Clitic Pronouns – The Position of Clitics

Clitic Pronouns – The Position of Clitics

In this lesson, we’ll have a look at all the clitic (object) pronouns in Portuguese*:

Subject pronoun Direct object pronoun Indirect object pronoun
Eu (Me) me
Tu (You) te
Ele/Você (You, male) o (lo, no) lhe
Ela/Você (You, female) a (la, na)
Nós (Us) nos
Vocês (You) vos
Eles (They) os (los, nos) lhes
Elas (They) as (las, nas)

 *Not including reflexive pronouns, which we’ll deal with separately later on.
But before we can study them, we must learn about where they can be placed regarding the verb.
There are three positions these clitic pronouns can appear in:
Before the verb – Proclitic
In the middle of the verb – Mesoclitic
After the verb – Enclitic
For each example that we’ll use, we will show you the version of the sentence without the clitic. We do it so you can better understand the logic, but remember that you shouldn’t use that second construction, or you will sound like Tarzan.

Proclitic Pronouns

Proclitic pronouns are placed before the verb. Examples:
Se me derem os livros, eu digitalizo-os. If they give me the books, I’ll scan them.

Origin: Se derem os livros “a mim”, eu digitalizo-os. (indirect)

Não vos parece um dia lindo? Doesn’t it look like a beautiful day to you pl.?

Origin: Não parece um dia lindo “a vocês”? (indirect)

Mesoclitic Pronouns

Mesoclitic pronouns are placed in the middle of the verb. We know, this sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Examples:
Entregar-lhe-ei o ensaio amanhã. I will hand him my essay tomorrow.

Origin: Eu entregarei “a ele” o ensaio amanhã. (indirect)

Eu ter-lhe-ia ligado se tivesse bateria no telemóvel. I would have called her if I my phone were charged.

Origin: Eu teria ligado “a ele” se tivesse bateria no telemóvel. (indirect)

The mesoclitic forms are only used with two verb tenses – the future indicative (the first example) and the conditional (the second example) -, with the pronoun placed between the radical of the verb and the ending of the verb. Or, to put it simply: mesoclitic pronouns are always placed between two hyphens!

Enclitic Pronouns

Enclitic pronouns are placed after the verb. Examples:
A Joana disse-me isso ontem. Joana told me that yesterday.

Origin: A Joana disse isso “a mim” ontem. (direct)

Dá-lhe uma caneta, por favor. Give her a pen, please.

Origin: Dá uma caneta “a ela”, por favor. (indirect)

Like mesoclitics, they too are separated from the verb by a hyphen, though in this case it is only the one.

General Rule

Now, if you read grammar books, they will tell you that, as a rule, object pronouns in Portuguese are usually placed enclitically. And then every book will follow this statement with a long list of exceptions, which undermine the rule. We think that it’s much easier to remember this: in Portuguese, pronouns are almost always placed proclitically, except in the two mesoclitic exceptions we mentioned above, and in simple affirmative statements, where they’re always placed enclitically. Here are 2 more examples:
Eu vi-a ontem no café. I saw her yesterday at the café.
Eles pagaram-me o jantar. They paid for my dinner.

2 Responses to Clitic Pronouns – The Position of Clitics

  1. Hi,
    All very helpful.
    A wee comment, in the last translation example “they paid for me dinner” is perhaps used colloquially in some parts of the uk and elsewhere, however “my” would normally be considered the correct form.
    Keep up the excellent work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. Hi,
    All very helpful.
    A wee comment, in the last translation example “they paid for me dinner” is perhaps used colloquially in some parts of the uk and elsewhere, however “my” would normally be considered the correct form.
    Keep up the excellent work.

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.