Shortcuts for Learning European Portuguese

learn european portuguese fast

This guide will focus on how to learn European Portuguese fast! Did you know that each Portuguese verb can have over 50 different forms? 😱 With so many different tenses and moods to account for, not to mention learning both regular and irregular verbs, it can feel like a never-ending task. Luckily, to communicate comfortably as a Portuguese beginner, you can get by studying a much smaller subset of conjugations for only the most commonly used forms.

The best way to save yourself time (and sanity!) is to learn the patterns and shortcuts for European Portuguese.

As mentioned in the Portugal News, we put together this “cheat sheet” to show you how to learn European Portuguese fast and get the maximum communicative power out of what you know. Building this foundation gets you talking in basic conversations earlier, which means you’ll pick up additional skills more naturally over time.

Shortcuts Using the Present Tense

Start by learning the presente do indicativo present tense verb endings for regular -ar, -er, and -ir verbs, as well as for the most common irregular verbs. Here are a few suggestions for which verbs to study first:

  • ser to bepermanent estar to betemporary ir to go
  • ter to have poder to be able to can, may gostar to like
  • falar to speak comer to eat

As for the rest of the verbs, try to learn some of the infinitive forms, but don’t worry about the conjugations just yet. You can use this first set of verbs to talk about a wide variety of actions and can even refer to the present, past, or future, if you get a little creative. Now let’s see how we can maximize our knowledge of the present tense in the following shortcuts.

Use “estar + a + infinitivo” for the Present Continuous Tense

The present continuous tense is a bit simpler in European Portuguese compared to Brazilian Portuguese, because it utilizes the pattern verb estar + a + verb in the infinitive, instead of using the gerund form of the verb. This means you only have to conjugate estar when you want to talk about an ongoing action that is happening at the moment. For example:

Estou a comer I am eating Estás a dormir? Are you sleeping? Estamos a falar português We are speaking Portuguese Estão a correr They are running, Youpl. are running

Avoiding the Present Perfect Continuous

Similarly, you can use verb andar + a + infinitive when you want to talk about something that you have been doing. This is strictly informal, but it’s a good way to avoid the present perfect continuous tense, which is more advanced.

Ando a comer melhor I've been eating better Ando a aprender português I've been learning Portuguese

Alternatively, you can use the word (from the verb haver) with the present tense to talk about something you have been doing for a certain period of time. For example:

Há 2 anos que escrevo I've been writing for 2 years Moro aqui há três meses I've been living here for 3 months

Avoiding the Future Tense

There are also European Portuguese shortcuts that let you use the present tense to talk about the future. Here we go avoiding things again! It’s okay, because our focus right now is on how to learn European Portuguese fast. In other words, we want to quickly develop a basis for the language that we can use to get talking early and then build upon over time.

In fact, sometimes the shortcuts are actually more common to hear, especially in spoken language. The actual future tense, also known as futuro do indicativo , is typically only used in more formal or literary contexts. In everyday conversations, it’s much more common (and much easier!) to use one of the following options:

ir + infinitivo

Guess what? To talk about the future, you only have to know how to conjugate one verb in the present tense: ir to go.

ir
to go

Indicativo

Ir – Indicativo – Presente

Nós vamos lá muito.
We go there a lot.

  • eu vou
  • I go
  • tu vais
  • you go
  • ele / ela vai
  • he / she goes
  • você vai
  • you formal go
  • nós vamos
  • we go
  • eles / elas vão
  • they masc. / they fem. go
  • vocês vão
  • you pl. go

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Once you have that memorized, you can just add the infinitive form of another verb onto the end to say that you are going to do something:

Vou comer I am going to eat Vais chegar em breve? Are you going to arrive soon? Ela vai morar lá She is going to live there Vamos correrWe are going to run

Note: There is not an “a” before the infinitive verb like there was with the last shortcut (and like there is in Spanish)!

Present tense + context

Sometimes, you can simply use the present tense to imply a future action (I do → I’ll do), but only if it’s clear from the context that you are referencing the future.

For example, if you add single words such as amanhã tomorrow or depois after, later, or groups of words mentioning dates or times of day, the listener will know you are talking about the future, not the present.

Depois passo cá I'll stop by later Faço anos na próxima semana My birthday's next week Provamos o bolo depois de jantar We'll taste the cake after dinner

Even without these references to dates and times, sometimes the context makes it abundantly clear. For example:

Se ela gostar, eu trago os outros dois If she likes it, I'll bring the other two

We’re mentioning something that may or may not happen, so you know we’re referencing a time in the future with eu trago.

Or, take this short dialogue, for example:

👩🏾‍🦱  Cláudia: Diz-lhe que lhe mando um beijinho.Tell her I send her a kiss.

👩🏾‍🦱  Cláudia: Tenho tantas saudades dela! I miss her so much!

🧔🏻  Tiago: Digo, sim Yes, I'll tell her.

Cláudia and Tiago are clearly talking about someone who is not there right now, so it is implied that Tiago will pass along Cláudia’s message later (in the future).

Avoiding the Past Tense

portuguese past tenseIt’s a good idea to learn the pretérito perfeito simple past tense, including the common irregular verbs and the regular endings for -ar verbs, -er verbs, and -ir verbs.

However, we know you want to know how to learn European Portuguese fast! There’s three common ways you can get around learning all of those endings right away and those are the following formulas: verb estar + a + infinitivo, verb acabar + de + infinitivo and verb ir + infinitivo. This way, you only need to know the pretérito perfeito tense of the verbs estar be, acabar finish and ir go. Let’s go through each one now.

acabar de + infinitivo

acabar
to end

Indicativo

Acabar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Eu já acabei o meu duche.
I’ve already finished my shower.

  • eu acabei
  • I ended
  • tu acabaste
  • you ended
  • ele / ela acabou
  • he / she ended
  • você acabou
  • you formal ended
  • nós acabámos
  • we ended
  • eles / elas acabaram
  • they masc. / they fem. ended
  • vocês acabaram
  • you pl. ended

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Now you can say:

Acabámos de chegar We just arrived Acabei de comer I just finished eating

You can also, sometimes, add more context to the sentence which allows you to refer to something you did earlier rather than just now:

Acabei de jantar tarde I finished eating dinner late Acabaste de ler o livro ontem? Did you finish reading the book yesterday?

estar a + infinitive

estar
to be (temporary or accidental condition)

Indicativo

Estar – Indicativo – Pretérito

Tu estiveste ausente demasiado tempo.
You were away for too long.

  • eu estive
  • I was
  • tu estiveste
  • you were
  • ele / ela esteve
  • he / she was
  • você esteve
  • you formal were
  • nós estivemos
  • we were
  • eles / elas estiveram
  • they masc. / they fem. were
  • vocês estiveram
  • you pl. were

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While the previous way (“acabar de”) usually indicates actions that just took place, “estar a” is used with actions that happened and ended a while ago, whether that is one hour ago or yesterday. Let’s see some examples:

Estive a fazer o almoçoI made lunch instead of Fiz o almoço

Eles estiveram a estudar na bibliotecaThey studied at the library instead of Eles estudaram na biblioteca

You can also add more context to these sentences to discuss actions that happened further in the past:

Estiveste a tratar da papelada na semana passadaYou took care of the paperwork last week Ontem estive a limpar a casaYesterday I cleaned the house

ir + infinitive

ir
to go

Indicativo

Ir – Indicativo – Pretérito

Ele foi de férias por um mês.
He went on vacation for a month.

  • eu fui
  • I went
  • tu foste
  • you went
  • ele / ela foi
  • he / she went
  • você foi
  • you formal went
  • nós fomos
  • we went
  • eles / elas foram
  • they masc. / they fem. went
  • vocês foram
  • you pl. went

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This is an alternative to using estar a to reference the past and it means, basically, that “I went and did something”. Notice that unlike acabar and estar, there is no preposition (a or de) before the infinitive.

Fui fazer o almoçoI went and made lunch instead of Fiz o almoçoI made lunch

Fui passear o cãoI took the dog for a walk instead of Passeei o cãoI walked the dog

Once again, you can add more context to the sentence to make it clear when the action happened.

Foste fazer as compras ontemYou went shopping yesterday Fomos buscar o cão na terça feira passadaWe went to pick up the dog last Tuesday

Present tense + context

Similar to what happens with the future tense, you can also avoid the past tense by conjugating a verb in the present simple and adding a preposition such as desde since to reference the past:

Estou solteiro desde ontem I'm single since yesterday, I've been single since yesterday

Getting Creative With What You Know

As you start adding more verbs to your vocabulary, you’re able to get creative with how you phrase things to avoid the verb conjugations you don’t know. For example, let’s see some examples of sentences we can form knowing only how to conjugate querer, poder, and ter:

Tenho de estudar I have to study instead of Devo estudar I must study

Eu posso ajudar I can help instead of Eu ajudarei I will help

Quero ver o filmeI want to watch the movie instead of Gostaria de ver o filmeI would like to watch the movie

Vocabulary Shortcuts

Cognates

If you want to learn European Portuguese fast, you can add a lot of vocabulary quickly by focusing on cognates. Cognates are words that have a common origin, which means they are often very similar to the English translation. You can learn more in this video Joel and Rui put together on 5000 Portuguese words you already know!

Let’s take a look at some of the common spelling patterns when going from English → Portuguese. Keep in mind that these don’t apply every time; they are just a way to help you keep an eye out for other cognates:

ph → f

telefone telephonefarmácia pharmacyalfabeto alphabet

th → t

teatro theatreatleta athletematemático mathematics

tion → cão

ficção fictionopção optionsituaçãosituation

ty → dade

sociedade societyresponsabilidade responsibilitycomunidade community

ism → ismo

racismo racismturismo tourismorganismo organism

ist → ista

artista artistortodontista orthodontistoptimista optimist

ize → izar

organizar organizeautorizar authorizeespecializar specialize

ous → oso / osa

nervoso nervousmasc.curiosa curiousfem.famosa famousfem.

Loan words from English

Good news, there are a number of words that you don’t have to worry about translating! With English being so widespread, there are many words that have come to be used in Portuguese as well. You’ll notice that many of them related to technology and popular culture. Sometimes the spelling stays the same as the English version, but other times it changes to match the way it’s pronounced in Portugal.

  • shopping
  • fast food
  • check-in
  • stress
  • bestseller
  • e-mail
  • laptop
  • site site, website
  • designer
  • internet
  • marketing
  • uau wow
  • uísque whiskey
  • pijama pajamas
  • panqueca pancake
  • champô shampoo

What Else?

Do you know any other shortcuts that have helped you learn European Portuguese fast? Share in the comments!

Comments:

  • Thanks for this very comprehensive lesson. I have spent the past 5 months learning português on Duolingo which has been good but sounding so different. Thanks to your audio I feel pretty sure now that it’s Brazilian português. Oh no!!!

  • Thanks for the useful shortcuts! I am preparing to move to Portugal. This will help fast-track my basic working knowledge!

  • Caros Rui e Joel
    Sempre me facilitando a vida, obrigada!!
    Mas a última frase “espero QUE te veja (presente do Conjuntivo) sai do contexto e suscita dúvidas…
    Embora tivesse algumas pequenas críticas, novamente, principalmente em relação à irrelevância de algumas sugestões, este post é PRECIOSO. Parabéns e obrigada. Um abraço amigos… ( eu sou a Ana… Nos encontrámos na Blip em Portimão…)

    • Olá Ana, que bom ouvir de si! Eu lembro-me sim da nossa conversa, foi um prazer falar consigo. Que pena que o BLiP não vá acontecer este ano, (pelo menos fisicamente. Vão experimentar um novo formato online). Obrigado por este feedback, vou rever esse exemplo com a nossa equipa. Obrigado de novo, e cumprimentos a si e aos seus alunos.

  • Muito útil! Ando a perder o meu sotaque português devido a viver nos EUA. Este site e’ precisamente o que eu preciso para treinar o sotaque e o ouvido!

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