Five Portuguese Verbs Brazilians Use Every Single Day
Sometimes you know exactly what you want and say… In English. You’re standing in front of your friend, saying something when you suddenly realize — I don’t know the Portuguese verb to go here.
Even though you’ve learned from apps and other teachers, you still don’t know some of the verbs that Brazilians use every day.
Don’t worry. That also happens to people learning English. It’s very hard for us to understand that English speakers have so many verbs for the simple act of walking. Saunter, stride, scuttle, sidle… The list is — to my Brazilian ears — endless.
Today, in less than ten minutes, you’re going to solve that problem with five verbs that are so common.
(And if you want to know where those came from, you can find them on our one-hour minicourse “Avoid These Gringo Mistakes“.)
1) Deixar de + infinitivo (stop doing, quit doing, fail to do something)
Deixar is one of those verbs that have several meanings. The basic one — the meaning you probably learned from an app or your textbook — is “to leave, to permit.”
Here we are going to focus on two of them: stopping doing something and failing to do something.
“Deixar de” + infinitive means to quit doing something, to stop doing something. If you want to say, “my friends stopped talking with me altogether,” that’s the verb you want to use.
That’s what you see in the following example.
- Ele deixou de fumar quando a pandemia começou. (He quit smoking when the pandemic started.)
Now, depending on the context, “deixar de” + infinitive might mean either “to stop doing something” or “fail to do something”. The example below illustrates that point.
- Nós não vamos deixar de te ajudar. (We won’t fail to help you.)
I chose to translate it as “fail” because I have no context for the sentence. Depending on the situation, it could also mean “stop.”
The sentence below, on the other hand, is univocal: “stopping” would sound very weird in this context.
- Você deixou de corrigir o texto que enviei. (You failed to correct the text I sent.)
2) Estar com vontade de (to feel like, to be willing to)
This one is pretty straightforward.
“Estar com vontade de” means “to feel like doing something, to be willing to do something.”
You just have to bear mind that the structure “estar com” means the same as the verb “TER.” You can find out more about it in our free one-hour course “Avoid These Gringo Mistakes.”
- Você está com vontade de sair hoje? (Do you feel like going out today?)
- Não estou com vontade nenhuma. (I don’t feel like [doing anything] at all.)
- Tenho vontade de matar fulano quando ele faz isso. (I want to kill so-and-so when[ever] he does that.)
You see that the third example translates as “to want” because — to me — be the other translations might not be as idiomatic.
Also, “estar com vontade” is a more immediate desire, something relating to now, the moment you say something. “Ter vontade” is more general, long-term. Estou com vontade de comer chocolate agora, mas não tenho vontade de comer chocolate em geral.
It’s just usage, not a rule per se 🙂
3) Chegar a + infinitivo (manage to do something after a process)
This one is a complicated structure. If you grasp it correctly, you’ll be ahead of 90% of the Brazilians.
(Okay, 90% may be too much, but just ask any Brazilian to explain the structure to you and you’ll see people hemming and hawing.)
“Chegar a” + infinitive means “to manage to do something after a process, and usually a long one.”
That’s the short explanation. Let’s put on our explorer hats and do some digging.
Let’s dissect this first example.
- Não cheguei a ler Harry Potter… achei muito infantil. (I didn’t read Harry Potter… I thought it too childish.)
Let’s say the sentence was prompted by the question “have you ever read Harry Potter?” If you just answered “Não li” that would be okay. But the implied meaning is that you didn’t even try. You categorically refused to read it, perhaps.
When you say “Não cheguei a ler Harry Potter,” it implies that maybe you had the idea… Or might have tried it… But at the end of the day you decided against it.
So, another possible translation might be “I didn’t really read Harry Potter.”
All right. Now let’s move on to another example.
- Cheguei a fazer todos os exercícios do livro, mas não entendi muito bem. (I [even] managed to do all of the exercises in the book but I didn’t understand it very well.)
You see that I chose to include the word “even” between brackets. That’s because you did all the exercises but didn’t understand the subject very well. That sentence has an apologetic tone to it.
If you had said “Fiz todos os exercícios” it would have been more direct. You might even be angry about the whole thing.
And also, “cheguei a fazer” emphasizes the duration of the process. It’s clear to us that it took you some time to go over all the exercises. “Fiz” focuses on the action itself.
One more example to make you happy.
- Isso chegou a me aborrecer. Que chato. (This [even] managed to annoy me. How bothersome.)
Again, you’ll see that obtrusive “even” in the translation.
This little sentence suggests the following context: you shouldn’t have been bothered by that, or that shouldn’t be annoying because it was so unimportant or trivial. But anyway, it managed to annoy you. Other people might not be annoyed, but you were.
And another example for the road. This one follows the same logic of the last two ones.
- Ele chegou a comprar a carne para o churrasco, mas ninguém veio. (He [even] bought the meat for the barbecue but nobody came.)
4) Passar a + infinitivo (to start)
Whew! Finally a simple one.
“Passar a” + infinitive means simply “to start.”
Just remember to include the linking “a” and everything will be okay.
- Depois de dois anos estudando sozinho, ele passou a ter aulas com professores. (After two years of study on his own, he started having lessons with teachers.)
- O dia passou a ficar quente depois das duas da tarde. (The day started to get hot after two in the afternoon.)
5) É capaz de + infinitivo (perhaps, maybe, probably)
And this one will make your Portuguese sound way (waaaay) more Brazilian than any other verb you might learn in fifty seconds.
This structure means “perhaps, likely, probably, maybe.” And it’s so common and pervasive in spoken Portuguese that we don’t even notice it.
In written Portuguese it’s not as common. But you’re likely to find it in informal texts. (É capaz de você encontrá-lo em textos informais.)
- O dia está nublado. É capaz de chover. (The day’s cloudy. Perhaps it will rain.)
- Ele é capaz de vir hoje, do jeito que é chato. (He’s likely to come today, as boring as he is.)
- É capaz de eu ler e não entender isso. É muito complexo. (I’m likely to read it and not understand anything. It’s too complex.)
You probably noticed that I employed the “personal infinitive” when using this structure. If it’s not clear, just read the third example once again.
- É capaz de eu ler e não entender isso.
If you weren’t using the personal infinitive, then it should read “É capaz de mim…” But you don’t want to do that. That sounds like something Tarzan would say. And really, even the most illiterate Brazilian will never say that. It just sounds ungrammatical.
So, review this article once again. These five verbs will boost your understanding and expression in Portuguese. Of course, you’ll find many more verbs along your journey. Portuguese is a living language and it changes every day.
If you want to discover the other twelve Portuguese verbs that are likely to give you the most headache in the beginning and even after you’ve reached the intermediate level — go here for our FREE one-hour course.
And for more vocabulary discussions, you can always visit our vocabulary section.