Wondering about the Gerund? Portuguese Uses It. But Differently.
You may have heard that Brazilians use the gerund in Portuguese quite frequently. Actually, you may have heard Brazilians using it. If you haven’t, you haven’t been talking to Brazilians frequently enough.
And the thing is, although the uses of the gerund in Portuguese are quite similar to the English ones, the differences are enough to cause confusion — both in you and your interlocutor.
And in this short article, we are going to take a quick look at how to properly use the gerund in Portuguese. We’ll also pick up some advanced uses that you can resort to in order to avoid more complex tenses like the future subjunctive.
Definitions and Preliminary Notes
If you flip through the pages of a grammar book, the definition you get of a gerund in Portuguese is,
“the noun form of the verb.”
But that’s somewhat misleading.
The noun can be used as the subject of a sentence.
In English, that definition may do. After all, you can say sentences like “speaking Portuguese is fun.”
But not in Portuguese.
So, for the purposes of this article we are going to define the gerund as follows:
the -NDO form of the verb.
You can get any infinitive verb in Portuguese. And I mean, any verb.
Drop the final R and attach the -ndo ending.
Shazam! You now have the gerund form of the verb.
- Fazer > fazendo.
- Saber > sabendo.
- Defenestrar > defenestrando.
And a common question you might have is, “does the Portuguese gerund have irregular forms?”
The answer is — no.
No matter how regular or irregular the verb is, the gerund form is always found using the same formula.
Most Common Uses of the Gerund in Portuguese
“Present Progressive in Portuguese”…?
The most basic use of the gerund is to express an action that is taking place at the moment.
- Você não está vendo que eu estou estudando? Can’t you see that I am studying?
- Estou preparando uma comidinha para nós dois. I am preparing a little meal for the two of us.
- Neste sábado eu estou trabalhando. This Saturday I am working.
I put “present progressive” in Portuguese between quotation marks above for one reason: it can also be used for future actions.
You can see from the last example that you can also use the gerund in Portuguese to express something that is going to take place in the future. It’s quite common in spoken Portuguese.
I haven’t seen this use in English yet, though it might exist. That’s why it’s misleading to call this “tense” the present progressive in Portuguese.
That’s English grammar terminology, not Portuguese.
Talking about Something that Has Been Happening…
You can use the gerund coupled with the verb “andar” to express the idea of having been doing something.
- O que você anda fazendo nesses dias?What have you been doing these days?
- Eu ando trabalhando muito. Tenho que parar um pouco.I have been working a lot. I have to stop a little.
- Você anda estudando bastante. Dá para perceber o progresso.You have been studying a lot. One can see the progress.
Simple, isn’t it? Just remember that the verb “andar” is always conjugated.
Talking About Simultaneous Actions in Progress
This is a more advanced use.
Imagine that two married people decide to “collaborate” — one cleans the house while the other prepares the food. Working together they can finish things earlier and not get tired. So, one of them suggests:
- Você vai limpando aí a casa enquanto eu vou preparando a comida.You clean the house while I prepare the food.
You see that in Portuguese I use the combination of the verb “ir” + gerund.
English doesn’t have an easy way to express this nuance. And because it pertains to the verb to go in Portuguese, it is included in the article for the verb to “ir”. You can read it here for more detail.
Gerund in English – CAUTION
Not all uses of the gerund transfer well.
This is a difficulty both English and Portuguese native speakers have.
When Brazilians speak English, they have a hard time trying to understand why…
“Speaking Portuguese is easy.”
English speakers use the ING form in that sentence.
A Brazilian speaker would likely say: “speak Portuguese is easy.”
Likewise, native English speakers have a hard time expressing that same sentence in Portuguese. They tend to make the following mistake:
- Falando português não é muito difícil. (x)
But the correct form is:
- Falar português não é muito difícil. Speaking Portuguese isn’t very hard.
And I warned you at the beginning of this article. Saying that the gerund is the noun form of the verb is dangerous in Portuguese.
In English, it can be used both as a subject and object. But in Portuguese it isn’t. We tend to use the infinitive in these situations. We use the gerund where in English you’d use the “present participle”.
Gerund in Brazilian and European Portuguese – CAUTION 2
I tried to find a neutral way to express this, but I couldn’t. So I might as well say it straight.
The way we use the gerund in Brazilian Portuguese is frowned upon in Portugal.
Over there, they have a different way to use it. They tend to put the letter “a” + the infinitive form of a verb.
Let’s use “I’m working” as an example.
- Estou a trabalhar.
- Estou trabalhando.
Both are understood in Brazil and we wouldn’t really be jarred by the first form — though it would never occur to us naturally to use it.
But most European Portuguese speakers I have met are quite touchy about this. And even on websites teaching European Portuguese tell you to be “cautious” when you see our “Brazilian” structure.
So, if you don’t want to be told to speak Portuguese over there, use their form. But in Brazil, we’re okay with both forms.
And since we are here…
If you speak Spanish either as a native or as a second language, you might want to express the sentence “go for a walk” with “sair a caminhar”. While this is a good sentence, the “a” before the infinitive turns this into a gerund-like phrase.
Thus, when you say “sair a caminhar” what we actually understand is “to go out walking”.
Keep that one in mind.
Advanced Uses to Avoid Even More Advanced Uses
If you want to avoid using “se” — which quite often triggers the future subjunctive (you can read more about this here) — you can make use of the gerund.
Take a look at the examples below:
- Parando de chover a gente vai à praia.As soon as/if it stops raining, we’re going to the beach.
- Saindo o resultado, vamos decidir o que fazer.As soon as/if the results come out, we will decide what to do.
- Tendo comida em casa, a gente não precisa sair para comprar nada.If there is food at home, we don’t need to go out and buy anything.
You can also use the gerund to talk about the past, but it is beyond the scope of this article.
(And it tends to be found more in written Portuguese rather than in spoken Portuguese).
Wrapping Things Up
Now you know how to use the gerund in Portuguese.
But knowing how to use doesn’t necessarily mean being able to use it.
In order to use it properly, you need to practice!
So, use the comments section below to practice using this new structure.
And the gerund deals with the verbs — and the verbs are your best friend when it comes to speaking properly in Portuguese.
But it can be so hard sometimes…
That’s why I prepared a free report for you to give you an overview of the whole verb tense system.
No, it’s not a bunch of conjugation tables. It’s a to-the-point discussion of how to use the verb tenses and when.
If you want to grab your free copy, click here to visit the report page. All you need to do is fill in the form with your information and I will deliver it to your inbox weekly.