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 Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 Play slow audio Play normal audio to be(permanent) estar Play slow audio Play normal audio to be(temporary) ir Play slow audio Play normal audio to go
- ter Play slow audio Play normal audio to have poder Play slow audio Play normal audio to be able to (can, may) gostar Play slow audio Play normal audio to like
- falar Play slow audio Play normal audio to speak comer Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio I am eating Estás a dormir? Play normal audio Are you sleeping? Estamos a falar português Play normal audio We are speaking Portuguese Estão a correr Play normal audio They are running, You(pl.) 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 Play normal audio I've been eating better Ando a aprender português Play normal audio I've been learning Portuguese
Alternatively, you can use the word há (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 Play normal audio I've been writing for 2 years Moro aqui há três meses Play normal audio 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 Play slow audio Play normal audio , 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
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. This is known as the informal future tense:Vou comer Play normal audio I am going to eat Vais chegar em breve? Play normal audio Are you going to arrive soon? Ela vai morar lá Play normal audio She is going to live there Vamos correr Play normal audio We 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 Play slow audio Play normal audio tomorrow or depois Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio I'll stop by later Faço anos na próxima semana Play normal audio My birthday's next week Provamos o bolo depois de jantar Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio 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 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
It’s a good idea to learn the pretérito perfeito Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 Play slow audio Play normal audio be, acabar Play slow audio Play normal audio finish and ir Play slow audio Play normal audio go. Let’s go through each one now.
acabar de + infinitivo
Acabar – Indicativo – Pretérito
- 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
Now you can say:Acabámos de chegar Play normal audio We just arrived Acabei de comer Play normal audio 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 Play normal audio I finished eating dinner late Acabaste de ler o livro ontem? Play normal audio Did you finish reading the book yesterday?
estar a + infinitive
Estar – Indicativo – Pretérito
- 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
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:
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 passada Play normal audio You took care of the paperwork last week Ontem estive a limpar a casa Play normal audio Yesterday I cleaned the house
ir + infinitive
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.
Once again, you can add more context to the sentence to make it clear when the action happened.Foste fazer as compras ontem Play normal audio You went shopping yesterday Fomos buscar o cão na terça feira passada Play normal audio We 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 Play slow audio Play normal audio since to reference the past:Estou solteiro desde ontem Play normal audio 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:
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
th → t
tion → cão
ty → dade
ism → ismo
ist → ista
ize → izar
ous → oso / osa
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 Play normal audio
- fast food Play normal audio
- check-in Play normal audio
- stress Play normal audio
- bestseller Play normal audio
- e-mail Play normal audio
- laptop Play normal audio
- site Play normal audio site, website
- designer Play normal audio
- internet Play normal audio
- marketing Play normal audio
- uau Play normal audio wow
- uísque Play normal audio whiskey
- pijama Play slow audio Play normal audio pajamas
- panqueca Play normal audio pancake
- champô Play normal audio shampoo
Do you know any other shortcuts that have helped you learn European Portuguese fast? Share in the comments!