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 paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio ), which are unstressed, and tonic pronouns (pronomes tónicos Play normal audio ), which are stressed. This learning note will serve as an introduction to tonic pronouns in Portuguese, however, let’s first see an overview of all the personal pronouns in order to compare them.

Subject Pronouns Clitic Object Pronouns Tonic Pronouns Tonic Pronouns + “Com
eu me mim paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio comigo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with me
tu te ti paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio contigo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with you (informal)
ele/ela lhe, se ele paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
ela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
si paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
com ele paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with him
com ela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with her
consigo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with him, with her, with you (formal)
nós nos nós paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio connosco paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with us
vocês* vos vocês paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio convosco paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio with you (plural)
eles/elas lhes, se eles paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
elas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio
com eles Play normal audio with them (masc.)
com elas Play normal audio with them (fem.)
consigo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio 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 paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio He's scared of me
Eu fiz isto por ti Play normal audio I did this for you
A Joana correu até nós Play normal audio 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 paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio direct object or complemento indireto Play normal audio 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? Play normal audio who?, while an indirect object answers the question a quem? Play normal audio to whom?. When used as indirect objects, tonic pronouns are always preceded by the preposition a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio .
Ele não disse isso a mim. Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio 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. Play normal audio He didn't say that to me.
Another example:
Eu entreguei-lhe o envelope a ele. Play normal audio I gave the envelope to him.

2. Prepositional Complement

A tonic pronoun can act as a complemento preposicional Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio I like you
Ela veio connosco Play normal audio She came with us
Eu olhei para vocês Play normal audio I looked at you (pl.)

3. Passive Agent Complement

In a passive sentence, the group of words that follow the preposition por paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio by is called the complemento agente da passiva Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio I wrote this book
Here’s another example of a passive sentence construction:
A casa foi construída por nós Play normal audio 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

  • Eu entreguei-lhe o envelope a ele.
    In this sentence isn’t lhe redundant?
    If not why not?

    • 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

  • Is these examples,

    Ele não me disse isso a mim.
    Eu entreguei-lhe o envelope a ele.

    Why is me before the verb but -lhe after the verb?

    These clitic and tonic pronouns have appeared in many earlier lessons. I think it would be helpful to place this unit earlier in the course. A unit on reflexive verbs would also be useful much earlier in this course.

    • Peter, the choice of pronoun doesn’t depend on placement, but on who the indirect object is (i.e. the person who the action applies to). In the first case, it’s “me” because the action is applied to a first person (he didn’t tell ME that). In the other example, it’s “lhe” because it refers to a third person (I gave the envelope to HIM).

      Your feedback was noted, by the way. Thank you for your comment!

  • Hi
    I am also wondering about the construction of the 2 sentences mentioned by Peter Steele
    Why is the “me” before the verb, but the “lhe” is after the verb? Or, why can I not say ” eu lhe entreguei o envelope” ?
    Thanks 🙂

    • Olá, Teri. I’m glad you also asked, because I think I misunderstood Peter’s question at the time! In terms of placement, negative sentences pull the pronouns to a position before the verb (proclitic position), while in affirmative sentences, the default position is after the verb (enclitic position). This is why “me” comes before the verb in “Ele não me disse isso a mim” (negative), but “lhe” appears after (affirmative). “Eu lhe entreguei…” is also grammatically correct, but not idiomatic in European Portuguese, hence, not recommended 🙂

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