The Indefinite Pronouns in Portuguese, a Crime, and a Challenge
This is a big surprise nobody wants to have.
And as you’ll see, it has everything to do with the indefinite pronouns in Portuguese.
When I was a kid, I had one neighbor that nobody liked. Even his dog bit him when it had a chance (and it died shortly after).
But this neighbor had a surprise I’m not sure I would wish on him but I can’t say I was sorry.
He went with his family to the countryside. And in those trips, he would spend two or three days.
When he came back, he found someone had broken into his house and taken the TV away.
They didn’t want anything else. Only the TV.
This neighbor asked around. He wanted to know whether anybody had seen the burglar.
(In retrospect, I don’t think I would’ve told him had I seen anything.)
Okay, interesting story, you might say. But what does it have to do with the indefinite pronouns in Portuguese?
Well, I challenge you to retell this story in Portuguese in the comments section.
The goal here is not to show that you know or don’t know something — a pissing contest is really something this site isn’t about — but to draw your attention to how different our Portuguese system is from what you have in English.
For starters — indefinite pronouns that change
We can say that there are two big groups of this kind of pronoun: variables and nonvariable.
The variable ones change. They may be feminine, masculine, singular, and plural.
And that’s the group we are going to tackle here.
Say you go to a restaurant after the pandemic ends.
You might expect every single food joint in town to be crowded.
After all, nobody has to worry anymore.
So, at the entrance of a fancy restaurant you might ask:
- Tem alguma mesa disponível? Is there any available table?
And the receptionist would answer with a sad smile:
- Não, senhor, infelizmente não temos nenhuma mesa disponível no momento. No sir, unfortunately we don’t have any table available at the moment.
And as you could see, both the pronouns were used in the feminine form. If they were masculine, you would have algum and nenhum.
And let’s take a look at the plural for good measure.
- Eu acho alguns livros que esse autor escreveu muito bons. I think some of the books this author wrote are very good.
I believe you must want to be a teacher if you want to be a teacher. That’s a good motivation as any.
But many people say that:
- Para ser professor, tem que ter muita paciência com os alunos. To be a teacher, one has to have lots of patience with students.
Do you agree with that?
And the following example is all about me when it comes to Russian:
- Muitos dizem que vão começar a estudar hoje, mas poucos o fazem. Many say that they will start studying today but few do.
So many/so much
The important thing to notice here is that in English you have two words whereas in Portuguese we need only one.
- Tenho tantos livros que não sei o que fazer com eles. I’ve got so many books that I don’t know what to do with them.
- Ela fala tanta coisa. É difícil acompanhar o que ela diz. She says so many things. It’s hard to follow what she says.
Imagine you’re about to finish a very important project.
You burned the midnight oil, the morning oil, and whatever oil that was left. But at last you finished.
A moment after you declare victory, your boss shows up and says there is still one more thing to finish.
If you were Brazilian and English weren’t your native language, you would probably say:
It might not sound wrong but it certainly wouldn’t be what you would say. You would probably say, “yet another!?”
And Brazilians would say “other!” because that’s how we would express it in Portuguese.
- O meu computador pifou no meio de uma aula. Agora eu vou precisar comprar outro. My computer broke in the middle of a lesson. Now I’m gonna need to buy another.
- Não entendi essa pergunta. Pode fazer outra? Depois a gente volta para essa. I didn’t get that question. Could you ask another one? Later on we go back to this one.
And now let’s take a look at the nonvariable pronouns
If you grew up hearing that double negatives are a bad thing, well, they aren’t. At least not in Portuguese.
So, whenever you are using an indefinite pronoun in Portuguese that has a negative sense, you must pair it up with something that expresses the negative (não, nunca etc.).
If you go to Colombia, you certainly need to speak Spanish.
But let’s say you just want to go there for two days and it’s a once done never again thing.
You call some friends because you want to learn just one or two words to get by. You ask:
- Você conhece alguém que fale espanhol? Do you know anyone who speaks Spanish?
- Não conheço ninguém que fale espanhol. Mas posso falar francês. Serve? I don’t know anybody who speaks Spanish. But I can speak French. Does it work for you?
An important thing if you’re a Spanish speaker
If you also speak Spanish in addition to English you probably feel tempted to say “nadie” when expressing “nobody”.
Don’t let that happen. In Portuguese, “nadie” sounds like a woman’s name, in addition to being quite close to the word for “nothing” (which you’re about to see).
Again, remember that double negatives are a thing in Portuguese.
- Ela assiste tudo que passa na TV. Eu não perderia tanto tempo com reality shows. She watches everything on TV. I wouldn’t waste so much time with reality shows.
- Sinceramente, não entendi nada do que ele falou. Para mim é grego. Honestly, I didn’t get anything of what he said. It’s Greek to me.
The real Brazilian way to deny things in Portuguese.
Did you have a videogame console growing up?
I was lucky and privileged enough to have one (my dad defaulted on the payments and got a really bad reputation on the market, but that was okay to me).
I wanted to play video games all the time, but then my mom would go:
- Você não vai jogar videogame coisíssima alguma. You’re not going to play video games at all.
And you see that “alguma” was placed after the noun, not before. When it is used like this, it reinforces the negative sentence.
She could have said:
- Você não vai jogar videogame. You’re not going to play video games.
And that would be okay. But I wouldn’t probably obey.
The original sentence clearly conveys a threat that can’t be ignored.
And let’s take a look at some more examples.
- Hoje é meu dia de folga, não vou fazer coisa alguma. Today is my day off, I’m not going to do anything at all.
- Ele não quer comer coisa nenhuma. Está o dia todo assim borocoxô. He doesn’t want to eat anything at all. His be like that all day long.
- Eu não quero fazer isso de jeito nenhum. No way I want to do it. (I don’t want to do it in any way.)
- De jeito nenhum! No way.
And just a cultural thing — in Salvador (where live) when people say “it’s okay” they usually express it like this: “É nenhuma, brother.”
Why they say that beats me.
- There are variable and nonvariable indefinite pronouns in Portuguese.
- I should always pay attention to the double negatives. They exist and are necessary for a natural-sounding Portuguese.
- There are two pronouns not covered in this article — tudo and todo, nonvariable and variable respectively. They are too complicated and deserve their own article.
- Practice makes perfect.
And here’s a table to make you happy:
Well, do you know one very common problem my students have that they want to solve?
Uses of the Portuguese verb tenses. It’s something that most of them have improved on by using this report.
And best of all is you can get it now free.
It is on sale on Amazon. And yes, there are people who prefer to pay for it.
But you don’t need to. Just download it to have a better Portuguese today.
And again, my challenge for you is still valid. If you want to take on your task, use the comments section.