardoso)

“Get for yourself everything that belongs to you, and everything that belongs to you is that which your life requires. This appears like an amoral moral. But what is truly immoral is giving up on yourself.”

Following this reasoning, stealing food when you’re hungry is justified.

And not having experienced hunger but having friends who have, I do agree with this reasoning.

But the thing I want to draw attention to is the last bit of this quote by Clarice Lispector.

“… ter desistido de si mesma.”

When you want to express something like, “by itself, for itself, on itself” in Portuguese, you need to use the word “mesmo, mesma.”


  • Eu sempre digo para mim mesmo que vou voltar para academia. I always tell myself that I’m going to go back to the gym.
  • Nas eleições para síndico do condomínio, ela votou em si mesma. E ela não estava concorrendo! In the elections for the building administrator, she voted for herself. And she wasn’t running!
  • Ele não comprou essa roupa para esposa, mas sim para ele mesmo. He didn’t buy this clothing for his wife but rather for himself.

“Bem sei que é assustador sair de si mesmo, mas tudo o que é novo assusta.”

“A Hora da Estrela” (p. 31)

“I know it very well that going out of yourself is scary, but everything new is scary.”

Two little words change a lot when placed before the verb — bem and mal.

Whenever you put “mal” before a verb, it indicates that whatever action you’re talking about is performed to a very low degree of intensity or frequency.

If you’re talking about speaking, it means you speak very little. If you’re talking about eating, it means you eat very little.

And if you use “bem” before a verb, it has either one of two meetings:

A — you’re giving a warning or admonition. (2)

B — you’re acknowledging the fact that you might not be able to do that or that you understand something but have a different opinion. (3)

  • Olha, não posso ajudar. Eu mal entendo inglês, imagine falar inglês. Look, I can’t help. I can hardly speak English, let alone speak English.
  • Ela bem entende que não pode fazer isso agora. É hora do almoço. She knows very well that you can’t do it now. It’s lunchtime.
  • Eu vou bem dizer que a comida da minha sogra tem gosto de lixo molhado… I’m not crazy to say that my mother-in-law’s food tastes like wet trash.

“Milagre é o ponto vivo do viver.”

“Um Sopro de Vida” (p. 39)

“Miracle is the living point of living.”

What Clarice Lispector meant by this quote — I suppose — is that the life found in life lies in the miracles we experience.

But that’s too profound for such a scanty discussion.

However, in this short quote, Clarice Lispector teaches us an important Portuguese lesson.

Take a look at the last word, o viver.

It’s a verb, but it’s not conjugated. You’ve probably seen the infinitive being used like that before. But why is that?

It’s simple. Whenever you place an article — definite (o, a) or indefinite (um, uma) or something to “determine” it (adjective, demonstrative…) — before a verb, you make it to a noun.

And as a noun, it can be employed as either the subject or the object of any sentence.

Let’s put this grammarese aside and see some examples.

  • O falar dele é muito diferente. His way of speaking is very different.
  • Ela tem um andar tão esquisito! Parece que está sempre com vontade de ir ao banheiro. She has a funny way of walking! It looks like she’s always wanted to go to the restroom.
  • O meu querer por você é infinito. My love for you is infinite.

And when you use verbs like that, you can get a little bit more figurative.

In the third example, the person who uses the verb “querer” (want) in the sense of “to love”. If you want someone, it stands to reason that you love this person, too.

“Civilizar minha vida é expulsar-me de mim”.

“Um Sopro de Vida” (p. 67)

“Civilizing my life is to expel myself from myself.”

In the previous short “lesson,” you learned you can place an article before a verb and it changes into a noun.

But you don’t need to place an article in all cases.

See the examples.

  • Falar rápido não muda nada: ainda precisa aprender vocabulário. Speaking fast wouldn’t change anything: you’ll still need to learn vocabulary.
  • Você vai ver que estudar uns minutinhos só por dia já bastam. You’ll see that studying a few minutes a day are enough.
  • Preparar bolo é como andar de bicicleta: parece que a gente esquece, mas não. Baking a cake is like riding a bike: it seems we forget how to do it but we don’t.

Pro Tip

English speakers tend to use the gerund a lot. (“It’s not about buying a new house!”)

In Portuguese, we also do that. But not in the same situations.

So, be careful when you say sentences like “speaking Portuguese is easy”. You would use the infinitive here, not the gerund.

  • Falar rápido não muda nada: ainda precisa aprender vocabulário. Speaking fast wouldn’t change anything: you’ll still need to learn vocabulary.
  • Você vai ver que estudar uns minutinhos só por dia já bastam. You’ll see that studying a few minutes a day are enough.
  • Preparar bolo é como andar de bicicleta: parece que a gente esquece, mas não. Preparing a cake is like riding a bike: it seems we forget how to do it but we don’t.

More Clarice Lispector Quotes?

Clarice Lispector was a prolific Brazilian author.

And because of the depth of her novels and stories, she’s become that infamous author — much talked about but not so much read.

If you want to have an introduction to her thinking, I suggest her Selected Crônicas (affiliate link). She was a journalist, too.

Crônica is a popular Brazilian literary genre.

It’s a mix of short story, essay, and personal diary. Its topics range from timely subjects like economics and philosophical discussions, like the ones you’ll find in her book.

And one last quote for you from her book, Selected Crônicas:

“I said to a friend:

— Life has always asked too much of me.

She replied:

— But don’t forget that you also ask too much of life.”

Selected Cronicas, Page 9

Now It’s Your Turn

If you’ve read anything by Clarice Lispector before, even the comments section below what your favorite quotes are.

And if you have any questions, just ask 🙂


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