Portuguese Verbs and Personal Pronouns

Time for some action! We’ve covered some of the basics already, but we won’t get very far without talking about verbos verbs! This article is a brief overview of how verbs work in Portuguese, as well as the personal pronouns associated with each conjugation. Don’t worry too much about the details just yet… everything will become clearer as you progress.
Just like in English, a Portuguese verb expresses an action. For example:
cantar to sing
ser to be
beber to drink
Each verb can appear in many different forms. In fact, each verb has over 50 different conjugations! Luckily, there are rules you will learn to make each conjugation easier to remember, and not all 50 forms are used on a daily basis. Phew! 😅

Types of Verbs

In Portuguese, verbs are generally split into three groups based on the last two letters of the verb’s infinitive form:


Regular verbs within each group are conjugated the same way (i.e. with the same endings in each tense), so this is where those rules will come in handy! Unfortunately, we also have to learn those pesky irregular verbs, which just have to be memorized. You’ll get plenty of practice, as we’ll explore each type in more detail in future lessons.

What Does a Verb’s Conjugation Tell You?

Depending on the situation, you can get all the following information just from the conjugated verb:

  • Who is doing the action (me, you, him, her, etc)
  • The number of people (e.g. I vs. we)
  • Whether your relationship to that person is formal or informal (when using the second person forms, “you”)
  • When the action is happening (e.g. past, present, future)
  • The certainty
  • and, of course, the action itself

To get started, let’s see an example of a verb conjugation for one of the most common verbs, which happens to be irregular.

The Present Tense Conjugation of the Verb Ser (to be)

ser
to be (permanent condition)

Indicativo

Ser – Indicativo – Presente

Tu és uma boa pessoa.
You’re a good person.

  • eu sou
  • I am
  • tu és
  • you are
  • ele / ela é
  • he / she is
  • você é
  • you formal are
  • nós somos
  • we are
  • eles / elas são
  • they masc. / they fem. are
  • vocês são
  • you pl. are

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Personal Pronouns

To understand the basics or Portuguese verb conjugations, you should also know who is doing the action! Here are the words used for each of the Portuguese personal pronouns / subject pronouns:

  • Eu I
  • Tu Youinformal
  • Ele He Ela She Você Youformal
  • Nós We
  • Eles Theymasculine or mixed group Elas Theyfeminine Vocês Youplural

3rd Person Verb Conjugations

The verb forms for the personal pronouns ele, ela, and você are always conjugated the same way. (E.g. “Ele é…”, “Ela é…”, “Você é…”) Similarly, the verb forms for eles, elas, and vocês are also always conjugated the same way. (E.g. “Eles são…”, “Elas são…”, Vocês são…”)
When we’re talking about a group of females, we use the word elas, and for a group of males, eles. If the group is made up of both males and females, we also use eles. As sexist as it sounds, you could have a group of 1000 females, but just by adding one guy to the group, elas becomes eles!

What About “It”?

Portuguese doesn’t use neutral pronouns like it in English. In cases where you would expect it to be used, there is often no pronoun at all. That said, ele or ela are sometimes used to refer to inanimate objects, depending on whether they are masculine or feminine nouns.

Omitting Personal Pronouns

In Portuguese, it’s common to omit the subjective personal pronoun preceding a verb (eg. eu, tu, ele etc) because in most contexts, the verb conjugation already tells you who is doing the action. For example:
Eu gosto de música I like music
becomes
Gosto de música I like music

Comments:

  • I feel like it would have been useful to hear the whole phrase e.g. we just heard “sou” not “eu sou”

  • This site is great. The grammar structure is very similar to Italian so fortunately this makes sense to me but the pronunciation is tricky so the spoken examples are very helpful

    • Hi Dave! Vós is used, but it’s an archaic form. You may still see it in literature or extremely formal/ceremonial contexts. We chose not to cover it here in order to focus on the forms that you’ll encounter most often in spoken language.

  • Just started using this site, after my husband has been using for a few months, and we LOVE IT! It is well paced, organized, and fun! Thank you and keep up the great work!

    • Thank you both! I hope PP’s resources are keeping you well entertained during these strange times 🙂

  • Hi there! Thanks so much for this resource, I’m really enjoying it so far. Do some Portuguese people consciously break the rules when it come to eles? Like in English we now could use ‘she’, ‘s/he’ or ‘they’ where before only ‘he’ Would have been acceptable. Thanks!

    • Thank you for your comment, Frances! Do you mean something like using only “elas” for a group of people where there are also men, for example? At least in my experience, I see people do it on occasion in casual contexts, but always in a cheeky way. And they still end up acknowledging the one guy among 1000 women, even if just by saying “and you too, of course” 🙂 Apart from that, there are more people writing variations such as “elxs”, as a way to be inclusive to all genders or the lack of them, but it doesn’t translate well to speech… I’m curious to see how that will evolve.

  • That’s really interesting, thanks! Someone mentioned to me that you can say ‘obrigad’ too, rather than obrigado or obrigada. Is that something you’ve heard anyone saying?

    • Sure, you’re welcome!

      It’s really hard to say if I’ve ever come across someone purposely saying “obrigad”. We naturally swallow lots of vowels when we talk, so that wouldn’t stand out to me at all. “Obrigado”, in particular, is often pronounced just like “obrigad”. So, I really don’t know. And maybe that’s why the person told you that – it doesn’t make much of a difference.

  • Quero dar os parabéns ao Rui e ao Joel pela excelente funcionalidade do site e pelo modo prático como estão a permitir aprender o português.
    Bem gradual, bem apelativo. Muito bom. Parabéns.

    • Elijah, keep up the good work! You’re right, this is tough. We’re very impressed that you’re up for the challenge!

  • I’m impressed. I started learning with Portuguese Lab (also helpful) and then learned about your site from my iTalki teacher Ana. I’m so glad that I found you!

  • My first TL was French where despite the written forms being very different, the spoken form of the conjugation was almost always identical, so personal pronouns are never omitted. I new of “pro drop” Romance languages, like Italian, where the conjugations are distinct in the spoken language, so it’s quite exciting to see this difference so early on 🙂 I know I’m just being a geek, but this is cool.

  • This is so simple and fun. I went to Portuguese lessons for a year and found it so difficult, I made no progress and the rest of the class left me behind. This is much better. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Charlotte! Even with in-person lessons, sometimes it takes some luck to find the approach that works best for you. Hopefully, you’ll now be able to move forward 🙂

  • Hi, I’m new here and really like it so far. I started working on Portuguese with the idea of moving with my wife to Portugal in about two years. So far, we have been learning vocabulary using Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever and Anki flashcards. This is really helping to pull it together.

    I’m curious about the use of “de” as a preposition in the sentence “Gosto de música”. When would you typically use this preposition? To me it literally translates to “I like in music”. Is there any rule about how to use this?

    Thanks,
    Paula

    • Welcome Paula! Prepositions are tricky because they fulfill a more relational/functional role, rather than providing a lot of meaning. So the translation in English can vary quite a bit. There are also a lot of contexts in which a preposition is used in Portuguese, but not used at all in English, such as this one. “De” always follows the verb “gostar” when talking about what one likes. We translate this to “I like music” because that’s the most similar meaning, but you could think of it as “I am fond of music” if that helps you remember to use de. You’ll learn more about when to use each preposition in the Prepositions units, but you can skip ahead now to read more about The Preposition “De” if you’d like. 🙂

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