The imperfect in Portuguese

chat-27591_640We’re making good progress in our Portuguese verbs: you’ll be fluent by the time you go to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 carnival or Olympics (I’m not sure if you’ll be fluent by this year’s carnival – it starts on February 13 – but by all means give it a go!).

Today we will look at the imperfect tense, which is used to express something that was happening or used to happen in the past. It is fairly easy to form.

As noted previously, there are three sets of regular verbs in Portuguese

  1. those ending in ar, for example, andar, to walk
  2. those ending in er, for example, beber, to drink
  3. those ending in ir, for example, abrir, to open

The imperfect is similar to the present tense in that you have to drop the ar, er and ir to get the verb stems (whereas with the future and conditional the infinitive is used in full). With the imperfect, the suffixes for –er and –ir verbs are the same.

ar verbs take the following endings: -ava, -avas, -ava, -ávamos, -avam

er and –ir verbs take the following endings: -ia, -ias, -ia, -íamos, -iam

Andar conjugates thus:

  • eu andava – I was walking, I used to walk
  • tu andavas – you (singular, familiar) were walking
  • você/ele/ela andava – you (singular), he, she was walking
  • nós andávamos – we were walking 
  • vocês/eles/elas andavam – you (plural), they were walking

(In Portuguese the stressed syllable is usually the penultimate one, and accents are used to indicate otherwise – for example as above in the first person plural andávamos)

Beber conjugates thus: bebia, bebias, bebia, bebíamos, bebiam (I was drinking, etc)

Abrir conjugates thus: abria, abrias, abria, abríamos, abriam (I was opening, etc)

EXCEPTIONS

There are four irregular imperfects in Portuguese:

  • ser (to be) – era, eras, era, éramos, eram
  • ter (to have) – tinha, tinhas, tinha, tínhamos, tinham
  • vir (to come) – vinha, vinhas, vinha, vínhamos, vinham
  • pôr (to put) – punha, punhas, punha, púnhamos, punham

(The other verb meaning to be, estar, conjugates normally: that is, estava, estavas, etc.)

In a forthcoming post we’ll look at the different uses of the conditional and imperfect in Portuguese. And we have still got the past tense and subjunctives to look forward to.

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2 thoughts on “The imperfect in Portuguese

    • Well, you got the obrigado right, almost – for you it is obrigada, for homens (men) it is obrigado. But your sentence was approx 10 per cent Portuguese, so just another 90 per cent to go!

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