"Última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela,Portuguese is, at least in terms of native speakers, the seventh most spoken language in the world, the second most spoken Romance language, and the most spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an Ibero-Romance language, and closely related to Spanish. Originally spoken in Portugal, it spread throughout the world with the Portuguese Empire and is now the official language of nine different countries in four different continents, with Portugal, Angola, Mozambique and Brazil being the major Portuguese-speaking countries, the latter having more native Portuguese speakers than all the other countries combined. Being no small language, dialectal differences abound, the two main varieties being Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, each with their own sets of dialects themselves.
És, a um tempo, esplendor e sepultura." note
És, a um tempo, esplendor e sepultura." note
NounPortuguese nouns aren’t much more complicated than in English. They only inflect in number and gender, and that’s it. Plural formation is pretty straightforward, even though there are several plural endings (all of them involving the addition of an s) the rules for them are very regular. The only exception are nouns ending in –ão (like, cão, dog), which have three possible plural endings, but even those aren’t really that irregular. Gender is a bit harder, but not as much as in some other languages, like German. All nouns are either masculine or feminine, and guessing then might be a bit tricky. As rule of thumb, nouns ending in –o (like braço, arm) are masculine, and nouns ending in –a (like cadeira, chair) are feminine. For nouns with other endings, you mostly have to learn by heart. A good trick is to learn the noun with its definite article (o being the masculine article, and a the feminine), since it always agrees in gender with the noun; so a flor (the flower) is feminine, and o amor (love) is masculine. Finally, many nouns denoting humans and some animals agree with the person or animal’s sex, so menino (boy) is masculine and menina (girl) is feminine, for example. Nevertheless some nouns denoting people and most nouns denoting animal species have fixed genders. The word criança (child) is always feminine regardless of the child’s sex, and so is the word girafa (giraffe). Also, when a noun denotes a group with masculine and feminine individuals, it takes the masculine gender. So os gatos means either the (male) cats or the (male and female) cats, while as gatas means only the (female) cats.
PronounsThey kind of behave similarly to English, but there are some notable differences. There’s also a great deal variation between dialects concerning their use. The main personal pronouns are:
- eu ~ I
- tu/você ~ you
- ele/ela ~ he/she/it
- nós/a gente ~ we
- vós/vocês ~ you (plural)
- eles/elas ~ they
VerbsThis class is by far the hardest to master for anyone studying Portuguese. A typical Portuguese verb can take the insane amount of about 50 different forms to indicate person, tense, mood, and aspect. There are three conjugation classes, each one having quite a number of irregular verbs. The first verb conjugation is composed of verbs that have their infinitives ending in –ar, the second is composed of verbs with –er endings, and the third is composed of infinitives ending in –ir. To give you a glimpse of how conjugation works in Portuguese, here are three regular verbs corresponding to each conjugating class: cantar (to sing), beber (to drink), and partir (to part), conjugated in the present tense of the indicative mood:
- eu: canto, bebo, parto
- tu: cantas, bebes, partes
- ele/ela/vocênote : canta, bebe, parte
- nós: cantamos, bebemos, partimos
- vós: cantais, bebeis, partis
- eles/elas/vocêsnote : cantam, bebem, partem
- Indicativo (Indicative):
- Presente (Present): Likely the most common tense, it’s pretty much the same as in English. Portuguese also has a continuous construction, which behaves similarly to the one found in English, but is not used as often. Ex: Eu compro um livro (I buy a book).
- Pretérito Perfeito (Simple Past): A past tense, it’s generally used when the action happened once in the past, or, as grammar books usually say, “an action that began in the past, and ended in the past”. It corresponds to both the Simple Past and the Perfect. Ex: Eu comprei um livro (I bought a book/I have bought a book).
- Pretérito Imperfeito (Imperfect Past): Another past tense, but with a different aspect. This tense is used for something that happened repeated times or continuously in the past. It’s sometimes translated into English as “used to X”. It may also, sometimes, correspond to the Past Continuous. Ex: Eu comprava um livro (I used to buy a book/I was buying a book); Eu estava comprando um livro (I was buying a book).
- Futuro (Future): Nothing new, it refers to actions taking place in the future. Like in English, there are several ways of doing so, with slightly different meanings. About four of them, to be precise. One simple and two compound constructions. The simple future tense is rarely used in the spoken language, where the construction ir + infinitive is preferred. Ex: Eu comprarei um livro; eu hei de comprar um livro; eu irei comprar um livro; eu vou comprar um livro (I will buy a book; I shall buy a book; I am going to buy a book).
- Condicional/Futuro do Pretérito (Conditional): An interesting tense, it expresses an action that would or could happen if a certain condition were fulfilled. Sometimes it's considered a tense of the indicative, and sometimes a mood on its own. In some cases the Past Imperfect might, optionally, take its place. The equivalent in English would be the would + verb construction. Ex: Eu compraria um livro (I would buy a book).
- Mais-que-perfeito (Pluperfect): Identical to English, it expresses something that had already happened before another already mentioned action did. Like with the future tense, there are several ways of using the pluperfect in Portuguese, the simple form being virtually nonexistent in the spoken language, but very common in the literary language. The compound forms using “ter” and “haver” in the imperfect are much more common in everyday speech. Ex: Eu comprara um livro; eu tinha comprado um livro; eu havia comprado um livro (I had bought a book).
- Pretérito Perfeito Composto (Perfect... sort of): It looks structurally similar to the Perfect in English and Spanish, but it actually carries a very different meaning. It means an action that began and happened continuously the past, and continues to do so in the present, with the possibility of happening again in the future. Ex: Tem chovido muito (It's been raining a lot). note
- Subjuntivo/Conjuntivo (Subjunctive): English has only remains of a subjunctive mood, so it might be a bit hard to explain it. The subjunctive is used with things that aren’t exactly real, at least yet. That includes wishes, possibilities, etc. It’s much more complicated than, that actually. Subjunctive clauses are mostly introduced by que, se, or quando.
- Presente do Subjuntivo (Present Subjunctive): Used for subjunctive clauses in the present, and usually preceded by que. Ex: Ele quer que eu vá para a festa (He wants me to go to the party).
- Imperfeito do Subjuntivo (Imperfect Subjunctive): Like the above, but used for clauses completing sentences in the conditional, past, and imperfect. It’s introduced by se and que Ex: Ele queria que eu fosse para a festa (He wanted me to go to the party).
- Futuro do Subjuntivo (Future Subjunctive): This tense was created by the Ibero-Romance languages, it never existed in Latin, or in any other known European language, for that matter. Nowadays it’s pretty much dead in Spanish, but in Portuguese it’s very much alive and in use. It’s introduced by se and quando, and is used for subjunctive clauses in the future. Ex: Só irei para a festa se ele também for (I'm only going to the party if he goes too).
- Imperativo (Imperative): Like in English, it's used for orders or commands. The main difference here is that the imperative agrees in number and it may also indicate formality. Ex:Compra o livro! (informal)/Compre o livro! (formal) (Buy the book!)
- Infinitivo Pessoal (Personal Infinitive): This one is pretty much unique to Portuguese and one of its closest relatives, Galician; it's not found in any other Indo-European language. It's an infinitive that agrees in person with the subject. It has several uses, and it's possibly one of the trickiest elements of the Portuguese grammar. Ex: Ele pediu para ires para a festa (He asked you to go to the party).
Spelling and PronunciationSpelling in Portuguese is much more logical than in English, thankfully, but not as simple as in Spanish. It’s quite easy to guess how a word should be pronounced just by reading it,if you know the rules. But it’s not necessarily as easy to guess how a word you heard should be written. Portuguese has a pretty rich vowel inventory, at least for Romance languages. Not only that, but vowels differ greatly from dialect to dialect. So this list only provides a very broad overview.
- A: mostly like the a in father, but also like the a in amber, and the the u in duck in unstressed positions.
- E: also represents three sounds, the e in empty, the e in bed, and the ee in sleep in unstressed positions.
- I: like the ee in sleep, and the y in you.
- O: also three sounds, the o in open, the oo in door, and the oo in ooze in unstressed positions.
- U: two sounds, the oo in ooze, and the w in we.
- Ã, AN, AM: the nasal counterpart to the a in father.
- EN, EM: the nasal counterpart to the e in empty.
- IN, IM: a nasal ee.
- Õ, ON, OM: the o in open, but nasalized.
- UM, UN: a nasal oo.
- B: It's pronounced exactly like in English in all positions in most of the Portuguese-speaking world. In Portugal, however, between vowels it is reduced to a sound closer to v.
- C: sort of the same as in English. Before A, O, and U, it’s always pronounced like a K; before E and I, it’s always pronounced like an S.
- Ç: always sounds like the s in soup.
- CH: sounds like the digraph sh in English.
- D: the same as English. Many Brazilian dialects palatalize this consonant before I or a weak E, the result being a sound like the English J. So, in these dialects the word dia (day) sounds like jeeah, instead of deeah. In Portugal between vowels it is pronounced similar to th in "this".
- G: just like C, it has a hard and a soft pronunciation. Before A, O, and U, it’s pronounced like the g in great; before E and I, it sounds like the s in treasure. In Portugal between vowels it is generally reduced to a soft fricative as in Spanish.
- GU: It’s either pronounced as the g in gum, or as the gw in Gwen.
- H: it doesn’t represent any sound at all by itself, it’s a mute consonant, but it’s used to form many digraphs.
- J: it always sounds like the s in treasure.
- L: mostly like in English. However,in many Brazilian dialects, word-final L is rendered like a w, so the word sol (sun) is pronounced sohw. Also, many Brazilian dialects palatalize this sound before I and a weak E, much like how it happens with D. The resulting sound is identical to…
- LH: a palatized L, it doesn’t really seem to exist in English. It’s pronounced by making an L sound while flatting the tip of the tongue against the palate.
- M: Just like in English... sort of. In syllable-final and word-final positions (ex: campo, bebem), it merely indicates that the preceding vowel is a nasal vowel, or nasal diphthong, and is not pronounced at all.
- N: Like in English. As with M, in the end of syllables (ex: dente) it only nasalizes the preceding vowel without being actually pronounced. Also, native Portuguese words, in general, never end with the letter N. Similarly to D and L, it’s palatized before I and weak E in many Brazilian dialects, resulting in a sound that is just like the Spanish Ñ, which in Portuguese is written...
- NH: this sound is the same as the ñ in Spanish, and doesn’t really seem to exist in English. In many Brazilian and African dialects it’s often pronounced like a nasalized form of the y in you.
- R: OK, this one will be a little lengthy. There are two “r sounds”, a “hard r” and a “soft r”. The “soft r” is pronounced like the way some English speakers pronounce the t in city, an alveolar tap, and it remains the same everywhere. The “hard r”, on the other hand, varies a lot from place to place, but originally it was pronounced like the trilled r in Spanish. That pronunciation can still be found in parts of Portugal and Brazil, but the most common “hard r’s” nowadays are pronounced in the back of the mouth or the throat. In Portugal this guttural r is usually very much like the French r, while in Brazil it tends to sound more like a stronger form of the English h. The letter R is pronounced as a soft r when it’s found between two vowels, as in hora (hour). The same pronunciation happens when the R is part of a consonant cluster, like the one found in the word pedra (stone). However, when the letter R is found in the beginning of a word (ex: rato, rat) and after the consonant N (ex: enredo, plot), it’s realized as a “hard r”. Word and syllable final R might be pronounced as either a “soft r” or as “a hard r”, depending on the dialect. Oddly enough, in a few Brazilian dialects, word and syllable-final R sounds just like the English r. Finally, Brazilian Portuguese in general tends to drop the R in the end of words.
- RR: always a “hard r”.
- S: Yet another complex consonant. Like with R, it’s pronounced differently depending on its position. In the beginning of words and after the consonant N it always sounds like the s in sea. When between vowels it’s realized as a z. In word and syllable-final positions, it varies depending on the dialect. Most Portuguese-speaking countries (except Brazil) pronounce it like sh in "ash", however, most of Brazil (with the notable exception of the Rio de Janeiro dialect) pronounces it as an s.
- SS: always like the s in sea.
- T: It’s mostly the same as in English. However, several Brazilian dialects pronounce it as the ch in change when it precedes I and a weak E, so tia (aunt) sounds like cheeah, instead of teeah.
- X: has several possible pronunciations. It can sound like the x in exit, like an s, like a z, and like a sh. The best part? There’s no way of guessing how to pronounce it, you have to learn every individual case by heart.
- Z: it mostly behaves identically to the z in English. Only one thing, in syllable and word-final positions, it behaves just like S.