Rejoice! A new My Five Romances is coming

Change signHere’s something I hope you will look forward to: I will shortly be moving this blog to a new website ( with a more vibrant and modern layout, using a variant of the Soledad theme which I and three other journalists use in our travel magazine-style website, Time To Wander. If you have not yet wandered there, please take a look!

The change is overdue: I started this blog in late 2012, using the TwentyEleven WordPress theme, as a way of branching out from an old-style print journalist to a … well, an old-style print journalist with some digital and social media skills. But it was also to force me to get back in touch with languages that I had studied but had neglected, and to learn some new ones along the way. Five romances is a bit ambitious: perhaps three would have been better!

The first couple of years were promising as the number of visitors shot up and doubled from 2013 to 2014 but after that I had to throw my energies into getting Time to Wander up and running, as well as taking on exciting but very demanding new roles in print journalism and getting my diploma in teaching English as a second language. My posts became infrequent and my romance language skills waned.

I am looking forward to starting afresh, and aim to have the new-look My Five Romances up before Easter, when I will be travelling to Portugal and Spain, to be immersed not only in Portuguese and Spanish but the Galician language, Gallego (sometimes written as Galego), which is similar to Portuguese. Hopefully the locals will understand me when I ask for prawns and custard tarts.

Thank you for being part of this journey.  Bear with me in the meantime. Cheers!


My close encounters with Uma Thurman

cinema-1293881_640Bernardo (c’est moi) is a socialite. He struts the red carpets. He mingles with the stars. Or at least his smartphone seems to think he does.

When you dabble with a number of languages on your phone – I frequently use English, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian and sometimes French on WhatsApp –  it can play havoc with your auto-fill predictive text. My phone often hasn’t a clue what I am talking about. If I am not careful it will spew out nonsense.

For example, when I was on holiday in England a couple of months ago, I would try to tell my Brazilian friends….

Estou ficando na casa de uma tia  (I am staying at the house of an aunt)

…. which the phone embellished as ….

Estou ficando na casa de Uma Thurman

They were most impressed.

Sorry, I’ve got to rush – Uma’s calling me to breakfast. Chat later!

Definite and indefinite articles in the main Romance languages

Hello Romance language lovers, here is another revision sheet (I use the tag “revision” for this series), culled and simplified from previous posts. The info has also been put into each language’s Grammar section on the main menu.


indefinite articles

  • un is used with masculine nouns (un livre = a book)
  • une is used with feminine nouns (une plume = a pen)

definite articles

  • le is used with masculine nouns (le père = the father)
  • la is used with feminine nouns (la mère = the mother)
  • l’ is used in front of a vowel (l’enfant = the child)
  • les is used with plurals (les parents = the parents)

For more on nouns and how to use articles in French, go here.




  • um is used with masculine singular nouns (um copo = a cup, glass or tumbler)
  • uma is used with feminine singular nouns (uma cidade = a city)
  • uns is used with masculine plural nouns (uns copos = some cups)
  • umas is used with feminine plural nouns (umas cidades = some cities


  • o is used with masculine singular  nouns (o livro = the book)
  • os is used with masculine plural nouns (os livros = the books
  • a is used with feminine singular nouns (a caneta = the pen)
  • as is used with feminine plural nouns (as canetas = the pens).

NOTE: there is no change with articles in front of a noun beginning with a vowel

  • o amigo = the (male) friend; uma amiga = a female friend

For more on nouns and how to use articles in Portuguese, go here.




  • un is used with masculine singular nouns (un camino = a path)
  • una is used with feminine singular nouns (una ciudad = a city)
  • unos is used with masculine plural nouns (unos caminos = some paths)
  • unas is used with feminine plural nouns (unas ciudades = some cities)


  • el is used with masculine singular nouns (el camino = the path)
  • la is used with feminine singular nouns (la ciudad = the city)
  • los is used with masculine plural nouns (los caminos = the paths)
  • las is used with feminine plural nouns (las ciudades = the cities)

NOTE: Feminine nouns that start with ha or a stressed a take the masculine article in the singular but the feminine in the plural:

  • un arma, el arma, las armas (an arm, the arm/arms, in a military sense)
  • un hacha, el hacha, las hachas (an axe, the axe/axes)

For more on nouns and how to use articles in Spanish, go here.




  • un is used with most masculine nouns (un ragazzo = a boy)
  • uno goes with masculine nouns starting with z or s+consonant (uno zio = an uncle, uno sbaglio = a mistake)
  • una goes with feminine nouns starting with a consonant (una ragazza = a girl)
  • un’ goes with feminine nouns starting with a vowel (un’automobile = a car)


  • il is used with most masculine nouns (il ragazzo = the boy)
  • lo is used with masculine nouns beginning with or s+consonant (lo zio = the uncle, lo sbaglio = the mistake)
  • la is used with feminine nouns (la ragazza = the girl)
  • l’ is used instead of lo or la in front of vowels (l’animale = the animal)


  • i goes with most masculine nouns starting with consonants (i ragazzi = the boys)
  • gli is used before any masculine nouns beginning with a vowel, z or  s+consonant (gli amici = the friends, gli zii = the uncles, gli studenti = the students).
  • le is used with feminine nouns, even if they begin with a vowel (le amiche = the female friends, le madri = the mothers).

For more on nouns and how to use articles in Italian, go here and here.



Romanian has masculine, feminine and neuter nouns. Neuter nouns behave like masculine nouns in the singular, but feminine nouns in the plural. The formation of plurals in Romanian is not as simple as in the other Romance languages, there are a number of options depending on whether the noun ends in particular vowels or consonants. Spelling and phonetic changes can occur.


  • un is used with masculine singular nouns (un băiat = a boy)
  • un is used with neuter singular nouns (un timbru = a postage stamp)
  • o is used with feminine singular nouns (o casă = a house)
  • nişte is used with plurals (nişte băieţi = some friends, nişte case = some houses)


The definite article is a suffix (attached to the end of the noun), and again the suffixes can vary depending on what vowels or consonants the noun ends in. And because it is a suffix, the plural forms of nouns taking a definite article will be different to the plural forms used with the indefinite nişte above. Here are some typical examples.

Masculine nouns: the singular suffix is typically –l, –ul or –le, and in the plural it’s i

  • băiat (boy), băiatul (the boy), băieţii (the boys)
  • membru (member), membrul (the member), membrii (the members)
  • unchi (uncle), unchiul (the uncle), unchii (the uncles)
  • munte (mountain), muntele (the mountain), munţii

Feminine nouns: the singular suffix is –a or –ua and in the plural it’s –le

  • fată (girl), fata (the girl), fetele (the girls)
  • blană (fur), blana (the fur), blănurile (the furs)
  • cafea (coffee), cafeaua (the coffee), cafelele (the coffees)

Neuter nouns: the singular suffix is typically –l, –ul or –le, and in the plural it’s always –le.

  • ou (egg), oul (the egg), ouăle (the eggs)
  • vin (wine), vinul (the wine), vinurile (the wines)
  •  tricou (T-Shirt), tricoul (the T-shirt), tricourile (the T-shirts)

For more on nouns and how to use articles in Romanian, go here and here.

Capital Inicial, playing with feeling

Bernardo pretends to be a civilised chap, but it’s all fake and when no one is looking he likes to turn up the volume, get out the air guitar and do a bit of headbanging. This week he has been headbanging in Brazilian Portuguese. At a Rock in Rio concert. Playing the both the throbbing bass lines and the crunchy guitars in the track Como Se Sente? by Capital Inicial. Got your air guitars ready? Good. Take it away….

The song title means How do you feel? The letras (lyrics) are here. To be honest, I find them a bit cryptic – short clauses or phrases thrown together, as much for their sounds as for their meaning. I won’t try to translate it all but will pick at bits of it…

First verse

Como se sente
De volta ao começo
As falhas, os erros
Tudo tem preço

How do you feel?
Returning to the beginning
The flaws, the errors
Everything has a price


Como se sente
Voltando atrás
Aprenda a lição
Nunca diga nunca mais

How do you feel?
Going backwards (or Climbing down)
Learn the lesson
Never say never

An interesting verse

Sempre presente
O medo de falar
Na frente de todos
O que ninguém quer escutar

Always present
Is the fear of saying
In front of everyone
What no one wants to hear

Related useful vocabulary 1

Apart from “how“, como can also mean “as” or interjections along the lines of what! or why! And como se means “as if” or “as though“. Some examples:

  • Como vai? – how are you?
  • Como segue – as follows,
  • Falando como amigo – speaking as a friend,
  • Diligente como uma abelha – as busy as a bee
  • Como assim? – how so?/why so?
  • Como disse? – what are you saying?/I beg your pardon!
  • Como você está! – What a sight you are!
  • Parece como se – it looks as if

Related useful vocabulary 2

Sentir is a useful verb meaning to feel in a variety of ways (such as to perceive, to have a presentiment, to be moved or affected, to resent, regret, be concerned, be sorry, etc). Note the following:

  • Eu sinto ter que dizer – I am sorry to say
  • Sentir falta de – to miss
  • Vou sentir muito a sua falta – I shall miss you very much
  • Sentir fome – to be hungry
  • Sentir inclinação para – to feel inclined to

But, as in the song title, most of the common “feeling” expressions are used with the reflexive sentir-se. Here are some examples.

  • Sentir-se bem – to feel well
  • Não me sinto bem – I don’t feel well
  • Sentir-se chocado – to be shocked
  • Sentir-se doente – to feel ill
  • Sentir-se feliz – to feel happy
  • Sentir-se só – to feel lonely
  • Sentir-se à vontade com alguém – to feel comfortable with someone
  • Sentir-se à altura de – to feel up to

The related noun is um sentimento – a feeling, sensibility, emotion, sense, perception, sorrow, regretfulness, passion, hunch etc

Capital Inicial have been around for decades and are a big name in Brazilian pop/rock. I have a couple of compilation CDs of theirs. To end this post, here is the popular À Sua Maneira (Your Way/In Your Manner), taken from their 2002 album Rosas e Vinho Tinto (Roses and Red Wine). It’s a fine song.


Get a grip on masculine and feminine forms in Portuguese

The words homens (men) and mulheres (women) are useful to know if there are no other clues on toilet doors. This sign says men have sex (trasar normally means to scheme or plan but it can mean to have sexual intercourse) when they can and marry when they want. Whereas women have intercourse when they want and marry when they can.

The words homens (men) and mulheres (women) are useful to know if there are no other clues on toilet doors. But these are not toilet door signs!  This illustration says men have sex when they can, and marry when they want. Whereas women  are the opposite. Yeah, yeah, whatever. “Transar” means to plot, scheme, plan or prepare, but in Brazilian slang it is to have sexual intercourse. “Poder” is to be able, “querer” is to want, and “casar” is to marry. I used this diagram because I thought it would raise a few sobrancelhas (eyebrows). You’ll soon learn all parts of the anatomy with Bernardo!

Queremos falar português, nao é? Claro! (We want to speak Portuguese, don’t we? Of course!) So far we have covered nouns, definite articles and indefinite articles in French and Italian (see the “related articles” below), now it’s the turn of Portuguese. It is relatively simple, in my opinion – é simples (which is pronounced “eh sim-plesh”). And if it all seems a bit baffling at first in print then the YouTube tutorials that at the bottom of this post will make things seem facil (easy).

Like French and Italian, in Portuguese nouns are either masculine or feminine, and the adjectives and articles that qualify them have to match their number and gender. When you are learning words In Portuguese it is helpful to include the definite or indefinite article in the learning process to make it easier to remember if a word is masculine or feminine.

The definite article

“The” in Portuguese is either o (pronounced as oo rather than owe) before a masculine singular noun, or a in front of a feminine singular noun. In the plural, you just add an s.

  • o livro = the book
  • os livros = the books
  • a caneta = the pen
  • as canetas = the pens

Incidentally, the os and as are pronounced like oosh and ash, which is why Portuguese – particularly the European variety – can be very much a “whoosh whash whoosh”-sounding language, particularly when spoken fast.

The indefinite article

“A” or “an” is um in front of a masculine noun (singular, obviously), or uma in front of a feminine noun.

  • um copo = a cup, glass or tumbler
  • uma cidade = a city

Unlike in some of the other Romances languages, there is no problem with the vowels of the articles appearing in front of a noun beginning with a vowel

  • o amigo = the (male) friend
  • a amiga = the (female) friend
  • uma amiga = a (female) friend

Unilke in English, in Portuguese there is a plural form of the indefinite article, meaning “some”:

  • uns copos = some cups, glass or tumbler
  • umas cidades = some cities

So far, so good, hey? Nothing too complicated. Yet. Vamos continuar

Peeping tomHow do you recognise whether words are masculine or feminine?

As in other Romance languages, nouns denoting male beings are masculine. Hence o homen = the man, o senhor = the gentleman, o filho = the son, o irmão = the brother, o tio = the uncle, o pai = the father.

Those denoting female beings are feminine. Hence a mulher = the woman, a senhora = the lady, a filha = the daughter, a irmã = the sister, a tia = the aunt, a mãe = the mother.

The masculine plural form can cover both male and females. For example, os pais can mean the fathers or the parents, and filhos can mean sons or children. This is typical of Romance languages.

Male words have female equivalents where appropriate, just as English has “actor” and “actress”. For example, o gata is the male cat and a gata is the female cat,  o velho is the old man and a velha is the old woman.

Here are some patterns based on word endings.

Nouns ending in o are usually masculine

  • o rio = the river
  • o ano = the year
  • o vinho = the wine
  • BUT  a foto = the photo, a tribo = the tribe

Nouns ending in me are usually masculine

  • um nome = a name
  • o volume = the volume, tome
  • BUT  a fome = hunger

Nouns ending in a tend to be feminine

  • a casa = the house
  • a hora = the hour
  • a data = the date

However, there are quite a few exceptions to the ‘a ending is feminine’ rule. For example, all the words that come from Greek ending in ma such as o telegrama and o drama; and words ending in a that denote male beings such as o papa, the pope, and o guia, the male guide (or a guidebook).

Other common exceptions are

  • o dia = day
  • o mapa = map
  • o planeta = planet
  • o cometa = comet

Nouns ending in gem, ie, tude, and dade are feminine

  • a viagem = journey
  • a espécie = sort, kind
  • a juventude = youth
  • a universidade = university

Nouns ending in ção, são, stão, and gião when they correspond to the English endings –tion, –sion, –stion, and –gion respectively are feminine… (the ão is a very nasal sound .. a bit like the “own” part of “frown”.)

  • a nacão = nation
  • a confusão = confusion
  • a congestão = congestion
  • a região = region

How to form the plurals

When the singular word ends in a vowel you normally add an s; hence livro becomes livros (books)

But when the word ends in r or z you add es; hence rapaz becomes rapazes (boys) and mulher becomes mulheres.

When a singular word ends in m that changes to ns in the plural; hence homen becomes homens (men), viagem become viagens journeys etc. (It’s a very nasal sound again).

When a singular words ends in al, el, ol or ul, the l is usually dropped and becomes is instead: o hospital, os hospitais (hospitals), o hotel, os hotéis (hotels), o lençol, os lençóis (sheets). But note, the Brazilian currency is o real in the singular but os réis in the plural. 

On my wish list of places to visit:  Lençóis Maranhenses national park in the north-eastern state of Maranhão in Brazil. It gets its name from the fact that the dunes look like  lençóis (sheets)

On my wish list of places to visit: the Lençóis Maranhenses national park in the north-eastern state of Maranhão in Brazil. It gets its name from the fact that the dunes look like lençóis (sheets).

If a singular word ends in s, the plural depends on whether the last syllable is stressed or not (the accents on words in Portuguese indicate which syllable is stressed; if there is not accent then normally it is the penultimate syllable). If the stress is on the final syllable then the s gets an es added after it; hence o país (the country) becomes os países (the countries). But if the stress is not on the final syllable then the word does not change; hence o lápis (the pencil ) and os lápis (pencils)

When a singular word ends in ão then normally this changes to ões in the plural; hence a estação (the station) becomes as estações, and again the nasal sound is very strong (like the ending of “groins” in English). But sometimes the ão becomes ães  for example, o cão, os cães (the dog/dogs). And just to complicate things even more, some ão words just add an s in the plural. For example,  o irmão becomes simply os irmãos (brothers) and a mão becomes as mãos (hands).

The gender of countries in the Portuguese lang...

The gender of countries in the Portuguese language: countries with masculine names are green, those with feminine names are purple and those with neutral names are yellow. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Finally, the names of months, seas, rivers and mountains are usually masculine, and the names of cities, towns, islands and continents are usually feminine. But Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are not. I guess they are masculine because the word rio (river) is masculine as per the o rule above, and because Saint Paul was masculine. The female equivalent of São is Santa, as in Santa Catarina. The adjective santo/santa means “holy”. Countries can be either masculine or feminine, but there are a few that are neuter, including Portugal itself.

So, how are you coping so far? Here are some tutorials on YouTube that will help, particularly with pronunciation, and there is a mix of Brazilian and European Portuguese. Boa sorte! (Good luck)

Let’s chat up the Portuguese, Brazilians and Angolans et al

English: Paraty from the bay (Brazil).

The old colonial town of Paraty, Brazil. (Photo: Wikipedia)

You’re in a country where the locals speak Portuguese …. it could be Brazil, it could be Angola or Mozambique, Cape Verde perhaps, or you could even be in Portugal itself. Because of Portugal’s maritime history, there is a good chance you are on a beach and eating fish and prawns (peixe e camarões). You could be in any number of exotic locations. Lucky you! In Brazil you might be atop Sugar Loaf mountain gazing down in awe at the city of Rio de Janeiro, or stepping back in time in one of its gorgeous colonial towns, such as Paraty, Olinda or Ouro Preto.

Kalandula waterfalls, Lucala river, Malange, A...

The Kalandula waterfalls in Angola (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Angola you could be gawking at the Kalandula waterfalls or the colourful Valley of the Moon. Some of the Portuguese people I know in Australia and the United States say Angola was the best country they had ever lived in. But I think they are harking back to the colonial days.

Over to the east coast of Africa,  Mozambique has many wonderful “undiscovered” beaches (it’s going to be the French Riviera of the 21st century,” one fan of the country tells me).  Or maybe you are in a beachside bar somewhere in the Cape Verde islands, drinking a beer (uma cerveja) and listening to a song by the local superstar Cesária Évora (we’ll dig one out on YouTube and put it at the end of this post.) Alas, she died in 2011 at the age of 70. She did come out to Australia on tour a few years ago: I wish I had gone to the concert. I particularly like her album from 2006, Rogamar. It was my introduction to her music.

English: Pena National Palace

The Pena palace in Sintra, Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you were in Portugal, perhaps you would be up in the ramparts of the colourful Pena palace in Sintra, gazing out at the coastline extending far below, or having a pastel de nata, one of those delicious Portuguese custard tarts, in the Belém precinct, where so many tourist attractions related to Portugal’s golden age of discoveries (os descobrimentos) are clumped together.

There, I have written enough to justify putting in a whole series of pretty pictures!

Now, you want to get talking. To greet someone in Portuguese you would say bom dia (literally good day, but also good morning), and if you were a stickler for timing after midday you could say boa tarde (good afternoon). Bom is the masculine form and boa is the feminine. Good evening or goodnight is boa noite, while uma noite em festa is a night out. The people in these parts of the world like to have festas – feasts, parties, celebrations.

Less formally, if you wanted to say hi it would be oi or olá or alô (the accents indicate where the stress falls). A casual how are you? is tudo bem? or como vai? (more literally, all well? and how is it going?). To be more formal, you might say como está, o senhor? to a man or como está, a senhora? to a woman.

The answer to this should be bem, obrigado if you are a man, and bem, obrigada, if you are a woman, meaning well, thanks. On related notes, bem, bem! means well, well! while meu bem! means my darling, honey or sweetheart (it’s probably a bit old-fashioned).

After you have told someone how well you are, you should ask them back, so say e você? meaning and you? Or more politely, e o senhor? or e a senhora? (e means and, not to be confused with é, which is is).

Splendid! Now you are getting on like a house on fire (dar-se bem com means to get along with).

Incidentally, a morning in Portuguese is uma manhã, while o amanhã means the future as a noun, or tomorrow as an adverb, so tomorrow morning becomes the very poetic amanhã de manhã. However, don’t confuse that with a manha (without an accent) which means cunning or an act (fake). Fazer manha is to put on an act.

This leads us to a woman who was a class act, the aforementioned Cesária Évora. Because of her recent death, it seemed appropriate to choose this, one of her more sombre songs, the opening track of the Rogamar album. It’s called Sombras di distino (Shadows of destiny). I will paste the lyrics underneath. I found them translated at this website. It’s a beautifully mournful song, don’t you think?

Sombras di Destino                  Shadows of Destiny

Parti pa terra longe                  To leave for a distant land
Foi sempre nha ilusão             was always my illusion
E ali ja’m esta                          And here I am finally
Di sorriso falso                        With a forced smile,
Margurado e triste                    Bitter and sad
Ta vaga di mar em mar           I will wander from sea to sea
Ta corrê di vento em vento      I will travel from wind to wind
Em busca di um futuro            Searching for a future
Entre sombras di distino          Amidst the shadows of the destiny

Nha vida ê zig-zagant’               My life is an endless toing and froing
Sina di um fidjo caboverdiano    It’s the fate of a Cape-verdian son
Num paz inconstante                 To live an unconstant peace
Cma distino di um cigano           Like the fate of a gypsy
M’ta vivê tormentado                   I will live with torments
Num mundo cheio di maldade   In a world filled with evil
Nha sorte ê dori e magoado     My destiny is so hurt and sorrowful
Na um silencio di sodade        Into a silence of longing

* Note: some of the Portuguese above seems to be the local creole version.

Spying on the haves and have nots in Portugal and Spain

Tamariz beach - Estoril

Tamariz beach – Estoril (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hola! Ola! That’s the Spanish and Portuguese respectively for hello.Today we are going to look at the various verbs meaning “to have” in both those languages. One thing I wouldn’t mind having is the mansion at the end of this beach in Estoril, one of the plusher suburbs on the outskirts of Lisbon, on the estuary of the River Tagus – or Tejo, to give it its proper name in Portuguese. There is a casino at Estoril, and one of its many famous guests was Ian Fleming during the second world war. Apparently there were lots of spies about, and that’s where he got the inspiration for his James Bond character and the novel Casino Royale. I’m sure if you were to visit Estoril you too would find something inspirational too. (There, I have written something to justify the use of this picture.)

Right, this post is the follow-up to the one looking at the verb “to have” in the other three of my five Romance languages (luckily I stopped at five, methinks). Unlike French, Italian and Romanian, both Spanish and Portuguese have two verbs meaning “to have”, just as they have two “to bes”. The Iberians like to have two of everything!

Let’s look at how they are conjugated in the present tense, starting with ter in Portuguese and tener in Spanish. Again, I will put the singular persons on the top line and the plurals underneath; in the third person the masculine form will precede the feminine.

Language:          first person         second person                   third person

Portuguese         eu tenho            tu tens, você tem               ele tem, ela tem

Portuguese        nós temos              vocês têm                     eles têm, elas têm

Among the useful things you can say with this verb are: tenho fome (literally, I have hunger which would be translated as I am hungry), tenho sede (I am thirsty), tenho frio (I am cold); tenho sono (I am sleepy), tenho um sonho (I have a dream), tenho vinte anos (I am 20 years old – which is a blatant lie coming from me), tenho dinheiro (I have money). In Portuguese to make the negative you put não before the verb: (eu) não tenho dinheiro, meaning I don’t have any money.

If you walk into a shop, once you have greeted the shopkeeper – it always helps to be polite – you could say in an inquisitive tone “tem…..”  it is like asking “do you have…” For example, Tem arroz? Do you have rice? Or if you really wanted a mansion like the one in the picture you could go into a real estate agent and say “Tem castelos?” (“Have you got any castles?“)

Tenho followed by de and an infinitive means I have to do something. For example, tenho de partir agora, I have to go now.

Note how, unlike in English or French, in Portuguese you don’t have to use the subject pronoun if it is clear from the verb ending which person is doing the action. For example, the eu in eu tenho razão (I am right) can be dropped and tenho razão will suffice. But if you used the third person version tem razão it could mean he is right or she is right, so it would be better to be specific and say ele tem razão if he is right, or ela tem razão if she is right.

And if it is an argument between a man and a woman, just remember the woman is always right!

Ok, let’s cross the border into Spain….

Language:     first person             second person                   third person

Spanish           yo tengo              tú tienes, usted tiene             él tiene, ella tiene

Spanish    nosotros/as tenemos      vosotros/as tenéis       ellos/ellas/ustedes tienen

The uses in Spanish are similar: tengo sed (i am thirsty), no tengo suficiente dinero (I don’t have enough money). The negative ‘no’ or ‘not’ in Spanish is no – that should be easy to remember.

Portuguese also has the verb haver (the present tense verb endings are: hei, hás, há, havemos, hão) and Spanish has haber (he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han).

Here on YouTube is a pretty good explanation from the guys at of its use and its pronunciation in Spanish.

And for Portuguese lessons with a dash of eccentricity and a view of Lisbon thrown in, you have to go to woltersworld on YouTube. It sounds like he has learned his Portuguese in Brazil. Here it is.

Hope to spy you on the beach at Estoril one day.

Cheers, Bernardo 🙂

Being Italian … is your ego under control?

Italian Slushies

Italian Slushies (Photo credit: razvan.orendovici)

I have some fond memories of Italians in their native land, even though I don’t know much about them, apart from what one sees in the media and on film and so on. It has been a long time since I was in Italy. When I was nine my father took us on a great holiday, cruising on an Italian vessel, “M/V Africa”, from Beira in Mozambique round the Horn of Africa and up into the Mediterranean until we disembarked in Trieste. The ship, being part of the Lloyd Triestino Line ( was manned mostly by Italians and while on the journey I had my first crush as a child on one of the crew! But alas my feelings were not returned, haha. I was spurned for another twice or three times my age, can you believe it! 🙂

The only other time I was in Italy after that was another family holiday and this time I was in my mid-teens. On our last day, we had checked out of our hotel and were getting into a taxi when the hotel manager came running towards us. “Quick, quick, get in, hurry” my dad said, trying to bundle us into the cab and urging the driver to speed off for the airport. “He probably wants more money. Pretend not to notice him.” But it was too late. The manager caught up with us. “Your passports,” he said, waving them in the air. “You forgot your passports!” The moral of the story, I think, is to trust an Italian, and never trust my father :).

We have large Italian communities in Australia and it is always nice to go to the Italian districts for a coffee or gelato and to sample the atmosphere. If you are being a typical Italian male in Sydney then most probably you will drive down Norton Street in your souped up Alfa Romeo with a Tiziano Ferro song blazing at full blast on your sound system. As you drive along you will check out all the talent walking down the street and cast admiring glances at your own and your car’s reflection in the shop windows. 🙂 I was flicking through Lonely Planet’s Italian phrase book and it had a section on pick-up lines – Ti posso portare a fari un giro (in moto)Can I take you for a ride (on my bike) – and how to reject unwanted advances, my favourite one being Il tuo ego è fuori controlloYour ego is out of control.

So, down to business. The bad news is that Italian also has two “to be” verbs, essere and stare. According to the above mentioned phrase book, the former is generally used to describe ongoing characteristics (like ser in Spanish and Portuguese) and the latter describes temporary states or locations (like estar in Spanish and Portuguese). Here is how they are conjugated

Subject pronoun      essere / stare          English translation

io                                   sono / sto               I am

tu                                   sei / stai                   you are (informal)

Lei  (capitalised)            è / sta                     you are (formal)

lui / lei                             è / sta                     he / she / it is

noi                               siamo / stiamo          we are

voi                                siete / state               you are (plural)

loro                               sono / stanno            they are

See the posting from December 21, 2012 (Hey you! Which ‘you’ should you use?) and the replies for explanations on when to use tu and Lei. It is pretty much the same as in French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Now for some music. Who is Tiziano Ferro, you may ask? He is an Italian singer who has also sung in French, Spanish, Portuguese and English, so if you are interested in Romance languages you should investigate him (not sure about his Romanian repertoire, though). I first heard of him when I spotted his song Alucinado on MTV in Argentina, taken from the Spanish version of his debut album Rojo Relativo (the Italian version is Rosso Relativo, and the equivalent song title on it is Imbranato.) According to my dictionaries, alucinar is an intransitive Spanish verb meaning to hallucinate, but when used in the transitive it can mean to deceive or to fascinate. But imbranato in Italian is an adjective meaning clumsy or awkward, or as a noun a clumsy person. Rojo / rosso means red and I think the album title must be a play on “red hot” (rojovivo in Spanish), so I guess it means the more modest and self-effacing “relatively hot”. But I could be wrong. Anyway, here are the links to the songs in Italian, Spanish and French, and it is the chorus that is the making of the song, really, in my opinion.

Which do you prefer, the Italian, Spanish or French version …. is one language more musical than the other?

Here you will find the Italian lyrics with the English, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian translations (among others) alongside:

In researching this I have just found out Tiziano recently revealed he is gay so maybe those macho Italian boys won’t be playing his music so loudly while cruising down Norton Street after all.


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?