Introduction to Clitic Pronouns

In this lesson, we’ll have a look at all the pronomes clíticos clitic pronouns in Portuguese (not including reflexive pronouns, which we’ll deal with separately later on).
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 Pronouns

Subject Pronoun Direct Object Pronoun Indirect Object Pronoun
Eu me
Tu te
Ele, Você (male) o (lo, no) lhe
Ela, Você (female) a (la, na)
Nós nos
Vocês vos
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 Pronouns

Before we study these further, 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

Proclitic pronouns are placed 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

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 ele” se tivesse bateria no telemóvel. (indirect)

Enclitic Pronouns

Enclitic pronouns are placed 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

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, in questions, and in 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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