tonic pronouns in portuguese

Introduction to Tonic Pronouns

Personal pronouns can be classified according to how they are used within a sentence. There are clitic pronouns (pronomes clíticos ), which are unstressed, and tonic pronouns (pronomes tónicos ), which are stressed. This learning note will serve as an introduction to tonic pronouns in Portuguese, however, let’s first see a recap of all the personal pronouns in order to compare them.

Subject Pronouns Clitic Object Pronouns Tonic Pronouns Tonic Pronouns + “Com
eu me mim comigo with me
tu te ti contigo with you informal
ele/ela lhe, se ele
ela
si
com ele with him
com ela with her
consigo with him, with her, with you formal
nós nos nós connosco with us
vocês* vos vocês convosco with you plural
eles/elas lhes, se eles
elas
com eles with them masc.
com elas with them fem.
consigo with them

*We replaced vós (a formal, archaic pronoun) with vocês because vocês is the most common way of using the 2nd person plural subject. Grammatically, it is treated the same as 3rd person plural, so the verb is conjugated accordingly, as in the example below:
Vocês foram embora, e ela foi convosco You pl. left, and she went with you pl.

Clitic vs. Tonic Pronouns

Stressed? Unstressed? What’s the difference? When we talk about stress in the context of pronouns, we basically just mean how much emphasis is placed on the pronoun in the sentence. With clitic pronouns, which are unstressed, you will notice that they are attached to or right next to the verb. They seem to fill a more grammatical role, subtly modifying the verb. For example:
Eles deram-me os documentos They gave me the documents
Tonic pronouns, on the other hand, are stressed. More attention is drawn to them in the sentence. You’ll notice that many of the Portuguese tonic pronouns are exactly the same as the Portuguese subject pronouns. The most obvious difference between clitic and tonic pronouns is that tonic pronouns are always preceded by a preposition, such as a, de, para, por, até, and com.
In the table above, the words comigo, contigo, consigo, connosco and convosco are a combination of the preposition com and the tonic pronouns, so they are shown with the preposition already included.
Here are a few examples of other prepositions combined with tonic pronouns:
Ele tem medo de mim He's scared of me
Eu fiz isto por ti I did this for you
A Joana correu até nós Joana ran to us

Syntactic Functions

Within a sentence, Portuguese tonic pronouns can represent three different functions. While clitic pronouns can only appear as a complemento direto direct object or complemento indireto indirect object, tonic pronouns can be the indirect object, prepositional complement, or passive agent complement. Let’s dive into some grammar to get a quick overview of each of these functions:

1. Indirect Object

If you want to review the difference between direct and indirect objects, you can check out this previous Learning Note here. A simplified way to remember it is that a direct object answers the question quem? who?, while an indirect object answers the question a quem? to whom?. When used as indirect objects, tonic pronouns are always preceded by the preposition a .
Ele não disse isso a mim. He didn't say that to me.
The sentence above using the tonic pronoun mim is technically correct, but people usually prefer using clitic pronouns here instead. So in this case, you would be much more likely to hear it as:
Ele não me disse isso He didn't say that to me.
As such, tonic pronouns are commonly used when you want to reinforce the indirect complement already expressed by a clitic pronoun. If you found out a friend of yours said two different things to you and someone else, you could emphasize your point by using both and saying:
Ele não me disse isso a mim. He didn't say that to me.
Another example:
Eu entreguei-lhe o envelope a ele. I gave the envelope to him.

2. Prepositional Complement

A tonic pronoun can act as a complemento preposicional prepositional complement when it is combined with a preposition. This forms what we would call a prepositional phrase in English. When it comes to tonic pronouns, the main prepositions used are de, para, por, até, and com. We mentioned some examples earlier, but here are a few more:
Eu gosto de ti I like you
Ela veio connosco She came with us
Eu olhei para vocês I looked at you pl.

3. Passive Agent Complement

In a passive sentence, the group of words that follow the preposition por by is called the complemento agente da passiva passive agent complement. In the context of this learning note, instead of a group of words, it will be a tonic pronoun instead.
Este livro foi escrito por mim This book was written by me
If we rewrite that sentence in the active voice, the agent (mim/Eu) becomes the subject and este livro changes from the subject to the direct object:
Eu escrevi este livro I wrote this book
Here’s another example of a passive sentence construction:
A casa foi construída por nós The house was built by us
Now that we’ve had an introduction to tonic pronouns in Portuguese, we’ll take a closer look at each one in the next Learning Note.

Comments:

    • Yes, it is, Richard. That’s precisely the point that was being made at that part of the article: despite the redundancy, we sometimes use both the clitic pronoun (-lhe, in this case) and the tonic pronoun (ele, in this case) together just for extra emphasis 🙂 You can remove either one of them and the sentence will still work just fine:
      – Eu entreguei-lhe o envelope
      – Eu entreguei o envelope a ele

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