Like any other language, there are rules for learning Portuguese grammar. Avoiding these grammar rules would slow down your language learning process and result in tons of grammatical errors on your part. Once you have a good grasp of the Portuguese alphabet and Portuguese pronunciation, you should strive to learn the underlying structure of the language, the grammar. Grammar features the syntax and morphology of a language; no language is functional without a structure. Below are some functions of grammar in language:
- It determines how to conjugate a verb. Verb conjugation, on the other hand, determines subject-verb agreement based on tense (period).
- Grammar determines how words are formed and syntactic arrangement in sentences.
- Grammar determines inflexion. While nouns, pronouns, articles, and adjectives are moderately inflected, verbs, however, are highly inflected.
- It determines the tense (present, past, and future); plurality and gender; moods (imperative, subjunctive, and indicative); aspects (progressive, imperfective, and perfective); and voice (passive, active, and reflexive).
- It determines whether a sentence structure requires an accusative, dative, or nominative case.
Without a proper understanding of grammar, speakers would have poor mutual intelligibility and communication. Furthermore, without grammar, you cannot achieve fluency in any of the four language skills namely reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Before diving headfirst into Portuguese grammar as a beginner, know that there are numerous aspects and rules you need to learn. To prevent confusion and frustration, begin with the Portuguese grammar basics then progress to more complex grammatical areas of the language.
How to Learn Grammar
In your language learning journey, it’s advisable to follow the approach below:
Determine which Grammar Aspects Interest You the Most
Portuguese, like the English language, has the SVO (subject, verb, and object) structure even though there are rare expressions with the SOV structure. Starting with grammar aspects that interest you will make learning somewhat interesting. Talking about interests, do you want to start with Portuguese tenses (present, past, and future), concord, and verb conjugation? Or you would prefer beginning with mood, modality, and tenses? Go for whichever piques your interest.
Another area you have to decide on is the language variant to learn. Before choosing the aspects of grammar you like, you must have chosen to learn either Brazilian Portuguese or European Portuguese. While most aspects of the two language variants are synonymous, there are distinctions in pronunciation, spellings, and rhythm. While European Portuguese has a stress-timed rhythm like the English language, Brazilian Portuguese is syllable-timed. Thus, picking your preferred Portuguese version will determine the grammar rules to be learned. This is because both versions have different morphological and syntactic rules.
As stated earlier, beginning with the Portuguese basics such as mastering the alphabet and practising pronunciations would simplify grammar learning.
Try to Master the Portuguese Alphabet
In every standardized language, letters form words, words form phrases, clauses, and sentences, then a couple of sentences make up a paragraph, and several paragraphs make up a text. This progressive language hierarchy shows that before you can learn morphology and syntax (grammar), you must know the foundation, the alphabet. Here are reasons you should begin with the alphabet:
- It’s the foundation upon which more complex aspects of language are built.
- Mastering the alphabet will enable you to read and write Portuguese words better.
- Knowing letters will enable you to know wrong morphological and syntactic structures.
Here is an article on the Portuguese alphabet.
Learn the Portuguese Verbs (Tenses and Moods) and Pronouns
If you want an easy Portuguese learning experience, you must master Portuguese verbs because they’re the nucleus of the language. The sentence structure of the language is (S)V(O) or (S)V(OC) (subject, verb, object, and complement). The only obligatory element in a Portuguese sentence structure is the verb. Even though the verb is the only obligatory element, most complete sentences are formed with the “subject + verb” combination. Either a noun or pronoun takes the subject position. Thus, a good understanding of pronouns is important. Below are some basic pronouns:
- eu – means “Me” or “I”
- você – means “You” in Africa and Portugal.
- tu – means “You” in Brazil.
- o senhora – means “You Madam”
- o senhor – means “You Sir”
- ela – means “She or Her”
- ele – means “He or Him”
- nós – “Us or We”
- eles / elas – “They or Them”
When learning Portuguese verbs, you should know that verbs have tenses and moods/modes. Below are the types of moods:
- Imperative mood – triggers action by giving orders and commands e.g. Get out! Be still!
- Indicative mood – it indicates actions which occurred in the past, present or future e.g. I left (past tense) early.
- Conditional mood – this shows probability or likelihood based on a condition e.g. “should”, “would”, “if”.
- Subjunctive mood – it expresses a surreal action that would either happen or not.
The types of indicative moods include the following:
- Present tense – Eu vejo (I see).
- Past perfect tense – Eu vi (I’ve seen).
- Present continuous tense – Eu estou a ver (I am seeing).
- Past imperfect tense – Ele via (He used to see).
- Compound past perfect tense – Nós tenho visto (We have seen).
- Near future tense – Eu vou ver – (I am going to see).
- Far future tense – Eu verei – (I’ll see).
- Compound past imperfect tense – Nós tenho visto (I’d seen).
The imperative mood has two states but no tense. They are:
- Negative state – Não vá (Do not go)
- Positive state – Vá (Go)
Note that in Portuguese, you don’t need to add “por vor” – “please” to commands.
Subjunctive mood indicates actions that would either occur or not. The tenses used include past imperfect tense, future tense, compound tense, and present tense.
Pay Attention to Gender
If you’re an English speaker, you’re aware that the masculine and feminine genders are assigned to animate elements while inanimate entities are assigned the neuter gender. In Portuguese however, all nouns are assigned their respective genders. Thus, there are only two genders in the language and while this number applies to its sister languages (Spanish, Italian, and French), they all differ in gender placement.
There are rules to gender and number placement of nouns as they can be deduced from their ending. For instance: words ending with – -o and -os – are masculine singular and masculine plural while words ending with – -a and -as – are feminine singular and plural respectively.
Learn New Words
In addition to learning the alphabet, verbs, and gender, you need to learn new words. Start with the most common words of the language, then proceed to read books especially novels. By reading novels, you’ll learn new words quickly and also how to apply them contextually. All you need do is pen down every new word and look it up in the Portuguese dictionary.
Besides novels, the dictionary is another powerful tool for improving your vocabulary. Apart from its ability to explain words, the mobile version has phonemic word transcriptions in visual and audio formats. Also, you can modify it to generate new random words daily. This way, you’ll learn a specific number of words every single day. Learning five new words daily for one year would amount to 1,825 words at the end of the year.
Practise and Patience
Whether you’re at the beginner, intermediate, or pro level, constant practise will help improve your proficiency. If you begin with the basics, you will discover that learning the language isn’t as hard as it seems. Note that there will be good and bad days; days where your efforts aren’t yielding results. While it may seem like you’re not smart enough, recall that Portuguese degree holders learn the language for four years to attain native competence and professionalism. This is proof that you won’t attain fluency in a day, week, or month. So, give it some time.
Thanks to technology, you don’t need to carry a heavy language or translation dictionary wherever you go. All you need do is download an online app designed for Portuguese language learning. It’s advisable to read reviews and research these apps before using them or recommending them to others. While some apps are perfect for translation, others are effective for learning grammar, audio and video tuition, and editing. Here are some language apps and their functions:
- Google Translate is good for translation.
- WordReference functions as a language editing app.
- Duolingo is designed for beginner and intermediate language learners.
Superprof: Your Ticket to Exceptional Tuition
Another way to improve your fluency and develop your grammar knowledge is to employ the service of a professional language tutor on Superprof. On the online platform, there are numerous native speaking tutors eager to provide tuition in either European Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese.
Coupled with motivation, your tutor would give you oral and written tests to assess your language competence level. Based on the assessment, they would decide on which grammatical areas would come first and last. Superprof’s tutors offer online, face-to-face, and group tutoring. 95% of the tutors on the platform offer their Check out Superprof’s array of professional linguists to find your match.