Understand the “Secrets” of Portuguese Verb Conjugation & Tenses: A Guide with Tips and Tricks
Portuguese verb conjugation can be tricky, but understanding the basics can make all the difference.
This guide explains the different verb tenses and links to other more in-depth guides that teach how to construct the most commonly used conjugations. It also includes helpful tips on practicing Portuguese verb conjugation to ensure you master the language.
What is Verb Conjugation?
Simply put, conjugation is when we change verbs to be more precise in what we say.
It’s a straightforward idea — you can find out who is doing the action just by looking at the verb without the need for a pronoun.
In English, for instance, you need to include the pronoun. If you omit a pronoun, it’s almost impossible to know the doer of an action. For example, if I say “eat every day,” you would think this is a command. However, if we say “como todo dia” in Portuguese, we know immediately that it is “I” who eats every day.
Conjugation is essential to language learning because it allows speakers to communicate accurately and effectively. Without proper conjugation, sentences can be confusing or even meaningless.
Verb Conjugations in Portuguese
Portuguese has three main tenses: past, present, and future.
Each tense has six different forms based on the subject pronoun (eu,
tu, ele/ela/você, nós, vós, eles/elas/vocês).
Additionally, there are four moods:
- indicative (used for statements of fact)
- subjunctive (used for hypothetical situations or desires)
- conditional (used for hypothetical situations with conditions)
- and imperative (used for commands)
We won’t deal with the moods in this article — otherwise it would be too long, you would not read, and it would defeat the very purpose of our blog 🙂
The Basics of Portuguese Verb Conjugation
Although this is a quick guide to Portuguese verb conjugation, it is impossible for us to cover everything there is to be covered in this field. Because of that, you’ll see links to the relevant sections whenever it is convenient to do so.
The Six Verb Tenses
The present tense in Portuguese is used to describe actions that are happening right now or actions that happen regularly. Here are a few examples:
- Eu falo português. (I speak Portuguese.)
- Ele come arroz e feijão todo dia. (He eats rice and beans every day.)
- Nós vamos ao cinema hoje à noite. (We are going to the movies tonight.)
- Eles gostam de viajar pelo mundo. (They like to travel around the world.)
In the present tense — and all tenses, for that matter — verbs are conjugated according to their ending. And there are three possible endings for verbs in Portuguese. The following articles I recommend are for the three main group endings and their conjugation in the present:
Future Tense in Portuguese
The future tense in Portuguese is used to describe actions that will happen in the future.
There are two different ways to express the future Portuguese:
The simple future
In this case, you need to add the conjugation endings to the main verb, as in the examples below.
- Eu irei ao Brasil no próximo mês. (I will go to Brazil next month.)
- Ela estudará para o exame amanhã. (She will study for the exam tomorrow.)
- Nós compraremos um carro novo no próximo ano. (We will buy a new car next year.)
- Eles viajarão para a Europa no verão. (They will travel to Europe in the summer.) Using the future tense this way will make you sound a bit more formal.
The compound future
This one is more commonly used in everyday conversations. You form it by adding one of the forms of the verb “to go” followed by the infinitive of the main verb. Check the examples below.
- Eu vou visitar o meu amigo amanhã. (I’ll visit my friend tomorrow.)
- Quando você vai terminar o trabalho? (When will you finish the project?)
- O que você vai fazer mais tarde? (What are you going to do later on?)
The compound future is by far the most commonly used form of future in Brazilian Portuguese.
If you check some grammar books, you’ll see that they describe the difference between the two ways of expressing the future in Portuguese. This difference existed a long time ago, but now that the language is a little bit more simplified, we don’t really see any difference other than formality levels.
Preterite Tense in Portuguese
The preterite tense in Portuguese is used to describe actions that were completed in the past. Here are a few examples:
- Eu fui ao supermercado ontem. (I went to the supermarket yesterday.)
- Ele comprou um carro novo na semana passada. (He bought a new car last week.)
- Nós assistimos ao filme no cinema na sexta-feira. (We watched the movie at the cinema on Friday.)
- Elas comeram pizza no jantar de ontem. (They ate pizza for dinner yesterday.)
Imperfect Tense in Portuguese
The imperfect tense in Portuguese describes actions that were ongoing or repeated in the past. It is also used to describe past habits or states of being.
The biggest confusion I see students have when using the imperfect tense has to do with its nomenclature.
Imperfect and its counterpart, “perfect,” come from Latin. In that language, something that was perfect is something that was completed and done.
But nowadays, we tend to say perfect to describe something excellent that can’t be improved anymore.
This latter definition should go away from your dictionary when you study grammar.
Perfect in grammatical lingo means that something was completed.
In grammatical terms, imperfect then refers to something that isn’t completed.
Here are a few examples:
- Eu falava português quando era criança. (I used to speak Portuguese when I was a child.)
- Ele sempre chegava atrasado para as reuniões. (He always arrived late for meetings.)
- Nós morávamos em São Paulo antes de nos mudarmos para o Rio de Janeiro. (We used to live in São Paulo before moving to Rio de Janeiro.)
- Elas estudavam muito para passar nas provas. (They studied a lot to pass the exams.)
Pluperfect Tense in Portuguese
The pluperfect tense in Portuguese describes actions already completed before another past action. It is similar to the past perfect tense in English. Here are a few examples:
- Eu tinha estudado muito antes de fazer a prova. (I had studied a lot before taking the test.)
- Ele já tinha comido quando chegamos ao restaurante. (He had already eaten when we arrived at the restaurant.)
- Nós tínhamos viajado para o exterior antes de comprar nossa casa. (We had traveled abroad before buying our house.)
- Elas tinham terminado o trabalho antes do prazo final. (They had finished the work before the deadline.)
Note: The pluperfect tense is formed by using the auxiliary verb “ter” or “haver” in the imperfect tense, followed by the past participle of the main verb.
The Conditional Tense in Portuguese
The conditional tense in Portuguese is used to express hypothetical situations or actions that may or may not happen in the future. It is also used to make polite requests or suggestions. Here are a few examples:
- Eu gostaria de ir ao cinema hoje à noite. (I would like to go to the movies tonight.)
- Se eu tivesse dinheiro, compraria um carro novo. (If I had money, I would buy a new car.)
- Ela seria uma ótima professora de português. (She would be a great Portuguese teacher.)
- Nós poderíamos viajar para o exterior nas férias. (We could travel abroad on vacation.)
Note: The conditional tense is formed by using the infinitive of the main verb followed by the conditional endings (-ia, -ias, -ia, -íamos, -íeis, -iam).
Quick note to the grammar fans out there:
You may have noticed that I decided to call this tense “conditional.” According to the Brazilian authority on grammatical nomenclature, this tense is actually called “future of the preterite.” I find this utterly confusing — not only students of Brazilian Portuguese as a second language but Brazilians themselves have a very hard time grasping the concept of “the future of the preterite.”
So, for simplicity’s sake, I chose to use its Portuguese nomenclature.
In Portuguese, irregular verbs do not follow the regular rules of conjugation.
Unlike regular verbs, which follow a predictable pattern, irregular verbs have unique conjugations that must be memorized and studied separately.
It is important to understand irregular verbs because they are commonly used in everyday conversation and written communication. Without knowing how to recognize and conjugate them, learners of Brazilian Portuguese may struggle to understand or communicate effectively.
And before you continue for some historical shenanigans, please keep in mind that I also have a more in-depth discussion about the irregular verbs you can access by clicking here.
Why do regular verbs exist in Portuguese?
Well, before I give you a mental image that will help you understand why this is so, I want to let you know that English also has many irregular verbs.
What I’m about to tell you is speculation — so take out your tinfoil hat and follow me.
Just as what happens with your clothes if you keep using the same ones every day all the time, the words also get worn out. Some verbs change their form and meaning (did you check the definition of “peruse”?).
As Latin evolved into what we call Portuguese, its verbs changed their form to become what we have nowadays.
The ones that got used the most became irregular in their usage. Just check the verb to go in Portuguese. It’s an amalgamation of two verbs in Latin (ire, vadere), which is why it’s so hard to learn.
Recognizing and conjugating irregular verbs is crucial in using them correctly. For example, the verb “ser” (to be) is an irregular verb that has a unique conjugation for each subject pronoun in the present tense: “eu sou,” “tu és,” “ele/ela/você é,” “nós somos,” “vós sois,” and “eles/elas/vocês são.”
Other common irregular verbs include “ir” (to go), “ter” (to have), and “estar” (to be). These verbs have unique conjugations in different tenses, such as the future tense or pluperfect tense.
Tips and Tricks for Learning Portuguese Verb Conjugation
Learning Portuguese verb conjugation can be daunting, but it can be a fun and rewarding experience with the right approach. Here are some tips and tricks to help you master the art of conjugating verbs in Brazilian Portuguese.
Firstly, practice conjugating verbs with a good verb conjugation guide.
A good guide will provide clear and concise explanations of the rules of conjugation and examples of how to use each verb in context. It will also give you plenty of opportunities to practice what you have learned through exercises and quizzes.
For example, if you are struggling with the irregular verb “ir” (to go), a good verb conjugation guide will show you how to conjugate it in different tenses, such as the present tense (“eu vou,” “tu vais,” “ele/ela/você vai,” etc.) and the future tense (“eu irei,” “tu irás,” “ele/ela/você irá,” etc.). By practicing these conjugations regularly, you will become more familiar with the patterns and rules of Portuguese verb conjugation.
Secondly, use flashcards to memorize common verb forms.
Flashcards are a great way to reinforce your knowledge of verb conjugations and help you commit them to memory. You can create your flashcards using index cards (which I never did) or an online flashcard app (like Anki, which I still use to this day).
You can also use pre-made flashcards available online or in language learning books, but unfortunately I don’t know any that is available for Brazilian Portuguese.
How to use the flashcards?
For example, if you want to memorize the present tense forms of the verb “estar” (to be), you can create flashcards that show each form along with its English translation (“eu estou” = “I am,” “você está” = “you are,” etc.). By reviewing these flashcards regularly, you will be able to recall the correct forms quickly and easily.
Finally, read and listen to Portuguese as much as possible to get used to hearing the different forms of conjugated verbs.
Exposure to authentic Portuguese language materials, such as books, articles, podcasts, and TV shows, will help you develop a natural feel for the language and its verb conjugations.
Is that all?
Well, not really.
Understanding Portuguese verb conjugation is crucial to communicating effectively in the language.
And see that I said “understanding” — it’s okay to make mistakes sometime, but you should know why you’re making mistakes. That’s the only way to speak more confidently, making fewer errors.
The three main tenses (past, present, and future) and four moods (indicative, subjunctive, conditional, and imperative) provide a variety of ways to express actions and ideas.
Although there are irregular verbs to memorize, with practice, flashcards, and exposure to authentic materials, mastering Portuguese verb conjugation can be a fun and rewarding experience.
So, don’t be afraid to dive into the language and start practicing your conjugations today! And, as always, if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them 😊