Regular -AR Verbs in the Simple Past

The English simple past tense (e.g. “I went”, “We ate”, “You finished”) corresponds to the Portuguese pretérito perfeito simple past.
As with the present tense, conjugating regular Portuguese verbs in this tense is easier once you learn the patterns for each verb group.
Examples of some regular verbs in the -AR group include falar to speak, gostar to like, and andar to walk.
Let’s see the conjugations for the latter:

andar
to walk

Indicativo

Andar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Nós andámos até ao topo da montanha.
We walked up to the top of the mountain.

  • eu andei
  • I walked
  • tu andaste
  • you walked
  • ele / ela andou
  • he / she walked
  • você andou
  • you formal walked
  • nós andámos
  • we walked
  • eles / elas andaram
  • they masc. / they fem. walked
  • vocês andaram
  • you pl. walked

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To conjugate other regular -AR verbs in this tense, you just have to figure out the verb stem (in this case, and-) and then add the correct endings (-ei, -aste, -ou, -ámos, -aram). Remember, the verb stem ends just before the last vowel of the verb in its infinitive form. For example, the verb stem of passear to walk is passe-, not pass-.
To conjugate the verb comprar to buy, we would take the verb stem compr- and add the regular endings to get the following:

comprar
to buy

Indicativo

Comprar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Tu compraste o tamanho errado.
You bought the wrong size.

  • eu comprei
  • I bought
  • tu compraste
  • you bought
  • ele / ela comprou
  • he / she bought
  • você comprou
  • you formal bought
  • nós comprámos
  • we bought
  • eles / elas compraram
  • they masc. / they fem. bought
  • vocês compraram
  • you pl. bought

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An Important Note on Pronunciation

You’ll notice with -AR verbs that there is a very subtle difference between the first person plural conjugations in the present tense versus the simple past tense. The spellings are the same, except for an accent on the a (-amos vs. -ámos). The accent tells you that it’s in the simple past tense and that you need to open the vowel. The a (without an accent) sounds similar to the a in the English word cat, while á (with an accent) sounds more like the a in the English word father.
This is a tricky distinction for non-natives to hear, but we think it’s important to practice so that you can understand (and make yourself understood) when distinguishing between something that already happened versus something that is happening right now. Let’s compare the first person plural conjugations (present and past) of the verb falar. Try playing these a few times until you can hear the distinction to get yourself prepared for the next set of lessons.
falamos we speak
falámos we spoke

More Examples of Regular -AR Verbs in the Simple Past

olhar
to look

Indicativo

Olhar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Ela olhou para mim na festa.
She looked at me at the party.

  • eu olhei
  • I looked
  • tu olhaste
  • you looked
  • ele / ela olhou
  • he / she looked
  • você olhou
  • you formal looked
  • nós olhámos
  • we looked
  • eles / elas olharam
  • they masc. / they fem. looked
  • vocês olharam
  • you pl. looked

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perguntar
to ask (a question)

Indicativo

Perguntar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Eles perguntaram por ti.
They asked about you.

  • eu perguntei
  • I asked
  • tu perguntaste
  • you asked
  • ele / ela perguntou
  • he / she asked
  • você perguntou
  • you formal asked
  • nós perguntámos
  • we asked
  • eles / elas perguntaram
  • they masc. / they fem. asked
  • vocês perguntaram
  • you pl. asked

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ajudar
to help

Indicativo

Ajudar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Vocês ajudaram-nos muito.
You helped us a lot.

  • eu ajudei
  • I helped
  • tu ajudaste
  • you helped
  • ele / ela ajudou
  • he / she helped
  • você ajudou
  • you formal helped
  • nós ajudámos
  • we helped
  • eles / elas ajudaram
  • they masc. / they fem. helped
  • vocês ajudaram
  • you pl. helped

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ensinar
to teach

Indicativo

Ensinar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Eu ensinei a minha irmã a contar.
I taught my sister how to count.

  • eu ensinei
  • I taught
  • tu ensinaste
  • you taught
  • ele / ela ensinou
  • he / she taught
  • você ensinou
  • you formal taught
  • nós ensinámos
  • we taught
  • eles / elas ensinaram
  • they masc. / they fem. taught
  • vocês ensinaram
  • you pl. taught

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Comments:

  • Nice and logical (so far … I know the irregular verbs will come and bite us on the bum one day!).
    To combat rising panic when learning new stuff in Portuguese, I try to focus on understanding it rather than remembering it — on the basis that remembering it will come eventually through practice.
    Thank you, as always, for the clear explanations.

  • For plural, -amos vs. -ámos, I suspect additional exercises will be needed… unless you simply don’t use it as much as the others and thus the inaccuracy isn’t a major communications problem.

    • Thank you for your feedback! It’s important to know the difference between the two, because it’s transversal to a huge amount of verbs and involves two fundamental tenses (simple present, simple past). At the same time, this never really causes any significant communication problems.

      In writing, the accent mark makes things truly simple. Once you memorize that accent = simple past, you’re all set. In verbal communication, native/very fluent speakers will generally be aware of which tense makes more sense in context and if they hear the wrong thing, they can easily overwrite it mentally or just ask the person to clarify. In Brazil, they don’t use the accent in the past tense and they pronounce everything the same. They still do just fine 🙂 The struggle is bigger for Portuguese learners – and we’ll keep you in mind.

  • Thx, easy intellectually. I still think we need 50 to 100 examples, back-to-back for easy comparisons. Perhaps you could record a shorty…We are, then we were

    • “Sabia” is a conjugation of the pretérito imperfeito (past imperfect), while “soube” is in the pretérito perfeito (simple past). We tend to use “soube” more to refer to the moment where you learn something new, and “sabia” more for already acquired (or not) knowledge.
      Eu soube que tu costumavas desenhar. Eu não sabia disso antes! (I’ve found out that you used to draw. I didn’t know this before!)
      Eu sabia que ele ia ganhar! (I knew that he was going to win!)
      Eusoube daquilo ontem. (I’ve only found out about that yesterday)

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