Demystified — The Future Subjunctive in Portuguese
Future subjunctive in Portuguese… Past imperfect subjunctive… Gosh, isn’t that hard?
And it gets even harder when you ask so-called teachers online about this. Their answer bewilders just about anybody.
“The subjunctive expresses hypothetical actions and situations, whereas the indicative expresses real ones.”
When I hear this kind of explanation, I feel like slapping someone in the face. And this someone is usually me.
And that’s because this explanation may be… True, but it sure is misleading.
As I have talked about at length in my master article about the triggers of the subjunctive in Portuguese, thinking that hypothetical situations are always expressed with the subjunctive causes a lot of unnecessary confusion.
It dictates that sentences like “I don’t know what I’m going to eat, and probably I will eat a chocolate cake” need the subjunctive. And that’s simply not true.
In fact, it’s the grammatical context that largely determines whether or not you should use the subjunctive.
And that’s true for the future subjunctive in Portuguese as well.
A Simple Trick That Will Make You a Grammar Master
You need the future subjunctive in Portuguese after conjunctions of time. You usually have two clauses — the main one and the subordinate one.
And just a quick refresher, a subordinate clause is one that can’t stand on its own. When Jack broke his leg sounds incomplete. So, it’s a subordinate clause. (And check out this article about Portuguese conjunctions for more).
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at the conjunctions that govern the future subjunctive.
- Assim que você chegar em casa, por favor, me telefone. As soon as you get home, please, call me.
- Depois que eu acabar o trabalho hoje, vou tomar um bom banho de banheira. After I finish today’s work, I’m going to take a good bath in the bathtub.
- Enquanto você estiver no Brasil, tenha cuidado para não entrar em lugares perigosos. While you are in Brazil, be careful not to enter places that are dangerous.
- Logo que você chegar na empresa, fale com o chefe. Ele precisa conversar com você. As soon as you get to the company, talk to the boss. He needs to talk with you.
- Quando você começar a estudar português, vou te dar o livro que eu usei. When you start to study Portuguese, I’m going to give you the book I used.
- Sempre que for atravessar a rua, é muito importante olhar para os dois lados. Whenever you go across the street, it’s very important to look both ways.
You see that “logo que” and “assim que” have both the same meaning. In everyday conversation, Brazilians tend to say “assim que” more frequently.
Also, you probably have noticed — you’re a very smart person — that I didn’t include the word “se” here. That’s on purpose. We’ll look into it in more detail presently.
If Past, Then Past
You’ve got to remember that verbs exist in a sentence and a sentence exists in a context. Everything is connected — just like me, you, and the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.
Now, seriously, I’m saying that just to draw your attention to this important fact:
When the verb in the main clause is in the present, the subordinate clause — which takes the subjunctive — is either in the present or in the future.
And when it’s past, it’s past.
Take a look at this example:
- Eu pedi que, assim que você chegasse em casa, me telefonasse. I asked you to call me as soon you got home.
- Eu peço que assim que você chegar em casa me telefone. I ask you that you call me as soon as you get home.
In the first sentence, everything is in the past tense. And in the second one, everything is in the present — and in the future subjunctive.
A Big, HUGE Warning about “Se”
“Se” is the conjunction — alongside with “quando” — that usually requires either the future subjunctive or the past subjunctive.
Students tend to go all out when using “se”, and everything suddenly becomes the subjunctive.
Not so fast, friend.
When you use “se” in indirect questions, you don’t need to — and, in fact, can’t — use the future subjunctive.
- Se você tiver tempo, pode me dar uma ajudinha? If you have time, can you give me a little help?
- Eu quero saber se você tem tempo. I want to know if you have the time.
“But isn’t that a subordinate clause?” The more grammatically inclined student might ask. And they would be right. That is. But it’s a special situation. Is this an indirect question? If so, you don’t need to complicate matters.
Future Subjunctive Versus Personal Infinitive
If you can follow everything at this point, you’ve probably come across the personal infinitive. It’s a funky verb tense that we have only in Portuguese (and Hungarian), as far as I know.
But as I was saying, you’ve probably met the personal infinitive and noticed that it looks like the future subjunctive.
Brazilians also think like that, and most of the time they make simple mistakes.
Only some verb forms coincide. But they are conjugated differently and used differently as well.
The conjunctions we saw above — antes de/que, depois de/que, até -/que — may require either the future subjunctive or the personal infinitive.
In general, there shouldn’t be any difference in meaning. But there is — a very slight difference.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
- Depois de concluir a graduação, comecei a estudar para o mestrado. After finishing my undergrad studies, I started studying for the master’s degree.
- Depois que concluir a graduação, vou começar a estudar para o mestrado. After finishing my undergrad studies, I’m going to study for the master’s degree.
- Depois que concluí a graduação, comecei a estudar para o mestrado. After I finished my undergrad studies, I started studying for the master’s degree.
- Depois que concluísse a graduação, queria começar a estudar para o mestrado. After finishing my undergrad studies, I would like to start studying for the master’s degree.
Pay close attention to sentences number 1) and 3). Both mean the same. The only difference is style.
And now take a close look at sentences number 1) and 2). Although the verb looks the same, they are different tenses. 2) is about the future — hence the future subjunctive form.
And if you will inspect sentence number 4) you’ll see a solid example of “if it’s past it’s past”.
Are these the only differences? As I said: in general, it doesn’t matter if you use either the future subjunctive (A) or the personal infinitive (B), but… (A) feels more immediate in everyday situations, and (B) tends to be favored.
Because of the coincidence we just looked at in the previous section, many Brazilians make mistakes when using the future subjunctive.
Three verbs and their derivatives make up for about 80% of all mistakes (the stats are mine, a working teacher with 7+ years’ experience).
And the verbs are: ver (see), manter (maintain, keep), and propor (propose).
As I said, verbs like propor, depor, compor… Cause Brazilians many a headache.
- Se você vir minha irmã hoje, diga a ela o que eu mandei um abraço. If you see my sister today, tell her that I sent her my regards.
- Quando os professores propuserem em novas atividades, vou voltar para a universidade. Agora eu não quero voltar, porque as atividades atuais são muito chatas. When the professors propose new activities, I’ll go back to college. Now I don’t want to go back, because the current activities are very boring.
- Se ele obtiver “dois” na prova, ainda assim ele passa. Ele teve boas notas durante todo o semestre. If he gets a two in the test, still he passes. He has had good grades during the whole semester.
- Se você mantiver o bom desempenho, vai ganhar um aumento salarial. If you keep up with a good performance, you will get a pay raise.
In (1), Brazilians usually say ‘se você ver’ (wrong!).
In (2), they say ‘proporem’.
In (3), they use ‘obter’.
And in (4), they say ‘manter’.
Now you know it, and you don’t need to err.
Whew! That was a long trip!
Of course, we didn’t cover everything that there is about subjunctive, but if you keep at least 70% of what we’ve seen here you know more than 95% of all students of Portuguese. Believe me, you will enjoy your life much more in Portuguese now that you have this knowledge.
And if you have any questions, ask.