conjuntivo - portuguese subjunctive

The Subjunctive Mood in Portuguese (Conjuntivo)

Conjuntivo: What is it?

What in English is called the subjunctive mood, in European Portuguese is named modo conjuntivo Play normal audio subjunctive mode. While the indicativo Play normal audio indicative mood refers to actions that are certain or real, the conjuntivo, in contrast, indicates something possible, desired, hypothetical, or even unreal. It conveys the idea of uncertainty, doubt, or hope.
It is often found in sentences that contain the word se paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio if or after a verb + que paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio that, as you will notice in many (but not all) of the examples.
The conjuntivo can appear in simple sentences1 (of doubt or desire) or coordinate clauses2, but most of the time you find it in subordinate clauses3 (a.k.a. dependent clauses). In the latter case, it is preceded by conjunctions or by verbs that express doubt, will, order, permission, expectation, among others.

  1. Talvez para ir Play normal audio Maybe it's possible to go
  2. Vamos embora, quer queiras quer não Play normal audio We're leaving, whether you want it or not
  3. Espero que estejas bem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I hope that you're doing well

Verb Tenses in the Conjuntivo

The conjuntivo includes these three distinct verb tenses:

  • futuro do conjuntivo Play normal audio future subjunctive
  • imperfeito do conjuntivo Play normal audio imperfect (past) subjunctive
  • presente do conjuntivo Play normal audio present subjunctive

The distinction between these values depends a lot on the context, verb, and words used, and it’s not always obvious which is correct. Furthermore, keep in mind that the conjuntivo in Portuguese is used much differently than the English subjunctive, so it’s most helpful to focus on the examples to “get a feel” for when to use it. We can notice some common patterns that we’ll cover below as we compare the three tenses.

Futuro do Conjuntivo (Future Subjunctive)

The future subjunctive lets you talk about something that may or may not happen in the future. Sometimes it describes a condition that must be met in order for another action to take place (i.e. If this goes well, I will do that or When we get home, I will do that). It often goes along with words like se paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio if and other conjunctions such as:

  • assim que paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio as soon as, once
  • sempre que paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio whenever
  • quando paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio when
  • enquanto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio while, as long as

For example:
Assim que o almoço estiver pronto, eu digo-te Play normal audio As soon as the lunch is ready, I'll tell you
Podes brincar quando fizeres a cama Play normal audio You can play once you make your bed
Se fores ao supermercado, diz-me Play normal audio If you go to the supermarket, tell me

>Read more about the futuro do conjuntivo here

Imperfeito do Conjuntivo (Imperfect Subjunctive)

The imperfeito do conjuntivo Play normal audio imperfect (past) subjunctive is often used in circumstances when you are talking about something purely hypothetical or speculating about a possible action (If things were different, I would do that).
However, it can also be used to talk about a desired future action (I would like you to do that).
The imperfeito do conjuntivo is found in the dependent clause of a sentence. You may find it within clauses that use phrasing such as:

  • Se eu... Play normal audio If I...
  • Mesmo que... Play normal audio Even if...
  • Como se... Play normal audio As if...
  • Talvez... Play normal audio Maybe...
  • E se nós...? Play normal audio What if we...?

As you’ll see in the examples below, the main clause of the sentence usually contains a verb in the imperfeito do indicativo or in the conditional. For example:

  • Eu faria se... Play normal audio I would do (it) if...
  • Gostaríamos que... Play normal audio We would like...
  • Eu esperava que... Play normal audio I expected that..., I was hoping that...
  • Pensei que... Play normal audio I thought that...
  • Seria bom que... Play normal audio It would be nice if...
  • O que faria se... Play normal audio What would you do if...?
  • Queria que... Play normal audio I would like (it if) ...

This is a good way to help you remember when to use the imperfeito do conjuntivo. Let’s see some examples:
Não ficaria chateado se dissesses a verdade Play normal audio I wouldn't be upset if you told the truth
Queria que trouxesses o meu casaco Play normal audio I wanted you to bring my coat
O ideal era que vocês estudassem mais Play normal audio The ideal thing would be for you to study more

>Read more about the imperfeito do conjuntivo here

Presente do Conjuntivo (Present Subjunctive)

The presente do conjuntivo is used in most other cases. It’s for talking about something that may or may not happen (in the present or future), but that is within the realm of possibility. The other verb in the sentence tends to be in the presente do indicativo along with the word que paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio , such as with clauses beginning with:

  • Espero que... Play normal audio I hope that...
  • É importante que... Play normal audio It's important that...
  • É bom que... Play normal audio It would be good if..., Literal - It is good that...
  • Receio que... Play normal audio I'm afraid that...
  • Duvido que... Play normal audio I doubt that...
  • Desejo que... Play normal audio I wish that...
  • Quer que eu... Play normal audio Do you want me to...?

Here are some examples:
Não gosta que olhem para ele Play normal audio He doesn't like people looking at him
Espero que ganhes Play normal audio I hope that you (sing.,inf.) win
Quer que eu fale com ela? Play normal audio Do you want me to talk to her?

>Read more about the presente do conjuntivo here

Subjunctive Verb Conjugations

Finally, let’s compare the conjugations for each subjunctive tense by exploring these examples:

Future Subjunctive

verb-icon

ser
to be (permanent condition)

Conjuntivo

Ser – Conjuntivo – Futuro

Quando nós formos ricos, vamos a um casino.
When we’re rich, we’ll go to a casino.

  • eu for
  • I am
  • tu fores
  • you are
  • ele / ela for
  • he / she is
  • você for
  • you formal are
  • nós formos
  • we are
  • eles / elas forem
  • they masc. / they fem. are
  • vocês forem
  • you pl. are

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verb-icon

falar
to speak

Conjuntivo

Falar – Conjuntivo – Futuro

Se eu falar sobre isso, ela vai ficar furiosa.
If I talk about that, she’ll be furious.

  • eu falar
  • I speak
  • tu falares
  • you speak
  • ele / ela falar
  • he / she speaks
  • você falar
  • you formal speak
  • nós falarmos
  • we speak
  • eles / elas falarem
  • they masc. / they fem. speak
  • vocês falarem
  • you pl. speak

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Notice that some forms look exactly the same as in the infinitive form of the verb.

Imperfect Subjunctive

verb-icon

ser
to be (permanent condition)

Conjuntivo

Ser – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito

Se eles fossem atores, seriam famosos.
If they were actors, they would be famous.

  • eu fosse
  • I were
  • tu fosses
  • you were
  • ele / ela fosse
  • he / she were
  • você fosse
  • you formal were
  • nós fôssemos
  • we were
  • eles / elas fossem
  • they masc. / they fem. were
  • vocês fossem
  • you pl. were

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verb-icon

falar
to speak

Conjuntivo

Falar – Conjuntivo – Imperfeito

Gostaria que eles falassem mais alto.
I’d like it if they spoke louder.

  • eu falasse
  • I spoke
  • tu falasses
  • you spoke
  • ele / ela falasse
  • he / she spoke
  • você falasse
  • you formal spoke
  • nós falássemos
  • we spoke
  • eles / elas falassem
  • they masc. / they fem. spoke
  • vocês falassem
  • you pl. spoke

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Present Subjunctive

verb-icon

ser
to be (permanent condition)

Conjuntivo

Ser – Conjuntivo – Presente

Espero que vocês sejam felizes.
I hope you are happy.

  • eu seja
  • I am
  • tu sejas
  • you are
  • ele / ela seja
  • he / she is
  • você seja
  • you formal are
  • nós sejamos
  • we are
  • eles / elas sejam
  • they masc. / they fem. are
  • vocês sejam
  • you pl. are

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verb-icon

falar
to speak

Conjuntivo

Falar – Conjuntivo – Presente

Espero que tu fales primeiro.
I hope that you speak first.

  • eu fale
  • I speak
  • tu fales
  • you speak
  • ele / ela fale
  • he / she speaks
  • você fale
  • you formal speak
  • nós falemos
  • we speak
  • eles / elas falem
  • they masc. / they fem. speak
  • vocês falem
  • you pl. speak

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Notice that the imperative mood shares the same verb endings as the presente do conjuntivo (2nd person singular and plural), with the presente do conjuntivo filling in the gaps for the other personal pronouns that are missing from the imperativo. Thus, you’ll notice these same forms used for commands and requests, such as Sejam felizes! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Be happy! (pl.)

Learning More

In the next series of lessons, you will practice using the Present Subjunctive. After that, you can continue on to our other conjuntivo units: Imperfect Subjunctive and Future Subjunctive.

⏩  Want to practice using the conjuntivo in this series of lessons? Consider becoming a member of Practice Portuguese! You can learn more about the membership benefits here.

Comments

  • I really appreciate having all 3 tenses laid out together in this format. It’s a lot to take in, but having them introduced together makes it a bit more manageable for me. This is officially my first bookmarked lesson 😉

  • I like that there are phrases already constructed. I hope that in the future, there will be a list of common subjunctive phrases!

  • One difficulty I have with these concepts is that most are terms I’ve never heard of in English grammar. I assume a native Portuguese speaker wouldn’t have to go through an internal debate about which of these tenses to use while in casual conversation? It’s certainly not something we think about in English.

    • Exactly! In your native language it just “makes sense”, but in a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th…) language it’s more complicated because you are learning it deliberately. We wouldn’t have to consciously think about these grammar rules in English. I think when you start to get into more advanced grammar, practicing with the examples becomes more helpful than the descriptions. 😊

      • Thanks for the reply Molly. It’s clearly a very steep learning curve, unless you are some kind of language polyglot. I think it’s somewhat disingenuous when some of the language tools make statements like “Learn a new language in a month!” For most of us it’s a much longer process and the only solution is to keep plugging away. I came across the following description of Portuguese verbs that does a good job at highlighting why it’s such a difficult process. I only understand about half of what’s explained here! 🙂


        Verbs are highly inflected: there are three tenses (past, present, future), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative), three aspects (perfective, imperfective, and progressive), three voices (active, passive, reflexive), and an inflected infinitive. Most perfect and imperfect tenses are synthetic, totaling 11 conjugational paradigms, while all progressive tenses and passive constructions are periphrastic. There is also an impersonal passive construction, with the agent replaced by an indefinite pronoun. Portuguese is generally an SVO language, although SOV syntax may occur with a few object pronouns, and word order is generally not as rigid as in English. It is a null subject language, with a tendency to drop object pronouns as well, in colloquial varieties. Like Spanish, it has two main copular verbs: ser and estar.

        • Yikes! Yep, that’s a perfect example. Unless you’re really into grammar you could probably ignore all of that. 😅 I would say the main “take-away” is just… The way a verb is conjugated gives you information about the tense and other grammatical features. Portuguese word order is more flexible than English, but it’s generally SVO (subject-verb-object). Like Spanish, Portuguese has 2 main verbs for “to be”: ser and estar.

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