In this lesson, we’ll have a look at all the pronomes clíticos clitic pronouns, otherwise known as direct and indirect object pronouns, in Portuguese. (Later on, we’ll deal with reflexive pronouns separately.) Clitic pronouns are basically unstressed morphemes (sort of like 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.
Chart of Clitic Object Pronouns in Portuguese
|Subject Pronoun||Direct Object Pronoun||Indirect Object Pronoun|
|Ele, Você (male)||o (lo, no)||lhe|
|Ela, Você (female)||a (la, na)|
|Eles||os (los, nos)||lhes|
|Elas||as (las, nas)|
We can see in the table that the pronouns o, a, os and as are only used in place of direct objects. The opposite goes for lhe/lhes, as these are only used to represent an indirect object. Me, te, nos, and vos can be used for both.
Position of Clitic Object Pronouns
Before we continue to study clitic object pronouns in Portuguese, we should learn about where these pronouns can be placed in relation to the verb.
There are three possible positions for clitics:
- Before the verb – Proclitic
- In the middle of the verb – Mesoclitic
- After the verb – Enclitic
Along with each example below, 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 go before the verb. For example:
- 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 are placed in the middle of the verb. This looks complicated at first, but the rules are actually fairly simple.
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. 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 ela” se tivesse bateria no telemóvel. (indirect)
Enclitic pronouns go after the verb. Like mesoclitics, they too are separated from the verb by a hyphen, though in this case it’s only one. For example:
- 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)
General Rules for Clitic Object Pronouns in Portuguese
If you read grammar books, they will tell you that object pronouns in Portuguese are usually placed enclitically. Then every book will follow this statement with a long list of exceptions, which undermine the rule. Instead, we think that it’s much easier to start out by remembering these as the general guidelines:
- Simple affirmative statements: The pronoun is placed enclitically (after the verb)
- Future indicative tense and the conditional tense: The pronoun is placed mesoclitically (in the middle)
- Negative statements, questions, and most other grammatical constructions: The pronoun is placed proclitically (before the verb)
Note: Always remember that a sentence will never begin with a clitic pronoun.
That won’t cover everything, though, so below we have detailed the situations in which the pronoun comes before the verb:
Within negative statements (i.e. following a negative word like não, nunca, nada, or ninguém)
Nunca me deixas fazer nadaYou never let me do anything
Ninguém nos viuNobody saw us
When the verb follows an adverb, including interrogative adverbs and interrogative pronouns
Já lhe compraste a prenda?Have you bought him a gift?
Não sei onde me vou esconderI don't know where I'll hide
Quem nos vai buscar?Who will pick us up?
When the verb follows an indefinite, relative, or demonstrative pronoun
Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to a noun in a more general way (todos, alguém, qualquer, cada, certos, tantos, etc), relative pronouns include qual, quanto, que, quem, etc., and demonstrative pronouns include este, esse, isso, aquilo, and others.
Alguém a viu chegar?Did someone see her coming?
Qualquer pessoa se teria queixadoAnybody would have complained
Foi esse fato que me deramThat's the suit that they gave me
When the verb follows a subordinating conjunction
O gato não vai embora enquanto lhe deres atençãoThe cat won't leave as long as you give him attention
O meu joelho dói quando me mexoMy knee hurts when I move
Chegámos agora porque nos despachámos mais cedoWe came now because we finished early
In an exclamation or when expressing a desire such as
We are focusing on object pronouns in this unit, but you can learn more about reflexive pronouns here: Reflexive Pronouns
Another more advanced topic involving clitic object pronouns in Portuguese has to do with their placement within verb phrases (locuções verbais), i.e. when using auxiliary verbs. This is bit outside the scope of the lessons in this unit, so you can read more about it here.
Throughout this unit, we’ll go into more detail on how to use each of the clitic object pronouns above, with opportunities to practice in the lessons in between. Just to give you a preview, here are the topics we’ll cover:
- Direct vs Indirect Objects
- Me & Te
- 3rd Person Clitic Pronouns (o, a, lhe, etc)
- Nos & Vos
- Merging Clitic Pronouns