Clitic Pronouns – The Position of Clitics

In this lesson, we’ll have a look at all the pronomes clíticos (clitic pronouns) in Portuguese*. Clitic pronouns are basically unstressed morphemes (or mini-words) that go along with a verb to show to whom or to what the action refers. They take the place of the people or objects represented by the direct and indirect objects.

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.
We can see in the table that the pronouns o, a, os and as are never used in place of indirect objects. The opposite goes for lhe/lhes, as these are never used to represent a direct object. Me, te, nos, and vos can be used for both.
Before we study these further, we must learn about where they can be placed in relation to the verb.
There are three possible positions for clitic pronouns:

  • Before the verb – Proclitic
  • In the middle of the verb – Mesoclitic
  • After the verb – Enclitic

Along with each example, we will also show you the version of the sentence without the clitic. This is only so that you can better understand the logic and origin, but remember that you should not use that second construction, or you will sound like Tarzan! For example, while in English it’s correct to say something like “If they give the books to me“, the Portuguese equivalent using “a mim” will not sound right.

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. This looks complicated at first, but the rules are actually fairly simple.
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 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). The pronoun is placed between the radical (stem) of the verb (e.g. “entregar-“, “ter-“) and the ending of the verb (e.g. “-ei”, “-ia”), always between two hyphens.

Enclitic Pronouns

Enclitic pronouns are placed after the verb.
Examples:
Eu vi-a ontem no café. I saw her yesterday at the café.
Eles pagaram-me o jantar. They paid for my dinner.
A Joana disse-me isso ontem. Joana told me that yesterday.

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

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’s only one.

General Rule

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 simple affirmative statements, the pronoun is placed enclitically (after the verb).
  • In the future indicative tense and the conditional tense, the pronoun is placed mesoclitically (in the middle).
  • In negative statements, questions, and most other grammatical constructions, the pronoun is placed proclitically (before the verb).

 

Comments:

  • 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.

    • Hello, Christopher! Negative sentences keep to the general rule: the clitics are placed before the verb (proclitically).An example: “Não me apetece estudar” (I don’t feel like studying). This is also valid for negative questions: “Não te foste embora?” (Didn’t you go away?). I hope these examples helped!

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