Expressing the Past with the Verb Haver

The Portuguese use the verb haver to be, to have to express the past, whether it be minutes, hours, days, months, or years. Used like this, haver is an impersonal verb, meaning that it doesn’t take a particular subject and is always used in the present tense form of the third-person conjugation:

Normally the verb haver means “there is/are”. However, when used before words that express an amount of time, it works similarly to the word ago placed after a time-related phrase in English.

The phrase construction is pretty straightforward:

Há + Amount of Time Passed

Comprei esta caneta há uma semana. I bought this pen a week ago.
Há cinquenta anos, a Internet não existia. Fifty years ago, Internet didn't exist.
O avião aterrou há dois minutos. The airplane landed two minutes ago.

Usage in European vs. Brazilian Portuguese

Aside from , there’s another word that Portuguese speakers (of both dialects) use, but they place it after the amount of time instead of before: atrás usually translates to behind, but in this case, it means ago.

  • European Portuguese speakers often use and atrás together in the same construction ( + (time reference) + atrás). Although this is quite redundant, that doesn’t make it any less common!
    Eles chegaram uma hora atrás. They arrived one hour ago.
  • In everyday speech, Brazilian Portuguese speakers avoid the redundancy by actually dropping the altogether and sticking only with atrás. (E.g. Eles chegaram uma hora atrás. They arrived one hour ago. ) This is rarely heard in European Portuguese, however.