Who’s afraid of Portuguese verbs? The first steps to fluency

mcall smith PIRPortuguese verbs have a fearsome reputation. The witty novelist Alexander McCall Smith wrote a short novel called Portuguese Irregular Verbs, a comedy about a well-meaning but mediocre German professor, Dr von Ingelfeld, who had spent his whole academic life studying Portuguese irregular verbs and felt that his efforts and expertise were not given due recognition. Surely he deserved a Nobel Prize at least! With a title like that, that novel was never destined to be a best-seller, but it did have interesting chapter titles, including “Duels, And How to Fight Them” and “Early Irish Pornography”. McCall Smith kept Dr von Ingelfeld going in two sequels, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs and At The Villa of Reduced Circumstances, and all three books were later collated into a collection entitled The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom. Which just goes to show that a lifelong quest to conquer Portuguese verbs can’t be that bad after all.

Portuguese verbs can appear complicated but once you find the right way to go about learning them, it is possible to make progress. No matter how good your vocabulary is with nouns and infinitives, you can’t get going in any language until you can use verbs.

Like many Romance languages, Portuguese verbs require conjugation – the change comes in the word endings – and you just have to learn the endings by heart. But the good news is that in modern Portuguese, for each tense there are only four or five endings that you have to learn – depending on whether you include the “tu” subject pronoun or not. Tu means “you” (singular) but is used mainly in European Portuguese in very familiar relationships – with close friends and lovers, and so on. It is rarely used in Brazil, where the other singular “you” – você – is common, and você very conveniently takes the same verb endings as the third person singular ele and ela (he, she). The very formal ways of saying “you” singular, o senhor to a man and a senhora to a woman, also take the você/ele/ela endings, ditto for the plural forms.

So, the first thing you have to decide is: do you set out to learn the five verb endings typically used in Portugal, or the four verb endings typically used in Brazil? If your ambition in life is to holiday or live in Brazil but never in Portugal, then just opt for the four endings. Being lazy and keen on short cuts, that’s what I did initially. But afterwards I regretted it and had to backtrack and learn the “tu” forms, because they are used quite a lot in Portuguese love songs, films etc; and because if you develop an interest in the language you will probably want to go to Portugal or other Portuguese-speaking countries anyway.

We won’t deal with irregular verbs in this post, just regular ones in the present tense only, to illustrate the learning process.

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

There are three sets of regular verbs in Portuguese

  1. those ending in ar, for example, falar, to speak
  2. those ending in er, for example, comer, to eat
  3. those ending in ir, for example, partir, to leave

To conjugate the verbs, you drop the ar, er and ir to get the verb stems – in these examples, the stems are fal, com, part – then add the appropriate endings to the stems.

1) Let’s conjugate the ar verb to see the verb endings, present tense

  • eu falo – I speak
  • tu falas – you (singular, familiar) speak
  • você/ele/ela fala – you (singular) speak, he speaks, she speaks
  • nós falamos – we speak
  • vocês/eles/elas falam – you (plural) speak, they speak

So, to learn the verb, this is what you have to memorise

  • Brazilian Portuguese: falo, fala, falamos, falam
  • European Portuguese: falo, falas, fala, falamos, falam

2) The five endings for er verbs are: -o, -es, -e, -emos, -em. So to conjugate comer, this is all you have to learn

  • Brazilian Portuguese: como, come, comemos, comem
  • European Portuguese: como, comes, come, comemos, comem

3) The five endings for ir verbs are exactly the same as for -er verbs except in the first person plural, where emos becomes imos: -o, -es, -e, -imos, -em. So to conjugate partir, this is what you have to learn

  • Brazilian Portuguese: parto, parte, partimos, partem
  • European Portuguese: parto, partes, parte, partimos, partem

There are other points to note that will simplify the learning process.

  • For all verbs in Portuguese in the present tense, except for six, the first person singular (“eu“) verb ending is always -o. The six exceptions are: sou and estou (I am), vou (I go), dou (I give), sei (I know) and hei (I have).
  • Likewise, for all verbs in Portuguese in the present tense, except for five, the “vocês/eles/elas” verb ending is either -am or -em. The five exceptions are: são and estão (you plural and they are), vão (you/they go), dão (you/they give), and hão (you/they have).
  • For all verbs in Portuguese, in any tense, the first person plural (‘nós‘) ending is always -mos.
  • As noted above, the only difference between er and ir verbs is the -emos/-imos in the first person plural.

Bernardo’s learning method: Whenever I would go swimming (my main form of exercise), to the rhythm of a word for each freestyle arm stroke I would chant the following: falo, fala, falamos, falam, como, come, comemos, comem, parto, parte, partimos, partem... I usually used the four-word sequence rather than the five-word one (I prefer even numbers to odd) remembering that in the present tense, the tu ending is formed simply by adding an s to the second word in each sequence: fala(s), come(s), parte(s). Easy! 😀

tile-214364_640However, although the four-word sequence was relatively easy to memorise, when it came to having a real conversation in Portuguese, I found that using one of the verb endings out of sequence was initially quite difficult. For example, if I wanted to say “we are speaking” my brain would have to go “falo, fala” first before allowing “falamos” to come to the fore. To counter this, you have to jumble up the sequence every now and then, giving yourself random bits in English to translate (for example: he is speaking – fala; they speak – falam; we speak – falamos; etc), or going through the sequence backwards: falam, falamos, fala, falas, falo.

When you can think of the right ending for the situation promptly every time, then you have mastered the present tense, and are ready to boldly go on to tackle the future, conditional, imperfect, past, subjunctive, imperative and all the irregular verbs and the so-called radical-changing verbs. How much time do you have, haha!


For a fuller explanation of the Portuguese subject pronouns, have a look at:


And the most frequent palavas em português are…

It makes for great bedtime reading! Bernardo's Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese, propped up artistically on  his bedside table.

All findings are taken from A Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese (Routledge).

The 10 most used words in Portuguese are easy to learn. None of them is more than four letters long!

  1. o (the)
  2. de (of, from)
  3. em (in, on)
  4. e (and)
  5. que (that, than, what)
  6. ser (to be)
  7. um (a, one)
  8. por (by, through, for)
  9. para (to, in order to, for)
  10. a (to, at)

To give you some idea of what sort of words you will learn as you progress through the dictionary…

  • The 1000th ranked word is acrescentar (to add to)
  • The 2000th ranked word is sujeitar (to subject to)
  • The 3000th ranked word is polémico (controversial)
  • The 4000th ranked word is equilibrar (to balance)
  • The 5000th ranked word is sul-Americano (South American)

The most frequently used verbs are

  1. ser (to be) – overall ranking in the list: 6th
  2. ter (to have) – overall ranking in the list: 13th
  3. estar (to be) – overall ranking in the list: 18th
  4. fazer (to do, make) – overall ranking in the list: 21st
  5. poder (can, be able to) – overall ranking in the list: 22nd
  6. haver (“there is”, to have) – overall ranking in the list: 29th
  7. ir (to go) – overall ranking in the list: 30th
  8. dizer (to tell, say) – overall ranking in the list: 34th
  9. dar (to give) – overall ranking in the list: 36th
  10. ver (to see) – overall ranking in the list: 40th

Unfortunately for the learner, most of these verbs are irregular.

More fun with frequencies to come later….


Are you on the right frequency?

It makes for great bedtime reading! Bernardo's Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese, propped up artistically on  his bedside table.

It makes for great bedtime reading! Bernardo’s Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese, propped up artistically on his bedside table. 

One book that I have found very helpful in my language learning is A Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese, published by Routledge. Of the other Romance languages, Routledge has also done frequency dictionaries in French and Spanish. They seem quite hard to find in bookstores, at least here in Australia anyway. Going by the list Routledge has provided on this web page, only 12 books have been done in the series, and I am a bit surprised that Italian has not been tackled (Italy is a popular tourist destination and there is a big demand for short-term courses in Italian), whereas Czech and Contemporary American English have. But that’s by the by. Most of the books in the series seem to be available in paperback and kindle format from online sellers for about $30 to $40 (probably American dollars), but the hardback editions can be expensive at more than $100. My paperback, I note, cost me $58 (Australian dollars) brand new at a specialist language book centre in Sydney a few years ago. All the dictionaries in the series list the top 5000 most frequently used words in the language, both in writing and in speech, and compiling them must have been painstaking work by the researchers involved.

Why are they so helpful?

Well, it is logical that if you can familiarise yourself with, if not master, the 5000 most frequently used words in a language, you should be able to get by pretty well wherever that language is spoken. In the preface to the whole series, the publisher notes that in English, the 4000 to 5000 most frequent words account for 95 per cent of a written text, and the 1000 most frequent words account for 85 per cent of speech. The figures are not available for other languages, but presumably much the same applies.

The introduction to the Portuguese dictionary, the authors (Mark Davies and Ana Maria Raposo Preto-Bay (!) make what I feel is a valid point based on my own experience of not only trying to teach myself Portuguese, but teaching English to speakers of other languages. Sometimes, when you are studying an text or article, you have to look up words that aren’t particularly common or useful. In my teaching time I have had to explain some obscure words, such as “jiffy”.

Stack of books“Although a typical textbook provides some thematically-related vocabulary in each chapter (foods, illnesses, transportation, clothing, etc.) there is almost never any indication of which of these words the student is most likely to encounter in actual conversation or texts. In fact, sometimes the words are so infrequent in actual texts that the student may never encounter them again in the “real world”, outside of the test for that particular chapter,”  the authors note. They go on to say the situation “can be equally as frustrating for independent learners. These people may pick up a work of fiction or a newspaper and begin to work through the text word for word, as they look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. Yet there is often the uncomfortable suspicion on the part of such learners that their time could be maximized if they could simply begin with the most common words in Portuguese, and work progressively through the list.”

I agree a lot with what they are saying. Most of the little language books aimed at holiday makers are full of words that in reality one will rarely use, such as “tweezers”.

But let’s not forget that words outside the top 5000 have a role to play. They give us variety and are testimony to human being’s creativity. Plus, there are some great words lurking in there too. My “Quirky Vocabulary” series on this blog often delights in funny and/or unusual words.

Should you invest in a frequency dictionary?

I think the frequency dictionary is a great learning tool, because apart from listing the top 5000 words, it gives a sample sentence for each word and a translation of that sentence, so in the process you are learning a lot more words than the 5000, and you are learning sentence construction. However, I wouldn’t recommend using a frequency dictionary as an introduction to a language, or as your first textbook. It helps if you have some prior knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and verb conjugation before you get stuck into a frequency dictionary, otherwise you won’t really understand what’s going on in the sample sentences. Get past the “beginner” stage of the language first, and then you will enjoy perusing the frequency dictionary. The books are not just one long list – there are sidebars grouping words by subject matter. The most mentioned parts of the body and the most mentioned food terms, for example.

European Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese? Or both?

portuguese and brazilianHow to rank the top 5000 words in a language is quite complicated. For the Portuguese dictionary, both Brazilian and Portuguese texts were used. The starting point was O Corpus do Português (website link here), which contains 45 million words (!) using texts from the 1300s to the 1900s, but obviously, to reflect modern usage, the 1900s section was the main focus. This then became a 20 million-word corpus, using half from Brazilian sources, half from continental Portuguese. That 20 million is broken down thus

  • Spoken words: 1 million from Brazil and 1 million from Portugal.
  • Fiction: 3 million words from 95 novels and short stories from Brazil, and 3 million words from 175 novels and short stories from Portugal. (I would love to know which novels, and whether Brazilian writers are more wordy than Portuguese ones or vice versa).
  • News: 3 million words from thousands of articles on different topics in seven newspapers in Brazil (from São Paulo, Bahia, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Recife and Santa Catarina) and 3 million words from five newspapers in Portugal (Publico, Expresso, Jornal [Lisbon], Beira and Leira).
  • Academic: 3 million words each from various encyclopedia and academic websites in Brazil and Portugal. (I pity the poor people who had to trawl through so much academic text!)

On top of this, the researchers had to deal with such matters as the differences in spelling between continental Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese (it was published in 2008, before the “Acordo Ortográfico” took effect; Portugal’s six-year adaptation period of the spelling reforms ends this year), how to count nouns and adjectives that have only minor syntactic and semantic differences between them, how to link different forms of a verb back to the base form, how to “disambiguate between the [passive/verbal] and [adjectival/resultative] senses of the past participle” and so on and so on. Who’d want to be a language researcher! The point is, they’ve done all the hard work. Mastering the 5000 words is the easy bit.

So, what are the most common words in Portuguese?

Have a guess. And what do you think the 10 most used verbs are? I’ll save that and whatever surprises I can find for future posts.


I can’t help wondering what the most frequently used words are in Contemporary American English. I’m thinking “yeah, like, whatever” or “bitch”!

Newsroom blooper: In Brazil they speak Spanish, don’t they? No, Italian. What a cock-up!

Oops!Hello, for a good laugh you have to watch the segment “Duped by Diego” on the ABC’s (that’s the Australian national broadcaster, not the American one) popular weekly program Media Watch, which as the name implies monitors the Australian media for any embarrassing slip-ups. This segment involves the Today program broadcast on Channel Nine on June 19, the morning after Australia’s football team, the Socceroos, made sure of a place at the next World Cup in Brazil next year. And, boy, is it embarrassing! Underneath is a transcript which I have cut and pasted from the Media Watch website but it is best if you click on the link to the program and watch the segment, which switches between the Today program and the Media Watch commentary. The only thing is that Media Watch doesn’t translate the very rude word that caused so many blushes, so I will elaborate on that at the end of the post and discuss the other Portuguese word used (which is clean).

Here is the link: http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3788638.htm

And here is the transcript. Jonathan Holmes is the presenter of  Media Watch and the rest of the people are the staff of the Today program.

Duped by Diego

Cut to Channel Nine, Today, 19th June, 2013. 
Ben Fordham: And the Socceroos result is “legal”. I’m just brushing up on my Spanish. Legal!
Lisa Wilkinson: Has that got an e on the end of it?
Ben Fordham: Dunno!
Karl Stefanovic: Don’t they speak Italian in Brazil?
Ben Fordham: No, I think it’s Spanish, yeah yeah, last time I checked. Legal. It means ‘cool’…..
Georgie Gardner: It’s Portuguese isn’t it?
Karl Stefanovic: Italian. Italian
Georgie Gardner: Doesn’t he mean Portuguese?
Karl Stefanovic: No Italian. Brazilians speak Italian.

Jonathan Holmes of Media Watch: Boys, you ought to know by now: never contradict Georgie Gardner, she always knows best. Welcome to Media Watch, I’m Jonathan Holmes. It got worse for the Today team. Much worse. And a warning for Portuguese speakers. Block your children’s ears.

Ben Fordham: Duc rahlu. Do caralho. Do caralho.
Karl Stefanovic: What does that mean?
Ben Fordham: That means it was an amazing effort. I was sent this by Diego who emailed it in. Do caralho.
Lisa Wilkinson, Ben Fordham: Do caralho. Do caralho.

Jonathan Holmes of Media Watch: At that moment, Karl Stefanovic was the one who got it right…

Karl Stefanovic: I shan’t be saying it.
Ben Fordham: Really?
Karl Stefanovic: I shan’t be saying that word
Ben Fordham: Why?
Karl Stefanovic: Well I just don’t know what it means. It could be anything…

Jonathan Holmes of Media Watch: Very wise, Karl. It is Portuguese, not Spanish, and it is very rude indeed. So Ben Fordham was comprehensively hoaxed by Diego. An amazing effort, you might say. Taken in good part by Ben …

Ben Fordham: I apologise on behalf of the entire team, including Karl and Georgie, now…

So, what can we make of all this? First, let’s look at the language. Yes, “legal” does mean “cool” in Portuguese. Its more traditional meaning is “legal or lawful”, but in popular Brazilian usage it has also come to mean “right, true, correct, OK, cool” etc. For example, está legal means “it’s all right, it’s OK”. 

But what does do caralho mean? Well, in Brazilian Portuguese caralho is a vulgarism meaning, ahem, “cock, prick or dick or joystick”. (The do bit simply means “of the”.) Less vulgar, I should imagine, is pra caralho, which means “a great deal, a lot”.

On a wider level, this episode does illustrate the global ignorance of the Portuguese language. Come on, Portuguese-speaking world, promote yourself! Promova-se!

This means "sit down and shut up"

Sound advice for an ignorant TV presenter:  “Sit down and shut up”.  But what language is it? 

The other thing is, if you are journalist and you don’t know what you are talking about, well, just shut up. Which in Portuguese is Cale a boca! Cale-se! Also Cala a boca, feche a boca (shut your mouth).

Thank you, Diego, whoever you are, for helping to raise awareness of the Portuguese language in your own peculiar way (I think the Today crew are pretty clear now which language they speak in Brazil) – and for introducing me to a vulgarism, which in Portuguese is um vulgarismo. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? 🙂

Is Portuguese ready to steal the limelight?

Roman Catholic Portuguese school

Portuguese schools are back in vogue! A Roman Catholic Portuguese school (Photo credit: John Collier Jr.)

I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room the other day (“waiting” being a very apt word) when the cover of the October 2012 edition of Monocle magazine caught my eye. The main blurb under the masthead read: Generation Lusophonia: why Portuguese is the new language of power and trade. Then for some reason it added in small print: Even if you live in Jo’burg (a reference to Johannesburg in South Africa). The cover featured three models, all young but not too young, and trendy. One was supposedly a man in high places in Brasilia, because it had an arrow pointing to him and the pop-up dialogue: Why you need friends in high places in Brasilia, and a translation in smaller print in Portuguese: Por que você precisa de amigos no alto escalão em Brasilia. There was a very Portuguese-looking woman in the middle representing the Azores: Why the Azores are the islands to watch, Por que os Açores são as ilhas para ficar de olho. And there was another trendy bloke who must be important in Luanda: His box said: Who you need to know in Luanda, Quem você precisa conhecer em Luanda. But if the magazine really believed Portuguese was the new language of power, it should have put the Portuguese in bigger type than the English, surely, to demonstrate the point. Or at least give both languages equal weighting.


Far out but worth going to have a look. One of the nine volcanic islands in the Azores archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean. (Photo credit: amoosefloats)

Monocle is an impressive magazine in this day and age when print is supposed to be on its way out. This edition (issue 57) had 260 pages. As well as the cover stories, it had articles examining whether it was possible for Portuguese-speaking nations ever to form a coherent community; an interview with Brazil’s foreign minister; a look at the Brazilian coffee and retail industries; a look at 15 Lusaphone companies “making waves” in the business world; an article on why Portuguese and Brazilian middle-class tourists choose France as their top European destination; a round-up of Lusophone‘s best cultural figures; a look at Portugal’s cork industry (which I have also done myself as a journalist); and articles on Portuguese architects and a pictorial on “an African architectural gem”, Maputo.

English: Portuguese colonial residence, Maputo...

House proud. A Portuguese colonial residence, Maputo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sure, it is great to read that Luanda is buzzing, Maputo too, and of course Brazil is going to be in the international limelight when 12 of its cities host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympic Games in 2016. I have read one report that there has been increased interest in Portuguese at one college in London as people look forward to attending those sporting events in Brazil, but I am not greatly convinced that Portuguese is all the rage. Have a look at the language departments at any UK or US university and you’ll find Portuguese courses are pretty rare in comparison with Italian, French and Spanish, and other languages such as Mandarin. Which is sad when you consider that Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world and French is just 18th and Italian 24th. (That said, there are some very interesting-looking courses at those universities that do cover Portuguese in depth.) You certainly won’t be able to specialise in Portuguese at any Australian university.

English: Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World ...

And the winner is … Portuguese! Joseph Blatter announcing the 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I think will happen is that Portuguese will start to take off after the World Cup in Brazil next year. Visiting soccer fans there will have a great time, their curiosity in the language and culture will be aroused, they will want to come back to explore it more, and by word of mouth they will get their friends interested too. Brazil is expecting a tourist boom not just in 2014 and 2016 but also in the period 2016-2020, because of the coverage that those sporting events will generate (people watching the games at home on television will be exposed to Brazil too). I just hope that the Lusophone countries take advantage of this and promote their languages and culture. How well prepared are they?

The Monocle magazine mentioned above offered ‘Ten tips for the Lusophone world’. The first one was: Speak up: The Portuguese language needs more promotion; Lusophone countries should club together to get their mother tongue on curriculums around the world. The Instituto Camões should adopt the gusto (and canny strategy) of the Alliance Française.”  I certainly agree with that. But the Instituto Camões is a Portuguese government initiative, and Portugual is a small country of about 11 million people and like much of Europe it is going through a period of economic austerity. It is time now surely for Brazil, which has a population of almost 200 million and now has one of the world’s leading economies, to step up to the plate and lead the promotional charge of the great Lusophone language and culture, don’t you think?

Everything you need to know about lástimas and penas


Chorão (Photo credit: murilocardoso)

Hello, here is a quick follow-up to my post on the death of Chorão, the lead singer of Charlie Brown Jr. One of my friends in Brazil described the incident as uma lástima. I had not heard of this word, so I had to look it up in my Michaelis Moderno Dicionário Inglês-Português  Português-Inglês which I bought at a bookshop in Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro when I had a three-month holiday in Brazil in 2003. Happy memories! That was one of the best holidays of my life, and I loved browsing in the bookshops and music stores there.

This is what I found in the dictionary.

lástima noun 1) compassion, pity; 2) pain, heartache; 3) lamentation, complaint, wail, weeping, moan; 4) grief, sorrow; 5) (figurative) worthless or troublesome person or thing

é uma lástima – that is too bad!

que lástima – what a pity!

ser uma lástima – a) to be a problem; b) to be hard to handle; c) to be a good-for-nothing; d) to be a poor wretch

lastimadoadjective 1) deplored, lamented; 2) Brazilian usage wounded, bruised

lastimadornoun, masculine 1) lamenter, complainer, whiner; – adjective 1) pitiful, distressful, sad; 2) complaining

lastimadura noun, feminine, Brazilian usage  bruise, wound, contusion

lastimar verb 1) to deplore, regret, lament; 2) to bemoan, bewail; 3) to grieve, worry, hurt; 4) to pity, feel sorrow for, commiserate; 5) Brazilian usage to wound, bruise

lastimar-sereflexive verb, to complain dolefully

lastimável adjective 1) pitiable, pitiful; 2) lamentable, deplorable

lastimosoadjective 1) pitiful, doleful; 2) lamentable; 3) wailing

Now for some adverbs. On the whole I am fond of Portuguese adverbs, they are so long and musical. 🙂 Usually the suffix is -mente which in European Portuguese is pronounced like meant, in a clipped fashion, but in Brazilian Portuguese it is much more flamboyant and emphatic and is pronounced men-chee

lastimavelmente – 1) pitiably; 2) lamentably

lastimosamente – 1) pitifully; 2) wailingly

Some guidelines on the pronunciation of lástima. Normally in Portuguese the stress falls on the penultimate syllable of a word. If it doesn’t, an accent is used to indicated where the stress should fall. With lástima, the first syllable is stressed so you would pronounce it as LAHsteema. (The i in Portuguese has more of an English e sound. Whereas the Portuguese word e, meaning and, is pronounced eh, rather like the e in check.) Note, however, that in the other related words listed above there is no stress on the first syllable. Lastimoso, for example, would be pronounced lastiMOso.

Another word for pity in Portuguese is pena. For example, é pena means it’s a pity or it’s too bad, que pena means what a pity or what a pain, and não vale a pena is a very popular expression meaning it’s not worth it. However, pena can also mean a feather, plume or quill; a pen or nib; a composition or writing; a penman, writer or author; suffering, pain or affliction; sorrow pity or compassion. Leve como uma pena means as light as a feather, sem penas means featherless, and pena capital is capital punishment.

Here is a well-known song in the pagode genre by Raça Negra (Black Race) that uses the expression que pena frequently. It is entitled É Tarde Demais – It’s Too Late. It’s a song about unrequited love, and many artists in Brazil have used it in their repertoire. I like the melody, and at times it seems like the lead singer has a slight lisp, which somehow adds to the poignancy. See what you think.

Here is my very rough translation of the lyrics

Olha só você … Look at you alone
Depois de me perder  … After losing me
Veja só você  … See you by yourself
Que pena… Too bad

Você não quis me ouvir… You didn’t want to listen to me
Você não quis saber… You didn’t want to know
Desfez do meu amor…. Stripped of my love
Que pena… Too bad (or what a pity))

Hoje é você que está sofrendo amor.. Today it is you who is suffering love
Hoje sou eu quem não te quer  …Today it is me who doesn’t want you
O meu coração já tem um novo amor … My heart already has a new love
Você pode fazer o que quiser… You can do what you like

Você jogou fora o amor que eu te dei.. You threw away the love that I gave
O sonho que sonhei, isso não se faz … The dream that I dreamed, it didn’t come to pass
Você jogou fora a minha ilusão, a louca paixão… You threw away my illusion, the crazy passion
É Tarde demais… It’s too late
Que pena…. what a pity
Que pena, amor … what a pity, love
Que pena
Que pena, amor

So, is he still in love or is he indifferent? If the former, I would translate que pena as what a pity. If the latter, I would say, too bad!

Hey you! Which ‘you’ should you use?

London Opinion

London Opinion (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

In French and Portuguese you have to be careful which form of the second person subject pronoun (tu or vous in French, tu or você in Portuguese) you use, because there are social distinctions to consider. In English, this doesn’t apply because nowadays we use you to cover every situation (the language having dropped “thou” some time ago, although it is still used in prayers, hymns etc).

If you are learning Brazilian Portuguese perhaps the guide books will mention that there is a tu form but will say it is never used in Brazil so you don’t have to bother learning it. Great, you might think, I won’t bother! Which is exactly what I did. It was one less verb form to learn off by heart. But I soon regretted it. When you go to Portugal you soon realise that tu is used widely, and then you have play catch-up with your learning.

In Brazil the situation is simple, você is used for the second person singular and vocês for the second person plural, regardless of social distinctions. Here, for example, is a Brazilian tutor on You Tube (search for the name 100VKK) running through the verbs ser and estar…. note the total absence of tu. But also note that the verb is the same for both the second and third persons.


(Incidentally, her English accent is typical of a Brazilian, and it is quite useful to recognise that accent because if you are in an English speaking country and you hear someone talking like that, you can be sure they are Brazilian. Then you should wander over and chat in Portuguese, for practice. Brazilians have a unique way of speaking English, in my opinion, and I really like their accent.)

In Portugal, however, tu is used in informal social contexts (among one’s peers, friends, and lovers, and you will hear it a lot in love songs). Você might be used for more formal situations (addressing a stranger, or one’s elders or superiors, for example) but even here you have to be careful. Using você might be disrespectful – it could imply disdain or scorm. (As in “You! Winning a prize. I don’t think so!”) It is far safer when approaching a strange man to use o senhor, or a senhora for a strange woman, and again here you would use the same verb ending as you would for the third person ele or ela.

I have no idea what the situation is with tu and você in the other former Portuguese colonies such as Angola. If anyone can enlighten us on this point, please do so.

In French, the situation is not as complicated as it is in Portugal. Tu would be used in the same circumstances, while vous would be used more formally. The vous singular takes the same verb form as the vous plural, though, but if there are adjectives involved they will have to agree in number – vous êtes malade (you, singular, are sick), vous êtes malades (you, plural, are sick).

To give you a sample of a Portuguese accent as opposed to a Brazilian one, using the verb ser, here is a song Eu não sou ela (I am not her) by Rebeca. I quite like the tune, but can’t work out why the video to this song, which I presume is about a love triangle, involves Rebeca standing on a roof or wandering around looking lost. Perhaps that is what love triangles do to people, make you sing on rooftops. Anyway, enjoy it and note that sou is pronounced like sew or sow and not like sue….


The first part of the chorus goes like this: Porque eu não sou ela/eu sou eu, e não posso ser a mulher que eu não sou (Because I am not her, I am me, and cannot be the woman that I am not.) Later I will try to translate the whole song. I found the complete lyrics (letras in Portuguese) at the Animar a Malta website, which specialises in Portuguese music and has links to lots of Portuguese music radio stations. Cool! Or as one might say in Portuguese, Legal!


Eu dei-te algum tempo para esquecer

A lembrança que até hoje te consome

Até te perdoei por te querer

Essas vezes que trocavas o meu nome

Mas hoje cansei-me de fingir

De usar roupas e perfumes que ela usava

Eu posso te amar mas vou sair, não te quero dividir

E não posso mais vencer esse fantasma

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Eu sou eu

E não posso ser a mulher que não sou

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Digo adeus

Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)

Eu tentei lutar contra esse amor

E as recordações que tinhas do passado

Mas como ganhar contra quem foi

E é ainda quem tu vês em todo o lado

Agora acabei por desistir

E deixar-te com essa paixão perdida

Pois sei que não posso mais seguir

A saber e a sentir que nunca vou ser o amor da tua vida

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Eu sou eu

E não posso ser a mulher que não sou

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Digo adeus

Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)


Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Eu sou eu

E não posso ser a mulher que não sou

Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)

Digo adeus

Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)

Being Portuguese … sendo Português … is complicated

Brazilian, Portuguese Flags And More

Brazilian, Portuguese Flags And More (Photo credit: austinhk)

Being Portuguese is not quite as simple as being French. First you have to work out if you are Portuguese Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese. There can be big differences.

If you are Portuguese Portuguese and you are a man you will convert your whole backyard into a vegetable patch, and grow your own grapes to make your own wine. When friends come to dinner you be very hospitable as usual, you will give them plenty of food, and a little glass of  your homemade wine for them to sample. Out of politeness they will say, é bom – it’s good (but privately they may be thinking é horrível). But you will take them at their word and, thrilled that you have finally found someone who loves your homemade wine, fill up their glass to the brim and you won’t notice the look of horror on their face because now they have got to drink all that stuff. But never mind because if there is a Portuguese woman in the household you know the food on the table will be good. Portuguese people are great cooks (except the one I live with haha).

If, on the other hand, you are Brazilian Portuguese then you certainly won’t be attending your vegetable patch. You will be down at the beach showing off your gorgeous body, sipping a coco gelado (chilled coconut) while watching glorious sunsets and admiring the athletic prowess of those playing football and volleyball on the sand. Oh to be Brazilian!

All right, stop fantasising now and let’s learn the verbs to be in Portuguese. Well, it will be a bit tough because there are two verbs, not one – ser and estar – as indeed there are in Spanish. Trust the Iberians to complicate things!


eu sou                            (I am)
tu és                               (you are, familiar, used mainly in Portugal)
ele, ela, você é             (he is, she is, you are)
nós somos                     (we are)
vós sois                         (you are, archaic use only)
eles, elas, vocês são   (they masculine, they feminine, you plural are)


eu estou
tu estás
ele, ela, você está
nós estamos
vós estais
eles, elas, vocês estão

When to use tu and você requires some explaining which I will do in the next post (the archaic vós we can forget about). Here we will just outline the differences between the two verbs. Basically ser is used for more permanent notions (such as one’s nationality, one’s profession) while estar is for temporary or variable ones. Hence you might ask someone como está?how are you? How they are today might be different from yesterday.

If you saw me walking down the street, though, you would say Bernardo é bonito (Bernard is handsome) because my handsomeness is so permanent :D. But if on the slight chance – and I must stress that it’s a very slight chance – I wasn’t looking so good, say I was having a bad hair moment – you might say Bernardo não está bonito agora (Bernard is not handsome right now), the implication being that this is a mild lapse and his normal handsomeness will return shortly. And you would never, ever say Bernardo e feio, meaning Bernard is ugly (permanence implied), would you now?