Já in Portuguese — 13 Situations Where it doesn’t Mean Already
When you did your Google search — or Bing search, or Yahoo search — you probably saw that “já” means “already”.
Now you can call it a day and go home with a bright smile on your face.
Well, you could do that.
But then you would be missing out on fifteen extra situations where “já” is so, so different.
In fact, after you discover what those uses of “já” are in Portuguese you’ll be a much proficient and natural speaker.
You won’t be like those who “only translate things in their heads” — a necessary step in your learning journey, sure, but not forever.
You’ll be like those who truly understand and can get their message across in any situation where their Portuguese skills are called for.
And below you’ll find all of the situations where that word means something completely different.
When you ask a question using that word, it actually becomes “yet”.
- Você já comprou o livro que te pedi? Have you bought the book I asked you [to buy] yet?
But let’s say you told your friend about the book this morning and in the afternoon — when nobody really expected it to happen — she went on and bought it.
Surprised, you might say:
- Você já comprou o livro?! Have you already bought the book?
See, the structure didn’t really change.
Hey, I told you there are other fifteen situations and all, but in this one it does.
- Ele já terminou de lavar os pratos. He has already finished doing the dishes.
But you want to pay attention to the next example. It does look like this one but the meaning changes a lot.
#03 Before, in the past
You are at work in your new job. One colleague takes a nasty fall and hurts his leg. “Help!” Because you’ve had first aid training, you say to them:
- Eu já fiz isso, tenho bastante experiência. I’ve done that before; I have lots of experience.
And in this situation, it means you’ve had that experience before.
If your colleague didn’t really hurt his leg but just wants attention, you’ll probably say:
- Já vi esse filme. I’ve seen that movie before.
It’s how Brazilians express their dismay at something that is about to happen but is not entirely new.
The pandemic is over! Yay!
(But this is just an example, unfortunately.)
On this magnificent day, you want to go out and celebrate.
As you’re getting ready to open the front door and walk away, you stop and go back inside.
- Eu já ia sair, mas então me dei conta de que ainda tinha coisa para limpar em casa. I was just going out but then it downed on me that I still had many things to clean at home.
If you didn’t insert “já” here, you lose that immediacy.
- Eu já ia dizendo umas coisas para você, mas mudei de ideia. Você não fale a pena. I was just going to say some bad things to you but I changed my mind. You’re not worth it.
#05 By now
The husband is distressed. His wife plays video game all day long. She forgets to feed the dog, she doesn’t care about her clothes anymore, and she doesn’t even want to eat!
But she told him she wants to change. A few days ago, she promised she would buy new clothes and spend as much as she wanted.
The husband leaves the house happy with the promise. But when he comes back he finds his wife in front of the computer clicking furiously.
Regarding her going shopping for clothes, he says:
- Eu acho que você já devia ter feito isso. Essa sua insistência em empurrar tudo com a barriga me mata. I think you should have done that by now. Your insistence in postponing everything kills me.
And if I were you, I would store that structure in my mind.
It’s just so common, Brazilians love to give unsolicited advice. You’ll hear it all the time.
#06 Have you ever…?
This one is simple.
Whenever you want to ask something like “have you ever had this experience before?” You can use já.
- Você já esteve na China? Como é lá? Have you ever been to China? What is it like over there?
#07 As it is.
You’re a busy business person. And as such, you attract people who want to ask a favor or two.
- Olha, eu não vou poder te ajudar agora porque eu já tenho muito que fazer. Mas se você quiser talvez mês que vem eu tenha algum tempo. Look, I can’t help you now because I have lots of things to do as it is. But if you want perhaps next month I’ll have some time.
And when Brazilians are really angry at someone and can’t stand it anymore, they tend to say.
- Você já me encheu. You made me angry now.
- Já estou cheio. I’m really angry as it is.
The meaning here is — you do this one little thing more and I’m done with you.
Of course, the true translation is way less polite than that.
It’s a really vulgar sentence. You don’t want to use that with people you don’t know — unless you know what you’re doing :-).
#08 At this point in time
This one is not really necessary all the time.
It just emphasizes that right now you been doing something for some time.
(And for the grammar lover in your heart, take a good look at the tens that is used. It will help you greatly.)
- Eu já estudo português há três anos. As conjugações continuam sendo difíceis para mim. I’ve been studying Portuguese three years now. The conjugations continue being hard for me.
Brazilians tend to use this word a lot with the sense. But when it’s not really necessary — especially in writing — we call it “a wax nose”.
It’s there but you can remove it and no one will really notice.
#09 In a moment, soon.
Brazilians love this one.
- Eu vou ali e já venho. I will go there and come back in a moment.
- Até já! See you soon!
Love it so much we double it when we are talking with friends.
- Volto já, já.
When you double it, it means it’s way sooner than expected.
#10 Even as (a point in time, a period in one’s life).
This one is rather idiomatic.
It means you can’t really understand the meaning by analyzing word by word.
Imagine you talking about a little sister. Now as an adult she’s able to speak fifteen languages fluently. And she was a child prodigy.
And when telling people about her, you would probably say in Portuguese:
- Ela já desde pequena tinha essa facilidade com idiomas. Even as a kid she had this way with languages.
You can also use that to talk about a point in time.
- Já no século XVIII as pessoas pensavam assim. As far back as the eighteenth century people thought like that.
#11 To make it clear it’s very early or unexpected
This subtitle was a tough one. I wanted to make it more concise but couldn’t.
In life, we expect certain things to happen at a certain age.
And likewise, we don’t expect certain things to happen when we are younger or older.
We expect someone who is ninety-eight to pass away. But not an eight-year-old kid.
So, when something happens before everybody expects it, we also use “já” in Portuguese.
- Já com 23 anos ele era um dos maiores empresários do seu ramo. At the early age of twenty-three he was one of the greatest entrepreneurs in his field.
#12 On the other hand.
If I were to rank the most common to the least common, this usage would probably feature in the second and third place of most common uses.
- Eu gosto de macarronada. Já o meu irmão prefere bolo. Então, organizar reuniões de família é difícil para mim. I like pasta. My brother on the other hand prefers cake. So, putting together family meetings is hard for me.
Yet so few learners use it. When they start taking lessons with me, they tend to improve that — because I force it.
And it’s a word that links sentences, like the conjunctions in this article (a bit more advanced).
#13 So soon? So soon.
Brazilians love spending time with their friends.
(And if you’ve been reading this article up to here, you will conclude Brazilians love too many things.)
And when their friends leave anytime — after one hour together, after two days together — Brazilians are likely to say:
- Você já vai? Mas ainda é tão cedo! Are you going so soon? But it’s so early!
#14 The simple fact of.
Another very idiomatic use, something even Brazilians have a hard time explaining if an explanation is called for.
- Eu admiro muito essa atriz. Já ela me dar um autógrafo fez meu dia. I admire this actor. The simple fact of her giving me an autograph made my day.
As you saw, there are fifteen different situations where “já” in Portuguese doesn’t mean “already”.
And if you want to be a better speaker, you will use this short guide as a reference in your future conversations.
And if you want to practice some more, write a sentence using “já” in the comments below.
If you’re learning Portuguese for some time and need help with conversation in an engaging and systematic way, learn if you may be entitled to a quick conversation in Portuguese.