Spanish and Portuguese Grammar

Foreign Service Institute: From Spanish to Portuguese


You will find that you can carry much of your Spanish grammar into Portuguese. For example, nearly all of the major Portuguese verb tenses are close copies of something you already know in Spanish. The present tense, the two past tenses (past I and II, or 'preterite' and 'imperfect', if you prefer), the present and past subjunctives, the conditional, the future, the commands, and most of the compound tenses all look and sound very much like they do in Spanish. And, more importantly, they usually behave that way too. Thus, for example, if you have already won the battle of the distribution of the two past tenses in Spanish, you will not need to re-fight it in Portuguese. The rules that guided you in the former are equally applicable in the latter. Likewise, if you have learned to use the Spanish present tense as a substitute for the future tense at those times when the future is rather imminent (e.g. lo veo mañana), you should have no problem doing the sarne thing in Portuguese. Verbs make up a large part of the grammar of both languages, and the high incidence of direct transfer from one to another will undoubtedly prove to be a most useful tool.

There are other areas where Portuguese is a near mirror-image of Spanish. Portuguese has the sarne rigid gender and number relationships between nouns and adjectives. The object pronoun system is at times conveniently similar, at other times surprisingly different. (More about this later.) Most conjunctions, prepositions and other relator-type words and expressions tend to operate as they do in Spanish. And so on. We could add other areas of similarity, but you will soon discover them for yourself
as you progress through your course.

From what has just been said it would be easy for you to assume that all of Portuguese is put together like Spanish. But at the sarne time you are sophisticated enough to suspect that this is not likely to be the case, and you are right. That is precisely what this section on grammar is all about. There are a number of areas where Portuguese does not structure itself like Spanish. Sometimes the differences are major, sometimes they are minor, but always they loom as potential trouble spots for those who know Spanish. On the following pages we will concentrate on the most significant of these.

Word Order in Questions with Interrogative Words

Notice the position of the verb and subject (actor) in the following sentences.


Spanish Portuguese
Cuándo va María? Quando Maria vai? (or: Quando vai Maria?)
Dónde está Pablo? Onde Paulo está? (or: Onde está Paulo?)
A qué hora sale el tren? A que horas o trem sai? (or: A que horas sai o trem?)
Cuánto gana él? Quanto êle ganha? (or: Quanto ganha êle?)
Cómo está su esposa? Como a sua espôsa está? (or: Como está a sua espôsa?)

In questions beginning with interrogative words, where the interrogative word itself is not the subject (actor) of the sentence, most Spanish speakers will place the actor after the verb. In contrast, Portuguese speakers will most likely place the actor before the verb, though in many instances, as we have indicated, the reverse pattern may also be heard. In both languages, if the interrogative word is itself the subject of the sentence, it can only precede the verb.

Spanish Portuguese
Quién sabe? Quem sabe?
Qué pasó? O que passou?


Word Order in 'Yes-No' Questions

Now observe the order of actor and verb in these sentences.

Spanish Portuguese
Habla ella inglés? (or)
ElIa habla inglés?
Ela fala inglês?
Ganó usted mucho? (or)
Usted ganó mucho?
O senhor ganhou muito?
Está Teresa aqui? (or)
Teresa está aqui?
Teresa está aqui?
Trabajan María y Olga en Rio? (or)
María y Olga trabajan en Rio?
Maria e Olga trabalham no Rio?

As a Spanish speaker you are free to place the actor either before or after the verb in 'yes-no' questions (those that can be answered 'yes' or 'no'). In Portuguese you have no such choice. You must use the 'actor + verb' sequence.

Word Order in Answers to 'Yes-No' Questions

Spanish Portuguese
Trajo su auto?
Sí, lo traje.
Trouxe o seu carro?
Trouxe sim.
Tiene un fósforo?
Sí, sí tengo.
O senhor tem um fósforo?
Tenho sim.
Es usted americano?
Sí, soy.
O senhor é americano?
Sou sim.
Alquilaron ellos la casa?
Sí, la alquilaron.
Êles alugaram a casa?
Alugaram sim.
Conoce usted a los Molina?
Sí, los conozco.
O senhor conhece os Molina?
Están con prisa?
Sí, están.
Estão com pressa?

Examples 1 through 4 above illustrate the positioning of the affirmative answer 'yes' with regard to the verb. In Spanish it is most likely to appear before the verb, separated from it by a pause. In Portuguese its most normal position is after the verb, with little, if any, pause separating the two. Examples 5 and 6 illustrate a common variant of the Portuguese pattern: the omission of the 'yes'. This is possible in Spanish too, of course, but it is much less frequent than in Portuguese.


Basically, the process of making a verb or an entire utterance negative is the same in Portuguese as it is in Spanish. However, you should be aware of the following rather unique features.

An 'extra' negative
Portuguese sometimes adds a seemingly redundant negative (the word não) to the end of an utterance. The effect is to mildly emphasize the negative thought already expressed in the sentence.


a. Não, não falei não. No, I didn't say (anything).
b. Não, não tem não. No, he doesn't have (it).
c. Não, não faça isso, não. No, don't do that.

More likely than not, sentences a and b would be said in response to 'yes-no' questions.


Portuguese 'either / neither'
The sense of the Spanish negative tampoco is often rendered in Portuguese as também não, which always precedes the verb.

Spanish Portuguese
Yo tampoco quiero. Eu também não quero.
María no va tampoco. Maria também não vai.
No me gusta tampoco. Eu também não gosto.



The only two contractions in Spanish are: de + el = del and a + el = al. Portuguese has these two (in a somewhat different shape, to be sure) plus quite a few more. All of them involve combinations of the prepositions em, de, a, and por with definite articles, demonstratives, personal pronouns, and the words aqui and outro. We have tabulated most of them below. An empty box indicates a combination which does not contract.

Chart A: Prepositions plus definite articles.

  o os a as
em no nos na nas
de do * dos da das
a ao * aos à às
por pelo pelos pela pelas

* Cf. Spanish: de + el = del; a + el = al


Chart B: Prepositions plus indefinite articles.

  um uns uma umas
em num nuns numa numas
de dum duns duma dumas


Chart C. Prepositions plus demonstratives.

isto, isso
em neste(s)
nisto, nisso
de dêste(s)
disto, disso
a ------ ------ àquele(s)


Chart D. Prepositions plus pronouns.

  êle ela êles elas
em nêle nela nêles nelas
de dêle dela dêles delas


Chart E. Prepositions plus certain adverbs and adjectives.

  aqui ali ai outro(s)
em ------ ------ ------ noutro(s)
de daqui dali daí ------


To show you more clearly what we are talking about, we have listed a few examples below. Compare the Portuguese with the Spanish equivalent.


From Chart A:

Portuguese Spanish
(em + o + livro) = no livro en el libro
(de + os + senhores) = dos senhores de los señores
(por + a + senhora) = pela senhora por la señora


From Chart B:

Portuguese Spanish
(em + um + livro) = num livro en un libro
(de + uma + senhora) = duma senhora de una señora
(de + umas + senhoras) = dumas senhoras de unas señoras


From Chart C:

Portuguese Spanish
(em + êste + livro) = neste livro en este libro
(de + aquela + senhora) = daquela senhora de aquella señora
( a + aquêles + senhores) = àqueles senhores a aquellos señores


From Chart D:

Portuguese Spanish
(em + êle) = nêle en él
(de + ela) = dela de ella
(de + êles) = dêles de ellos


From Chart E:

Portuguese Spanish
(em + outro + livro) = noutro livro en otro libro
(em + outras + cidades) = noutras cidades en otras ciudades
(de + aqui) = daqui de aquí


Learning to use these contractions will be one of your most difficult challenges in learning Portuguese.


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