Available in / Disponível em:
Back All Learning NotesLearning Notes

Basic Portuguese Grammar

This Learning Note was designed to serve as a very condensed overview of basic Portuguese grammar. We hope this will help give you a “big picture” view of the language before you dive into the details. You’ll notice there are many links throughout, in case you want to explore a particular topic, or bookmark it for later.
Members: Keep in mind that we’ll cover each aspect in more detail as you work through the series of 100+ units. 😊
While many of the same principles hold true across dialects, we’ll be focusing on 🇵🇹 European Portuguese. (If you’re interested in how it compares to Brazilian Portuguese, read more here!)

Table of Contents: GenderPluralsAgreementPronouns ⋅ VerbsFormalityPrepositionsConjunctionsNegationQuestionsClitic Pronouns ⋅ Word OrderDiminutives & Augmentatives


One of the first things you’ll notice in basic Portuguese grammar is that most words have a gender, meaning they are either masculine or feminine. Most masculine words end in o and most feminine words end in a, but there are exceptions.
Furthermore, sometimes the gender of the speaker will affect a word. For example, in the common phrase “thank you”:

The gender of the listener can also play a role. For example:


There are many rules for making words plural in Portuguese, which depend on how the end of the word is spelled. In many cases, you can simply add -s, but you will also see endings such as -es, -ens, -ões, -ães, and more. Here are a few examples:

Gender/Number Agreement

Now that we’ve discussed gender and plurals, we’ll tell you more about why these are important! In Portuguese, there are many words that are variable, i.e. they must be adjusted to match the gender and number of the person/people/thing(s) being discussed. Here are just a few examples:
Definite articles and indefinite articles agree with the noun in number and gender:

Adjectives agree with the noun being described in number and gender:

  • o carro novothe new car os carros novosthe new cars

Possessive determiners agree with the item that is possessed in number and gender :

  • É o seu carroIt's his car, It's her car, It's your car, It's their car
  • However, as you can see from the example above, this creates some ambiguity, so there is also another more common way to form possessives that agrees with the gender and number of the subject instead: É o carro delaIt's her car, It is the car of hers

Adverbs are invariable, so they stay the same regardless of the number or gender:

  • Vamos para a aula agoraWe're going to class now Ele não se sente bemHe doesn't feel well
  • Many English adverbs end in -ly, and the corresponding Portuguese adverbs often end in -mente, such as sinceramentesincerely

Personal Pronouns

The personal pronouns in Portuguese are:

Pronouns are optional, so they are often dropped from the sentence, especially when the context makes it clear who is being referred to. This is possible in Portuguese because the subject is encoded in the conjugated verb. For example: Eu sou portuguêsI am Portuguese(masc.) = Sou portuguêsI am Portuguese(masc.) .
*Você is sometimes perceived as too blunt/direct in Portugal. There are a number of alternatives that European Portuguese speakers use to avoid saying this word.
**Vós is still used in certain areas, but it’s much more common to use vocês, which is conjugated the same as the 3rd person plural.


Verb Endings

Portuguese verbs can end in -ar, -er, or -ir in their infinitive (base) form. For example: falarto speak, to talk comerto eat decidirto decide
Some also end in -or, but these are considered part of the -er group because they derive from -er verbs.
Verbs can be regular or irregular. With regular verbs, the conjugation follows a consistent pattern. There are “regular” patterns for -ar, -er, and -ir verbs, so as long as you know the stem of the verb, you’ll know how to conjugate it.
Irregular verbs do not follow the usual patterns, so they have to be memorized over time. Verbs can be irregular in the stem of the verb, the ending, in all tenses, or in just one tense.
There are also many other ways to categorize verbs, including by mood, tense, and voice. Members can practice most of these verb forms from the Verbs page, as well as throughout the Units. Check out the Verbs section of our Site Index to find specific tenses and verb-related topics.
Here are some notes to give you a quick overview of verb usage:


  • indicativoindicative – This mood is used to talk about facts and certainty. All the basic past, present, and future tenses belong to this mood, so you’ll use it a lot. The verb-related units included in our A1 and A2 levels all fall under the indicativo mood.
  • conjuntivosubjunctive – This mood is for hypotheticals, hopes, uncertainty, “if statements”, etc. It’s more advanced, but also very important for communicating fluently. We’ll cover the conjuntivo when you reach the B2 units.
  • imperativoimperative – Use this mood for commands / instructions. We’ll cover the imperative in A2.
  • condicionalconditional – You’ll often find the condicional with the conjuntivo, because it’s also related to hypotheticals (i.e. what would you do if…?). We’ll cover it in B1.
    • e.g. Eu falaria com ela antes de sair, se fosse a tiI'd talk to her before I left, if I were you




In Portuguese, when you want to say “you”, make a request, or give instructions, you have to think about whom you’re speaking to. There are many different ways to address someone, which correspond to different levels of formality.
Generally, you use the tuyou(sing.,inf.) form when speaking to one person in an informal context, such as talking to a child or a friend. You use different forms of vocêyou(sing.,formal) in formal contexts, or when you want to show a higher level of respect, such as talking to an older adult, a shopkeeper, or someone you don’t know well.
But as we mentioned earlier, the word você is often avoided in Portugal. The easiest and most common alternative is to just drop the pronoun all together, as in Gosta de café?Do you(sing.,formal) like coffee? instead of Você gosta de café? (You can explore other options at the link above.)
There is also a distinction between singular and plural “you”. When you’re talking to just one person, use one of the options just mentioned, but if you’re talking to a group, use vocêsyou(pl.) . Vocês is neither informal nor formal, so you can use it in both contexts. In particularly formal contexts, you may also use os senhoresyou(pl., masc.) , gentlemen or as senhorasyou(pl., fem.) , ladies .
When you use the imperative form (commands/requests), the verb endings also change depending on formality. For example:


Portuguese has fewer prepositions than English and there is not a one-to-one correspondence. For example, the preposition em usually means in, but it can also translate to about, on, or at, depending on the context.
There are also many situations in which a preposition appears in Portuguese where there is none in English, or vice versa. For example, to say “I like…” something, you must use the preposition de after the verb gostar: Eu gosto de caféI like coffee .
Here are a few more examples of translations that you might not expect as a beginner:

Thus, it’s best to learn prepositions in context, rather than memorizing a specific translation. Members can get started with one of the following units: Prepositions 1, Prepositions 2, Prepositions 3 and listen for prepositions throughout the Shorties dialogues.
It’s also important to note that many prepositions form contractions when they appear next to other words, such as definite articles. That’s why you’ll hear variations such as do, da, dos, das, instead of just de, for example. Prepositions are invariable words on their own, but the contractions they form should respect any applicable number/gender agreement rules.


Conjunctions are words that allow us to connect our thoughts together. For example, the words eand , masbut , and ouor represent different relationships between what comes before and after the conjunction. Here is the first conjunctions-related unit: Coordinating Conjunctions


The easiest way to make a statement negative is by adding the word nãono, not before the verb. For example, Eu gosto de caféI like coffee becomes Eu não gosto de caféI don't like coffee .
Double negatives are also acceptable in Portuguese. For example, Eu não comi nadaI did not eat anything is perfectly grammatical, even though the literal translation would be something like I did not eat nothing.


You’re in luck! You can often form a question in Portuguese just by adding a question mark onto the end of a statement. This applies to yes/no questions. For example:

When you answer a question in Portuguese, you typically want to include the verb, rather than just saying SimYes or NãoNo . For example, you could respond to the question above by saying:

Open-ended questions are more complicated, but in many cases the word order is quite similar to English. You can learn more about asking and answering questions in Portuguese here: Portuguese Questions.

Clitic Pronouns

Clitic pronouns are basically like mini words that can replace the direct and/or indirect object. You may have noticed them next to verbs here and there:
Dá-lhe uma caneta, por favorGive her a pen, please Ele levantou-se cedo hojeHe got up early today Posso ajudá-lo?Can I help you? (sing.,formal,masc.)
Clitics provide information about the gender and number of the direct object, indirect object, or, in the case of reflexive verbs, the person/thing doing the action. The rules can be confusing, but they are quite common, so at least being familiar with clitic pronouns is an important part of understanding basic Portuguese grammar.

Direct & Indirect Objects

Some verbs require an object, while others do not. For example, in English you can say “I laughed” by itself, but you don’t normally say just “I gave”. You include what you gave, which is the direct object. Saying just “I gave a gift” also doesn’t sound quite complete. You should also say who you gave a gift to. That’s the indirect object.
In Portuguese, the direct and indirect objects are known as complementos diretos e indiretos. In the example below, prenda (gift) is the direct object, and Joana is the indirect object.
Dei uma prenda à JoanaI gave a gift to Joana
In the example below, we’ve replaced the direct object (a prenda) with -a, a clitic pronoun:
A prenda? Dei-a ao Diogo.The gift? I gave it to Diogo.

Position of Clitics

The default position for a clitic pronoun is after the verb, as in Chamo-me JoelMy name is Joel , i.e. I call myself Joel.
There are many exceptions, though. For example, following the word não and in most open-ended questions, the clitic pronoun comes before the verb, as in: Não me lembroI don't remember and Como te chamas?What's your(sing.,inf.) name?

Word Order

Since we’re on the topic of word order, European Portuguese is generally SVO (subject, verb, object), just like English. However, as you learn more Portuguese, you will find that Portuguese word order is much more flexible compared to English and many other languages.

Direct Order

In SVO word order, a.k.a. direct order, first comes the subject, and then the predicate, which includes the verb and the object(s). This is the simplest and most neutral word order.

  • Eu escrevi uma cartaI wrote a letter Eu (subject) + escrevi (verb) + uma carta (object)

Inverse Order

Then, we have the inverse order, which includes the following combinations: OSV, OVS, VOS and VSO.
With open-ended questions we usually use OSV or OVS order.

  • Quem convidaste?Who did you invite?
  • O que disseste ao meu pai?What did you tell my father?
  • Quanto custa o pão?How much does the bread cost? Literal: How much costs the bread?
  • Estás aborrecida porquê?Why are you upset? Literal: You are upset why?

Inverse order is not just for questions, though. There are other reasons someone may decide to use inverse order, which depend heavily on context. Adjusting the word order may serve to emphasize a certain element of the sentence, for example. There are not always strict rules for this, so understanding Portuguese word order will come more easily with time and exposure to the language.

Other Word Order Guidelines

Here are a few other guidelines to note:

  • Determiners and quantifiers come before the noun
  • Subordinate relative phrases come after the noun
    • O cão que eu vi era muito grandeThe dog that I saw was very big
  • Adjectives typically follow nouns, as in o carro novothe new car
    • But, as usual, there are many exceptions. In fact, placing an adjective before the noun can change its meaning, from more literal to more subjective. For example:
      • Ele é um homem grandeHe is a large man vs. Ele é um grande homemHe is a great man
    • Unlike English, when you use multiple adjectives in Portuguese, they may appear in any order. For example, these are all correct: Comi comida portuguesa deliciosaI ate delicious Portuguese food Comi comida deliciosa portuguesaI ate delicious Portuguese food Ele contou uma longa e confusa históriaHe told a long, confusing story Ele contou uma história longa e confusaHe told a long, confusing story Ele contou uma história confusa e longaHe told a long, confusing story

Here are a few more valid examples with potentially confusing word order:

  • Está ali aquela rapariga de que gostoThe girl that I like is over there Literal: Is there that girl of which I like
  • A cidade tem também um antigo mosteiro, onde viveu, e faleceu, a princesa JoanaThe city also has an old monastery, where Princess Joana lived and died –  Literal: …where lived, and died, Princess Joana
  • Houve vários períodos em que, praticamente, deixaram de existir as touradas em PortugalThere have been several periods in which bullfights practically ceased to exist in Portugal Literal: …in which, practically, ceased to exist the bullfights in Portugal

Diminutives & Augmentatives

One of the most interesting and fun parts of the Portuguese language is the use of diminutive and augmentative forms. This basically involves adding suffixes to words to give them different qualities.
Diminutives tend to suggest a “cuter” quality, and are often used to be affectionate. For example, you may have heard Beijinhos! when someone says goodbye. This basically means “Little kisses!”, as a diminutive of beijoskisses .
Other times they simply emphasize that something is smaller in size: bocadobit vs. bocadinholittle bit
In English, some words follow a similar concept (“daddy” from “dad”, for example), but in Portuguese it’s much more prevalent and rule-based. In this example, you would add the –zinho ending to paidad to get paizinhodaddy .
While the suffixes -inho / -inha / -zinho / -zinha create the diminutive form, the suffixes -ão / -ona / -zão / -zona go with the augmentative form. These generally imply the opposite: that something is larger or greater. For example:
Aquilo não foi um golo, foi um golão!That wasn't just a goal, it was a great goal!
It’s not exactly that simple, though, so before you go adding -zinho and –zão onto everything, you should check out the Learning Notes in the Diminutives and Augmentatives unit.

That’s all for now!

Okay, you’re fluent now, right? 😉 Just kidding, but we hope this helped give you a quick look at basic European Portuguese grammar. You can find more topics to explore in our Site Index, or consider becoming a member to take advantage of the Units, Shorties, and other learning tools.


  • I am an 846 days student on duolingo Portuguese and I must say that one day with you made portuguese more clear for me.
    Thank you.

  • This is very concise and extremely helpful. I am trying to learn Portuguese via Duolingo and Babbel. While Babbel is a little better, neither is good at explaining the grammar. Thank you for explaining it so well.

  • thank much for your lessons. I try to read head line of Portuguese SIC Noticia or RTP within end of Dec 2023,to test my self languages learning skill
    Portuguese will be my no. 8 languages ( thai,chinese ,korea,japanese, french, spanish, english) i am going to read and then listen from movies and you tube musics , some time write some comments… (no chances to speak)
    I have to read your lessons another 2-3 times to remember .Agora,eu sou 70 anos ,and eu espero de challenge myself. muito obrigado

  • THANK YOU, im learning portuguese ever since i went to Albufeira and this really helped, i have a massive love for the language and the country, once again thank you

Any questions? Post a comment below:

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

The subject is used only for admin purposes and won't be displayed in your comment.

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